Yes, Virginia, there is a religious right

Print More

Religious Right.jpeg

The questions is: How much does it matter?

Back in the 1990s, exit pollsters not very usefully included “religious right” on a list of religious identities for voters to select. The problem was that calling yourself a member of the “religious right” was not claiming a religious identity, but membership in something like a social movement, and you had to think of yourself as an actual movement person to say yes. Most frequent attending white evangelicals didn’t, even those who were staunch values voters.

The point is that, on the one hand, these values voters (aka conservative white evangelicals) have, over the past generation, come to constitute a pretty solid Republican voting bloc; and they’ve come to do so in considerable measure because of the activities of social movement organizations such as the Moral Majority, Christian Coalition, Focus on the Family, the Traditional Values Coalition, etc. etc. And the latter, whether they like it or not (see Sarah Pulliam’s Christianity Today piece of a few days ago), are what constitute the actual religious right.

Now, as has been noted in this space, the full array of currently functioning religious right organizations recently took after the stimulus bill as “anti-Christian” for including boilerplate language forbidding federal funds to be used for religious facilities. This was just about as bogus as the secular conservative attack on the bill for supporting Nancy Pelosi’s pet marsh mice. And now, as rounded up by Religion Dispatches religious right watchdog Bill Berkowitz, the same outfits, again in lockstep, are attacking the Obama administration’s sub-attorney general DOJ nominees. Aside from providing their lefty watchdogs with something to do, does any of this make a difference?

At this point, I have my doubts. Like Limbaugh dittohead performance art, it seems to signify little more than sound and fury, designed to show the folks who provide the funding that the groups are actually doing something. Because that’s the first order of business for established social movement organizations (left or right)–assuring their own continued existence by appealing to the true believers. In that sense, they’re like the House and Senate Republicans, only more so.

Meanwhile, that big voting bloc of conservative white evangelicals live in the real world of layoffs and collapsed housing prices. Like the Republican governors (and the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers), they are not likely to spurn the lifeline for the sake of ideology. Or as Berthold Brecht put it, “Erst kommt das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral” (feeding comes first, then moral values). And so the religious right is caught between a rock and a soft space.

  • I have always wondered about the fuss over the “faith-based” funding issue that you’re getting out here. Thousands — if not tens of thousands — of faith-based operations operate without such contradiction. The best models are the various Catholic Charities and Jewish Family Services operations around the country. They are separate from a religious body, but clearly driven (and funded primarily) by adherents of a certain faith. As technically independent entities, they cannot discriminate in hiring or services, but can shape their services for a particular clientele (again, without discriminating against people who want to use those services.
    Thus, it would seem to me that the religious right — as you indicate, more a political/social grouping than a religious practice one — could welcome federal funding for social service programs by simply setting up models based on the above. That way, they can play by the same rules as everyone else.