PASSING THE RELIGIOUS RIGHT TORCH…. James Dobson is done. Jerry Falwell and D. James Kennedy have passed away. Billy Graham is ailing. Pat Robertson is nearly 80 and has been relegated to sideshow status.
The Republican Party isn’t the only far-right institution with a leadership vacuum.
“It’s a changing of the guard,” said Brian McLaren, 52, cited in 2005 by Time magazine as one of the 25 most influential evangelicals in America.
“There is a possibility the religious right will collapse on itself. Or someone will articulate a new religious center. The evangelical community has been slowly diversifying, and there may not be a center anymore.”
The religious right’s obituary has been written before, and I’m not altogether sure the movement can be written off just yet. The organizations (remember the Christian Coalition?) have faltered, and the leaders are in need of successors, but as long as there are politically active, rank-and-file evangelicals who hate everyone who doesn’t act, believe, or worship they way they do, there’s a core movement that that will continue to exist.
That said, I also believe the movement’s long-term prospects are bleak. Younger evangelicals are generally less inclined to read from the religious right’s hymnal, and anti-gay animus is losing its salience. There’s a growing movement among evangelicals to reclaim the mantle and expand the definition of “moral issues” to include things like poverty and global warming.
If new leadership does emerge for what’s left of the religious right, it can’t just be a younger version of Dobson/Falwell/Robertson. The “changing of the guard” is going to also have to acknowledge the changing of the times.