Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Dobson and “Conservative” Politicians

posted by xscot mcknight

Our discussion of the Dobson and Obama dust-up raised one point, that of misrepresentation of Obama by Dobson, but there was something else in Dobson’s discussion that day that deserves a conversation. Dobson, who speaks for many in the religious right, are wary of McCain and some think Bush wasn’t a true conservative, and, yes, some seem to long for the good ol’ days of Reagan. Which led Dobson to say the conservatives in Washington DC haven’t done the job. That’s what I’d like to generate a conversation about.
Before I say that, though, let me register my disgust with the ploy the House Democrats are now using by employing a Bush impersonator in radio ads.
Before I go further, I commend the efforts of the young radical Christians to call us back to following Christ.
I’m glad McCain met with Billy Graham.
Back to Dobson and DC results … and I’d like to have a good, honest, clear, and non-accusatory conversation today about this topic.
In essence, it can be put like this: apart from appointments of some conservative justices in the Supreme Court, and we dare not minimize these appointments as those who have the power to carry on the conservative agenda, what has been done in the last 30 years or so to further the agenda of those in the religious right?
Dobson and many complain that they simply can’t stand with McCain because he isn’t conservative enough, even though he probably would appoint conservative justices. I’m sure they think they are consistent in their stands in this judgment of McCain. But here’s something that I’d like to see the religious right leaders address and address with open eyes and and open mind. I’d like to hear your views on this question:
Has the religious right been had? Have the politicians running for office used their power and their numbers and their support? Does the fact that they ran on some of these conservative agendas and not doing much (or anything) about those agendas in DC suggest that they were disingenuous? That they, in general sided with that conservative viewpoint, but did not have the passion to carry it out in DC? Is their social conservatism in morals a mask for economic conservatism? Or is the political system/machine so complex that our elected representatives are unable to carry out their promises (whether Republication or Democrat)? Or is it the checks and balances that we have in government? Or ….?
Tell me what you think. Explaining the failure of conservatives in DC since the Reagan years to pull off the major promises in such terms as “they’ve been had” is a little too skeptical for me, but I must also confess: some days I think it might be the best explanation. What do you think?



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M. Green

posted June 30, 2008 at 1:30 am


What a question! Not living in the States currently, I find it difficult to give an accurate answer, but here goes. I think one can???t get around the fact that it is a difficult task to change laws in the U.S. The checks and balances system rightly makes it difficult. Also I think that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq added with the problematic U.S. economy have dominated the attention of the House and Senate leaving issues important to conservative Christians on the shelf. That???s the graceful answer.
On the other side of the coin, one has to ask back when the house and senate were dominated by ???Republicans??? ???Why didn???t they overturn Roe vs. Wade among other things???? True Bush stopped partial birth abortion and stem cell research, but could that not have been done more out of a sense of appeasement? So as to say ???Now, be a good lad, eat your cake and don???t make a fuss???.
I would really like to see a new party. One that is willing to help the poor in a responsible way, that wishes to be good stewards of the environment, that protects life, and that would come up with a viable way of providing health care for those in the middle class who can???t afford it. As a Christian I find it difficult to vote for a Democrat who is for abortion. At the same time why vote for the Republicans when they???re not seeking to solve a lot of our social problems and really don???t care about issues that are important to me as a Christian? Scot I think, unfortunately, that you???re right, that there are some Republicans who are using conservative Christians just to get in office.



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Ben

posted June 30, 2008 at 2:31 am


[For the record, I voted Bush Sr. (against Clinton), Gore (against Bush Round 1), Bush (against Kerry), and will probably vote for Obama].
I think your last couple of questions hit it right on the head – mask for economic conservativism? complex political system.
A few additional comments:
1. What did Reagan actually (tangibly) accomplish besides feel-good rhetoric?
2. What can a president actually do besides appoint justices?
I’m not a huge fan of Bush’s presidency, but you have to give him credit, where credit is due as far a conservative Christian agenda. Following are a few examples (among others I’m sure):
– faith-based social efforts (whether you think they were successful or not.)
– In terms of international aid, there has been a consistent effort to make sure US aid money is going to efforts like abstinence and NOT programs that promote abortion.
– compassionate efforts to combat AIDS and malaria in Africa.[Not a conservative evangelical agenda, but should have been].
I think “conservatives” should see themselves as a subculture with unwritten rules that can have a terribly inconsistent morality. With regard to Obama’s abortion votes, he needs a good . . .[rebuke]. And while I think some of Obama’s views are patently old-fashioned liberalism, when it comes issues of lifestyle morality and faith – my money’s on him against McCain; Obama has made conscious career choices to help the poor.
In short, developing a morality-based scoring card is a lot more complex than we think.



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Ted M. Gossard

posted June 30, 2008 at 3:05 am


Good post and good comment, Ben.
I guess with the few staples the religious right has: against abortion, against gay rights (and opposed to environmentalism), and whatever else it is- then indeed, the GOP has let them down.
Though I can’t understand how they can abandon the GOP when the Supreme Court is in some ways a more important entity in Washington D.C. than either the legislature or executive. This is their biggest hope to see Roe v Wade overturned, with which I’d agree, though we need a national heart change on this issue.
Checks and balances in Washington are big. And the mantra for politicians as we can now see with Obama is centrist. McCain wants to be known for that as well, even as he tries to get the vote of the religious right.
So I think the dynamic in Washington limits what can be accomplished. But at the same time I do think the Republicans have not pushed overall for the agenda the religious right thought was pledged to them. Therefore I can understand the reticence of James Dobson and company to support them.



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jenell

posted June 30, 2008 at 5:30 am


Have you ever blogged about your daily rhythm? I love your blog, but I always wonder how you write so much (and keep your inbox clear)? How do you sleep very much, do housework, play with your son, relax, exercise, or prepare for class? Maybe you don’t want to blog about such a thing, but I admire your consistency and productivity. Thanks for sharing so much of your mind and heart with the world.



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jenell

posted June 30, 2008 at 5:30 am


Have you ever blogged about your daily rhythm? I love your blog, but I always wonder how you write so much (and keep your inbox clear)? How do you sleep very much, do housework, play with your son, relax, exercise, or prepare for class? Maybe you don’t want to blog about such a thing, but I admire your consistency and productivity. Thanks for sharing so much of your mind and heart with the world.



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Jeff

posted June 30, 2008 at 5:33 am


Reagan reduced marginal tax rates which produced in a 28% increase in revenue for the treasury over the period 1980-1990. Slightly more than feel-good rhetoric, wouldn’t you say?



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Jeff

posted June 30, 2008 at 5:44 am


I’m not part of the religious right, but I think we need to be fair to Reagan’s economic policy. It actually produced some significant results. This is true whether or not you’re conservative. Likewise, Clinton made some incredibly good policy decisions, which should also be lauded.
Let’s give praise where praise is due.



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josenmiami

posted June 30, 2008 at 5:45 am


actually, if my memory serves correctly, the whole trend toward “born-again” politics (not so much the religious right) began with Jimmy Carter in 1976. Although many are critical of Carter, his election did bring about a greater morality in terms of respect for human rights in Latin America.
I agree with most of the above comments. One more thought may be that our system is deliberately designed to be complex, and hard to change — thus protecting us from reactionary or radical change and the currents of populism, whether of the right or the left. A few years ago, the religious right had the Presidency, both houses of Congress and most of the Supreme Court … imagine if Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell had been able to impose their vision for America on our laws! Thank God for the checks and balances.
Rather than a third party, I would love to see some kind of think tank that could successfully bring together young conservatives and progressives, and help them move past polarization and party politics to apply their faith and ethics to real issues and to seek real solutions in innovative ways, and then to to take this back into the two parties. Probably too utopian….



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Joel Frederick

posted June 30, 2008 at 6:00 am


When you talk about failure of either conservatives or liberals (I don’t know if that is a fair characterization of the two parties) you are looking at different sides of the whole.
According to Randall Balmer’s book “Thy Kingdom Come…”, the “right” has been in power for 20+ years without overturning Roe vs. Wade. At the same time, abortion was at a low during Clinton’s presidency.
Tony Campolo is very clear that there is not a single sided solution to problems such as abortion.
In the case of abortion Campolo says making abortion illegal is only a starting point. You also must supply economic solutions to allow those who must now keep their babies to term the ability to do so.
In the case of gay marriage, the other side of the conservative outcry, I have a hard time with the argument of “It’s destroying the family” when those in churches (maybe not to be confused The Church) have a divorce rate as high as the secular society around it.
As we have seen over the last 4 years, neither party as a whole is scandal free.
I have come to the conclusion that I need to focus on Christ and his Kingdom, not on the kingdoms of this world.



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D. C. Cramer

posted June 30, 2008 at 6:18 am


I had this same thought around the time of the last election (and posted some reflections at http://cramercomments.blogspot.com/2008/02/political-lesson-learned.html which are too long to paste in their entirety here). I think the basic problem is that the religious right has allowed themselves to be pigeon-holed into backing certain issues that are consistently Republican, allowing Republican candidates to more or less take their vote for granted. A similar pattern, I would argue, has occured historically with Democrats and the African-American vote.



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Ben

posted June 30, 2008 at 6:22 am


#6 Jeff. I wasn’t particularly saying anything about Reagan’s economic, foreign, domestic, etc. policies; I was just asking what (if anything) he really accomplished for Dobson’s moral agenda – seeing as they are seen as the “good ol’ days”? What am I forgetting beyond judicial appointments? Ben (comment #1)



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Dan Brennan

posted June 30, 2008 at 6:32 am


Great question, Scot.
Has the conservative agenda been used? It’s certainly the easiest political interpretation of recent history. Is it the most plausible, I dunno. The fact that the question is raised reveals there is some merit to the notion that the “passion” seems to disappear once elected. On the other hand, there are other passions at work in D.C., too (the Bork nomination was clearly a place where these passions clashed). My gut tells me its a mixture of the checks and balances along with a complex layered of political maneuvering among the nuances (or maybe “sects”) within the conservative camp.



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Diane

posted June 30, 2008 at 6:33 am


jenel,
I don’t want to speak for Scot but he has mentioned that he writes his blogs for the week in one evening and then has them auto-posted throughout the week (ie, every day). And he doesn’t go out at night too much, he says.
It would help to define the evangelical Christian agenda, which to my mind would be opposing gay rights, banning abortion, promoting marriage and stable heterosexual families, embracing a vision of America as a Christian country and putting tax money into the hands of two-parent heterosexual families. The Christian right doesn’t seem to have done too well on political solutions for these issues. However, my sense is the time is not yet right, and that it’s important, as someone else noted above, for conservative and progressive Christians to sit down together and hash out both sides of these issues. Then, when society as a whole realizes the time is right, thoughtful, reasoned political solutions will already be available. On this note, I just read an interested, albeit somewhat long, story in the New York Times about declining birth rates, primarily in southern European countries such as Italy, but also in other parts of the world. Population decline is not an issue in this country, but could become one, and then there would probably be a larger interest in reducing abortion, getting people into heterosexual marriages (as that’s an effective way to produce children), etc.



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Scot McKnight

posted June 30, 2008 at 6:36 am


Jenell,
I’ll get something up about this in a week or so.



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Diane

posted June 30, 2008 at 6:37 am

Tom Hein

posted June 30, 2008 at 6:45 am


Politics solutions generally move very slowly I agree that the best reason to elect a conservative is the effect it has on selection of Supreme Court justices.
As for Bush, I actually believe that he is a sincere Christian, who has been consumed by the “war on terrorism” and has not had enough energy, time, and political capital to advance many other causes.



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Rick

posted June 30, 2008 at 6:48 am


This reminds be of the David Kuo (former deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives) controversy in 2006. A story about him stated:
“Kuo left the White House in late 2003 after a brain tumor and subsequent seizure caused him to have a serious car accident. He writes that his brush with death caused him to re-evaluate his priorities and realize that core Christian values have been severely compromised by allying with the GOP. The reason for this? Kuo writes: “Every politician needs evangelicals. And like a teenage boy on a date with a beautiful girl, they will say anything and everything to get what they want.”
The full story is here:
http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/story?id=2570947&page=1



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jeremy bouma

posted June 30, 2008 at 7:31 am


“Has the religious right been had? Have the politicians running for office used their power and their numbers and their support?”
As a former US Senate staffer and missionary of sorts to DC (I worked for the Center for Christian Statesmanship, Dr. D James Kennedy’s spiritual outreach outfit…) I can say that that the Church has both whored itself to Might and Power and has been used to further the agenda of either party, but particularly the RR.
In Jan 2005 a Hill magazine ran a poll of Members and asked this question: If you could ignore an interest group without worrying about the political ramifications, which would you ignore?” For Dems: #2 was AFL-CIO (labor unions) and #1 was NARAL/Pro-Choice (very interesting indeed)! Among the GOP: #2 NRA (gun rights…predictable!) and #1…The Religious Right. I forget the amount but I remember it was a pretty high number; so in other words the GOP would ignore the RR wing of the Church if it didnt have to worry about the political ramifications.
Now you could take that 1 of 2 ways: the Church has arrived at the seat of the table and has Power. In fact you can point to the 04 election and see some of this: evangelicals composed 25% of the voting block, even though they are like 8% of the country…80% of which voted for Bush. Pretty good, huh?
The other side of this coin says that the Church, the Grandure and Majesty of the Body of Christ…
has been
reduced
to an
interest group
Folks, its true. (And by the way I’ve voted Republican my whole life and worked for a Republican Senator…so consider this context as I say this next part!) I am sickened by what’s happened to the Church in this country as it has RUN after the scrapes from the table of Might and Power.
More could be said but I’ll tell you what: The Hill could give a rats ass about the agenda of Christ and His Body, the Church. The Hill is interested in one thing: gaining and maintaining power.(Ok, that might be a bit cynical…it is filled with good people who want to accomplish good things for the country, too!) So any group that helps either party gain or maintain power is courted. And I’ll tell you another thing: evangelicals have become so irrelevant to the discourse of this country over the last 4 years that I seriously doubt they will have the effect they’ve had the last 20 years.
But maybe that’s a good thing…
-jeremy



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kj

posted June 30, 2008 at 7:32 am


“Has the religious right been had?”
In short: Yes. They’ve been had by the coalition they’ve formed with economic libertarians. In a system with only two major political parties, forming coalitions like this one is a necessity (for the Dems, it’s the unions and social liberals). But too many religious conservatives have swallowed economic libertarianism in the process–which actually traces its roots to the atheist worldview of Ayn Rand.
I think many voters–including a lot of evangelical Christians–are starting to question the hyperindividualistic worldview of a political party that values tax cuts above all else, to the point they’re willing to consider voting for Obama, despite the fact his social views are outside the evangelical consensus.



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Ron Brown

posted June 30, 2008 at 8:14 am


Tom (#16),
I voted for President Bush primarily because of my respect for his strong stance on faith issues. Throughout the terms of his presidency I have found favor with much he has done, but was disappointed as well. For me, the most disappointing time was the time he was interviewed about his faith. Don’t remember the exact text but in a nutshell he
1) Stated his believe in Jesus as his Savior
2) Acknowledged that other people had beliefs that did not match his own
3) Stated that he believes there are many ways to heaven, and that other people are free to choose their own path
I too believed him to be a sincere Christian, but that 3rd statement really disappointed me. Many at the time tried to justify it for him by suggesting that he simply misspoke (politicians like to use this one). Well, to my knowledge he never followed up to clarify. Really disappointing.



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Matthew

posted June 30, 2008 at 8:26 am


This is a interesting post. It always seems interesting to mix religion and politics because they do not really mesh well.
http://www.matthewsblog.waynesborochurchofchrist.org



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T

posted June 30, 2008 at 8:43 am


Jeremy,
Thanks for posting and including your background as well as that poll of Congress.
And Scot, don’t hesitate to go into the controversial topics, alright? (Dobson-Obama, Gun-bans, the ‘success’ of the RR . . .)
I’m not a particular fan of the RR, but having said that, I don’t know that some degree of compromise (defeat amidst victory?) can be avoided in politics. I think you could ask the same kinds of questions of every ‘ekklesia’ in DC, and even every person that’s ever worked in DC. “Have they been taken? Have there been victories? Have they wasted their time?” In the case of the RR, they’ve set very high goals (pack the Supreme Court, for example) and seem to have done as well as any voice in DC if not better in getting lawmakers to hear and act upon their views, even if often in less than lockstep ways, and even as their pushes and pulls have had various unintended consequences. C’est la vie, or at least, that’s politics.



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ChrisB

posted June 30, 2008 at 8:43 am


Scot, when you take Dobson’s complaint about McCain not being conservative enough and ask about the advances of the religious right, are you equating those two things?
Dobson can dislike McCain for not being a conservative in the broader sense than just on “family values” issues.
On to your question: off the top of my head the “family values” voters have gained increasing support for limited regulation of abortion (parental notification, “full disclosure,” partial birth ban), tax credits for adoption, the defense of marriage act, more federal trust and funding of faith-based social charities, increased funding for fighting AIDS in Africa, and US attention to Sudan.
So why haven’t more of the ideals of the “religious right” been enacted? Political pragmatism, duplicity (yet they continue to vote for these guys because the other side is even less likely to vote their way), and, of course, judicial interference.
But I think a lot of the “religous right” are broad-spectrum conservatives. If they don’t get everything they want in the family values realm but do get some of what they want on economic, tax, or other social policies, they’re going to chalk it up as a net victory even if it wasn’t all they wanted. Voters can be pragmatists too.
I think the better question is why people continue to vote for the other side when it does exactly what it promises and the results are the opposite of what was expected.
Ted #3: The big RR complaint against McCain right now is that he is not trying to get their votes. In fact they feel like he’s ignoring them. Whether he doesn’t think he needs them or he takes them for granted remains to be seen.
Joel #9: re: divorce, Barna’s number assume anyone who answers certain questions “right” is an evangelical; ask them if they actually go to church regularly, and the results change dramatically. Regular attenders don’t have same the divorce rate as the country at large.



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Scott Eaton

posted June 30, 2008 at 8:58 am


I agree with Joel (#9). If Randall Balmer is correct in his book Thy Kingdom Come, then the religious right has definitely been “had.” This may sound too skepitcal to you Scot, but politics is dirty business.
If “conservatives” really wanted Roe vs. Wade overturned, it could have happened. But this issue serves both parties well. It is an emotional hot-potato that keeps people worked up and voting (please do not hear me saying that it is an unimportant issue).
I think conservative politics has come off the rails. Conservatives today want to go back and re-live the Reagan years. But in my opinion the essence of conservatism is limited government involvement in our lives and the desire for the government to follow the Constitution. So conservatism (aka the religious right) as advocated by Dobson and friends is also off the rails. They want government to do more to control people’s lives, not less.
I would agree wholeheartedly with Balmer (even though he and I would differ on some issues) when he asks the question, “Where are all the Baptists?” Baptist (or even Anabaptist) faith at its best has always sought the disestablishment of religion. Most of the Baptists in the religious right (in fairness I used to be one too – no more) have really sold out their historical roots and beliefs.
Maybe we need a real Baptist revival.



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Julie

posted June 30, 2008 at 8:59 am


When I look back over my entire adulthood, where I’ve invested in the pro-life movement, have voted Republican and have aligned myself with most of the GOP goals (smaller government, private charity, creative solutions to healthcare, lower taxes for stay-at-home mom families, overturning Roe v. Wade), I can’t see that they’ve accomplished much.
The HSA accounts have been helpful to me as a business owner, but certainly not the solution when I look at my monthly premiums. I don’t see that faith-based solutions to poverty have made enough of a difference to offset the need for social programs funded by the government.
No Child Left Behind is a disaster.
The abortion card has been the biggest bait and switch of all. There is no meaningful progress on that issue from a legal stand point (though I suppose the ban on partial birth abortion must at least be acknowledged as one piece of legislation that we can be grateful for). Meanwhile the drop in social programs has resulted in increased abortions!
When I think back to my whole-hearted support of Dobson and the religious right’s agenda, thinking that they were the wing of the party most concerned with protecting life, religious rights and economic stability (lower taxes) for families, I’m disgusted at the results.
We have the biggest debt in history (which our grandchildren’s children will still be paying), abortions have not declined, religious rights have become about limiting rights for gays rather than protecting rights for all (including religious ones), and lower taxes means forgetting the environment and the poor.
I’m out.



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Rachel H. Evans

posted June 30, 2008 at 9:05 am


Has the religious right been had?
I think it???s probably a matter of expectations. Members of the religious right have been had only to the degree that they actually expected a political party to fulfill their social agenda.
For example, those who recognize that it is ultimately the Church???s responsibility to curb abortions (by caring for the poor, educating youth, providing healthcare, etc.) will probably be thankful for the ban on partial birth abortions without resenting the fact that Roe v. Wade has not (and likely will not) be overturned.
Those who expect a political party or a president to somehow embody the message of the gospel will be disappointed time and time again.



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T

posted June 30, 2008 at 9:13 am


Scott,
Given our constitutional system, I don’t know that this is true: “If ‘conservatives’ really wanted Roe vs. Wade overturned, it could have happened.” Even outside of that system, there’s actually a lot of things that go into the formation a lawyer/judge in the course of their career, particularly one that has even a possibility of heading towards the Supreme Court, that have little if anything to do with that particular issue. On top of that, we’re getting to the place where a judge’s “conservativism” could lead toward upholding Roe v. Wade because of how many times it has been upheld, even if that judge thought it was initially erroneous. And I don’t know if anyone really knows what an appointee is going to do on that or many other issues until after the appointment is (irrevocably) made. Attempting to overturn any one ruling through influencing judicial appointments is very slow, very difficult, with multiple ways and reasons to fail, and that’s by constitutional design.



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Anonymous

posted June 30, 2008 at 9:15 am


McKnight’s thoughts on politicians using the religious right… « Rob’s Blog

[…] Scot McKnight, is an author and blogger who I have a pretty high view of because he is good about not getting trapped into either side of an argument. He has the ability to step back and make observations rather than accusations. He continues with some thoughts about Dobson/McCain/Obama in this post but then adds these thoughts/questions that are important to the conversation. […]



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ChrisB

posted June 30, 2008 at 9:18 am


Scott E said: If ???conservatives??? really wanted Roe vs. Wade overturned, it could have happened. But this issue serves both parties well.
I’ve seen this a lot lately. I’m waiting for anyone to offer some actual evidence.
Given the makeup of the courts, given the fact that conservative appointees can’t be trusted to be conservative (that is, strict constructionist), how, pray tell, would you think conservatives ocould have overturned Roe?
(Then there’s the little regarded fact that overturning Roe wouldn’t outlaw abortion. It would give us 50 battlefields on which to fight it.)



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Ben Wheaton

posted June 30, 2008 at 9:23 am


Scot,
Why is your blog suddenly so interested in politics?
But as a response, I would say that, no, the Religious Right has not been had. The issue of abortion requires that Roe vs. Wade be overturned, and that can only be done through appointments to the Supreme Court (incidentally, I am amused by the argument that abortion should be dealt with only through cultural change; why is abortion the only issue in which this solution is proposed, when the same solution could equally be applied to matters like the environment? “Let’s not legislate for clean air and lower greenhouse gas emissions, it’s a cultural issue!”).
Also, consider that most evangelicals are economically conservative, so even if abortion were not an issue they would still probably be Republican. I know this may be difficult for liberal evangelicals to understand, but the fact is that it is possible to be a Christian and economically conservative. As proof of this, in Canada about 2/3rds of evangelicals vote Conservative. There is no organized religious right, and the Conservative Party is officially pro-choice, yet there is still this strong support.
Also, do you think that the leaders of the religious right and those who vote along with it are dolts? Do you think that all conservative evangelicals (or even most conservative evangelicals) are so ignorant and dense that the Machiavellian and Dreadfully Wicked Libertarian Ogres at Republican party headquarters can pull the wool over their eyes and lead them “astray?” Evangelicals know full well about the progress (or lack thereof) in the issues they care about, and still vote Republican, on the whole. It’s called politics, and requires one to be pragmatic-evangelicals recognize this.



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Scot McKnight

posted June 30, 2008 at 9:35 am


Ben,
Well, variety is the spice of life. As an Anabaptist I don’t wander into politics too often like this, since I tend to take a more distant and less “eschatology of political action” approach, but these two issues were worth a public discussion … and I’ve got two more of these this week!
My question for you; I sure hope no one suggests they are dolts, a term I’d assign to some folks in each party. My question: Do you think they’ve put too much energy and too much hope into the political process and changing culture and society through that political process?



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Scott M

posted June 30, 2008 at 9:36 am


Uh, Ben. If people disagree with the interpretation of the Constitution by the Supreme Court, they can amend the Constitution. That’s the proper approach to altering the law of the land rather than attempting to appoint justices who agree with your interpretation so the official interpretation changes.
Isn’t that what was just repeatedly stated on the thread about gun control laws? I sense some inconsistency …



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Jon

posted June 30, 2008 at 9:48 am


Unfortunately, I believe that for the most part, the religious right has been had. We are willing to sell our votes for the person who describes himself as a charismatic Christian. We buy based on the surface rather than on depth. I think in general, politicians have been using members of both parties, veiling their exterior with pretty words that sell. In our consumer society, we buy the product that seems the flashiest (part of the reason Obama is so popular, I think). We uncritically accept whatever we think the status quo should be. Both liberals and conservatives . . . but especially evangelical Christians.



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Karl

posted June 30, 2008 at 10:01 am


I do think many in the religious right have been had by the republican party. For example, I recall comments a while back in a book by a former Bush staffer, who recounted tales of nonchristians in the Bush administration openly mocking the religious right, talking about how they could manipulate them to get their votes, what token gesture they should throw their way to pacify them, create meaningful sounding programs (like faith based initiatives) but then gut their funding and leave them to die on the vine, etc.
I don’t think the democrats are any better, though. Regardless of the validity of Obama’s personal faith, I’m sure he would have nonchristians – or even Christians – in his administration who would just as cynically manipulate people of faith if they thought it could get them votes or further their agenda.



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Scott Eaton

posted June 30, 2008 at 10:50 am


T and ChrisB:
Well, I’m not absolutely certain Roe v. Wade could have been overturned either, but it would seem that after 20 years or so that more progress would have actually been made.
I would really recommend Balmer’s book on this. I think he does a great job revealing some of the true motives behind the Republican adoption of Roe v. Wade as a “plank” issue. Of course, he could be wrong, but I don’t think he is.
My main point (and I didn’t make it very clearly) is that politics has not been a good vehicle of change for the religious right. And I don’t think it necessarily should be. But if they thought have the GOP in their back pockets was going to accomplish their moral goals, they have been sorely disappointed.



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ron

posted June 30, 2008 at 10:54 am


Ben (#30),
The Supreme Court is not the only means for overturning Roe v. Wade. Amending the Constitution is another (admittedly difficult, however). Between 2001 and 2006 the Republicans certainly had more than enough power in Congress to kick that can a fair way down the road, and they didn’t try. On the other hand, the impeachment of Clinton was a difficult task, and they sure gave that the old college try. Contrasting GOP exertions in one area, and their lack in another, adds weight to the notion that evangelicals have been had.
p.s. — Scott Eaton (#24) channels me precisely.
p.p.s. — For a clear-eyed critique of the GOP vs. the Constitution try former Republican Congressman Mickey Edwards’ book, Reclaiming Conservatism.



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Jeff

posted June 30, 2008 at 11:20 am


Ben #1. Thanks for the clarification of your point, which I now understand and with which I agree.



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Patrick Hare

posted June 30, 2008 at 4:10 pm


Scot M – #32.
The constitution, like scripture, must be interpreted, exegeted, and hermeneuted. Even if the constitution is changed it will still need to be interpreted. And behind every “interpretation” are constitutional theories, policy choices and the worldview of the justices.
Every case that is argued before the supreme court has two opposing sides supported by legislative histories, prior case law, legal maxims, time honored traditions, etc. The choice between the two sides is more often than not a function of who is making the decision. See the number of 5-4 decisions vs. the number of 9-0 decisions.
Check out “Politics, Postmodernity and Critical Legal Studies” by Yifat Hachamovich, or any other journal articles on critical legal studies for an exposition of the critical, decisive role played by the interpeters – a role which is not only necessary but which cannot be avoided.



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Howard Walters

posted June 30, 2008 at 5:28 pm


My take on the religious right has been substantively formed in Ohio. For the RR here, “faith worked out through government” comes down to two points, and two points only: 1) banning abortion, and 2) outlawing homosexuality and the “homosexual agenda for our children.”
If I take the teachings of Jesus seriously, then I have to observe that absent social support mechanisms to support single mothers with children, primarily living in poverty and including many young adolescent girls–simply banning abortion falls far short of truly loving our neighbor. And increasingly, I find myself far more concerned and terrorized with the gay-bashing and sexual paranoia expressed from many evangelical pulpits, than I am concerned that two men may in fact love each other and start a family together.
Beyond all of this, however, may I ask: does the state of life in the Kingdom, as taught and described by Jesus, include nothing else that religious people can get “bent out of shape about?” Didn’t James write that “true religion” is really about caring for the elderly and children? Does feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for prisoners, housing the homeless–do any of these count for anything in the religious right?
Scott’s question: Has the religious right been “had”? Absolutely! But they have been “had” by their own misplaced agendas and fears and “pet sins.” They went astray following their own choices, and this “following after self” was leveraged by government power to its own ends. Now the republicans and the religious right seem about out of power, and it seems that both groups are getting what they deserve.



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ChrisB

posted June 30, 2008 at 5:37 pm


Howard, Jesus tells us to do a lot of things. The question is whether the government should do them. I think the conservative focus on private charity and creating jobs is the more biblical model.
As for your second paragraph, replace abortion with any other immorality — murder, child molestation, stealing — and see how well it works. That life is hard does not justify killing the unborn.
We do need to help the poor, watch out for the widow, and provide for the orphan. But you’ll have to forgive me if I’m more focused on not killing innocent children. Especially when you consider that the left does nothing except give lip service to helping the poor and still supports killing babies.



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Bob Kelley

posted June 30, 2008 at 6:40 pm


First, let me say that in the interest of full disclosure, I am a life long Republican and conservative (to which Scot can attest).
Forgive me if someone has already said this, as I haven’t read all the responses above but, Where else can the religious right go for political support of it’s agenda?
The democrats are not going to side with the religious right voters; their constituency is the pro-death lobby (both abortion and so-called “death with dignity), the gay lobby, pro-porn (in the name of freedom of speech), and animal rights groups like peta and earth first.
Another thing to consider is that most of the religious right are conservative on other issues as well; i.e. 2nd amendment issues, free market economics, etc. Issues which are not neccessarily “religious” issues, but which strike a chord among the religious right because the religious right is culturally & sociologically more “traditional” (for lack of a better term).
In terms of “social justice” issues (i.e. war on poverty), some of us on the religious right do not think that it was prudent to hand over the responsibilities of the church to the government. It was a strategic blunder which has a) marginalized the influence of the church on society as a whole and b) largely been a failure and a waste in terms of actually minimizing poverty. There is a philosophical understanding that the government has certain God ordained responsibilities, while the church has others. Care of the poor belongs to the church. The protection of the citizenry from outside aggression and internal tyranny is the role of the government.
The Church should not bail out of politics, because if we do, then what is to restrain evil from advancing at an even faster pace than it has? Nor should the church attempt to align itself with a third party, at least until it is sure that it has a large enough constituancy to actually influence Washington. There are no viable third parties at present. What the Church does need to do is wake up and smell the coffee and realize where it actually fits in, in the political picture. We need to be “wise as serpents” but still fight for Biblical values. In order to do that we need strong allies in the halls of power. Currently and for the foreseeable future that ally is the Republican party, not because it is the optimum, but because it’s the best we actually have available.
To answer Ben’s question about Reagan’s accomplishments, besides the afformentioned positive effects on the US economy, he is pretty much primarily responsible for the downfall of the USSR, without firing a shot, by using their own economic weaknesses against them.



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Bob Kelley

posted June 30, 2008 at 6:46 pm


Why didn’t the Republicans overturn Roe vs. Wade? Our legal system does not work that way. The Supreme Court handed down the decision. The only way to overcome that decision is to 1) bring an new case to the court with the hopes that they will reverse themselves (fat chance) or 2) pass a constitutional amendment outlawing abortion (again, fat chance). There is no other way to “trump” the Supreme Court. They could not just pass another law.



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John Frye

posted June 30, 2008 at 7:02 pm


To use Jeremy Bouma’s terms (comment #18), it seems the evangelical left is eager to go awhoring after scraps from the Table of Power and Might as the RR did in the eighties and early ninties. When known evangelical leaders (left and right) get caught on camera clammoring for ‘change in America’ that only the gospel of the kingdom of God offers and produces, we’ve tipped our hand as sell-outs to the principalities and powers.



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Scott

posted June 30, 2008 at 9:28 pm


I think the the religious right has been had. They have been courted by the Republicans and when the office of the President, the House and the Senate were all dominated by Republicans the opportunities were there to give the Religious Right what they wanted. But none of it happened. I think all Christians need to stop allowing themselves to be courted by political parties and allow the church to rise above politics. The power of God that Paul describes in the book of Romans is a power that far transcends any political party and can acheive the purposes of God better through the body of Christ than through a political system. Ed Dobson and Cal Thomas wrote a very interesting book called “Blinded by Might” on all of this as they both came out of the Moral Majority and viewed the problematic issues when the church embrasses politics to achieve it’s means.



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Ben

posted July 1, 2008 at 12:31 am


Lots of great comments! We do need good Christians in government, but I liked Jeremy’s comment.
Bob Kelley, #41. Ok, we can say defeating the evil empire was an important part of the conservative Christian agenda at the time. BUT for the record,some of the key policies which led to the USSR’s downfall likely started towards the end of Jimmy Carter’s presidency. So even this assertion is more complicated than it seems at face value.



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Ron Brown

posted July 1, 2008 at 7:32 am


Howard Walters (#39),
Are you suggesting that those who actively support the life of the unborn child, and support the sanctity of marriage, are somehow less inclined to concern themselves with the physical needs (hunger, elderly) of others than people who do not support these issues? On what basis have you drawn this conclusion?
Assuming you feed the hungry, tend to the elderly, etc, have you somehow worked out in your mind that these good deeds have set you aside and excused you from the need to address morality?



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Anonymous

posted July 1, 2008 at 12:41 pm


Obama, Evangelicals, Coded Prejudice « Reconciliation Blog

[…] The Obama vs. Dobson Bible Controversy. My friend Josh Canada has a? provocative post about this over at his Introspections & Ideas of a Black WASP blog, and Scot McKnight has started a fascinating conversation at Jesus Creed. I’d encourage you to head over and join in the discussion at those respective blogs. Finally, Christianity Today posted a thought-provoking piece by Collin Hansen on the subject. I’m not sure what the intended takeaway is, but it is definitely? generating some vigorous? discussion.? […]



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Neil

posted July 1, 2008 at 1:14 pm


I remember hearing Carl Henry while I was attending TEDS in the 90s. His comment on the 80s (and conservatism, etc.) went something like this: If the pro-life movement had settled for 80 or 90% of their agenda, instead of 100%, they would have accomplished much more. I am not sure if he has fleshed out that statement in any of his writings.
On the question of “being had”: When I think of that expression, I imagine an unscrupulous retailer tricking someone into making an unwise purchase. In other words, some sort of deceit going on. At some level, I don’t think that that is a fair characterization. Doesn’t it seem like there was a mutual “using”?



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Anonymous

posted July 7, 2008 at 12:40 am


Postmortem of the Religious Right

[…] Scot McKnight reflects on James Dobson’s complaints about the lack of “true conservatism” in Washington these days: […]



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