Becoming Irrelevant

by digby

This is interesting. It looks like some of the evangelicals are not going to be led around by Republican operatives like James Dobson and Gary Bauer anymore, no matter how much they try to throw their weight around.

Rebuffing Christian radio commentator James C. Dobson, the board of directors of the National Association of Evangelicals reaffirmed its position that environmental protection, which it calls "creation care," is an important moral issue.

Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, and two dozen other conservative Christian leaders, including Gary L. Bauer, Tony Perkins and Paul M. Weyrich, sent the board a letter this month denouncing the association's vice president, the Rev. Richard Cizik, for urging attention to global warming.

The letter argued that evangelicals are divided on whether climate change is a real problem, and it said that "Cizik and others are using the global warming controversy to shift the emphasis away from the great moral issues of our time," such as abortion and same-sex marriage.

If Cizik "cannot be trusted to articulate the views of American evangelicals on environmental issues, then we respectfully suggest that he be encouraged to resign his position with the NAE," the letter concluded.

The Rev. Leith Anderson, the association's president, said yesterday that the board did not respond to the letter during a two-day meeting that ended Friday in Minneapolis. But, he said, the board reaffirmed a 2004 position paper, "For the Health of the Nations," that outlined seven areas of civic responsibility for evangelicals, including creation care along with religious freedom, nurturing the family, sanctity of life, compassion for the poor, human rights and restraining violence.

On Friday, the association's board approved a 12-page statement on terrorism and torture. Anderson said that Cizik gave a report to the board on his work in Washington as vice president for governmental affairs and that there was no effort to reprimand him. "I think there was a lot of support from me, from the executive committee and from the board for Rich Cizik," Anderson said.

Well, well, well. Now, I'm not sure what is meant exactly by "religious freedom, nurturing the family, sanctity of life, compassion for the poor, human rights and restraining violence" (the devil is in the details, as it were) but there is nothing in those words that I inherently disagree with. I assume that we do not see eye to eye on "sanctity of life" although if they are coming around on capital punishment, then we agree at least on half of that equation.

Ed Kilgore comments on this rebuff:

...a paragraph from the letter that I find fascinating ...:

Finally, Cizik's disturbing views seem to be contributing to growing confusion about the very term, "evangelical." As a recent USA Today article notes: "Evangelical was the label of choice of Christians with conservative views on politics, economics and biblical morality. Now the word may be losing its moorings, sliding towards the same linguistic demise that "fundamentalist" met decades ago because it has been misunderstood, misappropriated and maligned.

In other words, these Christian Right leaders are accusing Cizik of messing with their brand (or more specifically, with their claim to be able to deliver "evangelicals" to the GOP for its entire agenda). This is a rather audacious complaint, since the identification of the term "evangelical" with "conservative views on politics, economics and biblical morality" is of very recent vintage, and remains highly dubious.

I'm not so sure it has been highly dubious for some time. In fact, it seems to me that the right's campaign to conflate evangelicalism with conservatism has been wildly successful. (They are really good at this --- think what they've done to the word liberal.) But Kilgore's point is correct. This new direction is challenging to the religious right leadership as Republican power brokers, which I believe is what Dobson et al really are.

If the evangelical movement decides to pursue its agenda as a special interest rather than as GOP soldiers, I predict they will find friends across the aisle on different issues. I would gladly support their social justice, human rights and environmental platform and I will fight them tooth and nail on a woman's right to choose. That's fair enough.

I will believe this when I see it, however. I believe that I have a right to be extremely skeptical of this group's commitment to some of these issues. After all, I am a big believer and supporter of most of that agenda and yet I have been used as an example of Satan's handiwork for decades now. I find it a little hard to believe that most of these people will ally themselves with godless liberals like me no matter what the cause. And ally with liberals they will have to do because there is no way in hell that they will get the Republicans to sign on to human rights, social justice and environmentalism. It's unthinkable, not to mention economic heresy. The big money boys may put up with the social conservatives, but their only religion is profits and nothing will interfere with their worship.

In any case, it's nice to see that the old poohbahs are feeling the squeeze. That's something I think we can all agree is a very good thing.

Update: I heard CNN say that Giuliani is up 16 points now on McCain and that he is just as popular among social conservatives as other Republicans. This makes me wonder about the above. Giuliani holds the opposite views of these evangelicals on every single issue. He is an economic conservative, anti-family values, anti-environmentalist, pro-choice and pro-gay rights. On human rights and restraining violence, he is completely off the scale. There is literally nothing that the evangelicals in this article have in common with Giuliani --- except, perhaps, his authoritarian leadership style, which is what I think controls most Republicans.

This should be interesting to watch sort itself out over the next year or so.