Taking the Religious Right for granted

Has the Religious Right (aka Values Voters) become marginalized? Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times takes a look.

Many religious conservatives were proud to claim the mantle that Karl Rove bestowed on them as “the base of the Republican Party.” Now they fear they may have lapsed unwittingly into the same role that African-Americans play in the Democratic Party: a dependable minority constituency that is courted by candidates but never really gets to call the shots.

The candidates are certainly sending signals to that effect. While they’re eager to get as many conservative religious votes as they can, they’re no doubt aware of a shift since 2004 — that perhaps these voters aren’t the bloc they were once taken to be, that they don’t all answer to the same leaders, and that they might even be more pragmatic than in the past, more willing to sacrifice purity for viability in a candidate.

Scholars who study the role of religion in politics now say it is possible that the Bush years were an anomaly and that evangelicals, of whom religious conservatives are only a subset, could find themselves back where they were before — divided among themselves and just one of many interest groups vying for attention.

Religious conservatives were alarmed last month when none of the Republican front-runners showed up for the Values Voter Debate Straw Poll in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. More than 40 groups, some of them major organizations known for their capacity to mobilize voters, had put together the event. Questions were directed even at the no-show candidates, and many of those questions were angry.

“Beyond their cowardice, there’s an arrogance on the part of these candidates,” said Janet L. Folger, the president of Faith2Action, who helped organize the debate. “The arrogance is this: ‘We are just taking your votes for granted. You have nowhere else to go.’ ”

Goodstein goes on to point out divisions amongst evangelicals – vying leaders, the varieties of evangelical voters (not all are conservative), and evangelicals calling for a broadening of their agenda to include poverty, AIDS and the environment.

Read it all here.

For more on what the future might hold in store for Evangelicals see Sara Robinson’s analysis here. Her bottomline:

Overall, the new Barna study seems to offer some hopeful prospects for a more generally liberal and diverse America in the decades ahead. Evangelical Christianity won’t go away — but there’s a shift in its essential character afoot, which may even reverse the trend toward minority status over time. And it seem likely that big changes are coming that will not only make it more progressive in its view of its own mission; but will also make it a much better friend to democracy than it’s been in recent years.

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