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Faith and Politics in a Post-Falwell World – Part I5 min read

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Brian McLaren, noted leader of the Emergent Church movement, has started an interesting two parter on Faith & Politics after the Religious Right.  He makes some good observations, but I think he is a little too dismissive of the accomplishments and virtues of the Christian right, and the article is too short on details.  He recommends that we must change or die, though not in the entirely leftist, gay-affirming liberal sense that a Spong has done.

Below, I answer one of McLaren’s points – that the religious right has left a bad taste in many people’s mouths.

This is somewhat true, and somewhat fabricated by the reactionary,
theocracy-phobic, left-leaning media and politicians.

How the religious
right has contributed to the bad taste people have about it:

1. The religious right (RR) have not always used gentle language when
morally disagreeing

Of course, this accusation could be leveled at both ends of the political spectrum, but we have not always been gracious in our criticisms of our opponents. We probably ought to think more like Tom Wells recommends in On the Ethics of Controversy

2. The religious right has often abused their power and pushed non-egalitarian legislation

Some of the solutions we are pushing are probably extreme and not really the righteous solutions. For example, we may hold the conviction that homosexuality is sinful and should not be sanctioned by government. However, we may go too far and push for criminalizing it (sodomy laws), rather than asking government to be neutral.

Same arguments go for school prayer. Maybe we should push to allow students
to engage in private prayer and bible clubs, and even evangelizing at school, but enforcing or allowing sectarian public prayer at events, allowing evangelism in the wrong contexts, and showing favoritism in the use of school facilities is not right.

3. The religious right has leaned too much towards legislation and not enough towards service and education

If we want to truly change society, we can’t just do it by forcing righteousness on others via the law. That is rightly called fascism. We must do the harder work of changing hearts and minds via education and public reason, and we must also engage ourselves in service that lessens the burden of those whom we want to change.

For example, in the early days of the Moral Majority, Jerry Falwell was very focused on overturning Roe v. Wade, and reducing  abortion. But he soon realized that he was taking away one avenue for young girls with unwanted pregnancy, but wasn’t offering them another way. So he pulled back his legislative lobbying efforts and focused on building the network of Pregnancy Support Centers – he  documented his change of mind in his book If I Should Die Before I Wake (1986).

Not that we should abandon working in the legislative arena, but we should balance it, maybe even lead with, acts of service and  education.

How the left-leaning media has contributed to the bad taste:

1. The media has steadfastly focused on the extreme and negative of the RR

Unfortunately, you see a lot more of the Fred Phelps of the world on TV than the Bill Hybels.  The anti-religious, anti-Christian, and liberal bias of the media, despite some notable exceptions, is a well chronicled epidemic.  They love the right-wing scandals, but largely ignore the success stories.  But that’s partly the nature of our current news media in general – scandal sells, good news does not.

2. the media has largely ignored the contributions of the RR

One of the most interesting stories of recent memory is how, in the wake of the hurricane Katrina disaster, as well as the 2004 tsunami that ravaged the coasts of Asia was the overwhelming and substantial conservative Christian response, noted even by Homeland Security (PDF report).  Sure, liberal Christians and non-religious people have contributed, but the huge contribution of the “religious right” is almost totally ignored.

3. the media has bought into the abuse of the words “hate” and “phobic” when describing the moral disapproval of the RR

Don’t need to belabor this point, but the abuse of the words hate and phobic are part of the demonization of all opposition to leftist ideas.

4. the media confuses Islamofascists murderers and committed Christians involved in shaping public policy

Those who follow the intellectual majesty of Rosie O’Donnel agree that the religious right is really the same thing as the Taliban.  Unbelievable but true.


We have certainly earned some of the ire we relieve, and we should be self-reflective, repentant, and willing to improve our approach and enrich it with genuine charity.

And we should remember that to some extent, no matter what we do as
Christians, we will be scorned for having a biblical viewpoint.  As
Jesus said in John 15:18-20:

If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.