Is the religious right dead?

religious rightJim Wallis, Sojourners founder and author of God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It, has a provocative piece in Time this week pronouncing the end of the religious right. Based on the amount of applause at his speeches, unspecified "better theology" and zero polling data, Wallis has erased decades of social controversies and assigned everyone who believes in a god into a hunky-dory denomination of the "spiritual but not religious."

Here is the gist of the rather bold editorial:

As I have traveled around the country, one line in my speeches always draws cheers: "The monologue of the Religious Right is over, and a new dialogue has now begun." We have now entered the post-Religious Right era. Though religion has had a negative image in the last few decades, the years ahead may be shaped by a dynamic and more progressive faith that will make needed social change more possible.

In the churches, a combination of deeper compassion and better theology has moved many pastors and congregations away from the partisan politics of the Religious Right. In politics, we are beginning to see a leveling of the playing field between the two parties on religion and "moral values," and the media are finally beginning to cover the many and diverse voices of faith. These are all big changes in American life, and the rest of the world is taking notice.

Evangelicals -- especially the new generation of pastors and young people -- are deserting the Religious Right in droves. The evangelical social agenda is now much broader and deeper, engaging issues like poverty and economic justice, global warming, HIV/AIDS, sex trafficking, genocide in Darfur and the ethics of the war in Iraq. Catholics are returning to their social teaching; mainline Protestants are asserting their faith more aggressively; a new generation of young black and Latino pastors are putting the focus on social justice; a Jewish renewal movement and more moderate Islam are also growing; and a whole new denomination has emerged, which might be called the "spiritual but not religious."

Well, someone forgot to tell a few key reporters because they are continuing to report like it was 2004/2000. Why else would GOP heavyweights John McCain, Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani be making right turns like an auto racer going the wrong way at Indianapolis?

First, The New York Times tries to pin down former New York City savior mayor Giuliani's views on abortion. Why abortion? Well, despite what Wallis would like us to believe, a lot of people in American still care that abortion is legal in this country, and all candidates know it:

As he prepares for a possible run for president -- a road that goes deep into the heart of conservative America -- Rudolph W. Giuliani takes with him a belief in abortion rights that many think could derail his bid to capture the Republican nomination.

But in recent weeks, as he has courted voters in South Carolina and talked to conservative media outlets, Mr. Giuliani has highlighted a different element of his thinking on the abortion debate. He has talked about how he would appoint "strict constructionist" judges to the Supreme Court -- what abortion rights advocates say is code among conservatives for those who seek to overturn or limit Roe v. Wade, the 1973 court ruling declaring a constitutional right to abortion.

The effect has been to distance himself from a position favoring abortion rights that he espoused when he ran for mayor of New York City, where most voters favor abortion rights.

The NYT piece does a good job reminding us that Giuliani was against abortions before he was for them. Reporter Ray Rivera notes that the road to a Giuliani presidency will not take him deep into NYC.

When you read that conservatives are concerned about Giuliani's liberal social views, think "third party candidate." Oh wait, Rudy has a clever way of heading off that kind of talk by repeating the line that he will appoint strict constructionist judges to the Supreme Court. Abortion foes are savvy enough to know that this equates with overturning Roe v. Wade. Oh, and does anyone care that Rudy is a Catholic?

Elsewhere in GOP presidential candidate land, McCain and former Romney are squabbling for the religious right's vote:

For McCain, it was a hard-won endorsement in a fierce competition with Romney to exploit the absence of an obvious social conservative front-runner in the Republican race. Both candidates are working hard to line up key supporters such as Popma, and much to the distress of former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and Sen. Sam Brownback (Kan.), candidates with stronger ties to party conservatives, they are succeeding.

... Romney will also host a private reception for Christian radio and television hosts during the National Religious Broadcasters' annual meeting next week in Orlando, and he is expected to be the commencement speaker at the Rev. Pat Robertson's Regent University in May.

Not to be outdone, McCain will be feted by Falwell at a reception at the religious broadcasters' convention, the latest sign of detente between onetime adversaries. Last May, McCain delivered the commencement address at Falwell's Liberty University.

Well, so much for the death of the religious right. Before following Wallis and tossing the religious right off the boat with so many other movements, reporters should examine a few polls, allow an election or two to pass and then start asking that question.

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