The End of the (US) Christian Right?

October 21, 2014 in General

What’s going on? Suddenly (give or take the mere space of a year), same-sex marriage bans are falling apart in the United States. What’s happened and (please!), could US Christian Right satellite movements elsewhere in the world catch the same metaphorical terminal infection?

Or, so stated an exuberant piece on the BBC World News¬†(20.10.2014) website. ¬†“Did liberalism win the culture wars?“, it asked:

For those not familiar with the history of the US culture war, its unofficial beginning came in 1992, with populist firebrand Patrick Buchanan’s Republican National Convention¬†speech¬†in which he described a religious war for the soul of America. That year, Bill Clinton won the US presidency and would be in power for two terms.

“It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we will one day be as was the Cold War itself,” Buchanan continued.¬†He identified abortion, gay rights, religious “discrimination” and women in US combat forces as among the key battlegrounds on which the “war” would be fought.¬†The movement arguably reached its apogee in the early 2000s, with the drive to incorporate gay marriage bans into state constitutions. In 2004 alone voters in 11 states approved such measures.¬†By 2012, 33 states had adopted gay marriage bans. Then, thanks to successful legal challenges across the country, the legal bulwark religious conservatives had constructed over a decade crumbled and fell.

Hold on. What about the Reagan administration before that? True to tell, the ‘culture war’ began in the eighties within the United States and did so earlier in New Zealand, dating back to the seventies here. And it was abortion rights that was the core battlefield in both instances, not LGBTI concerns, which became a higher profile issue in the eighties and nineties due to HIV/AIDS.

Apparently too, the US Christian Right has also given away the plot when it comes to abortion rights, however.

The movement’s leaders also abandoned a pragmatic approach to limiting abortion, Scher asserts. Instead of incremental steps, such as prohibiting late-term abortions and parental consent laws, they opted for sweeping “personhood” [prohibitionist anti-abortion] laws that would ban some forms of contraception and abortion even in the case of rape and incest.

“Perhaps Republicans were impatient with incremental progress,” he writes. “Perhaps the party lacked a strong leadership figure who could keep fringe players in check. But Republicans made a decision on abortion strategy that they didn’t have to make.”

Outside the Beltway‘s James Joyner argued that it is “undeniable” that prohibitionist anti-abortion and anti-contraception strategies were disastrous for conservatives.

“Essentially, as Northeastern, Midwestern and Western moderates became marginalised in the party, the Southern cultural conservatives took over the issue framing. Whereas the former were true conservatives, fighting to preserve traditional cultural norms, the latter were radicals seeking to impose a puritanical set of policies with very little appeal on the country through the legislative process.”

However, is the culture war over? Dick Meyer of Scripps ¬†argues¬†that while social issues may no longer be at the forefront of today’s policy battles, the cultural polarisation that they reflected is still around and exacerbated by today’s politicians.¬†Slate’s Rehan Salam suggests that¬†the debate over “religious freedom”, embodied in the recent US Supreme Court decision to allow employers to opt out of providing insurance that covers some forms of contraception, as a possible central focus of a renewed culture conflict.¬†The abortion issue also won’t go away, he notes, as some states continue to push for a total ban on abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Or might ectogenesis and euthanasia serve as future focal points?

All in all, an intriguing article. Is the US Christian Right dead, or is it merely much diminished? And if either the former or the latter, what does that mean about its satellites down here in New Zealand, such as Family First and the Conservative Party?


Anthony Zucher: “Did liberalism win the culture wars?” BBC News: 20.10.2014:¬†