Can the GOP Fly without a Right Wing?

Almost twenty years ago, the assistant pastor of the Anchorage Baptist Temple, as a precinct chair, denied my husband and I the right to register and participate in the state Republican caucus for the ’88 election. The next day, an official of the state party called to apologize and offer to register us. Too late. We had figured out the GOP was no longer the political party we had supported. That night I went to the Democratic caucus prepared to hold my tongue and my nose in order to participate in the process. Instead, I found my political party, imperfect but with the goals, values and morals I held.

I also found a month long seminar on the Evangelical infiltration of the GOP, based on information of the Citizens Network, which gave me a strong base to understand their activities and the danger to America. Ever since I have watched the increased control and influence on American government with the same cold horror and fury of the experience of being denied my rights. I would love to find the Editor of the Anchorage Daily News who told me at the time the infiltration was well known but no danger. He was quite sure they couldn’t really do anything in America. I learned that trying to forewarn the public is futile. One is taken as an alarmist who is over reacting to an insignificant issue.

Late Saturday night I found an article from Sunday’s NYT posted on the web. I read it with a mix of disbelief and relief. David Kirkpatrick, who covered the Christian conservative movement for The New York Times during the 2004 election, “went to Wichita, as close as any place to the heart of conservative Christian America” to check out the Evangelical movement. His 10 page report on The Evangelical Crackup is a rewarding read.

Kirkpatrick starts with Terry Fox, now former pastor of Wichata’s Immanuel Baptist Church:

The pendulum in the Christian world has swung back to the moderate point of view”

He goes on to discover:

a younger generation of evangelical pastors — including the widely emulated preachers Rick Warren and Bill Hybels — are pushing the movement and its theology in new directions. There are many related ways to characterize the split: a push to better this world as well as save eternal souls; a focus on the spiritual growth that follows conversion rather than the yes-or-no moment of salvation; a renewed attention to Jesus’ teachings about social justice as well as about personal or sexual morality. However conceived, though, the result is a new interest in public policies that address problems of peace, health and poverty — problems, unlike abortion and same-sex marriage, where left and right compete to present the best answers.

The backlash on the right against Bush and the war has emboldened some previously circumspect evangelical leaders to criticize the leadership of the Christian conservative political movement. “The quickness to arms, the quickness to invade, I think that caused a kind of desertion of what has been known as the Christian right,” Hybels, whose Willow Creek Association now includes 12,000 churches, told me over the summer. “People who might be called progressive evangelicals or centrist evangelicals are one stirring away from a real awakening.”

The changes are occurring in many areas of the Evangelical world.

The 16-million-member Southern Baptist Convention — the core of the evangelical movement — may be rethinking its relationship with the Republican Party, too. …

…In June of last year, in one of the few upsets since conservatives consolidated their hold on the denomination 20 years ago, the establishment’s hand-picked candidates — well-known national figures in the convention — lost the internal election for the convention’s presidency. The winner, Frank Page of First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C., campaigned on a promise to loosen up the conservatives’ tight control. He told convention delegates that Southern Baptists had become known too much for what they were against (abortion, evolution, homosexuality) instead of what they stand for (the Gospel).

Kirkpatrick interviewed some of the most influential leaders of the movement for their opinions on the changes.

the Rev. Gene Carlson, another prominent conservative Christian pastor who left his church last year. He spent four decades as the senior pastor of the Westlink Christian Church, expanding it to 7,000 members. He was one of the most important local leaders of the Summer of Mercy abortion protests. …

…Carlson, who is 70, told me he is one member of the movement’s founding generation who has had second thoughts.

“I thought in my enthusiasm,” he told me with a smile, “that somehow we could band together and change things politically and everything will be fine.” But … Electing Christian politicians never seemed to change much. “When you mix politics and religion,” Carlson said, “you get politics.”

There’s a bumper sticker for progressives. In all, the article is well researched, written with insight, and a welcome example of what good journalism still is, sometimes.

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2 Responses to Can the GOP Fly without a Right Wing?

  1. Darrell Prows says:

    The pendulum does swing, but this one sure took its sweet time. On the other hand it looks like just the begining of the change and things could move substantially before the end is reached.

    I’m thinking that all of the compassionate conservatism, and faith based initiatives have finally taken their toll.

  2. Nick says:

    Can the GOP fly without a right wing? Depends on what you mean by right-wing. Without a Moral Majority/Christian Coalition type movement the GOP can still fly, but with difficulty. Let’s not forget the business wing of the GOP and the improved performance of the GOP among upper-middle to to upper -income voters (who turnout to vote at higher rates than middle-low income voters).

    Having a CC movement around helps the GOP mainly in culturally conservative industrial states (e.g. Ohio). Insofar as a place like Witchita is concerned, a check of the electoral maps demonstrates clearly that the GOP had no trouble carrying rural non-Southern states like Kansas from 1920-today (with or without the Jerry Falwell types).