Today, their nearly three-decade-long ascendance in the Republican Party is over. Their loyalties and priorities are in flux, the organizations that gave them political muscle are in disarray, the high-profile preachers who led them to influence through the 1980s and 1990s are being replaced by a new generation that's less interested in their agenda and their hold on politics and the 2008 Republican presidential nomination is in doubt.
"Less than four years after declarations that the Religious Right had taken over the Republican Party, these social conservatives seem almost powerless to influence its nomination process," said W. James Antle III, an editor at the American Spectator magazine who's written extensively about religious conservatives.
"They have the numbers. They have the capability. What they don't have is unity or any institutional leverage."
It would be tempting to say that President Bush has poisoned the well, that his penchant for speaking in evangelical code has fooled no one, a two-dimensional expression of faith overshadowed by a stubborn adherence to his failed war of choice.
But this is only part of the story. There are still millions of evangelical Christians in America whose values are important to them when making decisions about how to vote. But I think the media has given America a hopelessly distorted view of evangelical Christians, as if they’re all arm-waving mindless robots who got their first sip of the Kool-Aid at “Jesus Camp” and finished their indoctrination at places like Patrick Henry College and Liberty University. Sure, there are plenty of people like that in the country, just as there are plenty secular mindless robots worshipping at the altar of Brittney Spears and Paris Hilton.
American Christians are a far more diverse group than the media shows us. For plenty of people of faith, a “values vote” is more likely to include ending the war in Iraq and caring for the environment, which the media insists on labeling as “liberal” issues. I also think Christian “movement” leaders like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, James Dobson and Tony Perkins got so blatantly partisan with their power trip that they lost touch with mainstream American values.
They pushed anti-gay campaigns on the faithful at a time when the war and poverty are more important. They attacked Democrats as corrupt while their leaders like Ralph Reed fed at Jack Abramoff’s trough. They supported an unpopular war and unpopular domestic policies while pretending gays and abortion were the only issues that mattered.
They’re wrong, and evangelicals know it. But the media still doesn’t get it; someone needs to explain to me why the networks keep trotting out crackpots like Pat Robertson every time they need the “Christian perspective.”
If the Religious Right wants to return to their salad days of power and influence, they need to stop reading their GOP talking points and start reading their Bibles. Quit with the gay-hate, already, and stop pretending that there’s anything in the Scripture about lower taxes and small government.
Get on the anti-war bandwagon, for one thing. I seem to recall Jesus saying something about “love your enemies,” after all. Supporting the war in the name of Jesus--and calling for a new war with Iran--isn’t Biblical.
Quit being hypocrites, start using your supposed power and influence on things that matter.