This election cycle is something of a disaster for what remains of the Christian Right in American politics. On the one one hand, you have Mitt Romney, a Mormon, running against Newt Gingrich, a thrice married, newly converted Catholic with a history of ethics violations including leaving 2 sick wives for mistresses. Rick Santorum is also a Catholic who has strong conservative moral credentials, but he cannot get any traction. Ron Paul, a Baptist, is a libertarian and he also cannot get any traction among Conservative Christians. He was booed in South Carolina for trying to apply the Golden Rule to international relations.
There are no Ronald Reagans, George W. Bush's, or even Mike Huckabee's out there. So, where does what is left of the Christian Right go this November in the presidential election? If history is any guide, whoever is running against President Obama will be re-baptized as a legitimate conservative with bona fide religious right credentials and be voted for en masse. But, what has happened to the movement overall?
The New Republic has an article out by Michael Kazin that says that the Christian Right is dying and is no longer influential in American politics. He says, "In fact, the Christian Right is a fading force in American life, one which has little chance of achieving its cherished goals." A counterpoint to this is found in the Salon.com article by Peter Montgomery where he says that the Christian Right is alive and powerful. So, which is it? Is the Christian Right still a political force to be reckoned with, or is it a shell of its former self?
Pesonally, as a Baptist pastor in the Deep South, I think that there is no doubt that the "movement" as we once knew it is in steep decline. The energy of the 80's and 90's culminating in the election of George W. Bush and the Republican Senate and House in 2000 has given way to a great deal of apathy and resignation regarding the idea that taking over the political process is not the best way to "restore" America or even make much of a difference. The drum-beat towards America embracing a more liberal present and future continues on, almost unchecked. Sure, a law is passed here and there in a state legislature or in Congress, but overall, things are continuing to unravel for the Christian Conservative, at least according to the standards put forth by the Christian Right.
I remember when I was younger and The Christian Coalition led by Pat Robertson or the Moral Majority led by Jerry Falwell or Focus on the Family led by James Dobson would issue statements on the next big fight over abortion or gay rights or a supreme court justice nomination. People would talk, letters would be written, preachers would preach, and rallies would occur. No more. Those days are gone. No longer do we believe that winning a battle over a piece of legislation is going to make a major difference.
There are still millions of Christian Conservatives out there. But, by and large, I think that they are disillusioned. While they still have enormous potential political power, they have lost their political will, by and large. I think that most Christians have realized that winning elections does not equal winning the hearts and minds of people, and that is where the battle must be fought and won.
I see a return to grass-roots activism and a more holistic witness among Christians. I think that we have finally realized that we cannot take America back for God, whatever that means. I am seeing a return to an embrace of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as our only hope and a greater desire to live out the implications of our faith in real and tangible ways. Personally, I think that Christians should be involved in politics just like we should be involved in every arena, since we should all play a role in how we govern ourselves. But, I think that our future engagement is going to look much different than it did in the past.
No, the Christian Right is not dead in America. But, may be less Republican and less "Right" and perhaps it is more prophetic in that it is not as beholden to any political party or ideological perspective. Perhaps we are better off if we lose our power here on earth so that we can exert influence derived from God's Kingdom instead of man's. Maybe if we are not tied to one party, we can critique and offer alternatives rooted in the Way of Jesus to BOTH parties.
Maybe we can be more prophetic than political, and in that, point to Christ as our only hope and the Savior of the world.