It appears that the Religious Right is coming undone. Having played a dominant role in national politics since the 1980s, it now appears that the key players will be sidelined during the upcoming presidential campaign. It also appears that some among the conservative Christian movement think the partisanship of the past decades have hurt the cause of Christianity overall.
There are several factors which account for these developments. First of all, several of the lions of the religious right have died–notably Jerry Falwell and D. James Kennedy. Those who have not died, like Pat Robertson and James Dobson, have slipped into a sort of national oblivion. They certainly continue to have their constituencies, and lots of money, but they are no longer daily fare for political opinion.
That’s primarily due to John McCain. McCain’s run for the presidency has splintered conservative Christian political influence. James Dobson opposed McCain’s candidacy and in fact during the Republican primary did not endorse anyone, including fellow fundamentalist Mike Huckabee. And in what can only be described as political lunacy, Pat Robertson endorsed Rudy Giuliani. If the Christian Coalition were still evaluating candidates with voter guides Rudy would not have a passing grade on any key right-wing issues.
Not that McCain is without fundamentalist endorsements. He managed to snag San Antonio mega-church pastor John Hagee and Columbus, Ohio, super church pastor Rod Parsley. And if you think Rev. Jeremiah Wright has some strange ideas, you ought to hear these guys.
Hagee has claimed for years that the Roman Catholic Church is the “Great Whore of Babylon,” mentioned in the Book of Revelation. He has now apologized for these views, but I suspect this is more about political expediency than any real change of heart.
And Parsley believes that the United States was created, in part, to destroy Islam. In his book Silent No More, he writes “I believe September 11, 2001 was a generational call to arms that we can no longer ignore.”
I guess in the 2000 presidential campaign when McCain referred to Christian fundamentalists as “agents of intolerance,” he didn’t necessarily see that as a bad thing.
Meanwhile, a group of influential conservative evangelicals (these would be first cousins to fundamentalists) have issued “An Evangelical Manifesto.” These leaders are calling for Christians to avoid partisan politics. They believe it is time for Christians to reclaim an authentic evangelical identity that is not preoccupied with the usual short list of concerns such as abortion and gay marriage.
They believe that being faithful to Jesus means embracing a comprehensive list of concerns including poverty, the environment and even the political process itself. Instead of contending for a “sacred public square,” or conceding to a secular one, Christian people should work for a “civil public square.” One feature of this civil order is the recognition that no one faith represents America. Ours is a pluralistic society and the key to our ongoing ability to sustain our way of life is to guarantee religious liberty for all.
It will be interesting to see where Christian conservatives will be found when the dust of the campaign settles. For a long time now Christians on the right have sought to be the wind that stirs the dust of political life. But as Jesus told Nicodemus, sometimes the wind has a mind of its own and blows where it wants to, or not at all.
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.