The Eclipse of the Christian Right?

Editor’s Note: Last day to make a donation in support of the work of The Catholic Thing for this year! Once the bells ring tonight, 2010 will be gone, never to come again. We know you don’t want to enter a new year feeling you failed to do your bit for the things you believe in deeply. Please, take a moment right now and make your tax-deductible contribution to help keep an authentically Catholic voice in the public square, one that you can count on to bring you thought and inspiration every morning. Give $25, $50, $100, or more to TCT today. – Robert Royal

We could do nothing but stand and weep. Bus after bus after busload of Christian conservative college students arrived from the South at the 1980 annual meeting of the National Students’ Association and in the course of a few days took the organization away from us left-wing students who had controlled it since its founding in the 1960s.

As student leaders, my friends and I were among the small coterie that ran the premier student organization in the nation. So confident were we that, even after the Christian students arrived at the meeting in Boulder that year, we didn’t actually believe they could hurt us. They were nothing more than a curiosity, an amusement. Rather than strategize and organize, we even took time out to hold a pot-tasting contest that was covered in High Times magazine; we even made the cover.

At the plenary business session, however, the intentions of the new arrivals became clear. They wanted our organization and, in the course of a few votes, they simply took it away from us. All we could do was watch, mouths agape. What we witnessed was the political potency of the Christian right that would sweep Ronald Reagan into office shortly afterward. It would not surprise me if master organizer and strategist Ralph Reed was behind what happened at that meeting thirty years ago.

I stand, of course, of the other side of things than I did those decades ago. But I fear we are watching something less dramatic but no less powerful right now: A partial eclipse of this same movement thirty years later, by a combination of extreme libertarians and homosexual activists.

Obituaries of the Christian Right have been running in the national media for decades, and have always proved false, mere wishful thinking. And on the abortion issue, the Christian Right is as powerful as it ever was. That the recent health care debate, our liberal president’s top agenda item, was centered and stalled on the abortion issue, demonstrated that unequivocally. But on the question of the family and of homosexuality, it’s another story.

Homosexuals’ openly serving in the military was a profound defeat for the Christian Right. This shift has serious scholars of the family like Allan Carlson deeply worried. He believes the ramifications are immense, since the military is so obedient and so influential in the larger society. His immediate concern centers on the pastors serving in the military who may have no alternative but to leave. More than that, he fears the multiplier effect the military’s implementation will have. How do you deny them marriage when they are willing to die for their country?

Other important events show the dwindling influence of the Christian Right on this question. The people at Apple Computers recently removed an already approved iPhone application developed to promote the Manhattan Declaration, a statement of Christian beliefs on life and marriage signed by nearly 500,000 Americans. Apple cancelled the app after only 7,000 people signed a petition of complaint. Efforts to get the app re-approved have so far been fruitless. Out of 200,000 Apple approved apps, dozens support the homosexual agenda. A single app in support of Christian moral values is rejected.

Happy New Year?

In recent days, a number of mainstream Christian right groups were named “hate” groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center. They include such mainstream conservative groups as Concerned Women for America and the Family Research Council. Their “hate crime” was opposing homosexual marriage, the purported position of President Obama. Many of us understand that the Southern Poverty Law Center has for a long time consisted of little more than far-left hacks but they still have some currency with the mainstream media and others who may not know any better.

This fight also erupted within the conservative movement. Even though social conservatism is a part of the Tea Party rank and file, some in the Tea Party leadership let it be know that social issues are not welcome, particularly opposition to homosexuality. A few weeks ago the organizers of CPAC, the preeminent gathering of conservatives, voted to include a homosexual activist group as a primary sponsor, much to the chagrin of Christian Right groups who promptly withdrew from the conference.

Former Bush White Hose staffer Pete Wehner said their reaction showed a lack of confidence; they should have stayed and entered into the debate. I wonder if the Christian groups would have been better served by taking a page from their predecessors at the National Students’ Association thirty years ago.

Talk about confident. Those guys simply walked in the door with sufficient numbers and purpose and took over the meeting. What would happen if hundreds of Christians appeared in that meeting and let it be thunderingly known that the homosexual agenda has no place in the conservative movement. This is not an issue for debate. This is a non-negotiable demand. That would have been a strong way to begin 2011.

On a personal level, too, I have begun to worry. Charles Krauthammer has said homosexuals in the military were all but inevitable. Is the rest inevitable, too? Homosexual marriage? Adoption? The end of religious objection? Will we be known as haters? Will we be shut out of the public square? And what will my young daughters – now five and two – think of their old man and his hating ways?

Sobering and disturbing thoughts as we begin a new year; if we can’t act, and fast, the next two years may settle these matters in America for good.

Austin Ruse is the President of the New York and Washington, D.C.-based Center for Family & Human Rights (C-Fam), a research institute that focuses exclusively on international social policy. The opinions expressed here are Mr. Ruse’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of C-Fam.