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The Evangelical Movement's Breakdown Ain't so Cute After All

Don't be fooled by NY Times Magazine's feature story this weekend about the religious right's nice, new image. Christian power is not about holding hands and thinking good thoughts.
 
 
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Is the religious right ready to get their hands out of America's underwear? Is the shame margin not paying off the way it used to?

New York Times reporter David Kirkpatrick takes apart " The Evangelical Crackup" in this past Sunday Magazine , in what is sure to be one of the most talked-about stories of the pre-election season.

He interviews a number of pastors and politicos from the conservative churches -- the bedrock of the "Moral Majority" and the base that won the Bush family their votes.

This is the movement that could be relied upon to do anything at the flick of an abortion-shaming or homo-hating switch. Get them on their high horse, with a sexy leather crop in their hands, and you had them sweating and frothing their way to the finish line.

By Kirkpatrick's assessment, the coalition is now blown to smithereens, for a number of reasons. I was disappointed with his analysis, but the raw material is fascinating to review:

1. The Oedipal Split. The old dudes of the Moral Majority are dying, or at least creaking -- and the hip young pastors coming up can't wait to dethrone the old poops. The younger congregations -- which are the only ones growing -- don't wanna listen to grandpa scream "Get Thee Behind Me, Satan" -- they're embarrassed by him. They don't want to look stupid about evolution. They wish they were as cool as The Daily Show .

2. The religious right got tied like a tin can to the tail of the GOP, and lately, that's like being dragged through the streets on a bed of nails. The new line among the moderate church folk is, "We shouldn't have gotten involved in politics in the first place." They say the religious community should be a pure covenant that doesn't take partisan sides. Besides, the current crop of Republican presidential weirdos candidates make their stomachs hurt.

3. "Be the first one on your block to have your boy come home in a box." The War is unpopular, and everyone blames Bush. The Fundie rank and file have seen their kids killed and maimed, and they don't see the Bush clan making any sacrifices. Meanwhile, the oil profiteering is hurting everyone who doesn't have a major share in Halliburton. The class divisions between the have-nots, have-littles, and the White House are finally deep enough to hurt, and all the flag-waving and fag-bashing won't make it go away.

Kirkpatrick got a lot of the young ministers on the record speaking about how they didn't want to be known for what they were against, they want to be associated with positive efforts, like fighting poverty and racism in their own communities. Taking global warming and environmental issues seriously! Promoting peace rather than blood or oil thirst. He even got one pastor to admit he didn't think having an an abortion or being gay was necessarily going to send anyone to hell. My, my!

On the face of it, these developments are very touching, and they reflect the changes I see in my own small town. The white Christian churches in Santa Cruz have thrown themselves into helping people with drug rehab, especially those suffering from the meth scourge. The old-school surfing community here is divided between dealers and born-again's, and the Xtians have really gained a lot of ground. They do food fund-raising drives, the pastors are famous for their marital counseling services, they clean up the beaches. They sponsor straight-edge hardcore music shows. They are supportive to families who've been devastated by the war, and the obvious sentiment is, "This was so unnecessary, Jesus doesn't like it."

But.

I think this "kind" face is the one the church puts on whenever they're in trouble.

The sex shame has not gone away; I meet the causalities all the time: the young women looking for a way out of a secret pregnancy who "can't tell anyone" and hate themselves for it. The painful closet cases who hide behind "purity pledges" and the threat of "porn addiction" as a way to keep anyone from seeing that they're queer, and as horny, as any other human being. The revolving door between drug addiction and choir practice because the underlying problems are never addressed.

The church can't help these poor sinners, no matter how "nice" they are, because fundamentally, they have sinned. If you believe in that shit, even if you're not getting a straight ticket to hell, purgatory's flames are burning your hair off anyway.

Successful missionary work encourages conceit, and aggression. It always does. When it was "fun" to be a Bush Family supporter, when W. was a "winner," then being a fag-bashing bully and killing a few more abortion doctors was righteous. Bomb Iraq! Your credit card is limitless! Gas is cheap! National Guard duty is a cakewalk! Jesus did a lot of kicking ass and taking names.

Of course the elite like Ralph Reed, Falwell, Dobson, et. al., sold out to the corporate GOP cash trough long ago. Year after year, the Republican economic and military policies destroyed their own base. But the Fundie Kings were distracted by all their velvet cushions and private jets. A scandal here, a scandal there -- they just couldn't be bothered to take it seriously.

The only candidate who could save them now would be a wholesome middle-of-the-roader who promises to end the war, and put some major money in working-class (i.e., debt slave) pockets. Like Hillary. Or Barak. And those two are pumping out the prayer breakfasts to prove that very point. The leading Democrats aren't campaigning to get religion out of politics, they're encouraging it.

Dobson may still be screaming in his piss-pot about how children need to be beaten harder to turn out right, but he shook Hillary Clinton's hand a few weeks ago. What does that say about the two of them?

There is no such thing as religion staying out of politics; I find it incredible any reporter can let a whopper like that slip through without rebuttal. Christian power is not about holding hands and thinking good thoughts about the little people. Instead, what we have is a very tense waiting game.

Kirkpatrick describes one dethroned older minister, Pastor Terry Fox, who got ejected from his Wichita Baptist mega-church by the younger deacons, and is now holding small gatherings in a Best Western hotel room.

"Hell is just as hot as it ever was," he reminded [his remaining congregation]. "It just has more people in it."

"... I think the religious community is reflective of the rest of the nation -- it's divided right now. This election process is going to reveal a lot about where the religious right and the religious community is. It will show unity or the lack of it."

But liberals, he said, should not start gloating. " Some might compare the religious right to a snake," he said. "We may be in our hole right now, but we can come out and bite you at any time."

Susie Bright is an author, editor, and journalist known for her original and pioneering work in sexual politics and erotic expression. She writes about sex and politics every day at her blog.

 
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