Is Christianism Peaking?


The truth is: I don't know. But there are clearly signs that American evangelicals - especially in the younger generations - do not share the conflation of faith and partisanship of the Falwell era. In this, of course, they are returning to the historical evangelical norm - and Falwell's harsh, exclusionary and condemnatory Republicanism is the real exception. Abortion remains non-negotiable, and I understand why. But I sense that more and more Christians realize that speaking out about the moral enormity of abortion, and attempting to restrain and decrease its prevalence, is not indistinguishable from legal prohibition in all cases. People's moral views on this are changed in the heart and soul, not by political power. And the depth of Christianity's rejection of earthly power is so great the temptations of Christianism can be resisted in the long run.

As for the Republican party's travails, the good news is that James Dobson won't endorse Giuliani or McCain, two of three GOP frontrunners. I have a feeling they won't endorse back. And the obvious Christianist standard-bearers - Santorum, Allen, Brownback - aren't viable any more. Hence Frank Rich's schadenfreude. But Frank may be a little too ahead of himself. Romney, after all, has already signed on the dotted, Christianist line. The obious caveat - will Christianist voters back a Mormon? - is still unknown...

Romney's low numbers in South Carolina, however, aren't encouraging for him. I think Romney deserves to be judged on the merits of his public policy positions and his character - not his religion. If others share this view, and he's prepared to say and do whatever Dobson and Hewitt et al. want, then I don't see the Christianism wave necessarily subsiding. In the short term, at least.

Nonetheless, it was striking to me that same-sex marriage was not on the radar screen in the first two GOP debates. Is this battle over? On an intellectual level, it seems to me that only a handful of stragglers are clinging on. When the best argument against same-sex marriage is the recitation of a dictionary definition of heterosexual marriage, then you know they don't have much ammo left. The continuing drops in hetero divorce rates in the era of same-sex marriage doesn't bolster the case of the alarmists either. And the next generation of Christians have come to know gay people - and gay Christians - as their peers and fellow pilgrims. The demonization of the past is waning. But again, I wouldn't be too complacent. Maybe the attempt to roll back marriage rights in Massachusetts will galvanize the issue again in 2008. Or maybe the base really is exhausted from hysteria about gay couples who merely want to be treated equally under the law. I certainly hope so.

In this climate, I can understand why many tolerant and inclusive conservatives are drawn to Giuliani. His defense of his abortion position in South Carolina was as good as it's going to get, and it had the rare quality of actually being honest. Giuliani's political stance on abortion is pretty close to my position, except I really can't countenance public funding for the evil of abortion, and, frankly, he just doesn't sound convincing to me when he speaks of his personal horror of abortion. On the sole single-issue question of what's "good for the gays", Giuliani has a persuasive case. But, despite the party line on me from the anti-gay right, I've never been a one-issue person. I endorsed Bush in 2000 fully aware of his position on marriage. I like McCain and he's against a reform I've dedicated a lot of my life to. My patience ended at the president's proposition to amend the federal constitution on the matter. And mercifully, that proposal is now surely dead. I don't see the Christianist wing of the GOP being any stronger in the Congress in the foreseeable future than they were in the first Bush term, and if they couldn't come close then, I can't see them engineering the FMA back in the much more Democratic future.

My issue with Giuliani is a simple one: I don't trust him not to abuse power. In the current global situation, I don't think we need an authoritarian hothead in the White House. We've had plenty of will. We need a little more wisdom. And wisdom is not something one associates with the ferret-phobe from Manhattan. After another Jihadist attack, I can only begin to imagine what powers Giuliani would give himself in the wake of the Cheney era. You think we're polarized now? Wait till Rudy has had a shot. Good for the gays? Maybe. But that has never been and shouldn't be the only question.

(Photo: Nicholas Roberts/AFP.)