The always-too-loud TV in the airport club lounge Wednesday was sensationally broadcasting news of the scandal of that day: Another politician nabbed for sexual transgressions though he'd long and enthusiastically voted to ban such activities. The story inspired the sippers near me to engage in ribaldry: "Another family values man" (this time on the state level) was being exposed as a hypocrite. Chroniclers of events like his fall become part of a long sequence of stories about the increasing disarray among those in the partisan, especially religious, right. The chronicle is long: Evangelists, moralists, preachers, and lobbyists disgrace the party while Christian Right voters seem ready to desert old moral stands and try to find a candidate to help them hold power.
Several matching stories in the past week could illustrate the story of the week on this front, David P. Kirkpatrick's fair-minded and lengthy report in October 28th's New York Times Magazine. Reality check: I also spent some time away from club lounges and the Times in corroborating conversation. Some mega-congregations in Texas are as large as small denominations. Kirkpatrick, however, concentrated on Wichita, regarded as the epicenter of right-wing political religion blasts. He featured the Reverend Terry Fox, the recently-eased-out or mysteriously-departed pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church. Reverend Fox has not lost his taste for scourging. He told his new congregation, "Hell is just as hot as it ever was – It just has more people in it." His closing lines in the Times had implicit advice: Critics "should not start gloating" over the Christian right's troubles. Some might compare the religious right to a snake - "We might be in our hole right now, but we can come out and bite you at any time." Indeed they can.
American Catholics (other than those profiting from the Hispanic newcomer surge) and standard-brand Protestants, who for decades have been the objects of Christian right gloating and Schadenfreude, might do well to take the implied advice from Fox's observation. They will then remember that millions who are named and self-named "Evangelicals" were never part of this Christian Right. Perhaps millions of them are now signing up for long-neglected "justice" causes, thus becoming partners of Catholics and Protestants. Many Evangelicals all along regretted the over-close bonds between some who bore their name and fused it with the name "Republican." There is too much strength and too much diversity among Evangelicals for them to slip away. And among them are many believers who have the ability to reinvent themselves and recast their issues.
One of the by-products of this overly-attended-to political campaign of 2008 will be a fresh look at how churchly power is lined up today. It will reveal still more excesses but will discover some underplayed and overlooked motifs, which have been no part of the national press and television stories. So: after a minute or two of gloating and enjoying Schadenfreude, those who are not in the Christian Right camp can seek more accurate counting and accounting than we have seen in recent years. Look for some humbling on all fronts and some formation of new alliances as believers deal with neglected issues of justice.
Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at www.illuminos.com.