The Religious Right's Era Is Over
As I have traveled around the country, one line in my speeches always draws cheers: "The monologue of the Religious Right is over, and a new dialogue has now begun." We have now entered the post-Religious Right era. Though religion has had a negative image in the last few decades, the years ahead may be shaped by a dynamic and more progressive faith that will make needed social change more possible.
In the churches, a combination of deeper compassion and better theology has moved many pastors and congregations away from the partisan politics of the Religious Right. In politics, we are beginning to see a leveling of the playing field between the two parties on religion and "moral values," and the media are finally beginning to cover the many and diverse voices of faith. These are all big changes in American life, and the rest of the world is taking notice.
Evangelicals — especially the new generation of pastors and young people — are deserting the Religious Right in droves. The evangelical social agenda is now much broader and deeper, engaging issues like poverty and economic justice, global warming, HIV/AIDS, sex trafficking, genocide in Darfur and the ethics of the war in Iraq. Catholics are returning to their social teaching; mainline Protestants are asserting their faith more aggressively; a new generation of young black and Latino pastors are putting the focus on social justice; a Jewish renewal movement and more moderate Islam are also growing; and a whole new denomination has emerged, which might be called the "spiritual but not religious."
Even more amazing, the Left is starting to get it. Progressive politics is remembering its own religious history and recovering the language of faith. Democrats are learning to connect issues with values and are now engaging with the faith community. They are running more candidates who have been emboldened to come out of the closet as believers themselves. Meanwhile, many Republicans have had it with the Religious Right. Both sides are asking how to connect faith and values with politics. People know now that God is neither a Republican nor a Democrat, and we are all learning that religion should not be in the pocket of any political party; it calls all of us to moral accountability.
Most people I talk to think that politics isn't working in America and believe that the misuse of religion has been part of the problem. Politics is failing to resolve the big moral issues of our time, or even to seriously address them. And religion has too often been used as a wedge to divide people, rather than as a bridge to bring us together on those most critical questions. I believe (and many people I talk with agree) that politics could and should begin to really deal with the many crises we face. Whenever that happens, social movements often begin to emerge, usually focused on key moral issues. The best social movements always have spiritual foundations, because real change comes with the energy, commitment and hope that powerful faith and spirituality can bring.
It's time to remember the spiritual revivals that helped lead to the abolition of slavery in Britain and the United States; the black church's leadership during the American civil rights movement; the deeply Catholic roots of the Solidarity movement in Poland that led the overthrow of communism; the way liberation theology in Latin America helped pave the way for new democracies; how Desmond Tutu and the South African churches served to inspire victory over apartheid; how "People Power" joined with the priests and bishops to bring down down Philippine strongman Ferdinand Marcos; how the Dalai Lama keeps hope alive for millions of Tibetans; and, today, how the growing Evangelical and Pentecostal churches of the global South are mobilizing to addresse the injustices of globalization.
I believe we are seeing the beginning of movements like that again, right here in America, and that we are poised on the edge of what might become a revival that will bring about big changes in the world. Historically, social reform often requires spiritual revival. And that's what church historians always say about real revival — that it changes things in the society, not just in people's inner lives. I believe that what we are seeing now may be the beginning of a new revival — a revival for justice.
The era of the Religious Right is now past, and it's up to all of us to create a new day.