Religious right meltdown? More fiction than fact
By Bill Berkowitz
Online Journal Guest Writer
Dec 21, 2007, 00:08
rumblings in the traditional press about a religious right 'crackup,' key
conservative Christian organizations are bringing in 'more money than ever,'
says Americans United for Separation of Church and State
Over the past two-plus decades it has become fashionable for
the traditional press to periodically pen the Religious Right's obituary. Or,
if not an outright death notice, articles will appear that detail real, or
perceived, rifts within the Religious Right -- Pat Robertson's endorsement of
Rudy Giuliani for example -- plus periodic contentiousness between the
Religious Right and other elements of the Republican Party. The traditional
media often conclude that the Religious Right's days are numbered.
While there are certainly differences within the leadership
of the Religious Right over which candidate to support, it would be foolhardy
to consider these differences irreconcilable.
Commenting on the rift within the Religious Right, NewsMax's
Tom Squitieri recently wrote that Robertson's endorsement "created a
schism among evangelical Republicans -- one that may cost the GOP the White
House next year." Squitieri pointed out that a major backlash has been
under way in the evangelical community over the endorsement."
People for the America Way's RightWingWatch
recently picked up on the in-fighting within the party as a whole theme,
pointing to a piece "suggesting that moderate Republicans are growing
increasingly weary of the stranglehold the Religious Right has had on the
Republican Party for the last several years and that efforts by presidential
candidates to pander to the likes of James Dobson, Tony Perkins, and Pat
Robertson are only alienating them further."
Scott Reed, who managed Republican Bob Dole's 1996
presidential campaign, told the Wall Street Journal's John Harwood
that there's "a sense that the leadership of the Republican Party is too
beholden to a small group of self-appointed social conservative leaders."
As crunch time approaches for the GOP's presidential
candidates, the jury is still out on which candidate the majority of so-called
values voters will support. Some political observers have argued that since the
leadership of the Religious Right had been at first reticent about supporting
any of the candidates and more recently have been all over the map with their
endorsements, the conservative evangelical vote will be divided and diluted,
which could lead to a large number of disillusioned stay-at-homes come November
of next year.
In a recent interview with The Denver Post's PoliticsWest, Tom Minnery, the senior vice president
of government and public policy for Focus on the Family and Focus on the Family
Action, the organization's political arm, disputed this notion and maintained
that it was ridiculous to be talking about any kind of so-called crackup within
the Religious Right.
Minnery told PoliticsWest that such articles as
David Kirkpatrick's "The Evangelical Crackup," which appeared in the
October 28 edition of the New York Times Magazine was "typical of
what we see during election cycles."
Minnery pointed out that after Pat Robertson failed in his
bid for the Republican Party's presidential nomination in 1988, "There were
wide predictions of a crackup; of the Moral Majority back then, of
evangelicals. Then, of course, the Christian Coalition immediately rose up and
became very strong. When that organization faded, there were another spate of
stories about the crackup of evangelical Christians as an influence in the
"What did we see then? Well, as recently as 2004, we
saw 11 out of 11 states that had state marriage amendments on the ballot,
passed them all by landslide proportions, except for liberal Oregon, which
passed it with a 57 percent majority. And the exit polls in the 2004 election
astonished a number of reporters when the single issue that brought most of
them to the polls -- as elucidated in the exit polls -- was social, moral
issues, such as marriage, such as the decline of our culture. And that
"So, obviously, there was a big stick swung by social
conservatives in the 2004 election. The fact that George Bush won in Ohio, that
very key state, because a lot of people turned out for the marriage amendment
in that particular state, was deemed to be significant. Now, we're into another
cycle and the normal predictions of the crackup of evangelicalism is occurring.
One of the phenomenon that gives rise to that, of course, is the fact that
there is no single conservative candidate who has enough marbles for everybody
in the conservative movement to want to play with. Everybody's lacking in
something. Partially, this is just the way it is. People will have to figure it
out, who to support. So there's some unsettledness. But I'd hardly call that a
Over the past several weeks, former New York City mayor Rudy
Giuliani received the endorsement of Pat Robertson, while other candidates have
received significant support from other evangelical leaders. Former Arkansas
governor Mike Huckabee, seen by some as the one fundamentalist Christian in the
field that also has a streak of economic populism, has received endorsements
from such evangelical leaders as Janet Folger, president of Faith2Action
(website); Rick Scarborough, founder and president of Vision America (website);
the Rev. Don Wildmon, founder of the American Family Association, and Tim and
Beverly LaHaye, longtime influential conservative activists: He is the
co-author of the wildly popular "Left Behind" series of apocalyptic
novels, and she is the founder of Concerned Women of America.
At the same time Huckabee was stitching together support
from Christian leaders, a Robert Novak column, entitled "The False
Conservative," maintained that while "Huckabee is campaigning as a
conservative . . . serious Republicans know that he is a high-tax,
protectionist, big-government advocate of a strong hand in the Oval Office
directing the lives of Americans."
Despite the fact that Dr. James Dobson, the founder of Focus
on the Family, has stated unequivocally that he would not support a Giuliani
candidacy, Tom Minnery doesn't see the Constitution Party, a far-right entity,
as being capable of siphoning off a significant number of evangelical votes.
Minnery believes that should Giuliani become the nominee, "a lot of people
on our side would probably swallow hard and vote for the more conservative of
the two major party candidates."
Religious Right funding increases, says watchdog
One measure of the health of the Religious Right is the
amount of money flowing into their coffers. A mid-October press release from
Americans United for Separation of Church and State pointed out that several
major organizations are raising "more money than ever."
An analysis of IRS filings by Americans United found that:
Dobson's Focus on the Family took in $142.2 million in 2006, a $4.4
million increase over the previous year. (In addition, Dobson's Focus on
the Family Action took in $14.6 million in 2006.)
Perkins' Family Research Council took in $10.3 million in 2006, an
increase of over $900,000 over the previous year. (FRC Action, an
affiliated group, took in $1.1 million in 2006.)
Wildmon's American Family Association took in $16.9 million in 2006.
Sears' Alliance Defense Fund took in $26.1 million in 2006, an increase of
$4.1 million over last year.
preacher Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network took in $236.3
million in 2005, a $49.8 million increase over the previous year.
According to the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of
Americans United, "The top Religious Right groups are taking in huge
amounts of money. They are also quietly organizing churches into a partisan
political machine. Now they just have to find a presidential candidate who will
carry out their agenda."
"They know they are on the verge of full control over
the Supreme Court," Lynn added, "and one more appointment could lead
to a high court reversal on church-state separation, reproductive rights and
Is the religious right moving 'beyond mere identity
politics' and toward 'political compromise'?
Writing in the November 27 edition of the Los Angeles
Times, Dan Gilgoff, editor of Beliefnet's
God-o-meter and the author of "The Jesus Machine: How James Dobson, Focus
on the Family, and Evangelical America Are Winning the Culture War,"
suggested that Robertson's endorsement and the subsequent dustup is "a
sure sign that many evangelical leaders have moved beyond mere identity
politics and toward an overdue openness to compromise in a political system
that's built on it."
One of the most troubling tendencies of
the Christian right has been its habit of translating the black-and-white
literalism of its theology to the political realm. Under this model, Democrats
and moderate Republicans are God's sworn enemies and must be opposed at every
turn. Rather than compromise, the Christian right has attempted to stage a
conservative Republican "takeover" of Washington, with considerable
electoral success during the Bush years but with poisonous consequences for
politics and policy.
The willingness of a powerful figure
such as Robertson to work with a former enemy such as Giuliani, by contrast, is
evidence of the Christian right's ideological demilitarization. Add it to other
recent evangelical partnerships -- with feminists, for instance, on the issue
of sex trafficking, and environmentalists on the issue of global warming -- and
a trend emerges.
Where Gilgoff sees maturity, Michael Cromartie, director of
the Evangelicals and Civic Life Program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center,
sees betrayal. Cromartie characterized the Robertson endorsement as being
"past Mr. Robertson being the pragmatic politician."
Cromartie told NewsMax: "He is not taken seriously. For the religious conservative
movement, it has moved on. Mr. Robertson is important only as a curiosity to
the mainstream media. I don't know anybody in the evangelical [movement] who is
sitting around saying 'I am going to wait for what Pat does.'"
In October, Mike Huckabee told the crowd at the Value Voters
Summit in Washington that " . . . it's important that people sing from
their hearts and don't merely lip-sync the lyrics to our songs," referring
to the presidential contenders. "I think it's important that the language
of Zion is a mother tongue and not a recently acquired second language."
Some pundits are speculating that a Giuliani/Huckabee combo
could be the dream GOP ticket and an instant rift healer.
For that to happen, however, Huckabee would have to go back
on what he has been touting as one of his major virtues -- loyalty to
principles rather than politics. Huckabee has often maintained that Christian
right leaders "are more intoxicated with power than principle."
Undoubtedly, a Giuliani/Huckabee embrace in Minneapolis next
summer would make quite a sight.
There have always been splits and differences within
Republican Party ranks, a longtime GOP operative recently told me. The current
split "caused by the presidential race is best defined by who people are
against rather than who they are for. Ultimately, it will not hurt the values
voter movement. They will lead against the Democratic nominee no matter who the
Republican candidate is. But a Republican candidate who is not trusted by the
grassroots will not win against a solid Democrat ticket, no matter what
Christian movement leaders say or do."
Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement and a frequent
writer for Media Transparency.
He documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of
the American Right.
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