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NOTE: This diary is a response to the discussion prompted by Evangelicals get it; GOPers still don't.

Essentially, original diary cites two recent stories about the responses to the recent election by Republican and Evangelical leaders. The political leadership is described as focused on the need to develop a new set of tactics for spreading the party message, rather than a new message. Evangelicals are described as understanding that their message, not their tactics in spreading it, has been rejected:

“Millions of American evangelicals are absolutely shocked by not just the presidential election, but by the entire avalanche of results that came in,” R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in Louisville, Ky., said in an interview. “It’s not that our message — we think abortion is wrong, we think same-sex marriage is wrong — didn’t get out. It did get out.

“It’s that the entire moral landscape has changed,” he said. “An increasingly secularized America understands our positions, and has rejected them.”

Discussion followed along a variety of lines, including one that worries me. It focuses on the question of how the Evangelicals will now address this failure to gain traction with their message. A theme running through much of this part of the discussion was basically that we don't need to worry about the Evangelicals if their major response is to redouble their proselytizing, that the problem is the politicization of Evangelical belief and efforts to impose a particular religious point of view through law. It's politics, not proselytizing, that's the problem.

The trouble is, while this idea is comforting, it's dead wrong. Proselytizing is the very heart of the problem, and an increase in this activity may well make things much, much worse before they get better.

I'll explain below the arabesque.

To understand why increased proselytizing would be a serious problem, you have to understand what it means to (a) have a God-given mission to spread Truth, (b) believe that the society in which you are living has rejected your message, and (c) possess the ability to agitate for legal changes.

(Please note that I'm not trying to defend the Evangelical/Christianist/Religious Right worldview or theology. I'm just suggesting that we understand that a defeat, even a game-changing defeat, will not make this group go away, and we need to understand their likely response if we are to prepare for it effectively. Please comment all you like on any errors in my understanding or argument, but for heaven's sake don't think I'm advocating something that I, as a liberal Christian and a gay Democrat, find repugnant.)

The Great Commission and the Public Square
The Great Commission ("Go therefore and make disciples of all nations." Mt 28.19, NRSV) is a direct instruction from the risen Jesus to the Apostles. It is essentially the reason for the existence of the Christian church. Proselytization is a cornerstone of Christian faith, even for those of us who believe that God is accessible in many forms along many paths. It can be hard-core ("Repent and be saved!") or soft-edged (the traditional social gospel of liberal Protestantism, where Christianity is introduced not by preaching but by "good works" like building schools and digging wells) but it's still spreading the Word.

Evangelicals have a particularly close relationship to the Great Commission. It's why they're called Evangelicals; they evangelize. If conservative Christians do indeed come to the consensus that their message has been rejected by a "secularized" nation, they will redouble their efforts to spread the Word as they see it.

In part, this will take the form of hardened religiosity in those communities where it can be achieved (think more prayer at school events, more lists of the 10 Commandments in courthouses, etc.). For those of us who live in these areas, public and publicly sponsored Christianism will become an increasingly unavoidable fact of daily life.

For those who live in less susceptible areas, expect increases in visible demonstrations, such as "prayer meetings" and revivals. Expect greater efforts to ban books from school and community libraries. Expect increasing envelope-pushing in terms of political activity in and sponsored by churches. The wall between church and state is permeable from the church's side -- and can become far more so before the religious right hits any real push-back. American government has a deep-seated reluctance to interfere with religious expression, and tends to define that expression as broadly as possible. You can bet that the Evangelicals will push as far as they can, very likely until either they get a monumental legal slap from the Supreme Court (or, more likely, a series of such slaps) or they become so small a group as to be irrelevant to American public discourse. (Have fun waiting for that day to arrive.)

Responding to the Rejection of the Message
Note that Dr. Mohler doesn't just say that America heard the Evangelical message and rejected it. He says "... the entire moral landscape has changed." And he continues:

An increasingly secularized America understands our positions, and has rejected them.
The Evangelical response will not be to hunker down and lick their wounds. They will not just refocus on evangelism and leave politics to the "secularized America" they now see. A secularized America is both an affront and a threat to the Christianist worldview, and it must be addressed and strenuously fought. To do less would be to ignore the Great Commission which defines the movement's religious stance.

Instead, expect a renewed effort to put the Evangelical message in front of the public. Expect more ads from religious groups. Expect more aggressive and more stealthy approaches to run in parallel. Expect more smiling, clean-cut strangers to knock on your door to "share the Good News and invite you to our church." Expect your kids and grandkids to face more open proselytizing by classmates at school and anywhere else they gather. Expect more giant crosses to go up along the Interstates, more billboards, more bumper stickers.

The problem is basic and unavoidable. The Evangelical message isn't just a political argument; it's the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Word of God (as they see it). The entire purpose of human life on earth is to come to a point of universal worship of God through Christ, informed by the Holy Spirit. Nothing less is an acceptable outcome -- and any setbacks are challenges to the faithful to rework their approach to spreading the message, not an invitation to reconsider whether it should be spread. The Christianization of America and the World is inevitable; only the timetable is in question. (Yes, Rapture theology assumes that universal worship won't be achieved, but that's not a reason to stop trying to reach it.)

For devout Evangelicals, failure is not only not an option, it's spiritual destruction. They can not and will not accept defeat in this. Doing so would undermine their entire faith.

(This is not to say that the Evangelicals could not face a reformation of their own, with substantial changes in how they understand the Great Commission and their place in a pluralistic society. But religious reform tends to take a long time, and zealots are particularly resistant to it by their very nature, so I wouldn't count on an evolving Evangelical worldview to generate a gentler, kinder, live-and-let-live right-wing Christianity any time soon.)

Political and Legal Strategies
I'm not convinced that we've seen a sea change in American tolerance for the right-wing approach to things; that will take a few more election cycles to really crystallize, if it's happening. Still, let's assume that the Evangelicals have had their heyday and that their political power has crested. How will this affect their approach to politics and the law?

My guess is that it will increase their resolve to write both right-wing positions and religious protections/exemptions into law, preferably through amendments to state constitutions.

We have seen three consistent efforts by the Evangelical right across the past several decades, ever since their emergence on the American political scene as a viable force rather than a regional voice or even a sideshow. First, the effort to control individual action and curtail individual options through restrictive laws. Think abortion limits, book banning at libraries, bans on same-sex marriage, etc.  These efforts have been substantially successful, and are extremely important to the Evangelical community, but they have in some ways been a diversion from the second effort: to change the nature of the debate by changing the nature of education.

The second front of the Evangelical attack is the effort to desecularize education. Education has been under assault by the right for a very long time. For most of the 20th Century, however, the assault was at best only occasionally successful. Major fundamentalist opposition did not halt the teaching of evolution, for instance, or of a world and a universe that change on a cosmic timeline of billions, not thousands, of years. The Big Bang was the only creation story taught in (at least the vast majority of) American public schools for decades. Then the religious right started stacking the deck, running candidates for local and state school boards. The result has been clear: school textbooks back away from teaching consensus scientific basics and instead "teach the controversy" when the controversy doesn't truly exist in the scientific community. For more than a generation, American schools have steadily moved away from fact-based science and toward a religiously-inspired relativism, where the Christianist worldview is set against the best understanding of the scientific community as if the two were simply differing theories rather than fundamentally different branches of human understanding. Religious universities and law schools popped up like weeds, feeding on Federal student aid programs and churning out true believers.

Add to this sacredizing of curriculum the ongoing effort to discredit teachers as professionals and the largely successful drive to fund religious schools with public dollars and, for the time being, the assault on education appears to have been fairly successful. It's not over yet, and you can expect the Evangelicals to redouble their efforts to win the next generation's hearts by controlling their minds if they truly come to believe that present-day America has become too secular to accept their message.

The final leg of the Evangelical political/legal agenda is one we've heard a lot about in recent years: protections for religious institutions and individuals from "onerous" regulatory and legal requirements, such as equal employment rights for LGBTQ persons, the provision of contraception services by religious hospitals, care providers and pharmacists, and mandatory coverage for those services under insurance programs. Bush-era efforts included narrower but equally blatant provisions, such as language specifically permitting the Salvation Army to continue its bias against gays even in Federally funded "faith-based initiatives." Marriage equality proposals are met with strident howls that clergy and churches will be forced to act against their deeply held convictions. And on and on and on.

The primary basis for these efforts to insulate religious organizations and folks from laws they don't like is found in the myth of Christian persecution. This is another cornerstone of modern Evangelicalism, and nearly as powerful as the Great Commission. If Christianity and Christians are under assault, if (as they believe) Evangelicals are simultaneously a potent political force and an embattled minority, then they need to use their political influence to write as many protections of their religious freedom and its social and political expression into law as they can, while they can. They do this for the same reason minorities have always sought legal protections: because they don't want to be bullied by those who have more power.

Basically, the upshot of all this is simple. If Evangelicals really come to believe that they have lost the battle for the soul of America, they won't go away quietly. They won't hide in their churches and await the End of Days. They have a God-given job to do, and they'll simply redouble their effort to do it, using both the means we're familiar with and any new approaches they can think of.

In the '60s and '70s we didn't anticipate the resurgence of the right, and got caught by surprise when the Moral Majority and its ilk became such prevalent voices in the '80s. In the '80s we didn't anticipate the takeover of school boards, so we missed the early rounds and had to start playing catch-up much too late in the '90s. We thought the basic outlines of abortion rights were long settled, and lost myriad battled in recent years. Only in the realms where we were on offense -- most notably gay rights -- have we had particularly notable, if hard-fought, successes.

The next series of Evangelical battles is coming.

And if we in the progressive lines aren't expecting the next onslaught, they'll ride right over us.

Originally posted to pragmaticidealist on Sat Nov 10, 2012 at 08:05 PM PST.

Also republished by Street Prophets .

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