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.)
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.
They 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!