I did a blog post a while back, How the Republicans Could Win by Losing. The point of that essay was that the Republican Party has changed over the past 30 years by increasingly catering to the radical right wing and that a loss in the presidential election might cause the party to steer back to what it used to stand for. The next couple of years may reveal whether the Republicans will do some soul searching or simply redouble their strident and provincial efforts.
We have seen the Republican Party veer from its staid roots of business and enterprise to embrace the religious right and oust some of its most solid members. Long time Republican senator Richard Lugar of Indiana was rejected during this election cycle by his party in favor of a Tea Party radical as was Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania back in 2010. In Indiana’s case, that senate seat will now go to a Democrat. The radical right-wing element of the Republican party has made it clear to long-respected moderate Republicans that they are no longer welcome.
It is Time for a Divorce
The union between Christian evangelicals and the Republican Party has not been good for either. I grew up a Southern Baptist and have friendships with evangelical Christians that have continued to this day. I chose to leave the Baptists but continue to claim my Christian heritage.
Increased levels of Hate and Fear
The marked change that I have noticed among evangelicals that is most distressing to me is the level of hate and fear that I see coming from them. There was a time when conservative Christians tried to be a light to the world wherever they happened to be. When the Republicans co-opted the “Religious Right” and snagged them into the political system, many of those Christians, so it seems, became so identified with the political party that they lost the heart of their own faith-identity. Instead of seeking to preach the love of Christ, the Religious Right began to see political opponents as enemies. Never mind what Jesus said about loving one’s enemies, the Religious Right began to see their true mission to be a political cause that would seek to vilify and remove anyone with different view. I have been appalled by the levels of fear and hate projected throughout the social media on the part of my religious friends, many of whom I have known since their younger days when they had better judgment.
Unsavory Appeals to Matters of Faith
If right-wing politics has distorted the faith of conservative Christians, religion has been just as bad for the Republican Party. I can remember when Democrat Jimmy Carter was running for president and spoke freely of his Baptist faith as a born-again Christian. Gerald Ford was his Republican opponent and his Episcopal tradition did not quite know how to respond to such born-again talk. Since those days, the Republicans have capitalized on the sentiments of born-again Christians. They have expanded on Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy to bring the Southern white voters into their fold, and the evangelicals were just one element of that strategy. By convincing Southerners that their party was the place where traditional values were honored, white evangelical Christians came in by the thousands, first as “Reagan Democrats,” then as registered Republicans as the Southern states shifted from Democrat to Republican.
Today, politicians freely appeal to the religious values of voters with buzz words like “right to life,” and “family values” while instilling fear that Democrats would take away our religious freedom if given the chance to serve in public office. The result has been that many conservative Christians have bought a political package with an agenda of selfish exclusion and myopic hate. It is time for Christians to look to the rock from which they were hewn and it is time for Republicans to return to the examples of their more staid and responsible leaders of the past.
Regroup and Retool
My point is that I have seen better examples of faith and better examples of political action than has been exhibited by the Religious Right and the Republican Party over the past few years. The presidential election this year has demonstrated that a significant number of Americans are rejecting the fear, hate, and exclusion demonstrated by the new Republican Party. I hope that this means that we as a country have made a turn. I hope that we can continue to put racism, enmity and division behind us and begin to work together to build a country that works better for the common good.
Unfortunately, the election result also shows us that a significant number of Americans are fine with racism, enmity, division, and provincialism. There are still a lot of people who will vote to cede power to wealthy corporations and think that they are securing their own liberty. There was not a “landslide” political win. My hope is that we will begin to see a more reasonable Republican Party that does not kowtow to the radical right. I would love to see responsible Republican opponents who respect science and education. We need a healthy two-party system, not one of gridlock and bitterness.
Whether the Republican Party will rethink its options or redouble its narrow efforts is yet to be seen. Nevertheless, my hope is that in our current struggle we can rise to our better angels (to borrow a phrase from another Republican: Abraham Lincoln). My best wishes go to the Republican Party. I hope that they can return to the political arena with a healthier message and a true concern for the country that is not clouded by fear and hate.