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Christian Protester

The placard misquotes Psalm 7:ll, "God judgeth the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day." You have to keep your gods straight, even if it is a monotheistic religion.

Is the Christian Right in Decline?

May 22, 2009
N. Lukanovich

The sheen of evangelical Christian power has lost luster with the shift from Bush to Obama, so much so that many are imagining that the fevered anti-abortionist, homophobic, 'Johnny get your gun and then go sing in church' types are simply vanishing into the air like magic. The previous leader of the 'free' world, Bush, revealed his utter disdain for the separation between church and state when he funded abstinence programs, cut all funding for medical clinics in developing nations that distribute condoms and give abortions, and cut federal funding for stem cell research.

Obama holds no obligations to conservative Christians and has already signed orders that overturn many of Bush's directives: stem cell research has new life, funding for abstinence programs has just been cut, and funding is to be restored to overseas clinics. Some are disappointed that he has not overturned the ban on Medicaid funding for abortion, limiting pro-choice to those with means, but at least he isn't making his decisions with one eye focused on the voting power of the Christian Right.

The election of Obama has given shivers to many right-wing evangelicals who have lost the political power to push for federal legislation that fits their ideology. In the minds of hopeful Democrats, the Christian Right has nearly become a bedtime story, a menacing force of the past that's no longer a concern. Articles are cropping up everywhere about the decline of the Christian Right and James Carville, democratic strategist and political commentator, has written a book on the subject entitled "40 More Years: How the Democrats Will Rule the Next Generation", co-authored by Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza. The unstoppable decimation of the Christian Right translates into clear skies ahead for Democrats. He points to statistics that show the transformation of American society, that show the married white Christian has become outnumbered and is no longer in the majority. In 1950, 4 of 5 Americans were married, Christian and white and now only 2 of 5 Americans are married, Christian and white.

The assumption is that the shrinkage of the religious base the Republicans have become so absolutely dependant upon will hobble the Party beyond the pale, but at the same time Republicans can not afford to detach themselves from conservative Christians as they are unable to attract more moderate or liberal minded Christian voters. Carville says that many "wise" Republicans agree with him in private conversations. Publicly, the Republican theme is that popularity with voters is cyclical, and they will soon bounce back. Carville counters this claim by claiming the cycles tend to be 40-45 years long, hence: Democrats will rule for the next forty years.

But as the numbers of married white Christians dwindled, as a group they identified more and more with the Republican Party; in l978, only 64% of these white married conservatives Christians voted Republican, compared to 90% in 2008. Unless the evangelical right creates its own party, right-wing evangelicals will continue to vote Republican since they consider Democrats to be a bunch of godless heathens that kill babies and such. A nearly guaranteed vote from 2 out of 5 Americans is no small thing and it may be shortsighted to so quickly dismiss the power this block of voters retains.

The landscape of the Christian Right has so morphed over time that is it easy to forget that Catholics, most of whom regularly ignore the more archaic rules of the Church, are officially included in this demographic. We generally think of evangelical churches when we think of the Christian Right, although some bishops and some Catholic groups are quite dramatic and noisy when it comes to the issues of stem cell research and abortion.

The rules of the Church are certainly conservative, but even the Vatican looks progressive in comparison with many of the evangelical Churches. The Vatican has, at least, abandoned the notion that the earth began 5 thousand years ago. The vast majority of Catholics (at least in the Western world) have inherited their link to the Church from their parents, a church that is rapidly losing members due to the Vatican's antiquated stance on various issues: women's ordination as priests, gay priests, abortion, birth control, the use of condoms for protection from STD's, etc.

Younger generations are simply not as willing to take it all with a colossal grain of complacent salt. There are not a lot of new recruits to the Church, it is not a simple matter of crying out "I see JESUS"; you have to study and prove that you really and truly want to be a devout member of the Church. The process normally takes about two years; apparently the Church (at least in North America) is wary of fair weather wanna-be Catholics that could lose faith in the Church at the least provocation.

Evangelical churches, on the other hand, are not dependant upon inherited faith and new recruits are easy to find in a society chock a block full of the lost, lonely, and confused. Not only that, but evangelicals can be a lively bunch, singing and praying and thumping things, and speaking in tongues, and seeing Jesus and talking to Jesus, and the services can be a lot less boring than traditional churches, what with miracles taking place and all of this in some sort of massive arena or gargantuan church full of ecstatic people. It's like a bizarre rave and the drug is Jesus. I have watched such scenes in documentaries with horror in my godless heart - but all you have to do is check out some of the tele-evangelists to get a clear idea on how powerful these preachers can be.

In other words, while traditional churches may be losing members more recently formed evangelical churches are gaining members. This is because they actively target those they perceive as vulnerable.

Many many moons ago, as a young traveler investigating the globe, I was target number one for evangelicals. They saw the perfect recruit - in their minds I was young, therefore na´ve and vulnerable, alone and therefore lonely, and traveling, which is like wearing a sign that screams out "I'm running from something or seeking something in either case I surely need to find GOD." The only thing I lacked to be a slam dunk recruit were two small children clinging to my skinny kneecaps with tears in their eyes while I begged in the streets.

I've never been much of a joiner, so I surveyed this onslaught of religious conviction from a detached and amused perspective. From the devout who formed a circle around me in Amsterdam to beseech the Lord to forgive my sins and give me guidance, to the 7th Day Adventist in California who threatened me with eternal damnation for my lack of interest in loving Jesus as my god, I have seen it all when it comes to the fervor of recruiters, and I have come to the conclusion that a lot of Jesus lovers hate everybody else. The kinder, gentler evangelical simply pities those of us who are too stupid to see the light and will therefore face eternal suffering.

The jubilant munchkins singing 'The Christian Right is Dead' theme song seem to have forgotten that in several states the evangelical right hovers like an oppressive and discontented grandmother. The injection of cherry picked Christian morals into state legislation has not ceased. Not all laws stem from the federal government. Marriage laws vary from state to state (including the controversial issue of gay marriage), as does abortion legislation, regulations governing birth control clinics, and sentencing of convicts (including the death penalty); there are so many areas in which states have control it's astonishing that the leaders of America have been so successful at nation building.

There is currently a dire struggle in some states between creationists who want to see intelligent design taught at all schools, and those who prefer schools to only teach Darwin's theory of evolution. The fact that intelligent design, or creationism, is taught in some schools in America is mind boggling. This is the kind of thing that has Europeans in stitches, wondering how on earth America got to be such a powerful nation, for history has shown us that when faith comes without inquiry, social, moral, and scientific progress is stalled, weakening the position of any country in the world that has chosen this path.

Worse yet, robbing individuals of their right to common knowledge in order to push a particular belief system maintains ignorance and only creates fear of the 'other'. We can only hope that the jubilant ones are right and this surge of fundamentalist faith in America is coming to an end.

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Text and Images: Property of Natasha J. Lukanovich or contributors - Writers and Artists as Named