The End of the Religious Right, Take 47

The Wall Street Journal recently had an article on the supposed pull-back of Evangelical Christians from the field of politics. It opened with the transition from Richard “radical homosexual agenda” Land to the kinder, gentler Russell Moore as the public face of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Along with much of the religious right, Southern Baptists are undergoing a generational shift as Mr. Moore and his allies recalibrate their methods and aims. The moment is significant not only for America’s religious life but for its politics, given the three-decade engagement by evangelical leaders that kept social issues on the front burner and helped Republicans win national elections.

The article suggests that Evangelicals are getting more skeptical of the Republican party just as the Republican party starts to rethink its alliance with the Religious Right. If this is accurate, then it means the break-up of the coalition that put Reagan into the White House and keeps sending scores of pulpit-pounding congresscritters to Washington.

If it’s accurate. The problem is that we’ve heard this refrain countless times before. Jim Wallis of Sojourners has been pushing the “end of the religious right” meme for over a decade now, and so far it hasn’t materialized.

Over at Mere Orthodoxy, there’s a useful corrective. Keith Miller points to the number of times that this same theme has been trotted out by the media:

The WSJ, like most other newspapers, has a paint-by-numbers article that they pull out every few years announcing the demise of Evangelical political influence and the rise of a kinder, gentler, and less-partisan religious political engagement. Someone wrote it in 1989 when the Moral Majority disbanded. Someone wrote it when Ralph Reed left the Christian Coalition in 1997. Someone wrote it when Ed Dobson and Cal Thomas called for an end of the Culture Wars in 1999 and someone else wrote it when the late David Kuo complained of GOP hypocrisy in 2006. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. It did not matter whether or not Russell Moore believes that he actually represents a sea-change in SBC political engagement compared to the Richard Land era, the template was already in place. Indeed, when Russell Moore retires from the ERLC in 2038, I’ll bet his successor’s “new tone” gets written up as well.

I think Miller nails it here. This basic argument keeps getting recycled, with different bits of evidence getting swapped in and out. The face of the Religious Right may change, and the particular stance on certain issues may shift (now abortion, next contraception), but the existence of a conservative protestant Christian political movement is probably here to stay. Realistically it can be traced back to the founding of America and I suspect it will continue until Protestants no longer make up a majority of the country.


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