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Beyond the Graying and Greening Religious Right: The Emergence of the Evangelical Center

Note: The full text of this blog can be read in my regular “Dispatches from the Beltway” column on Religion Dispatches.

E.J. Dionne’s bold pronouncement that “the era of the Religious Right is over” has been the subject of much discussion and debate. Those who agree cite the growing support for broadening the evangelical agenda to include issues like the environment (a.k.a. “creation care”), poverty, and HIV/AIDS. They also point to the graying of the Religious Right, most prominently the deaths of Jerry Falwell and James Kennedy, and the virtual collapse of the Christian Coalition. Moreover, prominent old guard leaders like James Dobson and Pat Robertson have seriously damaged their credibility with many evangelicals by endorsing Mitt Romney, a Mormon, and Rudy Guiliani, a thrice-married, pro-choice New York governor, while passing over fellow-evangelical candidate Mick Huckabee. No one need ask for a more bald demonstration of prioritizing power over principle from the self-proclaimed leaders of “values voters.”

Skeptics of the decline of the Religious Right, on the other hand, cite the huge infrastructure, resources, and reach the Religious Right has built over the last few decades (to take just one example, James Dobson’s sprawling conglomerate has its own zip code in Colorado Springs and a larger monthly print circulation than the New York Times) and argue that it will not so easily wither on the vine. The most jaded on the left simply assert that the Religious Right is the truest expression of the heart of the evangelical community and is thus here to stay.

If the argument that “the era of the Religious Right is over” depended solely on what one might call the “graying and greening” argument—that the leadership is aging and out of touch and that a few issues like the environment have simply been attached to a persistent static core—I too would be skeptical. I want to argue, however, that the reason I believe Dionne is right is that a more thoroughgoing and measurable shift is happening within the evangelical community, one that represents not simply a broader agenda but also a significantly different spirit and worldview.

Read the rest of the article at Religion Dispatches.