Is the Christian Right Fading?

In the aftermath of Jerry Falwell’s passing
narrow focus groups may be fading.

With the death of Rev. Jerry Falwell, there is no single leader to claim the mantle for the evangelical right, according to an article by Alan Cooperman in the Washington Post.

The cultural movement that gave rise to high profile leaders such as Falwell is changing with a new generation of younger people who see war and peace, and the environment as critical issues to be confronted. Dr. Randy Brinson, founder of Redeem the Vote, an organization to register young evangelical voters, told Cooperman, “The groups that focus only on a narrow agenda, especially gay marriage and abortion, are going to decline.”

Coming from an evangelical leader, this word is notable. The strident voice of the evangelical right personified in Falwell, according to the Cooperman article, is on the decline if not disappearing altogether.

There may be data to support this, I haven’t given it much attention. These voices have been passe’ for quite some time among the vast majority of moderates who are concentrating on much wider and more comprehensive agendas like the environment, poverty and health. Falwell and Pat Robertson both seemed to peak a generation ago. They got coverage in part because the Bush administration gave them access and because they willingly made outlandish claims the media loved to cover. But they never spoke for the majority of Christians and they were useful to the politicos only to the degree that they could activate voters on wedge issues.

As the world heats up, war drags on, and health and poverty continue to kill, the wedge issues aren’t working so well. Younger evangelicals coming of age inhabit a different world than Falwell and Robertson, and as all younger generations, they’ve developed a different world view. They have gay friends. They know this issue isn’t the make or break issue that global warming is.

I don’t think this means the demise of stridency and judgmental Christian partisans. Knowing they are on the decline, I expect we will hear stronger words and witness even more aggressive attempts to reclaim position. The struggle to restore civility is only beginning. We’ve a long way to go before we recover a public discourse that is less polarizing and divisive.

But, those who want to see this discourse happen should take heart, and concentrate on the work of healing the wounds opened by strident political rhetoric. We face challenges that are much more intractable and urgent. I think that means we need to keep our focus on those urgent issues and take them on. We’ve been diverted in the past by the wedge politicians–secular and religious–and the time has come to bid the dividers adieu and get on with more important work, like saving the planet and saving lives from the preventable diseases of poverty.

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