10/28/2007--This week’s New York Times Magazine continues its almost weekly wishful thinking that the evangelicals are going away. A few weeks ago, it was Mark Lilla’s article on the Great Separation of Church and State. Today, it is David Kirkpatrick’s article called The Evangelical Crackup.
The point of the article is that the religious right is in disarray. It cannot agree on a Republican candidate for President and may therefore have to swallow pro-choice Rudy Giuliani. Furthermore, the movement is less and less politically monolithic. Some evangelicals are emphasizing commitments they share with many liberals, such as concern about global warming. Finally, some religious conservatives are beginning to question the intensely political path that has recently been trod, as not consistent with preaching the Gospel.
I’m sure the readers of the New York Times love hearing this. And it is all true. But there is much less here than meets the eye. The political problems of the evangelical movement stem from two sources. First, President Bush has done such a bad job that other concerns must take a back seat. An unpopular and unwinnable war coupled with a plummeting dollar and slowing economy crowd out other issues, even for many committed Christians. Bush’s record also skews the Republican field and has led to the quirky difficulty in selecting a candidate.
But the second problem is that conservative Christians to a great extent won their point. The Democratic Party has surrendered the separation of church and state, at least for popular consumption. That is why the Democrats talk so much about God. Victory always fragments a movement.
Of course the Democrats have not changed their position on abortion or gay rights, but they don’t emphasize these issues very much. And they certainly don’t support taking “under God” out of the Pledge of Allegiance. The Democrats have recognized American Religious Democracy. That is the message the New York Times does not want to talk about.