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Just How Influential Is the Christian Right?

My old student, that is, my former student from four-plus decades ago, Michael Kazin, has written that the long life of the Christian Right has come to an end. It certainly has lost its old “failsafe” battles. I have no nostalgia at all for the hardened hearts and mellifluous voices which judged intricate human dilemmas through dogma, through harsh dogma, at that. It’s odd, though—isn’t it?—that black churches, rarely labeled as “right anything,” are among the places where same-sex marriage, even the idea of same-sex sex, runs into trouble, big trouble. Sabrina Tavernise has written an intriguing story in Thursday’s Times: “Gay Marriage Bill Posing a Tough Sell to Blacks in Maryland.” But surely it’s not just Maryland. Ironically, there’s a counter-indicative piece by Susan Saulny five pages up reporting the happy news that “Interracial Marriage Seen Gaining Wide Acceptance.” My nine-year old grandson does not notice at all when couples are interracial.

One thing I’m sure about is that Mitt Romney dearly wishes the Christian Right to disappear, although in my ignorance I had long thought that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormon church) is an integral part of the Christian Right. Still, insofar as there still is a Christian Right, it does not like Mr. Romney at all. I read somewhere that it has pushed so hard against him that eleven contenders were at one time or another about to knock him out of the race. I think, nonetheless, that he’s the candidate. Still...

But something else has happened to and in the Christian Right. It may not like the Mormon candidate, maybe because it doesn’t trust his conservatism. But it no longer hates Catholics or Catholicism, hatred of which used to be doctrinal in each and every church on the prairie. And, of course, it has now jumped from Newt Gingrich to Rick Santorum, both of whom have adumbrated first names. They are also both Catholics, certified candidates of the Protestant Christian Right. Right now, there are no others. Look up Rick’s views—why shouldn’t I call him Rick? I call the other guys Mitt and Newt and I don’t know them either—on gays. Michael, do you really think that the Christian Right is kaput? (And while we’re talking about the presidential candidates and gay rights, let’s be honest: Obama deserves credit for repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, but his stance on gay marriage—maybe due to political cowardice, maybe out of conviction; it’s impossible to know—remains embarrassingly un-progressive.)

If you look in Wikipedia you can find a lot of material (who knows whether all of it is reliable or not?) about how some people think that Catholics are not Christians. Well, some people—Fundamentalist and Evangelical Protestants, for instance—think that “mainstream” Protestants like Episcopalians, Unitarians, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, even some Methodists are also not Christians. Actually, Christianity is not at peace with itself. Of course, most of this last cohort and others, cosseted together on New York’s Riverside Drive as the National Council of Churches (they used to say “Churches of Christ”), disagree with one another on many matters. But they agree that Israel is evil. These denominations are without fresh blood. One confab assembled by the NCC in Bethlehem (not Pennsylvania) a year ago resolved thus: “whether the solution is one state or two, the occupation must end.” These Christians may be thick. But they are not dumb. They know what they mean. Everybody does. These anti-Israel-obsessed Christians have no place to go in the elections. Obama is no longer running on the “Palestine First” ticket. The Republicans never did.

One more matter: The billionaires Sheldon and Miriam Adelson have given Newt’s PACs $10 million. He is very conservative, really very conservative. She is a doctor, a really accomplished physician. Read about her in a Fortune article last week. I don’t know them although I know I don’t agree with them on some matters. Important matters. But I agree with them on some social issues, like drug addiction and the treatment of it, a matter on which she has made innovative strides now used very widely. Of course, as you understand, I share (most but not all of) his views on Israel. I also know people who’ve worked for Sheldon. He’s tough. He’s also Jewish. What with his money and his giving his money, he’s a set-up for anti-Semitic rhetoric. It’s odd to find a super-wealthy Jewish couple in the middle of a right-wing campaign, giving funds against other right-wing campaigns. There has not been an anti-Semitic stereotype uttered against the Adelsons. Unless it was on the left. But I haven’t heard of that either.

So, as Ronald Reagan used to say, and now Barack Obama, “God bless America.”

Martin Peretz is editor-in-chief emeritus of The New Republic.