Some Folks Say It's the Beginning of the End for the Christian Right -- Dream On, They're Getting More Powerful
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In the aftermath of the government shutdown, and the ongoing Republican Party internal civil war that followed, progressive media outlets have embraced the notion that the Christian Right is finally facing its demise. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The autopsy of the 2012 election produced a swarm of op-ed obituaries that either celebrated or foretold the political end times for the Christian Right. Jonathan Merritt, a columnist for the Atlantic, observed that the GOP’s electoral hammering in 2012 marked the end of evangelical dominance in U.S. politics. More recently, Steven Conn, a contributor for the Huffington Post, predicts the rise of Pope Francis will dissolve the glue holding the Christian Right together.
While these observations make for sound logic when examining national politics, they completely overlook the Christian Right’s state-by-state strategy.
The Christian Right is flying mostly under the radar because the media tend to be attracted to bright, shiny things that grab attention at the national level. The nation’s theocrats, however, are waging a battle for America’s soul at the local and state level, and these battles generally do not make their way onto CNN or the front page of the New York Times.
But don’t be fooled, the Christian Right has not only seized control of the Republican Party, but is also seizing control of state legislatures and governors' mansions while we laugh at Ted Cruz.
Poll after poll shows America is becoming increasingly liberal on most issues, from gun control and same-sex-marriage, to pot legalization and reproductive rights, but our state legislatures are being governed further to the right, and it’s happening while nobody notices. A new report from the Guttmacher Institute shows that over the past three years, state legislatures have enacted a staggering 205 restrictions on reproductive rights. That number is especially mind-blowing when you consider that the number of anti-abortion bills enacted during the entire previous decade was a total of 189. In fact, in the first three months of 2013 alone, Republicans put forward 694 provisions related to reproductive health.
This radical right-wing social engineering, to borrow Newt Gingrich’s phraseology, was made possible by the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of Citizens United vs. the Federal Electoral Commission. While there’s plenty of hullabaloo about the Chamber of Commerce delivering a war chest of $50 million for the purpose of ensuring really crazy Christian Right candidates don’t scuttle the GOP’s chance of winning the Senate in 2014, the oligarchs and plutocrats cannot ignore the fact that the soul of the Republican Party remains in the hands of the most politically agitated and reliable voting bloc in America: the Christian Right. The GOP base gets its cues from Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, rather than from Chamber of Commerce darlings John Boehner and Mitch McConnell. To that end, Limbaugh and Coulter are all in with the national spiritual leader of the Christian Right: Ted Cruz.
Sarah Posner, an adept observer of the Christian Right, writes: “The religious right is not a movement with one or even two or three or four leaders. Because it's a political and cultural undertaking that is playing a long game—rather successfully—it has produced many disciples.”
To pen an obituary for the Christian Right is to completely misunderstand the vice-like grip theocrats have on the Republican Party. The Christian Right is no longer the fringe; it’s the center. In fact, the Christian Right now holds a majority of seats in more than half of all Republican Party State Committees. Nearly half of the Senate, and half of all congressmen have a 80-100 percent approval rate from the three most influential Christian advocacy groups: the Christian Coalition, Eagle Forum and the Family Research Council.
The Christian Right’s state-by-state strategy is paying remarkable dividends, yet few political commentators are pointing to their successes. Republican legislatures in Colorado, Missouri, Montana, and Oklahoma have introduced bills intended to reintroduce the unconstitutional teaching of creationism and religious dogma in school classrooms. Alabama, North Dakota, Mississippi, and Tennessee are among the latest Republican-controlled states to impose restrictions on women’s access to abortion and contraception.
There’s no reason to think that what happens in a swing state like North Carolina can’t happen in any one of the other 50 states. Until 2010, North Carolina was seen as the most progressive state in the South. Now, thanks to the influx of millions of dollars from billionaires like Art Pope and the Koch brothers, the far right not only controls both houses and the governor’s mansion for the first time in 150 years, it now also has a super-majority in the legislative chamber. We all know what happened next. North Carolina has been turned into a far-right-wing laboratory, with deep spending cuts to public education to make way for even deeper tax breaks for the rich; an erosion of public safety nets; a repeal of environmental regulations; and, of course, a bill to make Christianity the official religion of the state, while obstacles to abortion are erected at the same time obstacles to the death penalty are removed.
To buy into the wishful idea that the Christian Right is on the ropes serves only to make these radical theocrats an even greater threat in 2014. The Christian Right is far too organized and well-funded to just fade away into the background of American politics. Frederick Clarkson, a senior fellow at Political Research Associates, warns, “The Religious Right will never be dead, no matter how hard some may wish it to be so. There is a vast infrastructure of schools, churches, organizations and media outlets that did not exist a generation ago.”
The progressive agenda has already paid a massive price for failing to take the Christian Right seriously when Democrats sat out the 2010 election. In 2014, the Christian Right will be as passionate as it was four years ago, as they see this as the final opportunity to wound a president for whome they have a pathological hatred. They really do believe the Christian agenda is under attack in this country—one only had to witness the vitriol that spewed from the Right in defense of Phil Robertson’s biblically supported bigotry. Angry white Christians feel their way of American life is threatened by gays, women, atheists, liberals, and scientists. When an animal feels cornered, it's even more vicious.
Chris Hedges, author of American Fascists, writes, “All ideological, theological and political debates with the radical Christian right are useless. It cares nothing for rational thought and discussion. Its adherents are using the space within the open society to destroy the open society itself. Our naive attempts to placate a movement bent on our destruction, to prove to it that we too have 'values,' only strengthen its supposed legitimacy and increase our own weakness.”
Progressives still have no idea how to talk to the beast that is the Christian Right, for fear of sounding politically incorrect or equally intolerant. But it’s time to call a shovel a shovel; the ideology of the Christian Right has nothing to do with love and compassion, and everything to do with violence and hatred. The movement draws its power from our complacency and timidity. Political op-eds that foretell the Christian Right’s demise serve only to make it an even greater threat to our democracy.