For those of us who were born in the 1970s or later, it’s difficult to imagine American politics without the looming presence of the religious right, particularly the influence of fundamentalist or evangelical Christianity. When Jerry Falwell founded the Moral Majority, a group determined to take the moral future of America into their own hands, a new attitude toward religion and politics was born: one determined to instill moral and religious beliefs in other people. Thirty years later, the religious right is still going strong.
Here are a few key dates in the growth of the religious right in America:
1979: Jerry Fallwell forms the Moral Majority, which is often said to be the beginning of the New Christian Right.
1982: President Ronald Reagan introduces a proposed School Prayer Amendment to the United States Constitution.
1988: George H.W. Bush is elected president with the support of most conservative Christian voters.
1992: The Christian Coalition produces voter guides and distributes them to conservative Christian churches.
1996: The Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman, is enacted.
2000: In Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, the United States Supreme Court holds that the First Amendment allows the Boy Scouts to exclude openly homosexual males from membership in its organization.
2001: George W. Bush becomes president with the overwhelming support of white conservative evangelical voters.
2007: President George W. Bush vetoes the Stem Cell Research Enactment Act of 2007.
And with the Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann figures of the present day, it’s clear the the presence of the extreme religious right in our political landscape is not going to go away.
The religious right is not only bad for politics because of the polarization it causes between the two major parties. It is also bad for religion itself.
In an article in The Atlantic on the power of the religious right, Jonathan Merritt writes:
The American church is declining by nearly every data point. Christians are exerting less influence over the culture than even a few years ago, organized religion no longer garners the respect of the masses, and two in three young non-Christians claim they perceive the church as “too political.” Church attendance is declining, and the percentage of Americans claiming no religious affiliation is rising.
I thought it was interesting that Merritt pointed out Christians’ lack of influence on mainstream culture. With their anti-abortion protests, laws to block gay marriage, and insistence on citing God, the Bible, and morals as a reason to enact policy, it seems that the Christian right is trying pretty hard to influence our culture. But they’re failing.
I used to go to church, but stopped when my parents stopped going. It’s probably fair to say that part of the reason I haven’t picked it up again in my adult life is because I’m a little suspicious of people who regularly go to church. If I do start to attend, will I be forced to join a conservative Bible study group? How should I respond when someone asks me how I plan to vote in the upcoming presidential election? Will I be judged for not sharing 100% of the values espoused by my church? I don’t know, and I don’t plan to find out.
Merritt sums up my feelings at the end of his article:
If American Christians continue to see that the culture wars as the primary way of shaping culture, they should expect to see their numbers decline and their influence wane. But if they wake up to our current reality and return to the foundations of their faith — love, compassion, and a rigorous commitment to the “Gospel” story that drives them to faith in the first place — the faith’s best days may yet lie ahead.
Photo credit: trekkyandy