The religious right's political power ebbs
Palm Sunday two years ago was a glorious day for Christian conservatives.Men like the late Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and James Dobson built empires and became wealthy and powerful using hot button social issues like abortion and gay marriage. That worked as long as nothing else was going on. But throw in a war and economic hard times and you can see in the chart above that even among white Evangelicals social issues have dropped to third place.
A president who'd proclaimed Jesus his favorite philosopher was racing back from vacation to sign a bill rushed through a compliant Congress at their bidding — a last-minute gamble to keep alive a severely brain-damaged woman in Florida.
That, however, was the peak of the Christian conservatives' political power.
Today, their nearly three-decade-long ascendance in the Republican Party is over. Their loyalties and priorities are in flux, the organizations that gave them political muscle are in disarray, the high-profile preachers who led them to influence through the 1980s and 1990s are being replaced by a new generation that's less interested in their agenda and their hold on politics and the 2008 Republican presidential nomination is in doubt.
"Less than four years after declarations that the Religious Right had taken over the Republican Party, these social conservatives seem almost powerless to influence its nomination process," said W. James Antle III, an editor at the American Spectator magazine who's written extensively about religious conservatives.
"They have the numbers. They have the capability. What they don't have is unity or any institutional leverage."
In church, the generation of politically active, high profile evangelists such as Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell is giving way to new preachers such as Joel Osteen and Rick Warren, who shun partisan politics or are willing to embrace Democrats.This development does not bode well for the Republicans who came to power on basically one issue, Roe V Wade. And if they nominate Giuliani?
Warren, for example, hosted Democratic Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois at his California mega-church. He cites AIDS, poverty and illiteracy as top issues, not gay marriage or abortion.
In the country, many people have shifted priorities. Even among white evangelical Christians, Iraq and other domestic issues are now more important than social issues, according to a recent poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
"They are making a very grave miscalculation if they nominate a pro-choice candidate like Giuliani," said Richard Land, a Tennessee evangelist and the president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
"Most evangelicals have been voting Republican because they were given a bright-line choice between a pro-life candidate and a pro-choice candidate. If that issue were taken off the table, then other issues get oxygen, issues where evangelicals are not nearly as certain that Republicans offer the best answer. Issues like economic justice, racial reconciliation, the environment.
"If the Republicans are foolish enough to nominate a pro-choice candidate, they give the Democrats a license to go hunting evangelical votes."