I began to research this post intent on writing about reports from last week that James Dobson, the longtime Christian right wing leader and recently retired head of Focus on the Family, had conceded in a farewell address to FF staff that the Religious Right had lost the culture wars. But I soon found that this really wasn’t the case.
The story seemed to emanate from a report by a UK newspaper, the Telegraph, that bore the provocative headline “US religious Right concedes defeat.” The article quoted Dobson as saying:
We are awash in evil and the battle is still to be waged. We are right now in the most discouraging period of that long conflict. Humanly speaking, we can say we have lost all those battles.
That seemed like pretty compelling evidence that Dobson, if he hadn’t seen the errors of his ways, at least admitted the inefficacy of his approach.
The battles that we fought in the Eighties now, we were victorious in many of those conflicts with the culture, trying to defend righteousness, trying to defend the unborn child, trying to preserve the dignity of the family and the definition of marriage. We fought all those battles and really it was a holding action.
Dr. Mohler mentioned the pornography struggle; we made a lot of progress through the Eighties but then we turned into the Nineties and the internet came along and a new president came along and all of that went away and now we are absolutely awash in evil. And the battle is still to be waged. And we are right now in the most discouraging period of that long conflict. Humanly speaking, we can say that we have lost all those battles, but God is in control and we are not going to give up now, right?
The world has turned colder for the family in recent years and there is such hostility to anyone who holds to a faith and we’re going to take the heat. But I have been assured by the board and by many of you that we’re not going to cow, we’re not going to be discouraged. We’re going to continue to express the love for the Scripture and the principles that we find there and if we are made fools for Christ, that’s okay too because our purpose is to serve him and that he be pleased.
Really, this is just a typical Religious Right statement. To paraphrase: sure, we’ve had some victories, but they didn’t go far enough. Our enemies are strong, and we have lost some battles. So we need to redouble our efforts.
This is hardly an admission of defeat! It’s more of a request for donations.
There seems to be an eagerness to declare the demise of the Religious Right. But even as Americans overall are becoming more secular, the Religious Right persists and even thrives off the news that Christianity is slowly (and I do mean slowly!) waning in influence in the United States. It seems to me that reactionaries need enemies and threats everywhere in order to form a cohesive movement.
But there have been many encouraging signs lately that the Religious Right has been losing steam in recent years. Just one of many pieces of evidence I would submit to you is the fact that, following the ruling of the Iowa State Supreme Court in favor of marriage equality, legislators in Des Moines have so far been unable to gain any traction for their efforts to introduce a constitutional amendment reintroducing the ban on same-sex marriage. Even the formerly anti-marriage equality governor of Iowa, Chet Culver, so far refuses to support amending the state constitution.
We can be certain that, for the years to come, every advance in favor of marriage equality, the separation of church and state, religious freedom for all, and reproductive choice will be met with the hateful and apocalyptic language of the Religious Right. But I think that the overall trend is encouraging. And perhaps in a few years James Dobson will actually declare the Religious Right’s loss in the so-called culture wars. Or at least he’ll be a lot quieter.