Do Christian conservative voters have a future in American politics?

The rising tide of secular politics is bringing many changes to the American Right. What does this mean for Christian conservative voters? Photo: Associated Press

OCALA, Fla., September 25, 2013 — America is becoming a more secular nation.

While our government was never designed to promote the interests or theology of any religious denomination, many fundamentalist Christian groups have nonetheless attempted to influence public policy-making. This has gone on for well over a generation, and to some extent still exists.

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Now, however, these groups — collectively referred to as the “religious right” — are scrambling to maintain power.

A recent poll from the rightish special interest behemoth FreedomWorks  explains why.

“Civil liberties and spending issues are scrambling the old foundations of the Republican Party,” FreedomWorks Vice President of Opinion Research David Kirby says 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.’”

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Jason Pye of United Liberty, a libertarian blog, further explained the poll’s findings: “Sixty-eight percent 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 percent 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.”

The question has nothing to do with whether or not modern society will conform to the religious right’s fancies. Instead, the question is whether those in the religious right will vote on secular, rather than theological, issues.

The religious right does not divorce its politics from what is said in church. Instead, its politics are an extension of how its pastors and ministers interpret scripture. 

This is why compromise, even in the face of crushing electoral loss, is alien to fundamentalist Christians. Politics is not just pragmatic, but moral. Support or rejection of certain policies is a matter of virtue and sin. 

For many of us, this is an alien approach to politics. Nonetheless, for millions of Americans politics is viewed from an eternal perspective, not as the art of governing in the here and now. 

Thus the religious right simply will not compromise on some issues. However, many of them might vote in their worldly best interest, so long as this does not conflict with their core beliefs. This means that gay marriage, abortion rights, and school prayer might take a back seat to tax policy, gun rights, and environmental regulation if those issues become sufficiently pressing.

Heaven knows that the Bible Belt has all of the secular problems it can handle.

“In more conservative states, poor women today enjoy increasingly less access to either contraception or abortion,” says June Carbone, co-author of Red Families v. Blue Families: Legal Polarization and the Creation of Culture. 

“(I)ncreasing parts of the population lack access to regular health care,” she says. “More liberal states try to make control of reproduction available to poor women as part of their public health systems. 

“More conservative states discourage the subsidization of both contraception and abortion, partly because they provide less generous public support more generally, partly because they are more opposed to abortion, and partly because they are more likely to champion abstinence policies.

“These policies, which may reaffirm the moral values of the devout, tend to make it less likely that poorer women will engage in family planning. Poor women often share conservative religious values, but they begin sexual activity earlier, they are more vulnerable to coercive men, and they have less access to information about effective contraception.”

She adds that “conservative, moderately religious men who do not attend college are among the most sexually active of the [late teens to early twenties] age group. And very few of the women who date them are virgins.” 

How many of the abstinence-only education activists can say that they waited until marriage to have intercourse? How many anti-abortion activists can say that they or a loved one has never had a pregnancy terminated? How many gay marriage opponents are themselves same-sex attracted or have loved ones who are?

The problems of America are increasingly affecting the families of religious conservatives, presenting them with disconnects on social policies. Many fundamentalist Christians could easily find themselves supporting candidates who will work for them as Americans, not religionists. These social issues won’t become unimportant, but they will be viewed as social problems, not as religious tests.

As time passes, very few things remain certain about America — and many things change not for the better. However, one positive change is the intellectually rejuvenating wave of secular politics.

Let’s hope that this is not a fleeting trend, but lasts for generations to come.

Far-left? Far-right? Get realRead more from “The Conscience of a Realist” by Joseph F. Cotto 


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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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