Sunday, October 28, 2007


Religious Snake Handling

When you mix politics and religion, you get politics. ... The religious right peaked a long time ago. As a historical, sociological phenomenon, it has seen its heyday. Something new is coming.
Rev. Gene Carlson, former senior pastor, Westlink Christian Church

Obama sounds too much like Osama. When he says his name, I am like, 'I am not voting for a Muslim!'
- Kayla Nickel, a parishioner at Westlink Christian Church

There is a most interesting -- and, for those like myself who hope for an American government that remains officially secular and becomes more secular in actual fact, a most heartening -- article in today's New York Times Magazine, entitled "Evangelical Crackup" by David D. Kirkpatrick. Among the hopeful signs of the ebbing of the political power of the Righteous Right is the surprising downfall of one of its major leaders in that tongue on the buckle of the Bible Belt, Wichita, Kansas.

... Terry Fox, was the Jerry Falwell of the Sunflower State — the public face of the conservative Christian political movement in a place where that made him a very big deal.

So when Fox announced to his flock one Sunday in August last year that it was his final appearance in the pulpit, the news startled evangelical activists from Atlanta to Grand Rapids. Fox told the congregation that he was quitting so he could work full time on "cultural issues." Within days, The Wichita Eagle reported that Fox left under pressure. The board of deacons had told him that his activism was getting in the way of the Gospel. "It just wasn't pertinent," Associate Pastor Gayle Tenbrook later told me.

Fox, who is 47, said he saw some impatient shuffling in the pews, but he was stunned that the church's lay leaders had turned on him. "They said they were tired of hearing about abortion 52 weeks a year, hearing about all this political stuff!" he told me on a recent Sunday afternoon. "And these were deacons of the church!"
This is all a piece with the polls commented on by Frank Rich, in his article, "Rudy, the Values Slayer," also in Sunday's Times.

A CBS News poll this month parallels what the Times reporter David D. Kirkpatrick found in his examination of evangelicals for today's Times Magazine. Like most other Americans, they are more interested in hearing from presidential candidates about the war in Iraq and health care than about any other issues.

Abortion and same-sex marriage landed at the bottom of that list; fighting poverty outpolled abortion as a personal priority by a 3-to-2 margin.
But the rest of the old guard of the Righteous Right may be as out-of-step with their flock as Rev. Fox. Rich points out that in the recent "Value Voters Summit" in Washington, D.C., the organizers' survey of participants as to what issues would be "most important" in choosing a presidential candidate, "didn't even think to list the war, health care or fighting poverty."

Rich notes that, despite the old guard's "hissy fit" over Rudy Giuliani's continuing strength in the run up to the primaries, as exemplified by the threat of James Dobson and others to support a third-party candidate, they have not supported any of the Republican hopefuls who really do share their values:

If they really believed uncompromisingly in their issues and principles, they would have long since endorsed either Sam Brownback, the zealous Kansas senator fond of using fetus photos as political props, or Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor who spent 15 years as a Baptist preacher, calls abortion a "holocaust" and believes in intelligent design rather than evolution.

But they gave Senator Brownback so little moral and financial support that he folded his candidacy a week ago. And they continue to stop well short of embracing Mr. Huckabee, no matter how many rave reviews his affable personality receives on the campaign trail. They shun him because they know he'll lose, and they would rather compromise principle than back a loser.

Backing a loser, they know, would even further diminish their waning Washington status in a post-Rove, post-Bush G.O.P. The more they shed their illusion of power, the more they imperil their ability to rake in big bucks from their apocalyptic direct-mail campaigns. They must choose mammon over God if they are to maintain the many values rackets that make up their various business empires.
That kind of hypocrisy is more likely to reduce, rather than improve, the Righteous Right's political clout in the long run. But Rev. Fox, perhaps mindful of the nature of the people who make up the core of the Righteous Right, like his former parishioner, Ms. Nickel, uses a telling metaphor for its future:

Some might compare the religious right to a snake. We may be in our hole right now, but we can come out and bite you at any time.

That last reference to a snake struck me when I read the piece this morning -- serpents, anyone? :)
Satan put that thought in your mind!
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