Religious Right Down but Not Out

Published: Mon 10 Nov 2008 06:05 PM
Religious Right Down but Not Out
Analysis by Bill Berkowitz
OAKLAND, California, Nov 6 (IPS) - The election of Sen. Barack Obama as the first African American president of the United States will not mark the end of the religious right.
Although many in the mainstream media will write and talk about the movement's imminent demise, that demise is not likely to occur in the near, or distant, future. More relevant questions are how the religious right will behave during an Obama administration, and what steps the movement will take to revivify its disappointed, dispirited and angry ground troops.
While Obama's victory was a major defeat, several religious right-backed state initiatives passed, including ballot measures banning same sex-marriage in Florida, Arizona, and California -- which could nullify the California Supreme Court's decision earlier this year allowing same-sex marriage.
However, several anti-abortion measures went down in defeat, including South Dakota's draconian ban, which lost by more than 10 points; the effort to pass a parental notification of abortion for minors initiative in California, which failed for the third time; and Colorado's controversial "Personhood Amendment", which would have defined a person as "any human being from the moment of fertilisation" and was rejected by an overwhelming margin.
Within hours of the election results, several leaders of the religious right were already issuing statements.
Christians will "need to point out the mistakes that Obama makes when it comes to overreaching," said Dr. Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. "I think he'll be pressed hard to overreach by the radicals in the Democratic House and Senate."
The Southern Baptist leader added: "I think that we need to stay consistent with our message of family values and the sanctity of human life -- and we need to find attractive and articulate candidates who will go out and make those cases."
Tony Perkins, president of the powerful Washington-based lobbying group, the Family Research Council, predicted dark days ahead for the conservative Christian movement.
"We are going to see, I think, unprecedented attacks against our faith through measures like the hate crimes [legislation] to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act," he said "We're going to see attacks on innocent human life through the Freedom of Choice Act, trying to erase all the gains that have been made in the pro-life movement. And I think even our freedoms are going to come under attack."
Perkins counseled movement activists "to stand together, and stand in defence of these truths, and be bold about that stance."
Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life moaned that "Americans have made a grave mistake in electing Barack Obama to the presidency. Yet America herself remains great and is not a mistake, which is why so many of her citizens will continue, with even greater energy and determination, to defend her founding principles."
Liberty Counsel, a Christian Right legal group headed by Mathew Staver, the Dean of the late Jerry Falwell's Liberty University Law School, issued a statement that maintained that a vote for Obama was a victory "for change over substance and [one that] overlooked his left-wing agenda. While the people passed marriage amendments in Arizona, California and Florida, two of those states voted for Barack Obama. When asked to vote on values, they chose traditional marriage, although Obama opposed the marriage amendments."
Liberty Council sounded a call to battle and an unambiguous call for a change in leadership: "In order to rebuild our base, the leadership must change. Conservatives have abandoned conservative values and have not governed well. Pastors have not communicated well. Schools and universities have not taught well. Conservative ideas resonate with most Americans, but only when communicated clearly. Today, we begin to rebuild the base."
On his "Flash Traffic" blog, Joel Rosenberg, a longtime Christian Zionist and a best-selling author, focused on how he saw nations in the Middle East reacting to the Obama victory.
Rosenberg, who has worked for former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli politician and author Natan Sharansky, among others, wrote that "Leaders in Iran are thrilled since the likelihood of decisive U.S. action to stop Iran's nuclear weapons program has just dropped dramatically. Leaders in Iraq, by contrast, are trying not to be worried given that the likelihood of rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces has just increased dramatically."
"Palestinians seem to be thrilled, since they see Obama as pro-Palestinian and open to dividing Jerusalem and pressuring the Israelis to make further concessions of 'land for peace'," he claimed.
In his "Fire in my Bones", column, J. Lee Grady, the editor of Charisma magazine, was a bit more conciliatory. Although he was a strong supporter of Sen. John McCain, Grady wrote: "Now that the election is over, I'm not going to harbor bitterness toward Obama supporters or go into attack mode. Obama has been elected president of this country, and that means I have a biblical responsibility to support him in prayer -- even if I challenge his policies."
While its power may be somewhat diminished, the religious right will be a force to contend with for a long time to come.
On the day after suffering a humiliating defeat at the polls, Emily Douglas reported at RH Reality Check that "the team behind Colorado's Amendment 48 [which defined a person as "any human being from the moment of fertilisation"] sent out a press release announcing the formation of a new national organisation, Personhood USA, that will assist states in bringing personhood constitutional amendments to the ballot."
*Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His column "Conservative Watch" documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the U.S. Right.

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