At the end of 2008, the Religious Right was in tatters. It appeared that many Americans had grown weary of the constant negative messages emanating from right-wing religious leaders. Lions of the movement like James Dobson seemed to lose their ability to whip followers into line.
Without a viable presidential candidate to rally behind, and with an apparent wane in their ability to stoke the fires of culture wars, the Religious Right seemed headed for the junk heap of political movements. In fact, there was serious discussion about how much influence the Religious Right would continue to exercise in the Republican Party in years to come.
But hold on to your voter guides, they may be back. The ground swell of opposition to President Obama's push for health-care reform may have breathed new life into the faltering political prospects of Christian conservatives. Once again they have wrapped their fists around something to which they can say "no."
According to a story in the Washington Post on Sept. 9, health-care reform has been a fund-raising bonanza for Christian right organizations. The conservative group known as American Values, for instance, has seen an exponential jump in activity in response to their health-care propaganda.
Gary Bauer, who heads the group, notes that e-mail alert subscriptions have risen from 170,000 to more than 225,000. Bauer claims he is getting more than 1,000 requests a week asking to be added to his mailing list.
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Mathew Staver, dean of the Liberty University School of Law, explains how easy it has been to mobilize Christian conservatives against health-care reform.
"We're not having to build a grand new organization. We're using the strengths of other organizations that understand the needs of their particular constituencies."
In other words, the political right, which is opposed to health-care reform for political reasons, is doing what it has done for the past 25 years. Operatives are working with faith leaders to turn political issues into religious issues. And with the Christian right desperate for an issue to get them back into political power, it didn't take much pushing.
For my part I am tired of religious naysayers posing as spokespersons for Jesus. For once I would like to see people of faith be for something. In Alabama, for example, Christian conservatives have a long history of saying no to legalized gambling. But they also say no to tax reform, which if done properly would do away with many of the arguments for gambling.
The Religious Right claims they are for the family, but they are really just saying no to civil unions for gays and lesbians. They say they are for life, but then they say no to changes that would enhance life, like health-care reform. Studies have shown that when women have access to health care for their children, the incidence of abortion decreases.
And why aren't people of faith in favor of making health care available to those who don't have it anyway? Healing the sick was an integral part of Jesus' ministry. Now as then, people who suffer from disease and who also happen to be poor are often stigmatized as being somehow responsible for their own suffering. Jesus' healing ministry was in part an effort to remove that stigma.
Obviously not everyone critical of health-care reform is necessarily part of the Religious Right. But it is also obvious that some conservative Christian leaders have seized upon the momentum against health-care reform for reasons entirely unrelated to health care or good theology.
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.