Will Young Evangelicals End the Religious Right's Obsession with the Culture Wars and Partisan Politics?

Evangelicals_change1The Wall Street Journal this week published a fascinating piece about how conservative evangelical Christianity is changing in America today, particularly in its approach to politics and the decades-long “culture wars” over issues like abortion and gay rights. The article focuses on Russell Moore, who has replaced Richard Land as the leading spokesman for the Southern Baptist Convention:

Since the birth of the Christian-conservative political movement in the late 1970s, no evangelical group has delivered more punch in America’s culture wars than the Southern Baptist Convention and its nearly 16 million members. The country’s largest Protestant denomination pushed to end abortion, open up prayer in public schools and boycott Walt Disney Co. over films deemed antifamily. Its ranks included many of the biggest names on the Christian right, including Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.

Today, after more than three decades of activism, many in the religious right are stepping back from the front lines. Mr. Moore, a 42-year-old political independent and theologian who heads the convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, says it is time to tone down the rhetoric and pull back from the political fray, given what he calls a “visceral recoil” among younger evangelicals to the culture wars.

“We are involved in the political process, but we must always be wary of being co-opted by it,” Mr. Moore said in an interview in his Washington office, a short walk from Congress. “Christianity thrives when it is clearest about what distinguishes it from the outside culture.”

Polling clearly shows that younger evangelicals view the culture wars differently than their elders. They are far more likely than the older generation to support, for example, marriage equality for gay couples. This development seems to be driving Moore’s approach, although he certainly doesn’t share the same views of the younger generation:

Mr. Moore is in no way a liberal. He equates abortion with the evils of slavery, considers homosexuality a sin, and insists the Southern Baptist Convention will never support gay marriage. At the same time, he emphasizes reconciliation and draws a traditional doctrinal distinction between the sinner and the sin.

Land, Moore’s predecessor as head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission at the Southern Baptist Convention, aligned himself with the Republican Party and praised right-wing media figures like Glenn Beck. But Moore has been critical of the lure of “populist God-and-country sloganeering and outrage-generating talking heads”:

In an essay for the conservative Christian magazine “First Things,” titled “Why Evangelicals Retreat,” he dinged the [conservative evangelical] movement for “triumphalism and hucksterism” and lampooned a time when its leaders dispatched voter guides for the Christian position on “a line-item veto, the Balanced Budget Amendment, and the proper funding levels for the Department of Education.”

Moore’s approach angers many old-line leaders and activists on the religious right. One of them is David Lane, the chief organizer for a years-long movement (embodied in organizations like the Texas Restoration Project and various state “Renewal Projects” around the country) to recruit conservative pastors into politics in support of partisan candidates like Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

In an email today to supporters of his American Renewal Project, Lane criticizes Moore for allegedly raising the “white flag of surrender” in the culture wars:

“The unconditional surrender by the principal public voice for Southern Baptist’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) — Dr. Russell Moore — is a devastating blow to those of us trying to save America, and a shot in the arm to the Left Wing liberals trying to drive Christianity from the public square. Dr. Moore has abandoned the playing field in the War for the Soul of America.”

Lane, like many religious-right leaders, has a very dark view of America:

“America has spiritually collapsed and its Christian leaders are in retreat. America today is a nation of infidels, and its Christian leaders, generally, political greenhorns.”

For people like Lane, faith and partisan politics go hand-in-hand. For them, then, political opponents are anti-God and, even worse, allied with Satan. So they apply scorched-earth tactics to partisan political battles and demonize all who oppose them. There can be no compromise for them, only total victory.

Younger evangelicals increasingly appear to have had enough of that, which is very good news indeed.

8 thoughts on “Will Young Evangelicals End the Religious Right's Obsession with the Culture Wars and Partisan Politics?

  1. Maybe Donna “what’s her face” can send out an impassioned plea to Pressler and Patterson to work their magic on booting Moore from office. If you can bring down a whole denomination, it would seem to me that excommunicating and banishing Moore would be as easy for them and their buddies as shooting a zebra on the African plains.

  2. I’m 74, believe in God but also believe in evolution. I strongly support the LGBT right to marry, have or adopt children and fully participate in all US citizens rights. I also strongly support the Affordable Care Act, even though I’m not eligible. Oh, and I’m a Democrat. Guess that makes me an outlier or young for my age.

  3. Hopefully this is a start for the SBC to take leadership in a condescending movement to restore rights to those they have rabidly tried to rob. It’s going to take an awful lot to undo what they and their evangelical offsprings have done to their followers and to the rest of society. I’m not holding my breath.

  4. It seems to me that Christianity’s biggest enemy is the fundamentalist Christian church itself. The more intelligent folks are, the less they want to have someone shouting at them that they either believe ONE way or they’re going to a non-existent hell.
    At one church a friend of mine dragged me to the guy up front did nine “invitations” without anyone coming forward.
    THAT was what my friend wanted me to witness. He wasn’t trying to convert me as he knew that wouldn’t ever happen–I am NOT a Christian and never would be.
    I had asked him why church attendance was flagging…he said what I had just seen is the reason, at least in his fundamentalist church.
    People are becoming tired of 19th century preaching; they are no longer the bumpkins they were back when that kind of preaching was desired. I don’t know how people stand it today, particularly if they’ve been through higher education.
    The days of “well, the preacher said…” is going by the wayside EXCEPT in parts of the South where people check their intellect at the church’s front door.
    I’m not anti-Christian, I am, however, curious as to why and how people can read their bibles and not come up with the understanding that men wrote the thing, not God. Sigh…
    Oh, I’ve been seeing a program lately about the snake handlers. Paul simply quoted a part of Psalm 91 which was not to be taken LITERALLY. Psalm 91 is part of the nightly prayers that observant Jews read while preparing to go to sleep.
    Oh well…methinks that I’m preaching to the choir again. Grins, y’all.

    1. My late husband was raised in a church like that. The preacher would have the congregation sing all verses of three or more songs until he got his quota of people re-dedicating their lives to Christ. I used to think that there were some members who would go up and re-dedicate just to get us out of there so we could go to lunch.

      This was back in the fifties and they also believed in no TV, no movies, no dancing, and no mixed swimming which left only going to the park and making out for dating couples.

      1. In the Southern Baptist Convention churches, they keep statistics on the number of people who answer altar calls and submit those to convention headquarters. The pastors that can “really rack’em up” with big numbers can profit enormously from the attention this brings to their job and career. A lowly and poorly paid preacher shepherding a flock Jesus-style is at the bottom of the totem pole. “People-saved” statistics can be your pathway out of the basement and into a big-time job as a traveling evangelist or a highly paid religious bureaucrat at convention headquarters in Nashville. Lots of money. Higher quality food. Grow a big belly. Get a TV news anchor haircut. Rub elbows with powerful men like Richard Land. Feel powerful yourself because all the elbow rubbing and back slapping is pumping you up to climb even higher up the big executive ladder for Jesus.

        I feel nauseated. Any of you feel like you want to puke after that?

        Attention Southern Baptists: This is how people increasingly view your church and its work. Danger bells? You betcha!!!

  5. We the people have a serious problem. That is the far right fundamentalist Christian movement. They’re strictly biblically based, and their interpretation of their holey book is as strictly enforced as the Saudi Religious Police do in their country.

    The far right is working towards what will be a democracy killing, intolerant, and bigoted racist theocratic government. What isn’t surprising is the motivation of the far right, it borders on obsession with a touch of wingnuttery thrown in for bad measure.

    To overcome this thrust, progressives, liberals and educated people must work towards a future of educated and thinking people.