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Moving Beyond the Religious Right

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In the fourth post in our series on decency in our politics, Pastor RD McClenagan describes his views on what was wrong with the Religious Right, and the future of Christian political engagement. You can read the first three posts here: https://www.onfaith.co/commentary/how-we-can-change-the-character-of-our-politics, https://www.onfaith.co/commentary/why-our-president-must-be-decent and https://www.onfaith.co/commentary/this-election-and-the-alliances-we-make. The tentacles of the Religious Right that have slithered their way into and around the skin of GOP politics for the past 40 years are being chopped off day after day through the Republican nomination of Donald J. Trump for the President. That is in large part because an emerging generation of evangelical Christians is rising from the ashes of the Religious Right. A younger, multi-ethnic, Jesus-centered, justice-seeking, hope-shaped generation of evangelical Christians is here and is taking the Christian faith in America into the 21st century. And this is good news. The Religious Right, in the eyes of many millennial Christians (and no doubt others as well), has become obsessed with political power and has often used different social issues as weapons to make sure the faithful go to the polls and vote Republican. The Religious Right’s passionate denouncement of Bill Clinton over his character issues in the 1990s and its near complete embrace of Donald Trump now is the latest and yet most egregious example of the hypocritical nature of many who lead the Religious Right. Today’s millennial evangelicals are not listening to or influenced by the leaders of the Religious Right--Jerry Falwell Jr., Ralph Reed, or Pat Robertson. They are not committed to “winning America back for Christ” or flocking to see politicians give speeches behind pulpits. We are listening to a much more diverse group of pastors and leaders—women and men—such as Tim Keller, Jen Hatmaker, and Lecrae. The questions that millennial evangelicals are asking are “How can we seek the common good of our neighborhoods?” and “How can the church be known as a diverse group of people committed to justice, mercy, and reconciliation?” We have no problem being steadfastly committed to defending the unborn and seeking ways to fight systemic racism, poverty, and human trafficking. We are holistic in how we want to engage our neighbors with the gospel and hopeful in how we speak about the future of our country and the world. The Religious Right has at times been built too much on fear. The fear that said if Barack Obama in 2008 or Hillary Clinton in 2016 gets elected or if the Supreme Court falls into a liberal majority then the great apocalypse will come at last and America will be finished. There are legitimate reasons for thoughtful Christians to oppose President Obama and Hillary Clinton, but the fear mongering that has run through the veins of the Religious Right has not helped to truly achieve anything for which the Religious Right longs to achieve. And now we come to the current election where the fear mongering has been ratcheted up as high as ever. It has gotten to the level where Jerry Falwell Jr, the president of the largest Christian university in the nation can say that he would still support Donald Trump even if he were guilty of sexual assault. The mind boggles and the heart saddens when one hears these comments. What do these comments do for the cause of Christ? What do these comments communicate to women who have been sexually assaulted and fear what may come if they ever speak out? How can anyone, much less an evangelical Christian speak like this? When one gets to a place where the election of a certain candidate becomes the ultimate then everything else is filtered through the lens of making sure this person is elected. This is where many in the Religious Right have veered off the gospel course because they have elevated a political party or a political candidate or even the nation to the ultimate place. But as a Christian the ultimate place of love and affection is not reserved for a political party, candidate or even our great country, but for our great Savior Jesus Christ. It is right and responsible to be engaged civically in the life of the nation and Christians should be civically engaged. The right reaction to the coming autopsy report on the Religious Right is not to abandon politics or to remain silent about issues we as evangelical Christians are passionate about it. The right response is to find ways for our deep convictions as Christians to influence our local, state, and national politics in helpful and hopeful ways so that all people may flourish. RD McClenagan is a teaching pastor at Door Creek Church in Madison, WI.