Mormon Inquiry

Mormon Inquiry

Is there a future for theocons?

I recently read Damon Linker’s The Theocons: Secular America Under Seige, a book that chronicles the author’s view of the rising influence of the religious right in politics. I suppose I’m late to the party, but it’s still an informative and worthwhile read. In the arc described in the book, the election and presidency of George W. Bush, who not only publicly admitted to being a Christian but also carved out a place for faith-based initiatives in his approach to social programs, was the highpoint of the theocon movement. What’s left of it?

First, was there and is there a movement? Certainly religion plays a role in how some voters view the issues and the candidates. That alone doesn’t mean there’s a movement or that any self-styled movement has real influence. Even President Bush going out of his way to appeal to religious conservatives or employ religious rhetoric doesn’t mean there’s a movement — President Obama has also attempted such an appeal using the same sort of religious rhetoric, and no one thinks Obama is leading a religious charge against secular America.


I enjoyed the book and its account of the career of Richard John Neuhaus (recently deceased) and his popular journal First Things. I would certainly recommend it. But I confess that I find hard to swallow the whole idea that a few articles, magazines, and think-tank types can wield the influence (or pose the threat) attributed to them by the author. I suspect people who really buy into this idea are the same people who really believe there’s a vast right-wing conspiracy out there working to undermine the Clintons: the ever-growing loony left and most of the mainstream media.

But rejecting the dark power that the book attributes to religious conservatives still leaves open the question of what their political future is. It’s not clear the political cohesion between conservative Catholics and conservative Protestants will continue. Whatever focus the Bush presidency offered is gone. Whatever focus the Obama presidency offers is illusory. Demographics are moving against religious conservatives, with the primary moral value of the rising generation being “tolerance,” which in practice means anything goes (i.e., amoralilty). So will the influence of religious conservatives and theocons just wither away? Or will a presidential candidate emerge in 2012 to revitalize the movement? And who might that be? Sam Brownback? Mike Huckabee? Sarah Palin?

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Todd Wood

posted February 12, 2009 at 12:10 pm

In thinking of your post title question, I think there is a vibrant future in this world.
Just not America.
No doubt, there will be conservative theological attempts for a resurgence. But they might be more like splashes of external reform rather than heart transformation of the culture.
God has done so much in bringing gracious gifts to this country. But the national conspiracy against God seems to be growing. And who likes the voice of prophets?
I am in Jeremiah 11, Dave; and that is why my thinking is colored this way.

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Mark Brown

posted February 12, 2009 at 12:25 pm

The future of any kind of conservatism will depend on the emergence of somebody who can lead.
The three names at the end of your post inspire no confidence whatsoever.

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David G.

posted February 12, 2009 at 1:14 pm

A strong leader will be key. Another factor will be if the theocons can have a wide enough appeal to moderate and independent voters. I recall some discussion of this among Republicans in recent months, with some arguing that the party needed to distance itself from the religious right, because many moderates no longer see abortion and gay rights as central to the crises facing the country. Others argue that religious people are now the primary base of the party, and any effort to distance the platform from issues important to the base will just perpetuate the marginalization of conservatives in the public sphere.

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Mark Butler

posted February 12, 2009 at 4:24 pm

I think that the concerns of theo-conservatives should be listened to, promoted, and implemented where a good argument can be made.
The problem is (1) voters whose religious concerns are a priority are a minority among conservatives, and (2) any initiative that cannot get solid majority support is not ready for political prime time.
As such, a candidate that announces that his primary goal is to implement the concerns of religious conservatives is likely to be shooting himself in the foot. The concerns that are winners have to appeal to non-religious conservatives and a majority of moderates.
So I think the idea that religious conservatives need an insider presidential candidate is counterproductive. The should find and support a candidate who can appeal to the broad conservative movement.

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Your Name

posted February 13, 2009 at 12:34 pm

If you want a picture of where this is headed, I’d suggest doing a “compare and contrast” of the roles and approaches of today’s Rick Warren with Billy Graham of yesteryear. Hope I don’t offend anyone with this, because Billy was and is a hero of the faith….BUT
whereas before, starting as early as the 50’s and 60’s, the theocons could celebrate having an audience with R.Nixon, and Billy as something of a counselor (or so we were led to believe, at least) NOW we see Warren playing more the role of middle man, moderator, bridge builder. Storming the wall and winning the culture war on (fill in the blank…..) is probably over: what’s needed now is (as several of these posts have suggested) some kind of sacred/secular consensus, and if the men of the cloth cannot or will not work to achieve consensus, they will be seen as cranky, intolerant, and worst of all IRRELEVANT ….kind of like church in general, for most people..
as one poster above said: having an “insider” will not be seen as a positive, and in an increasingly across the board landscape of spirituality, will even be seen with suspicion and mistrust. Whoever wants the ear of the future political audience will have to speak in language that the unchurched can fathom, speaking about issues that are the nearest and dearest to them….not us.
I saw some kind of poll result asking 20 somethings who they considered their “best of” in the “living like Jesus” category….I don’t think there was a preacher in the top 5, and who was the far and away winner, hands down ?? ………BONO… yeah, the guy who is out there DOING something about a big problem… I bring this up only to illustrate that many of the younger folks dont’ really give a rip about theocon ANYTHING….they want to see stuff, Jesus stuff, happening, or they have no use for it…

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posted February 13, 2009 at 12:37 pm

ooooops…Mr YOURNAME is GERMIT….sorry about that

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posted February 13, 2009 at 5:14 pm

Dave: you asked:
will the influence of religious conservatives and theocons just wither away?
well, there is MORAL influence, and there is POLITICAL influence…granted these are not mutually exclusive sets. Your question is addressed over at internetmonk with M.Spencers 3 part entry “the Coming Evangelical Collapse” bear in mind this gloomy outlook comes from someone who IS an evangelical…but he gets into the culture/political war and why the ev’s and christians in general are losing these battles, and then tackles “what’s next??” the comments in reply are from a very wide variety of outlook and are well worth reading
Spencers direction is that this collapse, which of course would include political, is not all bad, but will actually purify the church in many ways, and the MORAL voice of the church might actually get a boost (think CHINA or the SOVIET UNION or INDIA) these are interesting and disturbing thoughts, and with the ecoonomy and political climate the way it is, worth consdidering.

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Andrew Yu-Jen Wang

posted March 3, 2009 at 11:51 pm

Speaking of George W. Bush:
George W. Bush committed hate crimes of epic proportions and with the stench of terrorism (indicated in my blog).
George W. Bush did in fact commit innumerable hate crimes.
And I do solemnly swear by Almighty God that George W. Bush committed other hate crimes of epic proportions and with the stench of terrorism which I am not at liberty to mention.
Many people know what Bush did.
And many people will know what Bush did—even to the end of the world.
Bush was absolute evil.
Bush is now like a fugitive from justice.
Bush is a psychological prisoner.
Bush has a lot to worry about.
Bush can technically be prosecuted for hate crimes at any time.
In any case, Bush will go down in history in infamy.
Submitted by Andrew Yu-Jen Wang
B.S., Summa Cum Laude, 1996
Messiah College, Grantham, PA
Lower Merion High School, Ardmore, PA, 1993
I am not sure where I had read it before, but anyway, it is a linguistically excellent statement, and it goes kind of like this: “If only it were possible to ban invention that bottled up memory so it never got stale and faded.” Oh wait—off the top of my head—I think the quotation came from my Lower Merion High School yearbook.

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