Monday, November 10, 2014

A Victory for the Christian Right

Last Tuesday’s mid-term elections, as everyone knows, resulted in the Republican Party taking decisive control of the U.S. Senate.
There is not just one reason for this shift in political power. Nevertheless, a major factor has been the relentless six-year campaign against President Obama by religious conservatives.
From the day of his inauguration in 2009 the President (and the Democratic Party) has been the target of unending criticism and unceasing attacks by the Christian Right, which overwhelmingly supports the Republican Party.
One of the most active organizations on the Christian Right is the Faith and Freedom Coalition (FFC), of which I have written previously; e.g., here and here.
In a Nov. 5 article on their blog, the FFC announced, “Evangelical Vote Played Decisive Role in GOP Wave in 2014 According to Post-Election Survey.”
Their second headline gloated, “Self-Identified Conservative Christians Comprised Record Share of the Electorate, Backed GOP Candidates by 8 to 1 Margin.”
The FFC was gloating because they had worked so hard for a Republican victory. Ralph Reed, Chairman of the FFC, reported that the Coalition “distributed over 20 million voter guides in over 117,000 churches nationwide” prior to the Nov. election.”
They also “made over 10 million ‘get out to vote’ phone calls, knocked on 400,000 doors, mailed over 6 million voter guides, and emailed or texted over 4.6 million additional voters.”
My good friend Charlie Broomfield recently completed a Master’s degree at UMKC, writing his dissertation on the Christian Right and its political power.
Over the last few months, I have said that I thought the Christian Right was losing power and that they weren’t going to have as much political clout this year as in the past few elections.
Charlie disagreed with me—and it turned out that he was right, about this election, at least.
One of the most disheartening results of last week’s election was Thom Tillis’s election as the new U.S. Senator from North Carolina.
According to data supplied by Sarah Posner, 40% of voters in that state identified as white evangelical or born again—and 78% of them voted for Tillis. Only 16% of them voted for incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan.
Mark Sandlin is a progressive Christian whose articles are posted on from time to time. His Nov. 5 article was titled, “A Minister From Thom Tillis’ State Tells Us What To Expect After The Election Results.”
Sandlin avers, “With the GOP taking over all of Congress, particularly with Tea Party lackeys like Tillis among the crowd, we will see legislative moves that aid the ever-growing separation of classes, which is defined by the continued shrinking of the middle class.”
He continues,Corporations will continue to have more rights than people and those rights will trump the rights of individuals. Woman can expect to have more of their rights (particularly reproductive rights) challenged.”
But Tillis, partly, or maybe mainly, because of his outspoken anti-abortion stance was one of the three candidates for the Senate most strongly supported by the FFC.
The other senatorial candidates most ardently supported by the FFC were Joni Ernst in Iowa and Cory Gardner in Colorado, who both, like Tillis, are adamantly against abortion and same-sex marriage.
They, like Tillis and most of the other new Republican senators, also have said they are for repealing “Obamacare.”
Yes, last Tuesday was a victory for the Christian Right. But it was a sad loss for a sizable majority of the citizens of this country, many of whom, regrettably, didn’t even bother to vote.


  1. I think there was a little more to it than that. You don't have to dig deep to find non-Christian Republicans and Christian Democrats who went the other way because they and/or their clientele have been burned by policies or edicts. And there will always be valid differences of opinion.

  2. As I said in the second paragraph, "There is not just one reason for this shift in political power."

    But, as I wrote about the election in North Carolina, "40% of voters in that state identified as white evangelical or born again—and 78% of them voted for Tillis. Only 16% of them voted for incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan."

    Since the vote in NC resulted in 48.97% for Tillis and 47.29% for Hagan, it seems quite clear that the conservative Christian vote was decisive in Tillis being elected.

    The same thing is probably true for other states also, but NC is the clearest example.

    Of course, there will always be, and there should be, "valid differences of opinion."

    But my point still stands: the election turned out as it did partly, or maybe largely, because of the way the Christian Right voted.

  3. It's very sad that so much of American Christianity has become the resentful, hate-mongering, intolerant, close-minded, reactionary religion that so many of its critics say it is. The vast majority of my undergraduate students have little more than contempt for Christianity. If they're any indication of the future, perhaps this nasty side of American Christianity will eventually whither away. Even if so, unfortunately its destructive policies will last for much longer.

    1. Since I teach at a Christian university, very few of my students have expressed contempt for Christianity. But on the other hand, very few of them are actively involved in church activities now and neither do they show much interest in becoming more involved with the organized church. But some are happily involved in service activities, and even short term "mission trips," that indicate some Christian commitment.

  4. Let's not forget, though, it's a well-financed anti-government economic elite who have corralled conservative Christianity for its own cynical purposes. What's particularly immoral about that group is that--to marshall forces to restrict government--they're exploiting and manipulating Christians to help enact policies that will hinder social justice progress and impact negatively on the poor and the working classes. And whatever reactionary religiously inspired limits on cultural progress, education, and health care that come with this campaign are limits the economic elite, because of their wealth and power, will never have to observe.

    1. I plan to deal with these matters some in my next (11/15) blog article.

  5. Sometimes it is hard to see the forest for the trees. Yes, the Republicans won big, but, this was an off-year election. When the Presidential electorate shows up in 2016, the Democrats will probably win another "wave" election, only to be followed by another GOP victory in 2018. What in years gone by was just a curiosity of American democracy, has in recent years turned into a recipe for whipsaw elections.

    Young people and poor people have never voted as frequently as older established citizens. When people of different ages in the same area voted largely the same, this did not matter so much. When they vote radically differently, the fact that young and poor voters do make the special effort to vote in Presidential elections makes those elections radically different from off-year elections. A variation on this theme has been around for years, where local governments pick odd times for low profile elections hoping to sneak the vote past the vast majority of the community. Sometimes that works, sometimes it backfires tremendously. Just think of that the next time a special vote shows up in April or August.

    All this is not to say that Democrats do not need to express a clear, strong message, and then stick to it. It is sad to see states managing to vote for increasing the minimum wage and against personhood amendments, all the while simultaneously electing Republicans who vehemently oppose those votes. The ghost of FDR's coalition is still out there somewhere. However, Wall Street Democrats will never lead us there. A renewed emphasis on working families and their needs must replace the big money values of most leading Democrats. Otherwise, a lot of people will just vote for Wall Street instead of for "almost" Wall Street.

    The Southern Baptist Convention has been losing membership for the last several years. The religious right, particularly the Protestant religious right, has been losing power. It has echoed that power in the voting vacuum of off-year elections, but Presidential cycles show the likely future. Democratic candidates for President have received more votes than Republicans in every election since Clinton's election in 1992, except for Bush's re-election in 2004. Yes, even Al Gore got more votes than the Republican nominee. He just had trouble getting the votes counted in Florida!

    I believe progressive Christians should be more worried about finding an effective voice for progressive Christian values than worried about winning any particular election. In a time when a man can be arrested for feeding the poor, and a woman arrested for having a miscarriage (yes, both have happened recently), we need to find our voices. Indeed, on this Veteran's Day, my 92-year-old veteran father showed me the latest version of his "masterpiece," a video explanation of the intersection of economics and politics as he sees it based on his economics major from years ago.

    Following is a link to the vote analysis I found most helpful, Jamelle Bouie's "The Disunited States of America," on Slate, November 6, 2014:

    1. Thanks for your comments, Craig. As usual, they are pertinent and helpful in trying to analyze the current situation and to consider what may happen in the future.

      I fully concur that in all likelihood the next President will also be a Democrat. I am not so sure that there will be a shift of political power in the Senate, and there most likely will not be in the House. I'm afraid that 2017-18 may look a lot like 2015-16.

      The small voter turnout last week is both troubling and encouraging. It is troubling because that is one of the main reasons we have Republicans in control of both houses of Congress now. But it is encouraging for, as you pointed out, the next election will most likely have quite different results.

      The Republicans keep saying, “The people have spoken.” But there were only 36.6% of the eligible voters who voted—the lowest since 1940. And in Mo. it was just 32.3%. So for whatever else it may mean, the election does not mean that the Republicans have a mandate to do anything since the new Senators were elected by only about 20% of the electorate.

  6. Thinking Friend Glenn Hinson was, as many of you know, a professor of church history at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for many years. He sent the following comments by email and gave me permission to post them here:

    "Right on, Leroy! The outcome reminds me, sadly so, of the 'takeover' of the Southern Baptist Convention, particularly Southern Seminary. The newly appointed trustees gloated when they came for the annual meeting."