The following is an interesting article sent to me by my friend Mark Jackson. It is republished here with permission from Strategic Forecasting, Inc. at www.stratfor.com. While I do not necessarily agree with everything said here it certainly brings up some points we need to consider. What it suggests is that there is a growing split in the Christian Coalition between Evangelicals with a concern for the social Gospel, and Evangelicals whose interests lie elsewhere. BW3
The Widening Gaps in the Evangelical-Republican Coalition
By Bart Mongoven
The Christian Coalition of America announced Nov. 28 that it has asked its president-elect, Joel Hunter, to resign. The news came a week after Hunter told the coalition's board that he wanted the organization to take on a new set of issues, particularly poverty, AIDS and the environment. The board reportedly said it did not think the group's grassroots membership was ready for such a shift, and that Hunter would not be given an opportunity to follow through on these plans.
The story behind Hunter's forced resignation reveals far more than a difference of opinion over the organization's future direction. Membership in the Christian Coalition has plunged from the millions to the thousands, four state chapters have bolted and its budget is a fraction of what it used to be. However, while the group no longer stands as the political vanguard of the conservative Christian movement, its internal disagreements do represent in a nutshell a major problem faced by the religious right and, by extension, by the Republican Party in the coming two years. At the center of the conflict is the recognition that the religious views of evangelical Christians and the politics of the American right are diverging after two decades of confluence.
In essence, the overlap between the libertarian Republican point of view and that of religious conservatives has dissolved during the past decade of Republican control of government. Historically, the religious conservatives and secular libertarians justified their advocacy of a small federal government for very different reasons. For secular libertarians, a small government was the central objective; for the religious conservatives, small government was an element of a strategy to reduce the power -- or at least slow the growth -- of institutions purveying secular values. The growth of government over the past 10 years has suggested to evangelicals that the strategy does not work. The Faith-Based Initiative, for instance, is seen as a small move in a positive direction, but one that also has done nothing to displace secular federal government activity.
What comes next will be guided by three variables: First, whether Christian leaders together find a new path forward that balances politics and faith; second, whether the GOP changes its policies and approaches to accommodate the evangelicals' new direction; and third, whether the Democrats find a way to accommodate at least some of the evangelicals' wishes.
Libertarianism: A Goal or a Tool
The alliance between the Republican Party and evangelical Christians developed over two decades -- and the Christian Coalition was the most important player in creating this alliance. The Christian Coalition championed the argument that secular forces were degrading the moral underpinning of the United States and that the federal government -- through, for example, large and expensive welfare programs -- was the largest single instigator of the growth of these secular forces.
The Christian Coalition -- and the evangelical right in general -- argued that in addition to strengthening powerful secular organizations, federal government institutions are inherently hostile to religion. Particularly in the earlier years of the coalition, the evangelical opposition to the federal judiciary was as focused on countering a liberal reading of the Establishment Clause as it was on Roe v. Wade. Throughout the Reagan presidency, evangelicals battled judicial prohibitions against any government endorsement of religion -- whether federal, state or local -- which had come to mean any expression of religion in a government context (school Christmas plays, creches at city halls, religious groups meeting in schools, etc.). Evangelicals became driven by the idea that the federal government was not merely secular, but after the Warren Court, it was aggressively secular or even anti-religious.
In addition, most conservative evangelicals also held that the traditional family should be the center of an individual's life, and saw a large active federal government as replacing traditional family roles in many ways. Evangelicals spoke out against welfare programs -- such as the WIC program that in early inceptions penalized unwed mothers for marrying -- as threatening to the traditional family structure.
In this context, an alliance with the libertarian wing of the Republican Party made perfect sense. Libertarian Republicans come in two major factions: ideological libertarians who are simply against large, active government, regulation and high taxes; and federalists who oppose a large federal government and see the most effective government as one that is closest to the people. Most members of the Christian Coalition fell into the latter group. They were not opposed to government helping people per se, but they wanted it to reflect local values, which in most of the South and Midwest were often quite different from the coasts. Further, the federalism approach to governance fit perfectly into the state-by-state approach to abortion that the Christian Coalition began to advance in the 1980s.
Libertarian Republicans were always uneasy with this alliance. Many libertarians see abortion, for instance, as part of that vast realm where government has no right to intrude. Others were opposed to abortion or ambivalent, but were upset by the evangelical drive against the Warren Court's position on the Establishment Clause. Finally, many libertarians saw Christian conservatives as desiring to inject religion into government wherever possible.
These are the hazards when one group's ideological ideal is another group's strategy.
The leaders of the two sides of this coalition, Newt Gingrich representing the libertarians and Ralph Reed of the Christian Coalition, maintained the careful balance between the libertarian and evangelical approaches long enough to take power in 1995. With power came a sense of optimism on both the libertarian and the evangelical sides that the large, secular government would be reined in. In 2000, that sense was heightened when the last impediment -- a Democratic president -- was dislodged in favor of a pro-business, pro-federalism evangelical.
Problems with Power
The past six years have not offered as many bright spots as either side expected. Mostly, this is due to natural disappointment that more idealistic activists feel once in power (it is far more difficult to achieve ideals than it appears from outside of power). One example is a severe disenchantment with the Bush administration's ability to rein in government. From the libertarian perspective, the deficit is back, government is bigger and the programs that Republicans promised to abolish 10 years ago are still in place. Gingrich came to power talking about dismantling Cabinet departments; instead, Republicans have added one. Furthermore, libertarians increasingly argue that the Republican Party has been taken over by evangelicals, and they fret that the party no longer has a place for them.
For the evangelicals, the strategy has not worked as well as they had hoped either. Roe v. Wade still stands, the Establishment Clause is still read mostly as it was 20 years ago and secular federal government programs are growing. The victories that the evangelical right can account for have not satisfied the grassroots. In fact, three-quarters through George W. Bush's eight-year presidency, the only solid evangelical victories have been two Supreme Court appointments (one only modestly acceptable) and Bush's consistent opposition to federal funding of stem cell research. Not only do evangelicals have little to cheer for, but both victories relied on the president's support -- they have won nothing from Congress.
The sense among the evangelical grassroots is that the Republican Party has used them, but only paid lip service to their goals, aspirations and values. The scandal surrounding Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., hit at the same time as the release of a book by former White House aide David Kuo, who alleged that the nonreligious White House staff scoffed at the evangelicals, referring to them as "crazies" and treating them like a captive political group; on this last point akin to how Democrats treat African-American voters.
As the dispute at the leadership of the Christian Coalition shows, however, evangelicals are far less captive than many thought. A solid coalition within the evangelical movement appears to be moving toward a new political approach that adds poverty, environment and health care to the familiar Christian conservative issues of abortion, gay marriage and public decency.
The leadership of the evangelical movement is beginning to split on these issues. In addition to Hunter, influential evangelicals such as conservative Wheaton College President Duane Litfin and the more liberal Jim Wallis are increasingly pressing for a new issue set. At the core of this new political outlook is a growing sense that the libertarian battle is lost, but the Christian mission of helping the poor remains. Evangelicals argue that by shunning aggressively secular government involvement in issues relating to poverty and other things, libertarian approaches were preferable, but they now add that failing in the libertarian mission is not an excuse to stop helping the poor or working toward other Christian missions such as environmental stewardship.
The Republican Perspective
As evangelical support for the libertarian approach erodes, the ball is in the Republicans' court to determine whether to try to keep the evangelicals in the fold, or to hope the party can win enough religious conservatives by sticking with its current ideological approach that champions traditional values without changing course on issues such as environment or poverty policy.
The evangelicals' emerging interest in government poverty programs, for instance, represents an acceptance of what they see as the new reality. Evangelicals no longer view American culture as responsive to propositional truths and preaching. Instead, they see a culture that responds to attractive lifestyles and communities. As a result, successful evangelical churches are de-emphasizing sin and issues of personal responsibility, and emphasizing compassion, open-mindedness and values that open Christians to progressive ideals and solutions.
The Christian Coalition's decision to move away from these issues is indicative of the Republican Party's instinctive response to stay with the current approach. The Christian Coalition is a shadow of its former self for a reason, however. In addition to no longer seeing the libertarian approach as the best strategic path, evangelicals are starting to change their minds about some policy issues. Climate change has emerged as the clearest symbol of this changing position. Evangelical leaders, including Pat Robertson, have publicly said they were wrong on the issue of climate change and that they now believe human activity is changing the climate. If Republicans want to hold the evangelical block, they will have to adjust to these shifting positions. The question is whether the evangelical leaders and the Republican Party leadership find themselves on the same page, or whether the relationship between the evangelicals and the political system continues to evolve outside the bounds of one political party. If the evangelicals take the initiative and begin to follow voices like Hunter's, the GOP will be hard-pressed not to follow. The party faces two conflicting problems: Many moderates and libertarians are moving away from the party due to the perception that the religious right has too much power, and at the same time the evangelicals have found that the party has little to offer them.
Before evangelicals give up on the Republican Party, they would have to conclude that the GOP has not delivered on abortion (which will remain a key issue no matter what) -- and that it will not deliver. Democrats are not as unsympathetic on the issue as they once were. For example, in the last congressional elections, Democrats offered anti-abortion candidates such as Bob Casey -- whose father was denied a chance to speak at the Democratic Convention because of his anti-abortion stance 14 years ago. Previously, some in the religious right might have shunned such candidates just because a vote for Democratic candidates meant contributing to the creation of a Democratic Congress and dealing a blow to the federal anti-abortion campaign. However, if evangelicals no longer believe the Republicans are truly committed to evangelical goals, such larger national strategies will no longer influence local voting.
With these cross-currents in place, the Republicans will follow the evangelicals because the party has started down a path that is difficult to leave. Other than in the new "solid South," support for Republicans is eroding nationwide. The mountain states are increasingly being settled by wealthy retirees from the coasts, who bring with them more liberal, less-individualist political views. In shunning almost all pro-choice candidates, such as Sen. Jim Jeffords, I-Vt., and then Sen. Lincoln Chaffee, R-R.I., the Republican Party has lost most of the Northeast and the West Coast. Without the evangelicals, the Republicans have no geographic base of support and a hold on few major ideological constituencies besides the pro-business libertarians. The evangelicals, therefore, hold the power to steer the party, and it appears that, despite the Christian Coalition's position, the evangelical community is headed toward the middle -- and on some particular issues, toward what used to be considered the left.