Religious right losing ground in Republican Party

Most Republicans are conservative Christians but are they Christian conservatives? Photo: Associated Press

OCALA, Fla., December 4, 2013 — 2014 is primed to bring no small number of changes to the American political scene. Chief among these is a potential power shift on Capitol Hill. The GOP is polling well in the wake of Obamacare’s botched rollout. Even if popular sentiment against healthcare reform wanes, the Democrats have many U.S. Senate seats to defend in now-solidly Republican states. 

There is the very real chance that GOPers will win control of both Houses of Congress.

In spite of this, the Republican hierarchy is in disarray. Try as some might, GOPers cannot make peace among themselves. Center-rightists and hard-rightists seem not to just disagree with one another politically, but despise each other on a personal basis.

While such a thing would have been relegated to smoky backrooms not so long ago, that is not the case today. It now appears fashionable for Republicans to air their grievances on national television, talk radio, and online blogs.

That Democratic leaders cannot manage to capitalize on this golden opportunity speaks volumes about their own problems. 

If nothing else, Democrats should be able to raise public concern about the ailing, but still influential, fundamentalist Christian-dominated Religious Right. 

Over the last several years, much of our country has become far more secular than preceding generations. This has made the right-wing of the Republican Party, which morphed into a home for the Religious Right after Richard Nixon’s presidency, out of step with social trends.

There is change on the horizon, though, according to a new poll from FreedomWorks, an influential fiscally right-wing special interest group.

“Civil liberties and spending issues are scrambling the old foundations of the Republican Party,” FreedomWorks Vice President of Opinion Research David Kirby was quoted as saying on his group’s website. “In the 1980’s, Ronald Reagan called the Republican coalition a three-legged stool of individual freedom, traditional values, and defense. 

“Today it’s a lopsided stool. Forty percent of Republican voters said they are most interested in promoting ‘individual freedom through lower taxes and reducing the size and scope of government,’ versus 27 percent ‘traditional values’ or 18 percent ‘strong national defense.’” 

Jason Pye of United Liberty, a libertarian blog, further explained the poll’s findings: “68% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents agree with the statement that ‘individuals should be free to do as they like as long as they don’t hurt others, and that the government should keep out of people’s day-to-day lives.’

“What’s more, an eye-popping 78% of Republicans consider themselves to be ‘fiscally conservative, but socially moderate,’ which is a significant finding given the debate in the GOP on social issues.”

Most Republicans hold right-of-center views. Most are, in one variation or another, Christian. Obviously, those wanting social moderation are conservative Christians.

Christian conservatives, on the other hand, want divisive social issues to remain front and center. They do not care a whit about prevailing societal norms.

This begs the following question: What is the difference between conservative Christians and Christian conservatives?

The answer is quite simple. Conservative Christians are men and women who hold center-right beliefs on economic or social policy; sometimes both. 

While they are indeed believers in Jesus Christ being God’s son, this is incidental to their overall life philosophy. In essence, conservative Christians feel no need to legislate their personal theological codes. Religion is kept for Sunday services, and the public interest is at play in the voting booth.

Meanwhile, Christian conservatives are people who make no distinction between the tenets of their typically fundamentalist religion and public policy. These folks believe that America should be made as Jesus would like it. 

Faithful fundamentalists are led to believe that their votes are instruments of God. By casting a ballot for candidates which they think God approves of, they surmise that a divine will has been carried out.

This is why they treat routine political compromise as heresy, even within the Republican ranks. At heart, they consider themselves to not be of this Earth. Rather, their time here is only meant to prepare for eternal life in God’s heaven. 

During the years ahead, there can be little doubt that conservative Christians will serve as the Republican Party’s driving force. On that note, Christian conservatives seem primed for a fade into irrelevancy.

Not so long from now, Christian conservatives will likely be left with two choices. The first is to vote on secular issues in accordance with one’s material best interest. The second is to stand up and walk out of America’s political theatre.  

Chances are that wealthier folks will go for the first option, while the second will attract less affluent fundamentalists. 

Any way this situation is looked at, it is apparent that the American Right is finally catching up with the rest of our country. It’s about time.

Hopefully, the GOP will be fully up to speed by next autumn. 


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Joseph Cotto

Joseph F. Cotto is a social journalist by trade and student of history by lifestyle choice. He hails from central Florida, writing about political, economic, and social issues of the day. In the past, he was a contributor to Blogcritics Magazine, among other publications. He is currently at work on a book about American society.

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