In his latest column, the New York Times’ Frank Rich declared that Religious Right groups are on the cusp of seeing their political and social influence dramatically shrink, thanks largely to the current economic crisis which makes culture wars “a luxury the country can no longer afford” and means that “Americans have less and less patience for the intrusive and divisive moral scolds.”
Citing polls showing that the majority of Americans do not share the Right’s views on things like stem cell research, civil unions and same-sex marriage, and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, Rich says that the nation is moving away from organized religion and might be on the verge of a “40-year exodus” duing which Religious Right leaders will find their reach increasingly limited.
Personally, I do not share Rich’s assessment because these sorts of bold proclamations are made every time the Republican Party loses at the polls, only to be followed shortly thereafter by a raft of pieces discussing the Right’s miraculous resurgence once the GOP wins a few elections.
In addition, as we recently pointed out, the Right is currently in the process of re-formulating itself into a resistance movement under Obama and using the economic crisis as a means to further its agenda and has already embarked on efforts designed to reverse their losses in Congress and regain control of government so that they can get on with the process of enacting their political and social agenda.
As tempting as it is to start writing the Right’s obituary, such declarations have been made before and have inevitably turned out to be wrong due, in large part, to the fact that the leaders and activists in the movement believe that they are doing the work of the Lord and thus have no intention of giving up the fight.
Case in point is this response to Rich’s column from the Family Research Council:
The bottom line: political movements come and go, but the Church is not a political movement. The end game is much bigger than a win at the ballot box, as important as that may be. Equipped with such an understanding, we are sustained in times of cultural and political setbacks. Is America where it needs to be as a nation? Is the Church the catalyst for moral and spiritual transformation that it should be? I think the answer to both is no–at the present. At this turning point, what happens is up to us. Don’t just sit and wring your hands. Pray.
“If my people, who are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways; then… [I] will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14) In the meantime, Rich and company should be careful what they wish for. When the end of the culture war does come, we already know who’s on the winning side.
That is not the language of people who are inclined to throw in the towel just because the Republican Party, with whom they have always had a rather tenuous relationship, is currently flailing about. If anything, the Right see the current political climate as an opportunity to re-build the conservative movement and the GOP in its own image.
Until the Republican Party puts forward a spate of Religious Right true believers who lose or a bunch of Religious Right heretics who win, the Right’s influence in the party and in our nation’s politics and culture will continue.
And finally, since they are still being invited to the White House, it seems a bit premature to start declaring them dead.