Under Ronald Reagan’s presidency, Christians — both Protestant and Catholic — found a home in the Republican Party. Reagan’s speeches, spiced with Bible verses, fought for their issues and championed the nation’s Judeo-Christian heritage. The mass entry of Christian voters to the Republican Party was something spectacular in American politics — a coalition stronger than any before it.
In March 2012, The Faith and Freedom Coalition (a sector of the Christian right) found that evangelicals accounted for a majority 50.53 percent among Republican primary voters. The rise of the religious right has produced “the highest percentage recorded in a presidential nominating process, 4.29 million votes out of 8.49 million cast,” according to the coalition.
Reagan was not the first Presidential candidate to reach out and gain the support of an otherwise underrepresented group of people. What was unprecedented was how this new Republican electorate redefined the fundamentals of the party. Although there is nothing inherently wrong with a president with faith and a constituency who elects him based on it; what is unconstitutional is having that faith govern our country. Reagan’s promises to restore school prayer, work against the Equal Rights Amendment, and attack federal abortion rights were predictable then, and even openly praised. However, in 2012, American politicians making identical promises not only show the strength and consistency of the Christian right, but also the regressive nature on which it thrives.
Prior to Reagan, the GOP was the party that believed in a free market, small government, and state’s rights. In 2012, the Republican Party still holds its fundamental fiscal beliefs but pushes its social stances just as strongly. These stances are directly influenced by a kind of institutionalized hypocrisy — a right winged Tartuffe that’s infuriated by the idea of gay marriage but tolerant of straight divorce, forgiving of Newt Gingrich’s multiple affairs, but judgmental about Obama’s teenage marijuana use, and eager to apply moral litmus tests only on issues that benefit the political right.
Although many educated Americans quickly see through the visible double standards of the Christian right, the percentage of Republican voters the coalition conjures is impossible to ignore. As a result, no Republican presidential candidate in 2012 can openly defend issues like abortion and gay marriage — they have to attack them.
When my mother moved to America from Jamaica in 1968, she came with her family seeking a better education and opportunity based not on wealth, race, or gender but merit. When my father marched in the streets of Chicago with Martin Luther King Jr., he marched so that he could read the same books, eat at the same restaurants, and attend the same colleges as those who did not look like him. Both my mother and father took action in support of a progressive nation that did not judge people for being different. My parents are of the Christian tradition and are wary of the Christian right.
Their wariness, like mine, is warranted. The Christian right, that also refers to itself as the moral majority, is now defined by a fundamental belief in scriptural literalism, denial of science, unmovable by facts, and dissuadable by new information. These qualities are personified by politicians like Michelle Bachmann, who publicly attacked the HPV vaccine in a Fox News interview, or Mitt Romney, who promised last weekend at his Values Voters summit to “defend marriage, not try to redefine it.” The coalition’s hostility toward progress, severe homophobia, and need to control women’s bodies is one that any Americans should be more than wary of. To be a country governed by these sentiments is to be a country governed by hate and regression.
The power of the Christian conservative coalition is one of the key factors in the polarization of our country . Instead of arguing politics from the standpoint of how our government should govern, we debate who deserves basic human rights and what these human rights are. Notably, in regard to gay rights we have lost the idea of compromise, of bipartisanship — we have become a nation divided. We were once a nation that took pride in our political differences; the debates on how government should be run proved we were a democracy. Now, in 2012, our debates only prove how far we’ve come apart. Republican politicians shouldn’t have to discredit their true social beliefs to appease their party’s Christian demographic and fiscally conservative. Socially liberal voters shouldn’t have to choose between voting for their economic beliefs versus voting for human rights.
Vermont-Davis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.