by Max Brantley
Good timing yesterday on the convergence of a news event and an article of pertinent comment.
Religious groups ralled outside the state Capitol yesterday to protest the Obama administration's effort to insure that women have birth control coverage under health insurance plans. The rallying religionists want employers of any sort to be able to pick and choose what insurance coverage is available under their private health insurance — even though significant tax benefits are conferred by the government on these insurance plans and even though the coverage may come at no cost to the employer.
It was a political event. A Republican politician was a featured speaker. Republican political operatives were on hand and sent out photos, such as the one above. Republicans called the roll on which Republicans were in attendance and Democrats who were not. Obamacare and abortion were much on the minds of the attendees. Catholic Bishop Anthony Taylor got a noticeably cool response when he mentioned the government's ill treatment of immigrants. Taylor, whose advocacy for immigrants was once a foundational interest, has become more engaged in sexual politics of late, and not just the all-out fight against contraception. He also recently punished a vital Latino assistance group because of its tangential relationship to an out-of-state organization that believed help to immigrant families should include those headed by same-sex parents.
In short: Friday's rally was primarily about people who want to defeat President Obama's health care policies and defeat Obama in the fall. A non-existent attack on religion was the bloody shirt.
It's a continuation of the culture wars, with continuing cries of victimization, waged for decades now by religious conservatives. It is a war, says this commendable article by Jonathan Merritt in The Atlantic, that hasn't advanced the cause of religion. An excerpt:
As we look back on more than a quarter century of political engagement by the religious right, two things now appear obvious.
First, partisan religion is killing American Christianity. The American church is declining by nearly every data point. Christians are exerting less influence over the culture than even a few years ago, organized religion no longer garners the respect of the masses, and two in three young non-Christians claim they perceive the Christian church as "too political." Church attendance is declining, and the percentage of Americans claiming no religious affiliation is rising.
As sociologists Robert Putnam and David Campbell argue, the church's partisan political alignment is at least partly to blame. In a recent article in Foreign Affairs they write, "In effect, Americans (especially young Americans) who might otherwise attend religious services are saying, 'Well, if religion is just about conservative politics, then I'm outta here.'"
The question we must now answer is not, "Can we save this nation?" but "Can we save our faith?" And the only way it seems we will be able to do the latter is through abandoning the partisan, divisive strategies adopted by the Christian right and begin engaging the public again in more prudent ways.
Second, we learned that partisan Christianity cannot effectively change our culture. When the religious right formed, conservative Christians were energized around restricting abortion and same-sex marriage, reducing the size of government, and protecting religious freedom. More than a quarter-century later, these same debates innervate the movement. Little progress has been made despite their best efforts, and an increasing number of individuals now recognize the religious right strategy has largely been a failure. The irony of this turn of events is that Christians above all others know that true change must occur in hearts — not just the halls of power.
Religion IS just about conservative politics for a significant number of people. And vice versa. If it doesn't remind you of some Middle Eastern regimes, it should.