Tuesday, January 29, 2013

More liberal wishful thinking, Christian Right version

I posted yesterday about Robert Reich looking for the kind of cracks in the Republican coalition that various analysts and political strategists have been expecting to see since around the day after St. Reagan's election as President in 1980.

A more recent favorite piece of wishful thinking, this one dating back to the 2004 election or so, is the expectation of conservative evangelical voters splitting off from the Republicans and voting Democratic.

Sarah Posner expresses informed caution about this assumption in ‘New Evangelical’-Progressive Alliance? Not So Fast Religion Dispatches 01/27/2013. As she points out, 79% of people identifying as white evangelical Christians voted for Mitt Romney in 2012.

Here again we need to keep in mind the difference between signs of a major realignment, smaller signs of shifts in voting habits, and the position of activist groups and major leaders. Regional shifts would also be important. A 10% or 15% shift in partisan preference among Southern or white evangelicals would probably be more significant on a national basis than similar shifts among white evangelicals in Ohio or California. Because there are relatively more of them in the South, and such a shift would be more likely to flip statewide contests from Republican to Democratic winners.

The problem, as Posner describes in her post, is that the alleged signs of significant shifts among evangelicals to more liberal concerns seem to be fairly ephemeral, while the conservative figures who are supposedly showing these signs repeatedly demonstrate their strong agreement with the more traditional culture warriors. She focuses in particular on an essay by Marcia Pally, Evangelicals who have left the right The Immanent Frame 01/15/2013. Posner writes:

If the new evangelicals were to be part of a successful coalition to persuade Congress to pass, for example, meaningful legislation on gun control, immigration reform, or climate change, that would certainly be a positive development for evangelical political advocacy. But what sort of cracks would then develop? Will evangelicals, for example, support an immigration reform package that includes equal treatment for gays and lesbians? Perhaps more important than whether they will work with Democrats is whether they would be able to break the conservative movement’s unyielding grip on the Republican Party.

Pally’s essay is framed around the thesis that these evangelicals have “left the right.” But left it for what? What she describes is really another vision of conservatism: church-based charity in lieu of a government safety net; exemptions from government regulation for religious groups; federal funding of religious activities; and persistent sexual puritanism. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say they've left the radical right and are in the process of creating a new religious right, stripped of harsh rhetoric but still undergirded by conservative ideology. Which is a movement worth chronicling, but not, as Pally intimates, as the new saviors of civility in our religiously-inflected politics.
Unfortunately, the tone for fundamentalist Christians - who are a more conservative subset of "evangelical" Christians - is still being set by fatuous nonsense like this, which the authors surely must realize provides encouragement to some of the nastiest extremists, among the antiabortion movement in particular, A Call to Conscience by Ken Conner Christian Post 01/30/2013:

Americans are living in an age, however, where the actions of government increasingly come into conflict with Christian values. As issues like abortion and gay marriage continue to insert themselves into the cultural milieu, Christians and other traditional-minded Americans – including those of other religious faiths – find themselves marginalized and even demonized. The moral authority increasingly rests with those who control the narrative: Big Government, Hollywood, and the mainstream media. In the world of Barack Obama, George Clooney, Bob Schieffer and those like them, it is the folks at Planned Parenthood and the Human Rights Campaign who are on the right side of history. There is a war on for the soul of America, and the growing perception is that it's the Christian remnant who are wearing the black hats.

In the face of this reality, the language of martyrdom is once again becoming relevant. Modern examples of those who are being persecuted by the state or popular culture for their fidelity to their faith include the owners of Chick-Fil-A and Hobby Lobby. Both entities have been blacklisted by the reigning "moral authorities." Both have paid the price for espousing their faith in the public square. Right now the price may just be public opprobrium, or in Hobby Lobby's case, fines. But as we allow government to burgeon, the price will undoubtedly get higher. As Strachen and Walker point out, look what happened in Nazi Germany. National Socialism grew and grew and gradually took control over every area of life. The church was timid and even complicit in the growth of oppressive statism and the persecution of "undesireables," and soon there was little resistance from the wider culture. Dietrich Bonhoeffer and leaders of The Confessing Church were some of the only ones brave enough to say "no," and ultimately paid the price of resistance with their lives.

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