Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Secularization of the Christian Right

In the 1970s, as the Carter administration took office and American politics moved beyond the Watergate era, conservative Christians began to exert renewed influence in American elections. Always a political force, the 1970s saw an organized effort to corral evangelical Christians and harness their votes as a force for change. Much of that effort focused on opposition to abortion and attempts to counteract the Supreme Court’s (at the time) recently announced ruling in Roe v. Wade. Chief among the organizers was Jerry Falwell. His Moral Majority organization became the standard bearer for that effort.

As a primary strategy, leaders of emerging conservative Christian political groups sought to target key elections and issues as a way of injecting a Christian worldview into the political process. By electing Christian leaders, it was supposed that the direction of government policy could be turned from what was perceived to be godless secularism to an embrace of Biblical values.

Initially, the effort was energized by Jimmy Carter’s rise to the presidency but when Carter went along with the Democratic Party’s position on abortion and when he failed to pursue policies on school prayer and education that Falwell and others supported, the Moral Majority turned its attention to the Republican Party and, more specifically, to Ronald Reagan.

Through the Reagan administration’s two terms, the Moral Majority remained at the forefront of the conservative Christian political movement and continued to provide a voice for evangelicals in their attempts to exert influence over the political process. But as the Reagan era came to a close, public sentiment regarding the group’s primary issues waned. The broader context of the Christian church moved towards opinions more in line with the general public. Many evangelical political groups found themselves marginalized.

In the late 1980s, the Moral Majority ceased to exist as a formal organization and the group splintered into what is now identified simply as the Christian Right – a loose confederation of Christian leaders and organizations. The Christian Right, however, has moved one step beyond Falwell’s Moral Majority and has focused less on electing Christians to office and more on marrying Christianity with secular conservatism. The Christian Right still coalesces around the pro-life issue, but spends most of its energy promoting traditional conservative positions on lower taxes, less government regulation, and opposition to increased government control over health care. As a result, what were once merely political positions on taxes and government regulation now have become articles of Christian faith for many evangelicals. It is this shift of perspective that has marked the end of the Christian Right.

In the 1980s, no pro-choice candidate ever obtained the Christian Right’s endorsement. Indeed, most evangelical political groups were organized specifically for the opposition of that very position. At the same time, no candidate who did not profess to be a Christian ever received that group’s support. Now, things have changed.

That Mitt Romney is a Mormon is well-known. His position on abortion prior to his entry into his first presidential campaign is equally well-known. In spite of efforts to morph Mormonism away from the writings and influence of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, Mormonism is not a Christian organization. The traditional, bright-line distinction between what is and is not Christianity comes from the apostle Paul’s Letter to the Romans and consists of two points – the exclusive deity of Christ and His physical resurrection. Mormon beliefs fail on the question of Christ’s exclusive claim to deity.

Today, members of the Christian Right find themselves endorsing a candidate for president who is neither Christian nor opposed to abortion. And they offer that support not because they think Romney will advance the pro-life position, but because they think he will reverse recent legislation that attempts to provide health care insurance coverage for 40 million Americans who are without it. In the process, those in the Christian Right have abdicated their claim to Christianity and have become nothing more than conservative political lobbists masquerading under the name of God, in an attempt to manipulate voters, solely for the purpose of maintaining their supposed political power. They have ceased to be Christian and proved once and for all that they are more devoted to political power than to the standards of the Christian faith.

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