Merry War on Christmas -- The Religious Right Isn't Going Anywhere
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Editor's Note: The idea that Bush's departure and Barack Obama's election herald a decline in power for the Christian Right in America is sorely mistaken. As the "War on Christmas" turns into an annual outrage, and progressives argue against the choice of anti-gay, anti-abortion Pastor Rick Warrento give the invocation at Obama's inauguration, we are reminded all too soon that the Religious Right is a steady force in the political and cultural arena. Frederick Clarkson's essay makes the case that we are in the middle of a religious war -- and that we should always be on alert against it.
For a year or more in the run-up to the elections, we heard claims that the Religious Right is dead, dying or irrelevant and that the so-called Culture Wars are over, or about to be. Such declarations have turned out to be spectacularly wrong.
There are many reasons for the staying power of the Religious Right. Among them is an extraordinary infrastructure developed over decades, especially at the state level. This infrastructure is an important part of the reason the movement will be able to sustain, restore and replenish itself as the founding generation of Religious Right leaders passes from public life and why it will be able to regroup in the wake of national Republican electoral losses in 2008. But this is not the only reason.
The Religious Right is on a mission, or rather a cluster of interrelated missions. They are religious in nature and transcend not only electoral outcomes but the lives of individuals and institutions. This is much of the source of both the movement's resilience and its development of a vast capacity to move people and shape events to raise up leaders, and to field effective organizations able to wage electoral campaigns at all levels and effectively use the process of state ballot initiatives to drive wedge issues and, ultimately, their legislative and constitutional agenda.
That is why the Religious Right will be a major factor in American politics for at least as long as the life of anyone reading these words.
Meanwhile, to get a sense of where things stand, let's look at an album of snapshots of what is happening on the ground, in the states, where most of American political life and government takes place. But before we do, let's begin at the beginning.
The Defining Moment of the Culture Wars
"My friends, this election is about much more than who gets what," Pat Buchanan declared in his famously inflammatory speech at the 1992 GOP national convention. "It is about who we are. It is about what we believe. It is about what we stand for as Americans. There is a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we will one day be as was the Cold War itself."
He denounced the "radical feminism" of Bill and Hillary Clinton, stating that their "agenda would impose on America -- abortion on demand, a litmus test for the Supreme Court, homosexual rights, discrimination against religious schools, women in combat -- that's change, all right. But it is not the kind of change America wants. It is not the kind of change America needs. And it is not the kind of change we can tolerate in a nation that we still call God's country."
If this sounds familiar, it is because little has changed since these words were shouted to the world on prime-time television.