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Requiem for the Religious Right

6/5/2007 - 7:16 AM PST

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By Deacon Keith Fournier
c) Third Millennium, LLC

The Religious Right is over... it is time to learn from mistakes and build a new movement

Rest in Peace

A requiem is a hymn, composition, or service for the dead. It is a way of honoring those who have passed on. I have chosen the word carefully. I do not want to insult any of the fine Christian people who have identified with the movement called the “religious right.” However, it is time to be the like the little boy in the old fable, “The Emperor has No Clothes”. It is time to state the obvious, the religious right, whatever is left of it, has failed.

Its impact on politics and policy is negligible. The mobilizing issues of the movement, for example, securing in law a recognition of the inalienable right to life for every human person including persons in the womb, have made no discernible political progress. Abortion, which is always and in every instance, intrinsically evil, the immoral taking of innocent helpless human life, is still legal in all fifty States. At least as of the writing of this article, even the most obviously barbarous practice, so called “partial birth” abortion, is still legal.

I remember the movement in its prime. I often found myself invited to speak at some of its events, a Catholic in a predominantly evangelical protestant crowd. I had some favorite lines. “I’m just a guy from Dorchester, Massachusetts. Pro-life, Pro-family Irish, French Catholic from a blue collar, Democrat family”, I said. “Seems I woke up one day being called a “conservative” because I believe in the right to life at every age and stage… well, I am neither liberal nor conservative… maybe I am a “conservital”, sounds more like a laxative…that is just what contemporary politics needs”.

I had another one I would throw out, particularly in crowds that fancied themselves to be really “conservative”. I would say “last thing I ever fancied myself, a former hippie who in the search for truth rediscovered my Catholic Christian faith, was a conservative. Even more odd to me… I am being called “religious right”. Well, I am religious and on the issue of the dignity of every human life from conception to natural death, I know I am right!”

I would also, as a former Democrat (and now a reluctant Republican), make a point of saying that I did not leave the Democratic party, it left me and millions like me when it failed to hear the cry of the poorest of the poor, our neighbors in the first home of their mothers womb.

These kinds of comments were crowd pleasers, but they were more. They helped me to speak in these settings because I was uncomfortable. I, and many Catholics like me, never felt at home in that movement. As a Catholic Christian I know that you simply cannot “fit” faithful Catholics (and I would argue this should be true of faithful Christians of any confession or communion) in the contemporary political categories of “left” or “right”, “liberal” or “conservative.” Nor should either major party ever have a “lock” on our support.

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The Make Up and Methods of the Movement

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Far too many efforts calling Christians to political participation have ended up being co-opted by partisanship. Unfortunately, the religious right is no exception.

Let’s face it, much of the “religious right” movement ended up becoming a politically conservative, republican and was mostly an evangelical Protestant movement. Though it claimed to include both Catholic Christians and evangelical Protestant Christians, most Catholic Christians never joined; and even those who worked with the movement on pro-life and pro-family issues did not fit in with the culture or model of the religious right movement.

Though faithful Catholics and Protestants certainly shared what has been called the “socially conservative” agenda, the 'religious right" movement was built upon --and thrived within --a "persecuted minority" model of activism. Some of the movements’ efforts were premised upon an "anti-" approach to effecting social, political and judicial change. The emphasis was placed on opposing the current problems and less on proposing alternatives and solutions. The movement spoke more of what was wrong with the culture and failed to articulate a better way. It focused on criticizing what was unjust and wrong and little on offering a compelling vision for a truly just social order.

One of the most negative effects of the movement has been that the very term, “religious right”. It has become a label now used as a verbal weapon against all faithful, orthodox Christians who, compelled by their faith and their sincere understanding of their baptismal obligations to be faithful citizens- seek to influence the social ...

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