R.I.P. to the Religious Right

November 11, 2008 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

This Sunday, Jim Wallis will rise to speak in a church a few blocks
from the White House, and around the corner from Capitol Hill, and tell
the gathered congregation about the Great Awakening in the United
States this week.

It’s a moment he has worked and waited decades to see.

“There’s
a new faith coalition that’s replacing the religious right in this
country,” says Wallis, founder of Sojourners, a liberal faith-based
advocacy group begun during the Vietnam War.

The election of
Barack Obama as president marks the beginning of the end of the
religious right’s hold on the politics of the United States, says
Wallis, whose book The Great Awakening: Reviving Faith and Politics in a Post-Religious Right America was released earlier this year.

In
its place are young evangelicals, the growing Hispanic presence in the
Catholic church and progressive voters in all religions that Wallis
says have become increasingly organized in recent years.

“The election is a vindication of what a lot of us have been seeing around the country,” Wallis told the Star in a telephone interview

The
mix of politics and religion in the U.S. has traditionally favoured
Republicans, who have used hot-button issues such as abortion and
same-sex marriage to drive a wedge between the Democrats and voters of
faith.

“The religious right has practiced a zero-sum game where
somebody else has to lose for us to win,” Rev. Richard Cizik, vice
president of the National Association of Evangelicals, told a
conference call with reporters the day after the election.

In the past, Democrats were accused of not respecting evangelicals, a sentiment the Republicans exploited.

But
by appealing this time around to a broader spectrum of evangelical
values and concerns – over issues like poverty, the environment, peace
– rather than focusing on narrow and divisive issues, the Democrats
showed evangelicals a depth of understanding about their faith that
translated into a kind of respect, Wallis says.

Wallis, who has
known Obama for several years, says ending the divisiveness of
faith-based politics in the U.S. has been a priority for the
president-elect.

Last June, Obama launched a program targeting
young Christian voters by stressing the social justice message of the
Bible. Through community hall and church basement meetings, volunteers
urged evangelicals to “vote with all their values” on Nov. 4.

The
idea was never to win over all the religious vote, just enough to make
a difference. Exit polls from Tuesday’s election would suggest it
worked, with Obama narrowing the “God gap” between Republicans and
Democrats.

Among those attending church once a week, for
instance, the Republican advantage fell by more than half – from a 29
per cent Republican lead over the Democrats in 2004 to 12 per cent on
Tuesday, according to polls by Faith in Public Life, based in
Washington.

Reversing results from 2004, Obama beat John McCain both among those attending church monthly, and Catholics.

In
Florida, with its growing Hispanic population, the turning of the
Catholic vote helped Obama take the state for the Democrats for the
first time since Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

In Colorado, which
also switched to the Democrats, evangelical support for Obama was 14
per cent higher than for John Kerry in 2004, according to CNN exit
polling.

For people like Wallis and Cizik, who promote
progressive evangelism, Tuesday’s results bring to light an evolution
of religious thinking in America.

“There is a spiritual renaissance occurring here,” says Cizik.

And
while they and others acknowledge that much of the old religious right
remains, especially among older white evangelicals, cracks have begun
to appear.

“There is clearly a fracture between the evangelical
right or the Christian right and the rest of the country, and the rest
of the evangelical community,” says David Gushee, professor of
Christian ethics at Mercer University.

Under Obama, Gushee
expects to see centrist and progressive evangelicals playing a larger
role on issues such as poverty, torture, immigration, the environment
and nuclear weapons than the religious right.

Like Obama, he says, they prefer co-operation over division.

“A
posture that says we don’t have to agree on everything, but we can work
on these things together is going to put us in a better position to
have a constructive player in the next four years than a stance that
says the apocalypse is upon us.”

Source; Toronto Star

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