If the son of a famous preacher makes an inflammatory political declaration, does he really make a sound?
I asked myself this question when I read The New York Times’ profile of Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell, Jr. Graham, the son of the much-heralded Billy Graham, is launching a tour to rally conservative Christians in an election year, all the while spewing anti-Muslim screeds whenever a microphone is nearby. Meanwhile Jerry Falwell, Jr., the son of the founder of the Moral Majority and Liberty University, has urged Liberty students to arm themselves with guns to defend themselves from Muslim terrorists. These two can still make headlines, but they fail to wield the influence of their fathers.
I came of age in the 1980s and remember vividly Reagan’s embrace of the senior Falwell’s Moral Majority. I can also remember how at the close of the decade Ralph Reed’s Christian Coalition had so-called “voter’s guides” in churches across the country. I grew up Southern Baptist and watched fundamentalists purge conservative people from the denomination because they weren’t conservative enough. Compared to those days, this next generation of leaders of the Religious Right seems laughable.
Don’t get me wrong, far-right Christians still wield considerable influence. One of my state’s legislators declared the Supreme Court had “created a third sex” by legalizing same sex marriage (whatever that means). I also encounter daily people with real spiritual wounds from the sexism, homophobia and transphobia of right-wing churches. I’m well aware right-wing Christianity is still out there.
I can’t help but feel, however, that the current right-wing religious outrage is more desperate than substantive. The Religious Right just doesn’t matter like it used to matter.
Once my own religious and political beliefs moved from conservative to progressive, I bemoaned the lack of a “Religious Left” to counter the Religious Right. I’ve written plenty of columns for church newsletters, blog posts and print publications responding to what I consider to be the misguided efforts of the Religious Right. Yet, I’ve harbored the suspicion for a while that such efforts might have been a waste of time.
In a culture where “none of the above” is the fastet growing response to the question of religious affiliation, the outrage of any church—right, left or center—is becoming less and less relevant. Not only do people care less about the Religious Right but they care less about anything at all resembling traditional religious identification. I realize now that the time is past—if it ever existed—for me as a Progressive Christian to waste my energy on the Religious Right.
The world is hurting now just as much as it ever was, and I turn my attention away from hurting people when I choose to live in reaction to the Religious Right. It’s past time for me and people like me to turn our attention back to where it should have been all along—prophetically demonstrating God’s radical love for all people.
We don’t need a “Religious Left” to face off against the Religious Right.
Instead we need Christians who believe living out the Gospel means working for peace and justice. We need Christians who ask “What Would Jesus Do?” and then answer by offering inclusive hospitality to all God’s children no matter who they are. We need Christians who will admit to not having all the answers and then enter into relationships with people of other religions or of no religion. We need Christians who believe their job is to love rather than control other people.
I have spent too much time saying, “I’m not that kind of Christian.” in reference to the Religious Right. It’s time for me to start saying, “I am this kind of Christian” in relation to the call of Jesus Christ who came to “to bring good news to the poor. . . to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Chase Peeples is pastor of Country Club Congregational United Church of Christ along with a bunch of other things including a father, a husband and a friend.