Alex Blaze

Christian identity politics

Filed By Alex Blaze | March 09, 2008 3:05 PM | comments

Filed in: Fundie Watch, Living, Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: Barack Obama, Joel Hunter, Mike Huckabee, policy, politics, Religious Right

The Nation has a great article up about the changing Religious Right movement, about how the Old Guard (Robertson, Dobson, et al.) are losing power and the next generation is less focused on gays and abortion and more on the environment and poverty. One interesting part that stood out was this:

When I asked Shaw if people ever assume he's going to be narrow-minded and hateful when they find out he's a Christian, he laughed. "All the time, man. And I always find myself kind of saying, 'I'm a Christian, but...' I try to model my life on Jesus' life, not on that other kind of Christianity. And I'm going to try and vote the same way." All of which would have made his pastor proud. Except that [Rev. Joel] Hunter was busy at the moment, across the street at the elections office, casting an early vote for Huckabee.

The Rev. Joel Hunter got some press two years ago when, as the president-elect to the Christian Coalition of America, he stepped down because he thought that group was too focused on gay marriage and abortion instead of "Christian compassion" issues, especially global warming and poverty. And here he goes and votes for Mike "Round 'em up, put 'em on an island, and nuke 'em" Huckabee.

Not that who Hunter votes for is all that important to me. What is interesting is that, while Huck never got the support of those Old Guard folks in the Religious Right and fancied himself the candidate of the new generation of evangelicals, his platform wasn't all that great on those specific issues Hunter says are more important than creating a theocracy.

For instance, Huck's site doesn't even mention the environment as an issue he was running on, instead talking about energy independence. It's not the same thing. The AK gov also wanted to drill in the ANWR and never signed onto the idea that humans are causing global warming.

On poverty issues, Huck thought that health care should be fixed through a combination of "private sector" innovations and the "states' role" in solving the problem. In other words, do nothing substantive. He also took a hard line against undocumented immigrants.

On Israel, Huck opposed a two-state solution to the conflict, something that Joel Hunter signed a highly publicized letter to the president advocating.


The point is, the issues that Hunter says are important aren't the ones that he ended up voting on. Huck was the Religious Right's wet dream that the Old Guard could never support because he had no chance at winning. Because then they'd be exposed for the highly paid emperors-without-clothes that they are.

I'll at least give Hunter credit for not having that calculus in mind when he voted Huckabee and then told the press about it, but I have to wonder about the why. Why vote for the person who encapsulates perfectly what you've been working against for decades?

Identity politics is probably a large part of it. It turns out that it's not just women and minorities that vote for someone who they think is like them because we aren't as enlightened as the straight, white men who vote for the objective best candidate. Oh, no, this phenomenon includes a whole lot of other Americans:

The only candidate besides [Huckabee] to accept Redeem the Vote's invitation to pray was Senator Obama, the other winner there. The group was credited with helping increase voter turnout among "faith voters" and under-30s.

The article later describes Obama as the candidate of the evangelical youth.

It's hard not to see a striking similarity between the support Obama and Huck get from the rank-and-files as a result of their open displays of religion and any other narrative that develops around "X group is going to vote for Y because they look the same." These people see Obama or Huck praying like they do and they think they understand the way they live their lives.

In fact, reading the article, this shift seems like another layer of identity politics or a change in identity politics, but not a movement away from identity politics towards policy. They're still looking for candidates who are motivated Christians, but just a different type.

(And let's not forget the fact that the "death of the Religious Right" narrative is in part a product of the media simply being embarrassed for having pushed the "Religious Right fucking owns Middle America" narrative so hard for so long. The Old Guard leaders never had the sort of power that the media ascribed to them, and I think we saw the result that narrative had on the near-hysterical reporting following 2004 on why John Kerry lost.)

There's absolutely nothing wrong with having a nuanced, intersectional, and pragmatic identity politic in mind when voting and advocating, but there's a point where it can be abused for the betterment of the socio-economic top of whatever identity we're talking about, diverted to gain an army of supporters for improving their lifestyle, often at the expense of others who identify similarly. Some evangelicals have noticed this:

"In 2000, we elected a president who claimed he believed God created the earth," [Frank] Schaeffer wrote, echoing a widespread view, "and who, as president, put car manufacturers and oil companies' interests ahead of caring for that creation. We elected a prolife Republican Congress that did nothing to actually care for pregnant women and babies. And they took their sincere evangelical followers for granted, and played them for suckers."

Yes, that's what happens when you assume that anyone who puts themselves in the same little box you put yourself in has your interests at heart.

But as Joel Hunter shows, the same thing is happening again, just with a different kind of marketing. Instead of voting for the Old Guard's favorite, he voted for the evangelical who described his evangelism as part of the New Wave, no matter how not New Wave evangelical he was.

It's the same stuff all over again.

Update: Sarah Posner writes over at TAP:

"A Time of Schism in the Religious Right."

That's a headline from the Boston Globe. Here's the lede:

A holy war is about to break out inside the Christian Right, and the way it is resolved may change the character of American politics. ... On one side are crusaders who believe that opposition to gay rights and abortion still provides the path to the political promised land. On the other are equally ardent warriors who have wearied of the relentless drumbeat against homosexuals, abortion providers and feminists and believe that economic issues provide the movement with its brightest future. In short, this battle comes down to a small question with big implications: Should hardliners soft-pedal their own message?

See if you can guess who is being discussed in this paragraph:

Now ________ is trying to steer the movement away from its traditional issues. [He] argues that it "has limited its effectiveness by concentrating disproportionately on issues such as abortion and homosexuality."

I'll give you a hint: the article was written in 1993.

That was Pat Robertson in that blank there.

Yeah, so we have to sort through media narratives written by people who don't know much about the evangelical movement to have an idea of what's going on. But all we have to remember is that evangelicals are simultaneously all-powerful and completely in disarray, always. And they always vote Republican but they think for themselves. They need to vote for someone who prays like them, but that's not identity politics, that's "values voting." And they really want to care about other issues but gay marriage bans are guaranteed to bring them to the polls.

Yawn. The changes we're seeing in younger evangelicals with regards to their comfort around gays is probably more related to the fact that every demographic's youth is more comfortable with the gays. The fact that they want to talk about real issues is because they do, and most of them as individuals probably do think about other issues when they go to the polls, just like every other constituency. (Is there a queer among us who is going to exclusively vote on ENDA, hate crimes, partner benefits, and military inclusiveness?)

And the fact that they talk up a change in their organizations' priorities is because they don't want those well-funded organizations looking like tools to get votes to the polls to cut taxes for the rich, just like any other operation like that wouldn't like to be so described.

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diddlygrl | March 9, 2008 4:37 PM

Honestly, it isn't a surprise, since the rr doesn't like McCain, who else are they going to vote for?

I mean you can't expect them to vote *gasp* democrats, can you?

The new guard is still the old guard but with a different face and line. Their values are still aligned with those of Huckabee and his ilk, no matter what they say. The sheep are going to vote for the leader their pastor chooses for them.

An explanation for Hunter's actions might be that while he thought the Christian Coalition was too focused on gay marriage and abortion, it didn't mean that he wasn't still against those things. I mean, I think the Queer movement is too focused on same-sex marriage but that doesn't mean that I don't wholeheartedly support same-sex marriage and that the issue doesn't effect who I vote for. I think it's more a question of priority and the assumption that if someone doesn't agree with the priorities that they also hold an oppositional view.

I wouldn't be so ready to call out change for this demographic. Just because they changed priorities as a result of realizing they were fighting a losing battle doesn't mean they will cease to give us the kick whenever they get a chance to (e.g., voting for propositions and politicians).

I believe that it was wishful thinking upon our and the media's part to believe that there had been a profound change in the Christian Right, that suddenly a generation of reasonable men had come to the fore.

There is no ability on their side to compromise with us. They cannot, for they will never get to the point where they can see us as other than evil.

My God, being a good steward and caring for your neighbor? Is that "Christian" anymore to these folks?