Sarah Posner asks a welcome question at the New York Times: “Is This the End of the Religious Right?”
Given that Donald Trump has spoken favorably of Planned Parenthood, welcomed Caitlyn Jenner in the women’s restroom at his hotels (despite saying he’d appoint Supreme Court justices who oppose marriage equality), and clearly doesn’t give a damn about speaking Christianese, what does it say about religious conservatives that they chose him over one of their own, Ted Cruz?
The evangelical-Republican alliance, while certainly formidable and enduring, has suffered from growing tensions. Chief among them are inflexible ideological litmus tests on certain issues, such as abortion and gay rights, while internal disagreements over political issues like immigration, as well as core theological concerns, were shrugged off.
Deliberately or not, Mr. Trump may be the perfect candidate for an evangelical subculture that has increasingly become enamored with the prosperity, or health and wealth, gospel. In trying to build a singular religious faction that agreed on some core issues (like abortion), the Republican Party has courted that subculture, even though many evangelicals consider prosperity theology to be heretical. Mr. Trump acts more like a televangelist than an evangelical.
It’s tempting to believe the Religious Right is no longer a powerful force in the coming election since the usual wedge issues are essentially non-factors, but you could also chalk it up to the fact that Cruz was an awful candidate. Sure, he agreed with conservative Christians on just about everything, but he had no ability to hide those beliefs or couch them in more acceptable language. He had no real chance at winning over independents.
You could also give credit to time. Younger Christians just don’t give a damn about the same issues their religious parents did. Marriage equality, for example, simply isn’t a problem for them.
But I wouldn’t celebrate the death of the Christian Right just yet. That force, under that name, may be falling apart, but their concerns are still very much in play.
LGBT issues may not matter on the national level anymore, but they absolutely matter in several states with Christian governors and legislators. Consider the stories about bathroom bills, Kim Davis, Roy Moore, Christian bakers/florists, and the lack of non-discrimination protection in certain states. Those were stories only because conservative Christians insist their religious beliefs apply to everyone else.
Abortion — and access to it — is still a issue we have to fight at the state level because of an irrational religious belief that every sperm is sacred.
And just think about all the city/state officials slapping “In God We Trust” anywhere they can.
The Religious Right may have brought together a sizable portion of the Republican Party, but Trump inadvertently created a new umbrella group which the Christian Right is now under. It’s an umbrella that promotes bigotry, racism, sexism, science denial, American superiority, harsh rhetoric, and no need for logical consistency.
Many of those issues used to be hallmarks of the Religious Right. But you don’t necessarily need religion to bring people together under the banner of irrational thinking. That’s why, even if religion isn’t being debated at the presidential level, it doesn’t mean liberals should relax. Faith is still a powerful force for bad ideas throughout the country and the Christian Right will do everything it can to impact statewide races.