I asked yesterday if the Christian right was dead, at least as a viable political entity? My answer, along with that of a growing number of commentators and former-insiders to this movement, is a resolute yes.

Consider this fact: a growing number of very conservative Christians are frustrated with politics! Kathleen Parker noted in her April 5 syndicated column on this issue, published in the Washington Post, that "

[this question] is getting fresh air lately as frustrated conservative Christians question the pragmatism—defined as the compromising of principles—of the old guard." She references several conservative spokespersons, one of whom represents a strong anti-public school stance. (This movement has always been there but it seems to be gaining greater force right now as more and more see the public schools are the problem in our culture.) Dobson
These Christians see James Dobson as having compromised too much to build a political movement. In my way of thinking, Dobson and compromise do not seem to flow in the same direction. But for these conservatives they do. Parker describes them as "disillusioned Christians." She adds, "Pragmatically speaking, the Christian coalition of cultural crusaders didn't work." With this statement I am in complete agreement.

For proof of this point Parker urges readers to look at Dobson's recent statement that all the big cultural battles have been lost! Christian radio host Steve Deace, the host of a talk program on radio station WHO in Des Moines (IA) recently took on Tom Minnery, the head of Focus on the Family's political arm. Here is a part of what Deace wrote on his blog about this interview:

With those of us who consider ourselves voters with a biblical worldview on the defensive more so than ever before in American history, a discussion is happening within our ranks about principles versus pragmatism that is long overdue.

Recently on my radio program, this vital discussion was given another forum when I had the chance to interview Tom Minnery, the longtime head of the political arm of Focus on the Family. (A podcast of that interview can be found here.)

I played for Mr. Minnery a clip of a 1990 vow his boss, Dr. James Dobson, made when he said for as long as "God lets me live" he'll never vote for any man or woman "who will kill one innocent baby." I asked Mr. Minnery if Dr. Dobson had violated his heroic pledge by supporting phony pro-lifer John McCain for president after previously saying he could not support him, and why shouldn't voters of biblical conscience return to the standard Dr. Dobson so courageously articulated.

Minnery admitted Dobson had violated his pledge, but also responded to a principled challenge with a pragmatic hypothetical. He asked me why we shouldn't support a candidate who was 99 percent pro-life except in cases of rape and incest. I responded that God's law says, "Do not murder," and does not allow for sub-sections, addendums, clauses, distinctions and exceptions. It is, after all, an absolute, is it not? I then asked him if he could find me one biblical example of "the lesser of two evils" pragmatism he was advocating.

He could not.

"The Emerging Brave New World" covers the gradual dehumanization of human beings that has invaded American culture.

I can understand why non-Christians, or Christians who have lost all their biblical senses because they're unevenly yoked to the political system, may find Mr. Minnery's pragmatic hypothetical reasonable. Before I was a Christian, I also thought, spoke and reasoned as a child. However, the hypothetical has real-world consequences.

1165_1211999991They are, in my view, pushing back the Christian right at a time when the movement is dying. Indeed, they are helping to bury it. These very, very conservative folks applaud the positions advocated by talk show host Steve Deace.

The confrontation between Deace, a former sport's journalist, and Tom Minnery, of Focus on the Family, is intense and confrontational, just like the old fundamentalist wars about Darwin and the Bible. I expect this type of residual fundamentalism will not die anytime soon. Indeed, if fear drives this response, as I believe it often does, then there is a great deal of room for more fear in our culture in the days ahead, or so it seems now. This view says "deal making" is dead. Even if we engage with the political parties we must not become an arm of one or the other.

To give you some idea of Deace's approach he begins a long blog screed on all that ails America with this sentence: "So much to comment on as the world falls apart . . . " Well, this works if you agree with his basic premise. And many conservative Christians do. But many younger Christians do not. The struggle between the two views is growing and will likely not decrease soon.

But this approach also says, "My way (seen as God's way of course) or the highway!" Deace's confrontational approach may play well in some places but overall it will never reach the younger Christians that I know and talk with day-to-day. Deace's approach sees these young Christians as a part of the problem, not the solution. We clearly differ since I am driven by a missional vision of culture, not a strongly political one.

Many of these younger conservatives, as well as many less conservative evangelicals, hold one thing in common—the way to impact culture is primarily through impacting communities by sacrificial service, real prayer and innovative education. Cal Thomas is right when he says, "The problem is not political. The problem is moral and spiritual."

I find donors less and less impressed with the Christian right. There is a growing bit of hard evidence for what I find anecdotally. I expect this kind of thinking will also have a direct impact in these financially hard times.

Will we see a crack-up of the old Christian right? It remains to be seen. A new force could arise to rebuild it. I have my doubts. And the GOP has, in Parker's words, "no bailout money." This is one reason why shrill voices like Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh have become so huge of late. With a Democrat in the White House, and one they all despise, then these voices become the center of attention all the more. The GOP is playing defense and these are, like it or not, the attack dogs.

Cal Thomas must be right when he says,"You have the choice between a way that works and brings no credit or money or national attention. Or, a way that doesn't work that gets you lots of attention and has little influence on the culture."

Parker wonders what a political talk show would sound like without a "self-appointed moral arbiter" bemoaning the breakdown of family values and morals in America. We are likely entering a time when we will find out. Places like Des Moines, where there are still enough people to listen to hosts like Steve Deace, will hold out but California and New York will squeeze even the Des Moines market in time.

The sooner all Christians turn this whole business off and get back to the mission of Christ and his kingdom the better off we will all be. That's my view!

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  1. Derek Taylor April 15, 2009 at 5:30 pm

    You said: “In my way of thinking, Dobson and compromise do not seem to flow in the same direction”.
    Dobson has taken a lot of flak for working closely with Catholics, protestants of nearly every stripe and even conservative Jews. For this reason, many of Billy Graham’s critics, and presumably many of your own, perceived him to be a compromiser of the first order.
    As I mentioned on you previous blog entry, this is one of the things I appreciate about you, Graham, Dobson and others who look for what unites us rather than what divides us.

  2. John H. Armstrong April 15, 2009 at 7:32 pm

    “Dodson and compromise” is meant in a positive sense, as I think Derek notes. I consider him to be a man of integrity and moral conviction. I obviously respect this even if I do not think he always used his influence in the most effective way. What concerns me now is that a “new” conservatism might be harsh, and far less conciliatory, than Dobson. You are right to say he worked across denominational differences.

  3. Sean Nemecek April 15, 2009 at 8:17 pm

    It seems to me that pragmatism – the idea that if it works it must be right – is the true American philosophy. The Christian Right (and other evangelical movements) clothe that old philosophy in religious language. When pragmatism is blended with mission – mission is diminished.

  4. George C April 15, 2009 at 11:19 pm

    I certainly wouldn’t miss the Christians Right, but I wish they would take the Christian Left with them.
    At the core both are doing the same thing: trying to bring Christ’s Kingdom (or at least their understanding of it) through the power of the sword.
    Much of the arguing between Christians about politics is arguing about the ends. All the while very few seem to be uncomfortable with the means.

  5. Derek Taylor April 16, 2009 at 12:53 am

    Having just returned to the states from overseas, I see it as the opposite – I think that the great wealth in America seems to enable many Christian organizations, churches and schools to live in an ivory tower of idealism. I think this is to an unhealthy degree. But maybe I’m comparing apples and oranges.

  6. ColtsFan April 16, 2009 at 6:08 am

    Should we be quick to announce the demise of the Christian Right…….considering that Mike Huckabee did quite well in the last primary??
    I am neither a fan of Gov. Huckabee or the Christian Right. But I noticed after Iowa top court gay-rights ruling, Huck was twittering everyone saying that he is gonna fight it, etc.

  7. Gene Redlin April 16, 2009 at 7:00 am

    In participating in our local “Tea Party” in Geneva that was organized by some pro life catholic women it was a joy to see several hundred people in good spirits gathered to encourage one another in like mind.
    This may be the real face of Christian conservative values. Not a “big man” at the head. But grass roots. This was not well organized or publicized. It just happened.
    This may be a good thing. Pictures on my blog if anyone wants evidence. According to CNN and MSNBC none of this actually happened. It did.

  8. K. Darrell April 18, 2009 at 12:27 am

    I think you stack the deck a little when you say “I am driven by a missional vision of culture, not a strongly political one” and “The sooner all Christians turn this whole business off and get back to the mission of Christ and his kingdom the better off we will all be.” I am not positive what “this whole business is” (the religious right? or political involvement in general?), but aren’t you just assuming your definition of mission and Kingdom & pushing them out by definition? Doesn’t “mission and Kingdom” extend to abortion, prisons (which you wrote about not too long ago), national debts, wars, just weights & measures, etc.? Might the issue be more one of tactics than us vs. them (“missional Christians” vs the old, fuddie duddie religious right fundies)?
    For the religious right, do they really reject the mission of Christ and Kingdom? Or is their vision of Christ and Kingdom extend beyond the personal, ecclesial and into the “political”? I think arguing that you have different tactics might limit the us vs them mentality created in these “religious right” discussions.
    I think the Church is just confused. In one breadth, “younger evangelicals” oft say we should be on the front line of the culture & cultural issues, but want to back off on issues like abortion, sexual immorality, & move instead in the direction of social-ist justice. They are simply moving in the direction of the “religious left” and dress it up in missional garb – “Jesus is concerned for the poor”, i.e. graduated income tax and redistribution, “Jesus is pro-life”, i.e. anti-death penalty and pro-socialist health care, etc.
    Being a “younger evangelical” and hanging around “younger evangelicals”, I hear the intellectual schizophrenia of Jesus cares about x, y, & z, so that means a, b, c policies, but we can’t say “God endorses *this* economic system”, although he has a strong penchant to endorse socialist policies.
    I don’t mind the passing of the religious right, but in their death we should not underestimate their influence, because, ironically, they have given birth to the religious left. I don’t think the Dems run the campaign they did last fall w/o the religious right, even on their death bed.

  9. Al Shaw April 23, 2009 at 1:44 am

    The politics of some of my fellow believers in America has always been a profound mystery to me.
    Thank goodness this shrill and blinkered movement is in decline and that Christian citizens can emerge from having had their faith hi-jacked by some very unpleasant political dogmas.

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