The recent election post-mortems have strongly suggested that the Religious Right is not dead, but it will either change in the next few years, or it will die. Its importance in terms of real accomplishment in public policy is less and less prominent in the big picture of things. Many have strongly suggested that this change is already underway in less strident quarters. These changes have many stories within their larger story but I will list a few I see for further thought:
1. Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and James Dobson do not speak for most conservative Christians, if they ever did. The coalition of Christians who believe that they should actively engage the culture within the public square politically is much broader, much deeper, and far more ecumenical than anything represented by these strident voices.
2. Roman Catholic social thinking has filtered into evangelical thinking and the result is a much more mature and balanced Christian response in the larger public arena. I believe we will see this coalition grow (informally in almost every case I am quite sure) in the coming years.
3. It is evident that some Democrats have begun to adjust to the new realities about abortion and same-sex marriage. The “Blue Dog” coalition consists of over forty members of the House now. The jury is out on whether this conservative movement will grow within the party itself but Christians should encourage it. We need to hope that there are options for advancing moral issues beyond the Republican Party. Democrats such as these have much to offer to the wider discussion and some of them are serious conservative Christians as well.
4. The influence of best-selling evangelical author Rick Warren, who has highlighted the plight of both AIDS victims and starving children in Africa, is clearly immense in ways that we are still to discover. He clearly speaks for a type of active and compassionate conservatism that is spreading to many Christians and churches. I thank God for this influence and pray for Rich as a brother who has a huge influence. Pray that he remains credible and morally upright.
5. The pro-life issue will not go away. Other issues are coming into prominence, which is very good, but this one will remain strong for reasons that are obvious to Christians who value life as the gift of God. If we will not defend the helpless we will have little to contribute before long.
6. The issue of same-sex marriage will also not go away but the rhetoric used to define this debate will shift, or so I pray and believe. Methodist evangelical Adam Hamilton recently said it well: “I can’t see Jesus standing with signs at an anti-gay rally. It’s hard to picture that.” Opposing same-sex marriage is not the same thing as opposing gay people as persons, or opposing their basic human rights. I expect younger Christians will help forge a new way of thinking about this issue.
7. Sins of the flesh are not the only sins that Christians should speak about in the culture. Voters made it clear on November 7 that greed and corruption still matter to them. They matter deeply to me and I sense they do to many other Christians as well. I am disgusted with the “ear-marks” that drove the 109th Congress and the corruption among some Republicans. Republicans had better get this right or they will be in real trouble in the long-term. Power still corrupts and having control of Congress clearly corrupted some Republicans. New party leadership needs to deal with this sooner than later. Christians need to open their eyes on this one and stop defending Republicans as if they are always the “good guys.”
8. David Kuo is not the last word on evangelical influence in Washington but he is a serious warning to us all. Kuo is surely right when he says: “Jesus needs to be about more than being precinct captain.” It is a good that Christians began to engage the public square in the late 1970s but a great deal of the way this was done over the past three-plus decades by the Religious Right left a bitter taste in the mouths of many conservative people, myself included.
9. I believe in a healthy two-party system of government. In the end, this country will be better off if the far Left and the far Right are marginalized and we move toward the middle on many solvable issues where most Americans still live. I hope that the radical forces of 1960s liberalism will be forced out of the Democratic Party in time. I also pray that “wedge issue” demagoguery, and influence peddling and corruption, will be driven out of the Republican Party.
10. National security will remain a huge issue for our entire lifetime. You have to be asleep to not see that radical Islam is a very real threat to the future of Western Civilization, not just to the selfish interests of America alone. I fear that too many of us do not get this at all. (I am presently reading Mark Steyn’s incredible book, America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It. It is an eye-opener and a page-turner.) In the long term this issue may well be the undoing of life as we’ve known it. Europe, without a Christian reformation of amazing proportions throughout the culture, may be gone. In terms of America I am not talking about protecting a robust economy or our deadening consumerism when I write this, but about the values of freedom and Christian expression that have shaped the better parts of our great civilization.
All of the above underscores the need for a true revival spiritually and a deep re-engagement with the culture by awakened Christians. This is why I pray for the emerging generation so much and seek to make friends among them. They are making mistakes for sure but there is real evidence that many are quite serious about the kingdom and thus not willing to accept a privatized consumerist faith without a serious Christian challenge.