The end is near for the Christian right. No, they are not about to be beamed up into heaven , rewarded for their piousness, on a glorious ride symbolizing the rapture of the church. Instead, they are about to wither and die as a political movement in the United States, victims of their own hatred and hubris. Yes, for over three decades, theocrats rode an unholy alliance with the modern Republican Party to unprecedented heights of power. Ronald Reagan, two George Bushes, and hundreds upon hundreds of Republican Senators and Congressmen were their willing enablers.
Big business Republicans, neo-conservatives, and libertarian economists alike embraced Christian fundamentalists as they exploited bigotry and fear to push free market economics and expansionist foreign policies, while giving lip service to school prayer, ending abortion, and preserving traditional marriage from the onslaught of the “homosexual agenda”. Karl Rove exploited Christian right bigotry by pushing anti-gay ballot measures in 2004 that would herd evangelical conservatives to the polls to cast their votes for George W. Bush. That was a decade ago, when the Christian right’s influence in American politics was unmistakable and their grip on the GOP iron tight.
However, in the last ten years the Christian right’s power has been steadily eroding. Oblivious to their waning influence, conservative Christian groups have soldiered on without any apparent awareness of their impending demise. Perhaps they still do, but yesterday was a watershed moment. The Christian right tried to flex its muscle in Arizona by passing a bill that would codify into law the right for Christian-owned businesses to exercise their “religious liberty” to discriminate against gays and lesbians. Many other red states introduced similar measures, though Arizona’s was the first to pass such a bill through both chambers of the legislature.
The Christian right miscalculated badly and failed to anticipate the backlash that would follow. Chamber of Commerce chapters and major corporations based in Arizona balked at the measure, citing the potential for lost tourism revenue and lawsuits. GOP politicians piled on. Arizona Senators Jeff Flake and John McCain joined the opposition. Florida Governor Rick Scott and 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney also rose in opposition. Politicians who had long embraced Christian right extremism for politically expedient reasons more than on principal, were now turning on the fundamentalists at the eleventh hour.
Then on Thursday, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, who like most GOP politicians had long courted Christian extremists, sealed their fate with her veto pen. In that moment, the lipstick wore off the Judas kiss that the Republican Party leadership made with Christian extremists years ago. The Christian right long wielded disproportionate influence in the halls of Congress, with the likes of Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and James Dobson seducing GOP politicians with promises of fealty and winning them over to socially reactionary policies. Ronald Reagan enthusiastically brought the “moral majority” into his winning coalition, and since 1980 GOP politicians have relied upon evangelical right-wingers to help propel them to victory. Though they were never a true majority, the bible thumpers on the right were able to bully timid Republican politicians to press their agenda in exchange for contributions and votes.
However, now that bigotry is no longer a recipe for electoral success, the toxic embrace between pro-business Republicans and moralizing troglodytes has been pulled apart. As a political force, the Christian right is unraveling at warp speed. Even the Bible Belt is unbuckling at a rate that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago. Sure Mike Huckabee and Rush Limbaugh still pollute America’s political discourse with their jeremiads against unseemly gays and promiscuous single women, but their taunts fall mostly on deaf ears outside the shrinking realm of “true believers” who nourish their hateful minds with unhealthy doses of talk radio and FOX News.
With the tactical brilliance of General George Custer’s Army at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, the Christian right has hastened their own defeat through arrogance and miscalculations that could only be made by people who truly believe they are called by God, and who have no concept of the earthly consequences they are about to face. They are making their last stand in the great American culture war, and they are losing badly. Not only is America becoming more secular and more tolerant, but even mainstream Christianity is distancing itself from the far right. Even bulwarks of traditionalism, like the Mormon and Roman Catholic church hierarchies are moving away from prejudice and dogmatism.
Increasingly defensive, the Christian right has gone from opposing late-term abortions and lobbying for school prayer to more dubious crusades. They have moved the goal posts so far to the right that right-wing Christians are now arguing for trans-vaginal ultrasounds, banning contraception and granting businesses the right to discriminate against lesbians and gays. With unending persecution complexes, they view themselves under attack, lamenting phony assaults on Christianity and a war on Christmas that does not exist. Yet it is they who are launching the attacks by picketing funerals, referring to rape as a gift from God, and blaming homosexuals for terrorist attacks and deadly tornadoes. Twisters, those “acts of God” that raise havoc on “traditional values” strongholds like Oklahoma, Kansas, and Texas, while leaving San Francisco, Portland and Seattle unscathed.
The battle will continue, maybe for years, maybe even decades. However, America has already rendered its judgement. Same sex marriages are now legal in 17 states and on the verge of becoming legal in several more. Millennial voters overwhelmingly support marriage equality. The Christian right can do nothing more but dig their heels in and fight a lost cause. No doubt with self-righteous fervor they will continue to fight to the bitter end, enduring one humiliating defeat after another in the years ahead, as America moves further and further away from the Christian right’s outdated prejudices. There will be no sound of trumpets to announce the end of days for the Christian right as a viable political movement, but the end is coming. In fact, it may already be here.