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Why Is There So Much God in Our Politics? The Religious Right's Theocratic Plan for the 2012 Election

In an unusually religion-soaked primary season, faith has been front and center for months. What's next?

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The group also plans to target conservative pastors.

“They’re the shepherds of the flock,” Bill Dallas, the group’s head, told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s a great mass media channel.”

Indeed, pastors who lead fundamentalist flocks are under quite a bit of scrutiny this election season. Outfits like the Family Research Council and the Faith & Freedom Coalition will be targeting pastors for political action, urging them to exhort congregants on their Christian duty to vote. Pastors will also be asked to distribute biased “voter guides” produced by groups like the Faith & Freedom Coalition that purport to objectively compare candidates’ views but in reality always portray the GOP office-seeker favorably.

Some organizations are going beyond that. For several years now, the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), a Religious Right legal group founded by TV and radio preachers, has been prodding pastors to openly defy federal law by endorsing or opposing candidates from the pulpit. Every fall, the ADF sponsors “Pulpit Freedom Sunday,” a day during which pastors are urged to intervene in elections.

The ADF, a $35-million-a-year operation based in Scottsdale, Ariz., claims that more than 500 pastors took part in the project in 2011, and the group is aiming for even more in 2012, when “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” will take place on Oct. 7.

What does all of this Religious Right involvement mean for American politics? Although many Americans may not realize it, the theocratic right has had a profound effect on the political system and has helped reshape the American political landscape.

More than 30 years ago, when the modern version of the Religious Right was launched, the Rev. Jerry Falwell and other leaders talked openly about taking over the Republican Party. They soon began doing it. During the heyday of TV preacher Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition, political analysts used to track the growth of the Religious Right in the states, noting that its shock troops held a controlling interest in many state GOP branches.

Now firmly entrenched in the party apparatus, Religious Right operatives have become a force that cannot be ignored. Republican hopefuls on the national stage bypass this movement at their peril. (It’s no coincidence that one former GOP presidential candidate who refused to continually kowtow to the Religious Right, former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, was mired in the single digits before quitting the race.)

At the national level, the Religious Right has helped push the GOP much farther to the right, acting as a screen that filters out moderates.

Thanks largely to the Religious Right, liberal Republicans are an all- but-extinct species. Even moderates are becoming scarce in the party. While this wasn’t all the Religious Right’s doing, the movement certainly played a key role through its constant promotion of “culture war” issues.

This year, Religious Right groups had hoped to coalesce early behind a single candidate and propel him or her to the nomination. For a number of reasons, it didn’t work out. Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, a favorite of the Religious Right, decided to sit out the race. Some candidates, notably Bachmann when she was in the race and Santorum, aggressively wooed the Religious Right by putting culture war issues at the crux of their campaign but are perceived as unlikely to prevail over Obama.

U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) actually has a fairly strong record in support of Religious Right issues but his libertarian focus on shrinking the size of the federal government and anti-war stance hurt him with fundamentalists. 

That left Romney by default – until Gingrich began to rise. But the former speaker has yet to seal the deal, and some in the Religious Right remain skeptical.

 
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