In previous essays, I discussed Brian McLaren’s claims that the religious right has left a bad taste in the mouths of many, and that they need to change to stay relevant. Now, I address a really interesting claim that Brian made – his concern that, after the collapse of the religious right there isn’t a mature and responsible Christian response that will fill the gap in a constructive way.
1. The demise of the religious right is exaggerated.
Ask a Progressive if the religious right is on the wane, and you’ll hear no end of the increasing threat of such fundamentalists – they sure have no sense that conservatism is on the wane. Or as John Reynolds humorously said recently:
Secularists are getting all out of sorts and organizing as people losing political power often do. The entire ten percent of them are getting ready to flex their political muscle and prevent the planned takeover by Puritans of Massachusetts . . . or prevent some other hyperbolic fear these paranoid secularists are dreaming up.
In fact, some trends, such as that among women, show that the religious right is gaining converts.
2. A change in the conservative guard IS coming
The old guard are dying off. Falwell is gone. D. James Kennedy has had health problems. Robertson is long in the tooth, and Dobson, arguably the evangelical wielding the most influence in the modern religious right movement, is aging as well.
But what is unseen or unrecognized by the public and the MSM are the ongoing swell of conservative and religious political thought in the marketplace of ideas (such as the large and influential think tanks and blogs such as Townhall.com), the existence of organizations such as American Vision and Wallbuilders, who wait in the wings to turn up their influence when the opportunity arrives, and the many secondary organizations like Concerned Women for America which will continue to exert influence when the more visible leaders are gone.
Also, McLaren failed to note that Christian right activism is a global phenomenon, not just an American one, though it is probably strongest here, though Australia has a strong religious right political machine as well.
So while we may await a new group of figureheads for the religious right movement, there is no shortage of contenders.
3. A “mature Christian response”
McLaren makes an important point here. I don’t want some fanatic who agrees with my politics to wreck all of the good work done by being crazy and immature in representing conservative ideas. People of even demeanor and zeal ARE hard to find.
I wonder, however, how we should define the words “mature” and “Christian.” In fact, this very topic came up on a recent post on James Dobson, and we should be clear that NOT ALL groups labeled as Christian should be considered mature in their approach, the development of their thinking and strategies, and their organization. Or as McLaren says, able to “fill the gap in a constructive way.” And by “Christian,” of course, we mean biblical.
So, for instance, while I might consider many on the evangelical left to be mature as defined above, I would NOT consider their more socialist approaches to poverty as Christian, even though their proponents might be Christian. And of course, I’m not so sure that all of the ideas within the religious right are Christian either, esp. the far right opposition to meaningful immigration reform, banning stem-cell research, or banning abortion under all circumstances.
So I would agree with that we need both maturity and biblicality in our future leaders.
I share McLaren’s desire for mature, Christian people influencing public policy. I also share the point of view that the old guard is passing. But I do NOT think that the gap left by these me will lack a fair number of mature, biblical leaders who will step up.
The new guard may be more “left” than the previous, but if that means including a greater concern for the poor of the world, and a concern for scientific environmentalism, that’s fine. We are all sick of the current highly polarized political environment, and we can move towards balance without compromising our principles.