Religious right splits: Hucksters say double down; true believers want to try something new

The religious right — with the support of a huge majority of white evangelicals across America — got hammered on Election Day.

It was, as Southern Baptist leader Al Mohler said, “an evangelical disaster.” In ballot measures in four states, the religious right vigorously opposed marriage equality. It lost all four. The president whose re-election the religious right opposed won a second term with a solid majority of the popular vote and an electoral landslide. Many of the most vocal supporters of the religious right’s agenda lost congressional elections. And across the country, polls and ballots both confirmed that the central issues for the religious right — criminalizing abortion and restricting LGBT rights — weren’t just on the losing side, but were important causes of that loss.

NPR’s Barbara Bradley Hagerty summarizes the scope and scale of the religious right’s defeat:

Mohler says white evangelicals moved in lockstep: Seventy-nine percent voted for Republican Mitt Romney, the same percentage as voted for President George W. Bush in 2004. He says they boldly telegraphed their concerns about Obama, and “our message was rejected by millions of Americans who went to the polls and voted according to a contrary worldview.”

“I think the messaging was working,” said Frank Schubert of the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage, “we just didn’t have enough of it.” (AP file photo by Diane Bondareff)

Mohler says there’s a danger that evangelicals won’t see this larger lesson — that they will say Obama won because of his unique story and personality.

“No, it was far more than that,” he says. “Four states dealt with the issue of same-sex marriage and after 31 to 33 straight victories, we’ve been handed a rather comprehensive set of defeats on the issue of the integrity of marriage.”

That, and the legalization of marijuana in some states, are examples of what Mohler calls “a seismic moral shift in the culture.”

Others say 2012 revealed another shift.

“The understanding that the evangelical vote is a kingmaking vote, I think, is now dead,” says Shaun Casey, a professor at Wesley Theological Seminary and a former Obama adviser. He says evangelicals pulled out all the stops to unseat the president.

“Billy Graham and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association bought full-page ads in newspapers; that made no difference,” he says. “Ralph Reed spent tens of millions of dollars getting out the vote in battleground states; that didn’t make the difference. And you add all of that up, and it was not enough because of the changing demographics of our country.”

How, then, should the religious right respond to this “comprehensive set of defeats” and the “seismic moral shift” it signifies?

Broadly speaking, the hucksters of the religious right are advocating one response while the true believers of the religious right are advocating another.

The hucksters are urging their followers, supporters and partisan patrons to double down on all the same things they’ve been doing all along. They want the same stances, same agenda, same strategies, same tone — but a different result. That different result, they say, will come from doing all the very same things even harder. There’s no evidence that would work, but the hucksters don’t measure success by political outcomes. They measure success by fundraising outcomes — and an Obama win was probably more potentially lucrative for them than a Romney win would have been.

The true believers, on the other hand, seem to realize that more of the same approach won’t produce the societal changes they had hoped for. They’ve begun re-evaluating their political tactics, agenda and tone, considering if there might not be a better, more effective way of advancing the values they care about.

Every response to the election that I’ve seen falls into one of those two categories: Double down vs. something new. We’ll look at more specific examples in future posts, and we’ll examine some of the options being discussed as the “something new” toward which some on the religious right are stumbling.

Here’s a hint of that direction from Jim Daly of Focus on the Family. Daly is an intriguing fellow — a true believer who has taken the helm of a huge operation created by a huckster. Mitchell Landsberg of the Los Angeles Times reports that Daly has taken on a “conciliatory tone after election”:

Daly threw the considerable resources of his organization — which fiercely opposes abortion and same-sex marriage — behind the campaign to defeat President Obama, paying for millions of mailers that listed the presidential candidates’ positions on issues that were important to “values voters.”

In the aftermath of the election, however, Daly is willing to say things that few conservative evangelical leaders are likely to say. He believes, for instance, that the Christian right lost the fight against same-sex marriage in four states in part because it is on the losing side of a cultural paradigm. He says the evangelical community should have been considering immigration reform years ago, “but we were led more by political-think than church-think.”

And, along the same lines, he argues that evangelicals have made a mistake by marching in lock step with the Republican Party.

“If the Christian message has been too wrapped around the axle of the Republican Party, then a) that’s our fault, and b) we’ve got to rethink that.”

For a classic example of the “double down” approach preferred by the hucksters, see the conclusion of Erik Eckholm’s New York Times article, “Push Expands for Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage“:

Frank Schubert, a consultant to the National Organization for Marriage who managed all four state campaigns to block same-sex marriage, said, “I think the messaging was working; we just didn’t have enough of it.” He said he expected to continue running advertisements warning that “changing the definition of marriage” would have negative effects on society.

But Zach Silk, the campaign manager of Washington United for Marriage, an advocate for same-sex marriage rights, argued that what he called “scare tactics” had fallen flat this time, and he predicted they would probably fail again. “The fear and confusion they used to win in other places, it’s an old playbook and it doesn’t work any more.”

It’s fascinating to see people like Mohler and Daly essentially agreeing with Zach Silk that the “old playbook” the religious right has relied on for decades just “doesn’t work any more.”

But I’m also seeing far more people agreeing with NOM’s Schubert, insisting that the fear and confusion Silk describes — what Schubert calls “the messaging” — is still working for the religious right, but they just have to do more of it.

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  • 2. I’m not sure which idea horrifies me more, that a grown woman thinks
    that she can, absent some very specific hardware, have exclusive control
    over her husband’s ability to have orgasms or that, sans said hardware,
    she actually does have exclusive control over her husband’s ability to
    have orgasms. I hope both those people are happy because that is one
    f’ed up relationship (pun intended) and to me it sounds like unhealthy
    hell on earth.

    You must not have been here the day I last told this story. The whole reason I know this is because I got involved as a peacemaker when they hit a rocky patch after she, irm, found out that her then-fiance had, um. Cheated on her. With his hand.

    (I don’t know how that particular story ended, but they’ve been happily married for six or seven years now, so I guess it works for them)

  • EllieMurasaki


    Cheating, in a sexual context, is agreeing to have sex exclusively with a limited number of people (that number usually but not always being one), then having sex with someone not on that list. Cheating, in a sexual context, is always a multiplayer activity. Masturbation? Not multiplayer.

  •  That was not how she saw it. From her perspective, “cheating” meant “engaging in sexual activity without her permission.”  She’d assumed “I get exclusive control over your orgasms” was part of the contract, and was baffled that anyone would think differently.

  • Lori

    I think Ross is explaining her POV, not his own. And yes, there exist women who believe that masturbation is cheating.

    I have opinions about those women, but can’t think of a way to express them that isn’t just wrong. So, I’m just gonna say, “Good luck with that ya’ll” and leave it at that.

  • Lori

    Oh good lord, those people.

    It is mind-boggling to me that they’re still together. I mean, I know intellectually that such couples exist, and I have an intellectual understanding of how/why, but really they make no damn sense to me at all.

  • Lori

    Someone really should explain to her the difference between (some) D/S and you know, non-D/S relationships. She seems to be a bit unclear.

  • Lori

    I guess if they’re still together and happy it’s good that they had you as peacemaker and not me because I don’ think I could have stopped myself from advising that guy to run like hell while he could still do so without the aid of a lawyer.

    Outside of a mutually consequently, appropriately negotiated kinky relationship that kind of controlling ish is just not on.

  • Nationals Senator Ron Boswell, who said this:

    “Two mothers or two fathers can’t raise a child properly. Who takes the boy to football? Who tells him what’s right from wrong? What does he do? Go along with mum, or two mums? How does he go camping or fishing? It won’t work, it’s defying nature!”

  • Carstonio

    I didn’t realize that the Australian political party was nicknamed that way. “Nationals Senator” sounded like a baseball player who had been on both the old team and the new team in the US capital city.

    Masculinity is taught???

  •  Oh, good grief. Dude needs a mind-expander.

  • Our main parties are the Liberals (conservative – at least for Australia – urban party), the Nationals (conservative rural party), Labor (slightly left-wing party), and the Greens (more left-wing party).

    Masculinity is taught???

    Yep. And so, apparently, is “right from wrong”. Which can only be taught by fathers.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    More specifically, the Nationals are socially conservative agrarian socialists. They believe very strongly in government intervention and the redistribution of wealth–from people in urban areas to people in the bush. Which already happens, but they (a) don’t acknowledge that and (b) want more.

    And I’d classify the Libs as right wing rather than conservative. They have quite a mix in terms of social positions amongst their membership (ranging from Corey Bernadi to Malcolm Turnbull), but they’re fundamentally right wing. They were founded as an amalgamation of anti-Labor parties, so their defining characteristic is not-pro-labour in the labour/capital equation.

    Ron Boswell is a dinosaur and will retire at the end of his term. He doesn’t bother me.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    I didn’t realize that the Australian political party was nicknamed that way.

    It’s not a nickname. They appear on ballots as “The Nationals”. Cos they’re for the nation, except for the 2/3 of us who live in cities.

  • Carstonio

    Does that party have mascot races at football matches?

  • Randy4412

    Couldn’t have said it better myself!!