Let’s clear a few things first. I am a theologically small-o orthodox Christian – the term “conservative Christian” is loaded with improper connotations. I am a social conservative.
I also believe that the Religious Right has done untold damage to conservative Christianity and has actually sped up the secularization of America. In my unscientific estimation, for every 1 new convert the Religious Right wins over from secular America or liberalized, watered-down, mainline denominations, the Religious Right’s coarse rhetoric, the greedy hypocrisy of the Religious Right’s leaders, and its use of big government right-wing social engineering*** has driven away and radicalized 1.5 new secularists.
(***Side note: “Marriage incentives.” Remember that plank on the GOP? What a way to disrespect unlucky single people on the dating scene. The idea that tax breaks and government entitlements will help a man find a wife is ludicrous.)
The Religious Right consisting of Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Tony Perkins, along with its political mouthpieces in Jesse Helms, Tom Delay, and others of that ilk, has been an abject failure to Christianity. I don’t care about what they did to tarnish the GOP brand so much because I care about Christianity above all, but because the Religious Right used the power of the state vis-a-vis the GOP to create a Dominionist-Dispensationalist Christian world, the Religious Right took down the GOP as they destroyed the public image of Christianity.
In the 1970s, the Religious Right drove out the Neslon Rockefeller Republicans – and I hate Nelson Rockefeller Republicans! But the enemy of my enemy is…my enemy.
With that said, it should be of no surprise to see non-profit social conservative advocacy groups on the ropes after the Supreme Court’s ruling on DOMA. Despite their steely resolve to save an America they “no longer recognize,” they are on their last legs.
It is a sad state of affairs for the public image of Christianity when most secular people don’t connect Christianity to Bishop Fulton Sheen. They connect Christianity to the flame-throwing Bishop E.W. Jackson.
Of course, the negative connections go all the way back to Jerry Falwell whose ideological adherents like Jesse Helms and Tom Delay made people believe that narrow-minded, hypocritical, power-hungry Christianity = GOP. Worse, it made people believe that narrow-mindedness, hypocrisy, and power hunger = Christianity.
The Religious Right will go the way of the dinosaurs. Pun intended. Thank goodness, but we are not going to see an intellectual, historical Christian revival take place despite my hope. This is because young Republicans are the most secular Republicans we have seen since, well, the Nelson Rockefeller Republicans.
Young Republicans are growing up in an America that competes with Western Europe for the most secular society in the Western world. The South is the last region in the U.S. where people talk about religion casually like they talk about the weather, but even its religious culture is slowly giving way to secularization. On any college campus, College Republicans are almost as likely as College Democrats to be non-church going people. I guarantee you that many College Republicans are just as sexually libertine as College Democrats, probably even worse!
Yet, the reason why the GOP will continue to be relevant is because it has a pipeline of new adherents in the schools. The unifying factor is fiscal conservatism. One look at the ferocious dedication of Ron Paul followers and you will realize that this is a new GOP. Gone are the socially liberal, elitist, urban-industrialist Rockefeller Republicans (ahem, crony capitalist). Gone are the rural, backwoods, fire-breathing Religious Right that married fiscal conservatism to gain power. In are the new Ayn Rand secular objectivists.
Margaret Hoover documented this well in her book, “American Individualism.” The typical young Republican supports fiscal conservatism, limited government, marijuana legalization, sexual freedom, and gay marriage. For many young people, it is all about prioritizing the last three, but the unifier is that the typical young Republican wants the government to get out of his life so he can start a business, keep more of his money, blaze that chronic, fornicate, and respect other people’s living styles equally.
It is an image that is repulsive to Republicans over 70 years old, who grew up in the romanticized, male-dominated 1950s (think Leave It To Beaver). Some young Republicans are like their elders, but their numbers are small.
Even though the record is mixed (ex: losses in 2009, victories in 2012), Democrats continue to campaign on social issues because they are listening to young people. They are hearing on the college campuses that new fiscal conservatives are also secular and that they place their social liberalism on a higher priority than fiscal conservatism. In due time, this strategy will prove wildly successful in demolishing the GOP if trends continue.
Social conservative activists will argue that trends will not continue. They argue that young people have always fallen away from church and stats prove that by the time they are in their 40s, they return to church and become more socially conservative. The activists leave out a crucial detail. The studies were done on people who grew up in church. Today’s generation of young Republicans did not grow up in strong church settings and Christian culture. So we don’t have research numbers for this generation of young Republicans that are still in their 20s. I surmise that it will be harder to evangelize these young Republicans in significant numbers given their distaste for the Religious Right which I explained did a ton of damage to the Christian brand.
So brace yourselves. In about ten years time, America will be a Western Europe type of secular society. Secular progressives will battle it out with secular conservatives in politics. Low taxes, limited government, and a strict Constitutional adherence might very well win the day, but the churches will be empty.