I can barely believe that it’s already three weeks since we found out that Barack Obama had won the US presidential election. Following the race from a distance I frequently struggled to get my head round the way that some Christians were endorsing one candidate over the other and also making sense of what many Christians considered to be the most important issues during the campaign. I was therefore pleased when Jessica McMann who lives in the US offered to give her perspective as an American Christian on the relationship between Christianity and politics during the election. It’s an enlightening read:
Before I say anything on this subject, I want to emphasize that I’m merely one American citizen giving my opinion on a matter that’s vastly more complex and nuanced than can be articulated in a single blog post. Religion—and particularly the role of Christianity in US politics and governance—is often the point of sensitive and heated debates. This perspective on the topic is solely my own, though I will add that I have lived in a part of the US with a demographic made up primarily of fundamentalist Christian (and socially/politically conservative) citizens, and I’m a Christian myself, so I speak with a great deal of experience in the matter.
I’d like to sidestep some of the political issues that dominated the 2012 election, such as those pertaining to unemployment and the state of US economy. Most reports indicated that Americans were most concerned about the state of the economy in the months leading up to the election, but I feel like there are other topics worth talking about regarding religion and politics. Specifically I’d like to talk about social issues, healthcare, and smaller government, as these tend to be the hot-button issues among American Christians, and particularly the more conservative among them.
The Key Social Issues at Stake
The key social issues among the religious Right in America tend to be abortion, contraception, gay marriage, “the war on drugs,” and evolution. In recent years prominent religious figures and conservative Republican politicians have been nearly unilateral in their opposition to all of these issues. Many of the opposition against these issues stems from Biblical teachings or traditional Judeo-Christian values that religious conservatives feel are threatened.
For example, some Catholics oppose openness to social issues like contraception, abortion, and gay marriage because they’re opposed by the Vatican. In my experience, it seems like Christian fundamentalists are more likely to cite the Bible in opposition to such social issues like gay marriage and evolution; claiming that the teachings of the book are enough to extinguish any debate on the topics.
Radical Right Conservatism and “Family Values”
Many religious conservatives will view these issues as an “attack on traditional family values.” That’s because the traditional family values of this demographic are those of a nuclear family— the model of ideal living in America starting after World War II and still prominent in many aspects of American life today. Religious conservatives oppose things like gay marriage, teachings about evolution, increasing the role of the federal government, precisely because they call into question a way of living that has become so enshrined in American culture.
In other words, it’s unnerving for many religious conservatives to imagine any way of life other than that promoted since the Baby Boomer generation. The idea of two men living together, raising a family is simply beyond their understanding. What’s more, they see it as a threat to the very social fabric of the country. What if women are allowed unlimited access to birth control; if a same-sex couple is allowed to marry; if healthcare becomes available to all people who need it? These are questions whose answers the radical right considers in the most extreme sense. The changing demographic and sociological landscape of America has forever shifted away from the predominantly white and male culture that had so long defined the country. The despair over that reality is what fuels much of the conservative rhetoric that Americans must “take back” or “save” the country.
Vilification of Democrats and Liberals
In such a politically sensitive social climate, a blame game is inevitable. Conservative Republicans and radical religious figures are quick to blame Democrats and/or the despised “liberals” for all the perceived faults that plague the country. Conservative Republicans and conservative Christians often blame Democrats as the entitlement party, one that gives free money and benefits to demographics who don’t really need them. This might partially explain the reason for Mitt Romney’s infamous 47% remarks, or the more recent remarks he made about Obama’s “gifts” to the electorate.
But the Right’s criticism and vilification of Democrats and liberals has many facets. If Conservative Republicans can be caricatured as white religious conservative men who fear societal change, then Liberal Democrats—in the eyes of many conservatives—are the listless, godless, entitlement party that condones sinful premarital sex, homosexual deviancy, and kowtows to other nations in a direct acquiescence of American superiority. In the eyes of many conservatives, liberals have no morals and even fewer reasons to care about good, Christian values. I cautiously encourage readers to check out any of the wildly popular conservative sites like World Net Daily or Town Hall to get a better idea of what I’m talking about.
The Growing Progressive Stance among Younger Christians
The near universal resistance to these social issues among the most vocal conservative critics belies the diversity among American Christians. It’s tragically underreported truth that American Christians are not monolithic in their political leanings, not by a long shot. There are many Christians in American who are willing to have dynamic conversations about key social issues, and many of them are more progressive than people give them credit for being. It’s just that the most ardent Christian conservatives tend to attract the most attention in the US, and sometimes these demagogues able to leverage that attention into political theatre.
It’s important to note that while Mitt Romney won the majority of the vote among Christian conservatives in the 2012 election, not all Christians voted for the Republican candidate. The vision promulgated by the Religious Right that was so successful throughout the late 1980’s and well into the 2000’s seems to be losing support now. Fewer Americans subscribe to the radical ideologies put forth by the Religious Right, and the Republican Party is struggling to come to grips with that reality as they continue to lose elections.
Jessica McMann is a freelance writer trying to change the world one step at a time through blogging. Find some of her work over at christiancolleges.com. Jessica welcomes any and all comments!