Christian right noticeably absent in conservatives’ fight to “save America”

By Gabe Lyons and Jonathan Merritt Just days away from the mid-term elections, the GOP is inching closer to what … Continued

By Gabe Lyons and Jonathan Merritt

Just days away from the mid-term elections, the GOP is inching closer to what some conservatives are saying may be the second “Republican revolution.” Gallup’s generic ballot is predicting significant gains for Republicans in both the House and the Senate. The typically cautious Larry Sabato at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics has even predicted that the GOP will win the House and perhaps the Senate while gaining up to eight new governorships.

Some Democrats disagree with such predictions, and they say that this election won’t come close to the 1994 mid-terms when no Republican incumbent lost and America witnessed a 54-seat swing. But there seems to be an even more significant difference between the first so-called “revolution” and the current conservative campaign: this time around, the Christian right is noticeably absent.

(The late Rev. Jerry Falwell speaks during the Christion Coalition of America Road to Victory 2000 conference in Washington)

In the weeks leading up to the last “Republican revolution” in 1994, Christian right political advocates were among the most notable and vocal voices. Ralph Reed and Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition was at its political peak and distributed 40 million copies of the “Family Values Voters Guides” in more than 100,000 churches nationwide. As a result, one national poll showed 27 percent of all voters that year self-identified themselves as born-again Christians, compared with 18 percent in 1988.

But by 2008, the Christian tide had turned. With the newly formed “Religious left” at the forefront of Obama’s campaign, many Christians crossed party lines for the first time. For example, double the number of young evangelicals voted for Obama than for Kerry in 2004.

Though there have been attempts to revive the movement–most noticeably, the “Values Voter Summit” and a few cameos by Sarah Palin–the impact on the ground has been minimal at best. Notable Christian engagement of late includes a lone Florida pastor threatening to burn a Koran and a scattered few ministers who have rallied behind Glenn Beck and the Tea Party. Hardly the mass movement of Christians demanding social change through Republican policies witnessed 16 years ago.

Why has this happened?

In large part, it’s because the Christian right has failed to enlist sufficient numbers of young recruits in their movement. As noted in the book UnChristian, most young Americans have been turned off by the religious right’s politics, as well as the judgmentalism and hypocrisy that now marks American Christianity. While faith still informs the way young believers cast votes, it doesn’t express itself in such vicious partisanship as years past. In recent polls, more young Christians self-identify as “centrist” than either “conservative” or “liberal.”

Additionally, de-enlisted older Christians increasingly share the sentiments of these un-enlisted young Christians. A cross-generational weariness with the culture wars has set in among all Christians, which partially accounts for their absence in current battles. According to a recent LifeWay Research poll, only 28% of evangelicals believe they will see a significant contribution from current Christian leadership in resolving pressing social concerns.

Without new faces or an invigorated contingency, the Christian right has found itself in the middle of a leadership vacuum. Many stalwart Christian conservatives like Jerry Falwell and D. James Kennedy passed away while others, including James Dobson and Pat Robertson, have been able to exert far less influence. According to Politico, “Without a charismatic figure carrying the banner, the religious right has been eclipsed by the fiscally focused tea party.”

To be fair, an October 2010 study by the Public Religion Research Institute shows nearly half of Tea Partiers consider themselves a part of the religious right or conservative Christian movement. But these believers aren’t following Christian leadership or fighting for a distinctly Christian agenda.

Rather than cheering for Christian pastors on political talk shows, conservatives are now tuning into teary-eyed lectures from Mormon pundit, Glenn Beck. In fact, Beck delivered the commencement address this year at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. Forthcoming books by conservatives including No Apology: The Case for American Greatness by Mitt Romney and To Save America by Newt Gingrich are rooted more in historical narrative than religious narrative. Not only has the pilotage turned over, but the storyline from the last GOP resurgence has also been completely replaced.

This new narrative has also stoked emotions on a different set of issues than Christians have championed in the past. Debates over hot buttons such as abortion and illegal drugs that were critical in the 1994 elections have given way to emotional disputes about federal spending, a still-struggling economy, the role of government, and the very essence of what it means to be “American.”

They say every revolution needs strong leaders, powerful ideas, and a mobilized constituency. The Christian political movement of late has failed to produce all three. While a few religious political leaders will doubtlessly try to cobble together their old coalitions, it seems we’ve entered into a new era in the American public square. If indeed a “revolution” will take place this November, we can be certain that Christians aren’t responsible for it.


Gabe Lyons is author of The Next Christians: The Good News About the End of Christian America (Doubleday, 2010) and co-author of the bestselling Unchristian (Baker, 2007). He is founder of Q, a learning community for Christians (Qideas.org).


Jonathan Merritt is author of Green Like God (Faithwords, 2010) who publishes widely in such outlets as USA Today, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, CNN.com and BeliefNet.com.

  • Jihadist

    There will be a “revolution” on 2 November 2010 – from the the broad tent of the discontened on everything from the economy and related issues (inclding migration) to “real” American principles and values. Discontent is potent and costs, especially the discontentment of those who believe their voices are not heard nor their concerns cared for. Another “morning in America” expected to resolve the epolitical-economic-social “high noon” then, come 2 November.

  • JordanSekulow

    Both of you completely underestimate the influence of the Christian right in the Tea Party. Take a look at the background of Tea Party candidates and you’ll find that most, if not all of them, got their grassroots start in the Christian conservative movement.Over time, the religious right has evolved. The movement was always about smaller government, lower taxes, and support of the free market (sound familiar?). We are now engaged in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. Unlike the early days of the social conservative uprising, we need not rally under one specific banner to make an impact in politics. Instead of only providing the grassroots support for conservative candidates, we actually are the candidates in 2010.Finally, the movement has succeeded in permeating every aspect of politics. Turn on cable news, radio, or go online and do some quick research on conservative politicians and pundits. You’ll find one striking similarity – all are pro-life and support traditional values.

  • joe_allen_doty

    The “Christian Right” is very involved; it’s just that it now has 100s of people trying to do what Jerry Falwell and Marion G. “Pat” Roberson have tried to do.By the way, “Marion” is Spanish for “Big Mary.”

  • ThomasBaum

    JordanSekulow You wrote, “Both of you completely underestimate the influence of the Christian right in the Tea Party.”,and “Instead of only providing the grassroots support for conservative candidates, we actually are the candidates in 2010.”,and “Finally, the movement has succeeded in permeating every aspect of politics.”Do you even have a clue what Christianity is about and what Jesus taught?It is fine if you want to get involved in politics and the political process but that is not even what Jesus’s Mission was about.Jesus’s Mission was and is about the salvation of All of humanity, it is not about setting up a theocracy here on earth.”My Kingdom is not of this earth, if it were than …”, sound familiar?You seem to have lost track of what “Proclaim the Good News” means.”When the son of man comes, will he find faith?”, whether or not this “son of man” is Jesus or not, I believe that when this was spoken, this “faith” was about what God has done and is doing, not about how we have twisted Jesus’s simple message of “Proclaiming the Good News”.See you and the rest of humanity in the Kingdom.Take care, be ready.Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.

  • overcomerman

    There are several reasons for no big Christian showing:

  • DanV

    “They say every revolution needs strong leaders, powerful ideas, and a mobilized constituency. The Christian political movement of late has failed to produce all three. While a few religious political leaders will doubtlessly try to cobble together their old coalitions, it seems we’ve entered into a new era in the American public square.”Cobbling together old coalitions has already happened and it has entrenched the Christian Right in the House and the Senate significantly enough to make a difference. The “old” coalitions, however, have morphed into small but very powerful forces: Tony Perkins, Lou Engle, Rick Warren and yes, even Glenn Beck. We still don’t really know how much influence it has in the Tea Partiers, but the TP being a very slow-to-learn and lead lot, will at some time bend to religion in whatever form is the loudest. The biggest problem progessives have now is that these small forces are an incredibly vicious lot of people: they dare to push forth dimwits Angle and O’Donnell, testing the waters as to just how far backwards they can go. They are vicious and need to be curtailed. How, we don’t know just yet. My proposal would be to capitalize on hypocrisy via scandals and to bankrupt them via local propositions they need to bankroll to fight: even the Mormon church does not have limitless funds.

  • mandmarndt

    The two columnists for this article must have drunk the same Kool-aid as all other liberals. Wow!! So if I hear you correctly Liberal Democrats are Christian and most people supporting the Tea Party are not. Yes, like our current President is a good Christian! (wink, wink) Then of course Liberals that support abortion are good Christians (wink, wink). It is quite apparent neither of you watched any part of the Glenn Beck’s Restoring Honor freedom rally Aug 28, 2010. 99% to 100% were Christians & Tea Party faithful. They believe in lower taxes, MAINTAINING CHRISTIAN VALUES (which Liberals have up to this point been able to demonize), honesty in politics and charity from individuals. So if I get this right you both, along with your liberal friends, believe that the definition of Charity is when you can take it from someone else and give it to a different person. Excuse me for being impolite but both of you make me sick. Excuse me if I don’t want to set in the same pew with you. As you saw last Tuesday, I am not the only one that thinks this way. Christian won this election and you killing baby Abortionist, endorsing Atheist, limiting prayer in school, government and anywhere else you can find a podium deserve the shellacking you got. Here is a newsflash that you should be reporting: Tea Party members want to follow the constitution. In that is defined the importance of a Christian faith. I am sure other countries have a different view on faith and their religion. I don’t have a problem with that but in American “Christianity” is the framework and hearts of its people. Tea Party members want to live in America and have no desire to let you make us equal to a third WORLD country: Start reporting something that the majority of the people would read. I only read your paper today because our Bishop had an article I read. I will forward this message to him. It is time our church recognizes what you “so Called” Christians are doing to God’s will and commandments. Believe whatever faith you want but leave our faith alone and we will practice it on the steps of Washington, in city hall, in church, at home and where ever Americans might be. No offense intended, but don’t dare you say the Tea Party is not Christians just because we believe in legal immigration, free of speech, law enforcement in the street, in our homes and on our borders.

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