Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Reports of the Death of the Religious Right Are Premature

Rev. Jerry Falwell was buried yesterday -- and according to several media reports in the past week, so too was the influence of the Religious Right on evangelicals. The Washington Post, NPR, Time Magazine, and the NY Times have all run reports on how evangelical leaders are moving from the Religious Right emphasis on sexual issues and moving on to address poverty, Darfur, and even AIDS.

I’m not willing to join the chorus that the days of the Religious Right are over.

Have we forgotten that two months ago a coalition of religious leaders on the right, including James Dobson and Jerry Falwell, and their allies fought Richard Cizik as the head of the National Association on Evangelicals by announcing that the great moral issues of the day were abortion, marriage equality, and abstinence-only-until marriage education?

The fact that they were unsuccessful does not mean that they have gone away or are without clout. Witness the pandering of the Republican presidential candidates to this base.

But moreover , engaging poverty and global warming does not mean that evangelicals and even many other so-called progressive religious leaders are supporting marriage equality (I wish the press would stop using the term same-sex marriage unless they are willing to use other-sex marriage), civil rights for LGBT persons, and the moral agency of women to make decisions about their reproductive lives – or that those who have embraced AIDS as a global issue, are supporting the availability and distribution of condoms to those who are sexually active.

Last month, the Religious Institute convened a meeting of progressive religious leaders who understand the connection of these issues to our religious conviction that sexuality is God’s life fulfilling gift to us all and that all people must have the right to make their own moral and responsible sexual choices.

I support and applaud my religious colleagues who are working on the pressing moral issues of poverty, the war in Iraq, Darfur, immigration, and so on. I wish though that they understood that part of the solution to poverty is improving women’s rights, increasing access to birth control, and assuring safe and legal abortion services. Well-to-do women have always had access to abortion; half a million women around the world die each year from pregnancy related causes, often because they resort to illegal and unsafe abortion procedures. Well-to-do gay men and lesbian women can purchase the legal advice they need for adoptions, health care proxies, insurance policies, and so on – it is poor LGBT people who especially need the rights that marriage and non-discrimination in employment would confer. What will it take for mainstream and soically progressive evangelical leaders to understand and more importantly be willing to articulate the connection between sexual and social justice?

Every time the press and religious leaders relegate these issues as “hot button” issues, they hurt tens if not hundreds of thousands of people here and around the globe. The fact that some continue to do so dramatically illustrates the continued influence of the Religious Right which has made silence – or even condemnation acceptable.

Forgive me if I am not ready to celebrate.


Russell Stambaugh said...

It is indeed premature to imagine that the death of any one leader, or for that matter, the leadership failures of the present Administration, have ended a period of great debate about how sexual diversity and sexual choices are going to be supported in the United States. The man is dead, but the ideas he represents are still very influential. The very worst of these is the illusion that intolerant homogeniety would make this a better society, and that faith need not be loving.

amyerj said...

Agree wholeheartedly.

And am now going to start using the phrase "other-sex marriage" when discussing the issue. =)