Uncertain Times for Religious Right

christian-anti-abortionists.jpgAs the dust settles on Washington following the Barack Obama
earthquake, one group more than any other is expecting to be out in the
cold. 

For the past eight years, the so-called Religious Right has enjoyed
a warm reception at the centre of White House policy-making, and with
the Republican coalition on Capitol Hill.

Mainly white, “born again” evangelical Protestants, who adhere
to a literal interpretation of the Bible – and oppose abortion rights
above all – the Religious Right comprise around 40% of the Republican
Party’s support.

“The Republican Party as it exists today could not exist
without the Christian evangelical vote and the conservative Catholic
vote,” said Allen Hertzke, visiting senior fellow at the influential
Pew Forum on Religion and Politics.

“Now the Republican Party can’t win with them alone – as we’ve learned.”

Although there is always a tension between the narrow social
agenda of Christian conservatives and the broader, more pragmatic “low
tax” wing of the party, the strong US economy kept that argument at bay
– until this year’s financial crisis.

Blaming the economy

The imposing facade of the Family Research Council includes the
motto “faith, family, freedom” carved into the stone above the door,
right across from the National Portrait Gallery in downtown Washington.

When it comes to the seemingly never-ending Culture War in America,
“we lost a good portion of it, if President Obama is a man of his
word”, said the senior vice-president of the council’s Action arm,
Connie Mackey, who is in a reflective but steely mood.

She rejects the idea that by focussing on abortion, gay
marriage and federal judges who disagree with them, the movement is
ignoring the recent election verdict: “It was all played out on an
economic playing field, and the economy is a disaster.”

California’s electoral decision to define marriage as only
valid between a man and a woman gives her hope that a majority of
American voters remain socially conservative, and sympathetic towards
moulding a new Republican party that is more conservative, not less.

“I always get a laugh out of the liberals in the Republican
Party who think they can walk away from their base,” she said. “The
[party] is only the vehicle in which the conservatives travel… You
have to look at that vehicle and say, is it repairable, or do we get a
new one?”

At the foot of Capitol Hill, the conservative Heritage
Foundation was one of the large think-tanks that helped forge the
defeated Republican coalition. Its vice-president in charge of liaising
with Congress, Michael Franc, is confident that being denied influence
in Washington will revive the Religious Right.

Relaxing rules on stem-cell research and abortion, will
“galvanise the social Right – they will find it incredibly easy to
generate all sorts of reaction from their donor base, and their
supporters,” he said. “I think you’re going to see a surge once again,
reminiscent of the early 1990s.”

Across the lines

Although the Religious Right groups see no common ground with
the Obama administration, that is not the perception among more
moderate evangelicals close to power, during this transition period.

One of the more plugged-in members of the emerging Religious
Left is Burns Strider, who was head of religious outreach for Hillary
Clinton’s primary campaign.

“Instead of talking about criminalising women, let’s come
together in an honest conversation, and find ways to reduce the number
of abortions,” said the jovial consultant, in his office in suburban
Virginia.

For the hard-core Religious Right “it creates relationships where the edges are smoother,” he added.

For the Pew Forum’s Allen Hertzke, the idea that some “culture
warriors” might wander across enemy lines in the less dogmatic
post-election environment, would be the continuation of an already
visible trend.

“On certain international humanitarian and human rights issues,
unlikely alliances have formed between conservative evangelical groups
and more liberal human rights organisations,” he said.

“On [human] trafficking, on religious freedom, on Darfur, on
human rights in China…” Christian conservatives may find themselves
working alongside Democrats in Washington, he added.

Down to Obama

As the Republican Party struggles to regroup following an
emphatic election defeat, it is clear that the Religious Right will
have a major say in what happens next.

Alaska Governor Sarah Palin certainly helped to enthuse and
ignite her fellow Christian conservatives in a way that John McCain
could not. Many are already backing her for a run in 2012.

But the strength of the movement will also depend largely on
what President Obama does. If he steers clear of a social and cultural
policy agenda, preferring to focus all efforts on the economy and
foreign affairs, the Religious Right will have nothing much to react
against.

Unlikely as it is, given 40 years of polarisation, the culture wars may yet grind to a halt, for lack of ammunition.

Source: BBC.co.uk

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