If there’s one lesson from the Alabama U.S. Senate race that we seem to have forgotten over the past decade, it’s that the church can play a role in politics.
Former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore’s political revival is the undeniable proof of that. Otherwise, how can it be explained that Moore, who has seemingly been dining off his Ten Commandments fame for the last two decades, could go to toe-to-toe with a well-funded candidate like Luther Strange?
People are not flocking to Moore because of his ideas on fiscal policy or national defense. It’s more likely they see something appealing in someone who defies the political taboos of criticizing same-sex marriage or bans on prayer in public schools.
In Alabama, at least, a candidate’s faith is still a factor.
Beyond Alabama, it is still important. Two of the last three Iowa caucus winners on the Republican side, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, ran for president with an emphasis on their faith.
In recent election cycles, we haven’t talked about it as much.
In this past presidential election, Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin used it as a sort of “gotcha” question with Donald Trump in asking him his favorite Bible verse. Trump refused to answer. A few months later, he went Old Testament and referenced the passage about an “eye for an eye” from Exodus 21-24 when asked a similar question.
It has been nine years since religion was the center focus on the main stage in American politics. That came at Saddleback Church’s Civil Forum on the Presidency hosted by Rick Warren in 2008. The 2012 event was canceled because neither then-President Barack Obama nor GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney were going to attend.
After Obama was elected, those on the organized-religion side of social issues — pro-choice, sanctity of marriage, etc. — were deemed less consequential because they were likely to vote Republican no matter what and they were a shrinking slice of the electorate.
It’s true. The Christian right is not the powerful voting bloc it once was. We probably will not see a religious figure like Pat Robertson, as he was in the 1988 Republican presidential primary, be a legitimate candidate for president.
However, the Christian right can sway elections.
The Republican Party is currently in the middle of a civil war. Sure, it holds the White House and Congress. But those at the upper echelons of GOP politics are not unified. Trump represents the nationalist populist streak in the party — immigration, trade, taxes, some culture. (Merry Christmas, anyone?)
House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have a more Washington, D.C.-centric view of what the identity of the Republican Party should be. Throughout the country, you have governors’ mansions and statehouses controlled by the GOP, all for different reasons.
What could ultimately decide what the Republican Party represents is the Christian right. Those evangelicals who attend church every Sunday — although not as numerous as they once were — could cast the tie-breaking vote and determine whether the GOP is to be the party of pro-American populism or the party of limited government, fiscal responsibility and so forth.
It’s not clear if the Roy Moore phenomenon would work anywhere other than Alabama. He certainly has a lot of things going for him, such as name identification and being the anti-establishment candidate.
What if a more polished version of Moore were to emerge that would go to the mat for the church or Christian displays?
Every so often, some loner will file a complaint or a lawsuit claiming to be a member of an atheist group or satanic cult, decrying the nativity scene on the grounds of city hall. Rather than fight it, the local government usually caves to avoid an expensive legal fight or a public relations nightmare.
What if a politician ran on saying, “No, you’re not going to exploit our religious traditions, like Christmas decorations or a prayer before public meetings, for your attention-whoring endeavor without a fight”?
For the sake of this discussion, this isn’t about being right or wrong in taking on the fight of religious symbols in the public square. Instead, it is just how favorably this struggle might be viewed by those who go vote.
Not backing down from the fight, which seems to be the exception more and more these days, would probably win elections on the local level and could prove successful on a statewide or national level.
Think of the Trump game plan during the campaign. He won on one that claimed to represent the forgotten man. Lately, those forgotten men and women seem to be the ones that regularly attend church.
Some of that has to do with the state of our culture – one that seems too eager to denounce organized religion whenever possible. That has caused politicians to be reluctant to run a faith-based campaign.
With all the anti-elitist sentiment in the air right now, especially as that elitist establishment seems to either to go through the motions on the issue of faith or reject it outright, we could be on the verge of a comeback of religion playing a role in politics.
That might not be a bad thing.