There are certain articles that seem to pop up on a semi-regular basis that I just can never understand. The first are the obligatory “The Religious Right is Dead” articles that get written every time the GOP loses an election … and they are inevitable followed a few years later by articles marveling at the Right’s miraculous resurrection.
The other articles I don’t understand are more recent, beginning back when Mike Huckabee was running for president, in which it is asserted that the Religious Right is getting toning down its rhetoric and somehow broadening its agenda.
Fire and brimstone evangelicalism has simmered down into a broader movement of cooler approaches.
Yet much of what has been said about the expanded political agenda and softer tone of evangelical Christians has missed the point, say observers of the Christian right.
“Every time a Democrat gets elected they say: ‘That’s the end of the Christian conservatives. They’re gone,’ ” said D.C.-based Ethics and Public Policy Center vice president Michael Cromartie. “But they’re not. Broadening their agenda doesn’t mean they are suddenly liberal Democrats.”
And evangelicals, Cromartie said, are not abandoning their core issues: traditional marriage and sanctity of life. “Climate change does not trump pro-life issues.”
Although the rhetoric is gentler, the politics are the same. The money is going to lobby for the same things. The basic voting structure was largely unchanged in 2008, pollsters say.
“We want to be relevant to a new generation, but we plan to stay strong on the pillars Dr. James Dobson built at Focus on the Family,” said Tom Minnery, the ministry’s senior vice president of government and public policy.
Jim Daly, the 48-year-old head of Focus on the Family media ministry, is seen inside the conservative Christian organization as less authoritarian and more approachable than his predecessor, the 73-year- old Dobson.
Outside the organization, Cromartie said, Daly is seen as more affable and willing to seek common ground.
“As (Focus on the Family) tries to reach the next generation of young families, we’re trying to use words that work,” Minnery said.
What evidence is there that “fire and brimstone evangelicalism has simmered down”? The article provides none.
As for the idea that Focus on the Family is moderating its tone, that remains to be seen. James Dobson is still, for all intents and purposes, the voice of the organization and will remain so until he finally leaves next month. If the organization does become more willing to seek common ground and less confrontational under Daly, that will certainly be newsworthy, but for now it is impossible to say.
If journalists want to declare that the Religious Right is moderating its tone and broadening its agenda, they ought to at least provide some evidence, because I haven’t seen any. If anything, the Right is getting more radical and its language more strident under Obama than it has ever been in recent years.