Dobson steps aside

Don’t stick a fork in it. The Religious Right isn’t done. But as Steven Benen writes in Washington Monthly’s Political Animal, “James Dobson is done. Jerry Falwell and D. James Kennedy have passed away. Billy Graham is ailing. Pat Robertson is nearly 80 and has been relegated to sideshow status.The Republican Party isn’t the only far-right institution with a leadership vacuum.” Benen points us to this quote in an article by Julia Duin at the Washington Times:

“It’s a changing of the guard,” said Brian McLaren, 52, cited in 2005 by Time magazine as one of the 25 most influential evangelicals in America. “There is a possibility the religious right will collapse on itself. Or someone will articulate a new religious center. The evangelical community has been slowly diversifying, and there may not be a center anymore.”

“James Dobson was never a leader of evangelicalism as a whole, but he was a leader of the conservative side,” he said. “The question is: Who will fill those shoes on the conservative side? I wonder if Rick Warren will take that mantle. He strikes me as a good candidate. The more moderate or progressive side doesn’t need the authority figure in the same way,” he added. “There tends to be a kind of collegiality among us – a lot of good leaders, rather than just a few.”

At Religious Dispatches Randall Balmer writes,

The generational dynamic within the religious right has been exacerbated by the older, founding generation’s unwillingness to relinquish power. Donald Wildmon, Chuck Colson, Pat Roberston, and Dobson are all in their seventies. Jerry Falwell died in his office in 2007. D. James Kennedy died the same year without provisions for an obvious successor.

Like McLaren, Ballmer sees a dynamic where Evangelicals remain a force even as (because?) its conservative wing recedes:

As I travel to evangelical colleges, I find that the issue of sexual identity (for example) is, well, not much of an issue among a younger generation of evangelicals. Sure, if you pressed them, many would say that homosexuality is wrong, but they simply can’t understand why Dobson and the other leaders of the religious right are so exercised over the matter.

So too with abortion….

Finally, this younger generation of evangelicals understands that global warming is real, not some left-wing conspiracy as leaders of the religious right would have them believe. On this issue of care for the environment, more than any other, Dobson and other old-line leaders of the religious right lost credibility with younger evangelicals. Besides, how can anyone advocate the teaching of something called “intelligent design” in the public schools, and yet evince so little interest in the handiwork of the Intelligent Designer?

A worthy footnote: This past Monday, Dick Gordon of The Story on American Public Radio interviewed Kevin Wright. “Some evangelical Christians are noticing a shift in the church – a move towards issues like homelessness and poverty, away from hot button political concerns like abortion. When this change came to Kevin Wright’s church, it tore the community apart. When Kevin took over the leadership of Oasis Church, a conservative congregation in Bend, Ore., he was just 26. The charismatic and popular founding pastor had left in a scandal. The community was hurting, and many members were resistant to the progressive changes Kevin brought in.” Go here and listen.

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