More and more Americans are moving away from rigid, fundamentalist denominations or adopting a secular outlook, but the Religious Right shows no evidence of changing its tactics. A few of the movement’s biggest stars urged the faithful to enmesh themselves even further in the political process at a recent North Carolina conference.
In a report for IndyWeek, a regional independent magazine, Jane Porter described an event that offered little new in the way of strategy. Instead, the movement appears to believe that the best way to maintain political power is to keep doing what they’ve always done.“In sum, it goes like this: the message isn’t the problem; mobilization is. As [George] Barna told the crowd, twelve million Christian voters weren't registered to vote in 2012. Another twenty-six million stayed home. Barack Obama won by just 3.5 million votes,” Porter wrote. “So they don't need to moderate their positions on LGBTQ or abortion rights. They just need to vote—and if enough of them do that, they'll be able to impose their version of America on the rest of us.”That position is notably at odds with reality -- something Barna, founder of a faith polling service, should understand. His own group produced some of the earliest demographic research showing that young adults had begun to desert evangelical Christianity.In 2007, the Barna Group reported that only 3 percent of young adults polled expressed “favorable views” about evangelical Christianity. Seventy-five percent said Christianity had become “too politicized.” Ninety-one percent of non-church attendees and 80 percent of church attendees described the faith as “anti-homosexual.” And yet Barna is still encouraging evangelical Christians to run for office, to mobilize politically even more than they already have, in order to promote an anti-LGBT agenda.
If his goal is to preserve evangelical Christianity as a relevant entity for future generations, he’s picked a losing strategy.
He shares that failing with his fellow conference speakers, who framed so-called “bathroom bills” as a catalyst for evangelical mobilization. The bills, which prohibit transgender people from using the bathroom of the gender they identify with, have been promoted by activists and politicians affiliated with the Religious Right as “common-sense” safety measures.Though the bills apply to all transgender people regardless of gender identity, their advocates typically market them as measures to protect women and girls --- despite the fact there’s no evidence that transgender people routinely attack others in bathrooms. North Carolina recently passed a state-wide “bathroom bill” and according to the Huffington Post, it’s already cost the state millions in tourism dollars.
But these consequences haven’t deterred the Religious Right. David Barton, the movement’s favorite pseudo-historian, urged his audience to run for local office specifically to oppose anti-discrimination ordinances that would protect transgender people.And as for those troublesome youth: The answer, Barna told his audience, is simply to be “Christ-like.”“We need to be attractive enough for them to say, ‘That’s really different, I want to know how they do that,’” he said.Young adults, of course, already know that the Religious Right is “different.” The problem is -- as Barna’s research first demonstrated -- they don’t find that difference attractive. And if the Religious Right keeps promoting discriminatory measures like bathroom bills, its ability to mobilize might ultimately be doomed.