But of course, Jimmy Carter was a Democrat and Ronald Reagan was a Republican. And by staying united, the religious right has been able ever since to exercise its veto power over Republican candidates and dictate the issues — abortion, same-sex marriage, stem cell research and school prayer — they would campaign on. Until, that is, the presidential campaign of 2008.
Today, the religious right has splintered into as many different factions as O. J. Simpson has alibis. Unable to find one candidate who fits the bill of being both true-blue on the issues and electable, America's ayatollahs have divided their loyalties. Indeed, in some cases, they've even declared war against each other.
The National Right to Life League has endorsed Fred Thompson, even though he opposes a constitutional amendment to ban Roe vs. Wade and admits he only goes to church when visiting his mother — while James Dobson says he's not even sure Thompson qualifies as a Christian. Sam Brownback has endorsed John McCain, who once called Jerry Falwell an “agent of intolerance.” And Bob Jones III and Moral Majority Co-Founder Paul Weyrich have even endorsed a Mormon, because they think Mitt Romney is the only one who can beat Hillary Clinton.
Meanwhile, Mike Huckabee, the only ordained Baptist minister in the race, is almost totally ignored by his fellow Christians because, even though Huckabee scores 100 percent on the issues, they don't think he has a snowball's chance in Hell of winning. Huckabee's only evangelical endorsement comes from Tim LaHaye, co-author of the “Left Behind” novels — which may be the appropriate title for Huckabee's campaign.
And, in one of the most bizarre pairings in politics, Pat Robertson, who blamed gays for Sept. 11 and prayed for a meteor to strike Disney World's gay pride parade, has endorsed Rudy Giuliani — perhaps because he's counting on Giuliani to assassinate Hugo Chavez. James Dobson has said he will never vote for Giuliani, even if it means staying home. But the fact remains that, with Robertson's help, the Republican party could very well nominate for president a candidate who is twice-divorced, thrice-married, pro-choice, pro-gay rights and an occasional cross-dresser.
Merely entertaining Giuliani as a candidate demonstrates that, for many conservatives, political power counts more than Christian values. The religious right is dead. It will never again exercise the political clout it once had — which is bad news for Republicans, but good news for the republic.
While in the long-term, some moderate Republicans might welcome relief from having to genuflect in front of the pro-life movement and Terri Schiavo, the short-term political impact for the Republican party is a disaster. Christian conservatives probably won't vote for a Democrat. They're more likely just to stay home. But the result's the same: Overnight, Republicans have lost their biggest and most loyal bloc of support. It's the political equivalent of Democrats' losing support of the unions.
But for Americans generally, the demise of the religious right is good news. It means tolerance is back. It means we don't have to worry so much about efforts to turn the United States into a Christian nation. It means “secular” is no longer a dirty word. It means politicians will be judged by more important issues than how many times they utter the God word in one sentence. It means the list of moral issues will expand from abortion and gay marriage to include health care, a living wage, global warming, pre-emptive war and torture. In short, the dying influence of Christian conservatives means that people of all faiths, or no faith at all, will feel comfortable participating in the political process — and not just those who subscribe to the narrow-minded, intolerant, mean-spirited brand of religion espoused by Dobson and Robertson. And for that we collectively pray: Thank you, Jesus.