Whatever happened to the religious right?

Juana Arias JUANA ARIAS Ralph Reed and Pat Robertson speak at the Washington Hilton Hotel, 9/16/94, for the Road to … Continued

Juana Arias


Ralph Reed and Pat Robertson speak at the Washington Hilton Hotel, 9/16/94, for the Road to Victory conference of the Christian Coalition.

Conservative Christians are starting to line up behind Mormon Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

But they’re not doing so comfortably, and not without clinging to a last, non-negotiable condition that, ironically, makes the conservative Christian voting bloc the force most responsible these days for the secularization of America.

Last month gave us two studies of Mormonism and the American voter. John Green of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at The University of Akron concludes that “the type of campaign messaging that can sway voters away from supporting Mitt Romney because he is a Mormon will be difficult to counter.”  On the other hand, Matthew Chingos and Michael Henderson of the Brookings Institution say that their study shows that Romney’s Mormonism has only a “trivial effect” on voters, and that political conservatives—including Christian evangelicals—are “more likely to support Romney” because he is a Mormon.

So which is it?

The real Christian voter who lies between these two studies is, perhaps, best represented by Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress, who late last year characterized Mormonism as a cult and asserted that Christian voters were obligated to vote for a candidate who embraces “historical Christianity.”  Jeffress, who is clearly uneasy about Mormonism, now supports Romney.  But Jeffress’s waffling is not because of Romney’s Mormonism, as Chingos’ and Henderson’s study would suggest.  Rather, Jeffress has decided recently that he can vote for Romney, “in spite of his Mormon faith.”

Pat Robertson followed Jeffress last month with a similarly back-handed endorsement of Romney.  “You don’t have Jesus running against someone else,” said Robertson on The 700 Club, ”You have Obama running against Romney.”  If Christians don’t have the option to vote for an evangelical Christian, Robertson implies, they can simply vote for the candidate that most seems to espouse the political positions they prefer.  That is, religion is not the most important thing in politics.

More to the point, however, is Robertson’s finish: “I can’t imagine that [Romney’s] going to interject the Mormon religion into the way he governs.”  This is the condition that evangelical voters set for their grudging support of a non-(traditionally) Christian, but politically conservative, candidate.  And it’s the condition that implicates evangelical Christianity as a significant force in the secularization of the country.  Romney can be the Christian right’s candidate, but only if he becomes entirely a-religious.  The religious voters that Romney is now courting won’t allow him to be religious about anything, not even about issues on which he and they agree.

Proving that he’s as sensitive to political winds as any candidate, Romney has tuned his message and his identity.  In a 20 minute commencement address at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University two days following Obama’s public, and avowedly Christian, support for same-sex marriage, Romney offered a single sentence to the hottest political issue of the week:  ”Marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman,” he said.  To justify his position, Romney cited neither God nor Christianity, neither self-sacrifice nor the Golden Rule.  The safest, most effective reason Romney could find to justify his agreement with a football stadium full of deliberate Christians was “American culture.”

Unable to field a viable traditional Christian candidate—who would be welcome to inject his religion into the way he governs—the Republicans are about to be the first of the two major parties to give the United States a non-’Christian’ nominee for president. The demand that this nominee eschew his own, genuine faith in favor of the rhetoric of an “American culture” characterized by what Romney now calls “shared moral convictions” rather than by an evangelical understanding of biblical salvation marks a new age in American politics.

The United States now tilts towards a secular state in the mold of Denmark, Sweden, other countries of western Europe whose secularism is reviled by many Christians.

The Christian right’s commitment to maintaining one nation under God has led the the movement into the wilderness.  By conceding that they can vote for Romney, evangelical Christians also concede that this peculiar form of Christianity—evangelical Christianity, that is—isn’t a fundamental component of the nation’s structure.  Ironically, in this election cycle, self-styled Christian voters themselves are the principal force of their own marginalization.

Of more import, perhaps, is the Christian right’s role in the de-religioning of America.  By asserting that Romney’s own religion doesn’t matter to his candidacy, and by insisting that a Romney presidency not in any way be a Mormon presidency, the Christian right demands not freedom of religion in this most religiously free of countries, but demands freedom from religion.  Indeed, by hanging its support for the Republican candidate on the condition that he keep his religion out of his campaign and (presumably) out of his oval office, evangelical Christians affirm that public discourse in America is better off without authentic religious faith.

David Mason is associate professor at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. He is the author of “Theatre and Religion on Krishna’s Stage” and “My Mormonism: a primer for non-Mormons and Mormons, alike.

David Mason
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  • AnonPoster

    “Whatever happened to the religious right?”

    Dunno. Perhaps one day they will realize They, and those like them, are the very reason our Founding Fathers were adamant about including the concept of Separation of Church and State in the foundational fabric of our Nation.

    You’re free to think and say whatever you’d like in your church. Keep it out of our laws.

  • Rongoklunk

    AS far as we know there are no gods, and never were any, That’s why nobody ever saw one – ever. Gods exist in the mind of the believers – and nowhere else.
    Mormonism is just another religious belief based on the fear of death and a total lack of knowledge. As Neil deGrasse Tyson writes – religion comes to us from the perimeter of ignorance…or from the days when we knew nothing about anything, so we invented gods to explain everything. But we know better now. We have science and commonsense.

  • Mavin Swapp

    D&C 76:20-23. And we beheld the glory of the Son, on the right hand of the Father, and received of his fulness;

    And saw the holy angels, and them who are sanctified before his throne, worshiping God, and the Lamb, who worship him forever and ever.

    And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!

    For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father—

  • Rongoklunk

    “The bible is full of interest. It has noble poetry in it, and some clever fables, and some blood drenched history, and some good morals and a wealth of obscenity, and upwards of a thousand lies.”

    Mark Twain “Letters From The Earth.”

  • hotas_fuchs

    The dangerous side of every religion is when it starts to be used as a tool by those who “believe” to control those who don’t. Every time a zealot reaches for their bible to push some quote out of it to justify their belief that they’re better than everyone else simply because they “believe” or are “saved” should give every intelligent person reason to pause.

  • Poqui

    There is no concept of “Separation of Church and State” and our Founding Fathers were not adamant about excluding religion from law. That is a myth that has no foundation.

    Our Founding Fathers were concerned with not establishing a national religion and having the public taxes support it (ie Church of England). Hence why the First Amendment has the Establishment Clause in it.

  • Poqui

    The “religious right” went too far right and left most mainstream Christians behind. They became like the Pharisees of the New Testament.

    Former President Carter agrees:

    “Too many leaders now, I think, in the Southern Baptist Convention and in other conventions, are trying to act as the Pharisees did, who were condemned by Christ, in trying to define who can and who cannot be considered an acceptable person in the eyes of God. In other words, they’re making judgments on behalf of God. I think that’s wrong.”

    [Source: David W. Cloud, Fundamental Baptist Information Service, 16 November 1997, 1701 Harns Rd., Oak Harbor, WA 98277; Carrie Moore, “Are Mormons Christians,” Deseret News, Nov. 15, 1997]

  • abbyandmollycats

    Please stop using the word Christian as synonymous with Christian right. Many followers of Jesus Christ do not share these political views and do not appreciate this restricted description of Christianity.

  • tidelandermdva

    I don’t know who this guy is or what he is talking about. The Religious Right has disapeared only to the extent that it has become The Right, and more, The GOP. Long ago I read a book ‘educating’ Fundementalist parents on cults, (of course, as a recently former Catholic, I considered THEM cultists) which warned Mormons were a very seductive cult because their objective results were so good. There is no difference — today — between Mormon morality and Religious Right morality. In the words of the South Pacific song, you’ve got to be taught…to hate all the people your relatives hate. Mormons and the Religious Right hate all the same people and practices. Just as the Religious Right is willing to get in bed with the Catholics and ignore (or convert to) Catholics’ opposition to IVF and The Pill because both hate abortion and Gays — as shown by their willingness to endorse Santorum the candidate of the Anti-Christ to stop Mormon Romney — so the Religious Right is willing get in bed with Romeny and the Mormons if that is the only alternative to a Black President, even if he is a Baptist.

    As Harold Bloom wrote in the NYT last Novemeber, (Will this election be the Mormon breakthrough?) “I recall prophesying in 1992 that by 2020 Mormonism could become the dominant religion of the western United States. But we are not going to see that large a transformation. I went wrong because the last two decades have witnessed the deliberate dwindling of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints into just one more Protestant sect. Without the changes, Mitt Romney and Jon M. Huntsman Jr., a fellow Mormon, would not seem plausible candidates.” As long as the Religious Right believes that Mitt will use the Bully Pulpit only to stamp out what both consider sin and to espouse only the gospel of wealth, and not as an actual pulpit to push Mormonism, the Religious Right, which is more Right than religious, does not have a problem due to their common values. To quote Bloom

  • bot1

    Exactly, there not “wall of separation” in the Constitution. It is called the “Establishment Clause” simply because it does not permit the establishment of a National Church, and prohibits the free exercise of anyone’s faith. Barack Obama is attempting to breach the First Amendment, because he is deciding what theology the Catholic Church (and other churches) must teach to adhere to his pagen theology.

  • hapax142

    I agree. I don’t know what the author is talking about with regard to “freedom from religion.” Religion, and the now-embedded values from decades of religious right indoctrination, now permeates politics and social interaction broadly.

    What used to be known as the Religious Right is so deeply propagandized here in rural Tennessee [where I live] that its memes totally underlie mainstream culture.

    Lately I wonder if the nearby towns have turned into cults since these religious “values” have been politicized. Most people have seamlessly bought into the right-wing frames. S tyranny of the majority enforces [their] religion across all walks of life.

    I’ve seen a radical change in the past ten years here. My husband, a native, tells me he has never seen so much bigotry and hate disguised under the rubric of values. It’s become an unpleasant and isolating place to live if one doesn’t conform. And, they come armed.

  • hradvocate

    The logic underlying your argument is good, but most who are in the so-called “Chrstian right” aren’t capable of understanding their inherent inconsistency. They seem to manage to live with it with no problem. The saddest thing about this so-called “Christian right” is that they behaviors are neither Christian nor right.

  • angelofil

    “Whatever happened to the religious right?”

    Nothing. They’re still around but now they call themselves the “tea party.”

  • thomasravery0

    Personally, I like the Religious Right and I like the Tea Party. They are not the same. I will not explain the differences as they are not likely important to readers of this newspaper. The two have many common goals of which the primary goal is the election of Mitt Romney as President.

  • hotas_fuchs

    Very true. Eventually, they’ll trot this bible verse out to demonstrate their justification for the actions of their more aggressive members:

    Arm 2:9-21 – “And the Lord spake, saying, ‘First shalt thou take out the Holy Pin. Then shalt thou count to three, no more, no less. Three shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three. Four shalt thou not count, neither count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out. Once the number three, being the third number, be reached, then lobbest thou thy Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch towards thy foe, who, being naughty in my sight, shall snuff it. ‘”

  • hwagner2

    Hell! They’re everywhere!

  • Bonhomme

    I believe that hate is too strong a word for this situation. Rather, mormons and other christians have the same fundamental moral views. I know that “Hater” has replaced “Mean Spirited”, as the descriptive mantra of the left for anything conservative, but is really a mistaken notion in this case. I truly doubt that mormons hate anyone. They disagree with some modern notions, so leaving themselves open to the dreaded “hater” charge by the liberal and progressive folks. Often some find it easier to denigrate others rather than defend their own views.

  • ThomasBaum

    What about those they believe they are better because they don’t believe?

    As I have said before, having a “holier than thou” or a “better than thou” attitude is not confined to theists, as a matter of fact from reading some of the postings on various sites of these blogs one could say that this attitude is on the increase among at least some of those that consider themself atheist.

    I guess one could say that this “attitude” is more of a human thing than a theist or atheist thing.

    As far as those that wish to “control” others, that also is not confined to theists.

  • bucinka8

    “the Republicans are about to be the first of the two major parties to give the United States a non-’Christian’ nominee for president.”

    Assuming, of course, that a) you don’t consider third-party candidates, and b) you don’t consider Quakers Christians (we’ve had two Quaker Presidents). I do understand some Quakers consider themselves Christians and some do not.

  • bucinka8

    Sorry I didn’t read more carefully; you did say “major parties.” My comment about Quakers stands, however.

  • csintala79

    A good race would be one between a gay, tax and spend Christian and a straight, fiscally conservative atheist (an Ayn Rand admirer).

  • csintala79

    I think it would be, “if you do consider that Quakers are Christians” (meaning Hoover and Nixon were not non-Christian candidates). Also, if you do consider Unitarians Christians: John and John Q. Adams, Millard Fillmore and William H. Taft (there were strong suspicions he was an atheist). Taft is reported to have said that he didn’t care whether his Unitarianism lost him votes or not. It is interesting that they all were Republicans or Whigs. This doesn’t include the ten or so who did not belong to any religon.

  • Catken1

    “What about those they believe they are better because they don’t believe? ”

    At least they aren’t usually trying to deny civil rights to the believers?
    When have you last heard someone denied access to marriage, or fired from their job, because they were Christian?

  • Catken1

    Bot1, he is simply telling the Catholic Church that they must, when acting as a public business, obey public employment laws that apply to everyone. He has done NOTHING to say what theology they must teach.
    Of course, when the Church is seeking to force its doctrine on all women and all LGBT people in this country using the civil law, they HAVE to plead that really, separation of church and state is only a fiction, and the Founders’ only real intent was to keep government from preventing the Catholic Church from dictating to everyone else how they must live. But it’s not in fact anywhere close to accurate.

  • Frankfortguy

    This author appears to hold the belief that Mormons are not Christians. Or, to use the cop-out phrase, “traditional Christians,” which is to say, “If you don’t subscribe to MY kind of Christianity, you are not Christian.” Mormons will argue that they too are Christian – very much so. It would be more constructive to allow all people who self-define as Christians, to be included in the tally of Christians. There is much more in common. It is a shame and a big loss to our collective community to split doctrinal hairs and exclude anyone who does not fit 100% into a specific mold.

  • Counterww

    Anyone can marry anyone, as long as it is in the confines of what marriage is… Mean me women marrying each other. Changing the definition and civil rights are two very different things. Polygamy will be your next ” civil right”

    Degrading society is not something to wish for.

  • frombelgium

    religion should definitely be separated from politics, just look at the havoc it caused ever since “oficial” religion was “invented” 2000 years ago by clever guys (politicians) merely to justify repression and warfare. It s incredible that the “greatest” nation on earth is still being pushed around and fooled by unfounded belief(lies) and superstition ……….wake up people THERE AINT NO F GOD!

  • Romans13

    Christians understand that this election doesn’t have anything to do with the Morman religion or Mitt Romney. Christians understand that the Muslim Brotherhood in America IS; Grover Norquist.

    Grover Norquist has made it perfectly clear: “Republicans” have got to understand that they are not in power; WE ARE!!
    Meaning the Tea Party and Muslim Brotherhood imn America leader; Grover Norquist.

    The Muslim Brotherhood (Grover Norquist) / Mormon (Puppet President Mitt Romney) Presidential ticket that is widely coveted by “religious” leaders and not necessarily Christians, is all the rave.

    Grover Norquist said: We don’t care who is in office, just so long as they pass our Bills … (and Amendments to the US Constitutiion that will pave the way for Sharia Law)

    We just witnessed how Grover Norquist reprimanded Jeb Bush with outrageous comments of superority against Jeb.

    Does anyone really think that Grover Norquist and his Tea Party Posse of Defectors will just go away when President Obama is re-elected”

    Is anyone ignorant enough not to know that once Mitt Romney is elected that Grover Norquist will be our first Muslim Brotherhood Theocratic Leader?

    This election has nothing to do with Mormanism and Mitt Romney, Christians know this.

  • persiflage

    ‘Wright says “church is not Barack’s thing”. ‘

    And a very good that is from the viewpoint of secularists everywhere. Obama was never a Muslim except in the tiny minds of his birther detractors, but like most Americans was immersed in Christianity early on. The fact that he’s shaken off the effects of his religious indoctrination says much about his character and the strength of his intellect.

    Romney clearly never had the same mind-expanding epiphany
    with regard to his own bizarre religion. His worst flaw is his rich guy republicanism, however. The GOP has produced nothing but failed presidents since Eisenhower made a good showing back in the 1950’s.