Mark Silk: Spiritual Politics Opinion Politics

Who killed the Religious Right?

18th-century tombstone, Hingham, Mass.
18th-century tombstone, Hingham, Mass.

18th-century tombstone, Hingham, Mass.

No one. It died of natural causes.

OK, maybe Super Tuesday put it out of its misery. But the thing was moribund, an invalid for a decade. What happened yesterday was a mercy killing, or better, candidate-assisted suicide. Here’s the pathologist’s report.

  1. It lost its leaders. Jerry Falwell is dead, and Pat Robertson and James Dobson are in retirement. Ralph Reed has lost his way. Jerry Falwell, Jr. endorsed Donald Trump and Mike Huckabee has all but done the same. Enough said.
  2. It lost its organizational oomph. Once upon a time, the Christian Coalition littered evangelical churches with voter guides and had state affiliates that worked hard to to turn out voters. Only in Iowa is this kind of thing still happening.
  3. It lost its troops. Thirty-five years ago, white evangelicals were on the rise in American society. Now they’re a shrinking slice of the demographic pie.
  4. It lost its president. George W. Bush became “Our Christian President.” His failure was a serious disillusionment.
  5. It lost its raison d’êtreThe Religious Right was all about mobilizing white evangelicals to vote their values — most importantly on gay rights and abortion. When’s the last time you heard a Republican presidential candidate talk about ending same-sex marriage or abortion?

On Super Tuesday, white evangelicals were all over the map. In Alabama, Georgia, Massachusetts, Tennessee, and Virginia, they voted strongly for Trump. In Oklahoma and Texas, they went for Ted Cruz by double digits. They split between Trump and Cruz in Arkansas, between Trump and Rubio in Vermont.

“Don’t call me an evangelical,” cried Russell Moore, chief lobbyist for the Southern Baptist Convention. Put that on the tombstone. Religious Right, R.I.P.

About the author

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a Contributing Editor of the Religion News Service


Click here to post a comment

  • Re “When’s the last time you heard a Republican presidential candidate talk about ending same-sex marriage or abortion?”:

    On February 11, speaking at the Carolina Values Summit, Ted Cruz called the Supreme Court’s ruling that legalized same-sex marriage “lawless”; and in a TV ad released on February 14, he promised to “sign any legislation” opposing abortion.

    Much as I want to believe that the creepily-named anti-rights org. has decided to stop manhandling the lives of targeted U.S. citizens, it seems the stench Mr. Silk optimistically attributes to the death of the Religious Right is in fact just another whiff of its odious “duty”.

  • Mark,
    Surely you are ill-informed?

    The religious right of which you speak is on Victor Frankenstein’s table as we speak undergoing exploratory surgery.

    What rises from this table is anybody’s guess, but rise it will.

    Hopefully, the political bent and the yearning for power are scheduled for removal. Cut out the Seed-Faith quackery elements, healer nut jobs, and old Franky is not such a bad looking dude.

    Still frightening to the masses though. Not gonna fix that.

  • Don’t forget Rubotio and trump have also promised to do e erything they could to reverse the hundreds of thousands of marriages of committed couples.

    Don’t forget the ongoing assault on abortion rights, contraception rights, and women’s rights.

    Please pay more attention to reality, Mr. Silk.

  • Unless you are gay or thinking about having an abortion what concern is it of yours in that regard how others live their lives. It isn’t like they are breaking one of the great commandments or one of the ten commandments.

  • It is a good thing the religious dictators can no longer tell the sheep how to vote. Maybe people are starting to actually think for themselves.
    The religious right won’t die until they learn how to read the bible. What has died is the two seminal religious right issues of gay marriage and abortion. They have become non-issues for most rational people. Maybe people have started to realize there are many good Christians who are gay or have had abortions, and nothing in scripture condemns them to hell as the right would have us believe.

  • Most are just Religious which is relative. I notice u didn’t use the word Christian. We’re out there, and we vote the bible.

  • The “Religious Right” has not died and neither have SSM, abortion and LGBT matters. They RR has lost recruiting powers and a large number of followers, but not their existence.

    And while the scriptures are replete with condemnations of all sorts of immoral behaviors, fear not. The Supreme Court and the voice of the people is greater than the bible, or its God. Right?

  • Either Mr. Silk doesn’t watch the evening news or he and Russell Moore (never was on the “right”) have their heads, stuck like “tombstones” in the sand.

  • Indeed! Cleary, the Supreme Court is more powerful than any number of imaginary friends you may have. When the Supreme Court does something there are observable results. When was the last time the imaginary jackass you worship actually did something?

  • So why worship such a silly god which holds you in such disdain? Sounds like battered spouses defending their abusers.

  • Apparently you “vote” the parts of the Bible you like but not the parts you don’t like.

  • The rise of Donald Trump occasionally makes me reflect upon Mark Twain’s short story, “The Man who Corrupted Hadleyburg.” The devil, in that story, could not have sewn such dissension and hatred in the town were it not for the self-righteous attitudes of the townspeople. Likewise, Trump is only taking advantage of the underlying meanness of people that has not been tamed by education. The problem with the people of Hadleyburg was that they believed that they were good people. The same is true of those supporting Trump. They believe that their anger is justified and therefore one who expresses their anger and says he will act on it must be good. They lack self-doubt, which is the glue of society.

  • The assertion the religious right has died is proven false by every vote cast for Trump, Cruz, Rubio, Jeb!, Kasich, Carson, etc.

  • Which is exactly why I hope the author is right. You people are dangerous and psychotic. You are the same as the Iman in Iran with your made up patriarchal BS. Human society always longs to find harmony…this is a constant. Which is why most intelligent and sane Americans will only let the religious right rise so far. After George W Bush, our collective thumbs will be holding you down. Good riddance.

  • I was planing on responding but your response is most sufficient. In fact i dont think I could have said it better myself… Well said!

  • The religious right is far from dead. All the stats I can find show that evangelicals still make up 60-90 million people… and the decline has been very slow and minimal. It’s likely the pendulum will swing back as these trends go in cycles. Also as long as there are liberal democrats and hate-filled atheist looking for a punching bag, the religious right will be alive

  • “hate-filled atheist” interesting… what about the hate-filled religious people? Seems to me there are more of those than the atheist ones….

  • Both believers and atheists include a small minority who are mean and a large majority who are respectful. We have more in common than some of us would like to admit.

  • Regarding the Religious Right’s (and others’ ) biblical justifications for insulting and abusing people with differing beliefs and values:

    I wonder if the Bible itself is a test for believers, in regard to how they should treat other people and what they value.

    It contains exhortations to cruelty and exhortations to kindness;
    admonishments to respect and admonishments to abuse;
    commands to avenge and commands to forgive;
    instructions to coexist and instructions to conquer; etc.

    It certainly grants its readers the freedom of choice.

    If it is a test, I’d love to think that Matthew 25:35-40 holds the key.
    It ends with (NIV) “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

  • He told Benadryl Carson to run for president.

    He told crucified that he was the anointed one and to run for president.

    He told the Huckster to run for president.

    That’s something, innit?

  • John, certainly you don’t swallow the whole scientific evolution mythology hook line and sinker do you. Then of course that baloney that the big bang just accidentally happened from nothingness. Given the choice of science mythology or religious mythology I think it would be safer to choose God.

  • Mark, you need to make a correction early in your article:

    I believe Tony Perkins endorsed Cruz, not Trump.

  • You can’t possibly vote the Bible there are too many interpretations of it out there. Besides except for the tow great commandments and Jesus lived died and rose again all the rest of the Bible is man’s commentary. Furthermore nobody takes the whole bible literally, not even those who say they do.

  • God never said that unless He said it specifically to you and you alone to make you feel better about yourself.

  • The fact you confuse anger with frustration and believe it exists only among the uneducated only proves the educated have been brain washed into doing and acting and believing the way government tells them too. Such a sad commentary on higher education. Remember without anger and frustration we never would have had a country. Furthermore it is Cruz not Trump who is getting the self righteous vote.

  • John, you sound quite angry at a being whose existence you’re purporting to deny.

    I just hope you can afford a new rug to replace the one you’ve chewed away.

  • Meaning what if you aren’t a lying criminal communist or a socialist ( Hillary and Sanders respectively) you are the religious right.

  • “You people?”

    More evidence that bigots come in all sizes, shapes, and ideologies.

    And no, human society does not “always long to find harmony.” I wish that were so, but all my wishing in the world won’t change the fact that history is littered with wars and strife of every kind.

    Getting rid of bigoted stereotyping, and banishing “you people” from your vocabulary, would be a welcome start — if you are serious about “harmony.”

  • Hi Mark,
    More to the point, the Religious Right killed the Republican Party. How else did the Party completely loose control of the debates to the “Gotcha Sound Bite” media hounds? “Conservative” Christians demonstrated that they do not care about the public good, as long a they can get their minority agenda to the fore.
    Had anyone with brains, been in control of the debate format and the selection of interviewers, something more dignified than mud wrestling might have emerged. Instead, all dignity and discussion of public policy succombed to sleazy accusations. Only Kasich refused to descend to the level of the beasts.


    At least one right winger is willing to call his own to honest shame. Thank you Mr. Moore. Refreshing honesty.There may be more than one “Right”.

    What we think is death is merely the stench of pretension on the part of those who seek to ride the Right train to their own personal glory. Such users are in every walk of life, including, and especially in, the “church crowd”.

    Evangelical, Religious Right, and Conservative are become political terms attempting to define a way of life and faith. They are woefully inadequate for the task. They merely serve as handles for users and players to hold and manipulate to their own selfish end. They show only a thin veneer to the bystander hoping to be proven correct in their tawdry assertions.

    The political-money Jesus mascots are dying, yes, (no resurrection please) but the faithful few remain.

  • I’m not sure how Mark Silk can claim the Religious Right is dead because the voted for Donald Trump when Trump is a creation of the most extremist hatred of the Religious Right and Faux News. All the GOP candidates support ending gay marriage and the RNC even added in a resolution to their platform vowing to oppose bathroom rights for transgender students. Every election someone complains about how this is going to be the end of the Religious Right but it never seems to die. I’m sure this makes for good fundraising and blockbuster book selling though.

  • Very good point, FA Miniter. While the far left has long accused anyone who dare disagreed with them as being self-righteous, the Trump phenomenon is the classic boy-who-cried-wolf morality tale. The Trump followers are proof positive that this time, the wolf is at the door.

    I just wish the left hadn’t for so long misused that word…..because in this case, it really does fit. Trump backers do fit the stereotype only too well.

  • There is absolutely no way in the world that 60-90 million Americans are evangelical. Most of the people who answer to that word don’t even believe the most elemental doctrines that define the Gospel. It’s just that in parts of the country where it’s considered cool to be evangelical, everyone says they are so they don’t feel left out. And for people wanting to do business in those areas, they have to show up for church every now and then.

    I’d be surprised if even 30 million were evangelical.

  • What the rise of Donald Trump has to do with the gay marriage issue is anyone’s guess. Trump’s rise is largely based on the opposite — on people on the right getting all riled up on issues other than social issues. It also is based on people listening more to talk radio and less to their pastors. As an RNS article recently showed, Trump’s support among Protestant pastors is in low single digits.

  • We do, G Key. I am learning that each day when I read posts from atheists and agnostics and others who oppose Trump for the same reasons I do. We like fair play, we believe that we should treat others decently, we hate bullying of underdogs or anyone, and we love freedom and can spot a wannabe tyrant a mile away.

    God sees the heart…..that’s the bottom line. There are people who claim to be Christians and have hearts of stone. He will sort it all out one day.

  • I appreciate that, Jack. My folks were devout Catholics, and raised my late sister & me to be good Catholics, too. Don’t know how Mom figured it out, but she accepted my atheism, and she prayed for me. To this day I consider that combination to be a most beautiful application of the Golden Rule.

  • Imagine, if you will, that you are on a long street, which symbolizes the theological/philosophical and sociopolitical continuum. If you are at one of the street, it will seem that the spatial distinction between Moore (Rubio supporter), Cruz, and Jerry Falwell Jr. (Trump supporter) is almost indistinguishable. But at your end, you detect wide gulfs between a Bill Clinton’s technocratic “New Democrat” (not HRC), an Obama liberal, and a Sanders progressive. Each of these left positions will have different outcomes..

    Remember, many on the distant right cannot distinguish between those three positions on the Left.

  • I have a friend I’ve known since college who is an atheist, and he has more wisdom and compassion than myself and many other Christians combined. I am mystified that he’s an atheist, he is equally mystified that I am a theist, but he is a gem of a human being who is making enormous contributions to humanity in his field of endeavor.

  • I don’t think it’s racism, Neon, but I do think it’s fear and mistrust of “the other.” The irony is that these dumb hicks are getting duped by a New York con man, and refuse to listen to people like me who grew up near New York and know all about him, more than I want to know.

  • How shockingly poorly-informed. Not what I expect from this site.

    Mr. Silk, in case you’re curious, your movement began its death march the day it got in bed with hard-line Catholics and decided to prostitute itself to the Republican Party. I don’t know many people who actually think the evangelical movement is about Jesus, love, or charity. It’s a chest-thumping tribal movement bent on controlling others–especially women–and enshrining a religious theocracy into law, which evangelicals (mistakenly) believe will be run the way their pastors say America should be run, and which they (oh so VERY mistakenly) believe will be a utopia of generosity, compassion, fairness, justice, safety, and harmony–totally unlike all those other hellhole theocracies in the world!

    Evangelicals can still save their religion from death, but it would involve rewriting large swathes of their operating ideas and losing their control-lust. I don’t think they’re ready to do either… yet.

  • That’s really all they talk about: abortion, guns, and same-sex marriage. They’re downright obsessed with those topics. The constant onslaught of the Jesus Party on women’s reproductive rights alone could fill many blog posts… not that Mark Silk knows or cares. He’s not ever going to have to deal with any of the fallout from the Religious Right’s insistent attack on women’s rights. I’m not real impressed with this guy.

    He’s busy distancing himself from the very clear and obvious wrongs his religion has committed against others by claiming that nobody actually dealt it its various death blows. That’s a lie. Truth is, evangelicals themselves constantly do far more damage to their “brand” than anybody outside their tribe ever could. The few of their churches growing are doing so by poaching Christians from other churches, but there’s a mass exodus from their pews, and they can’t stop it. They can’t even identify their problems, so they sure ain’t going to be able to…

  • That seems to be too much limitation there. All five of the candidates I named advocate all or part of the religious right’s legislative agenda. I think your assertions about the Democratic contenders are pretty hilarious. Of course Sanders is a socialist as is everyone with a heart and a brain. But these categories do not by a long shot address all ideologies.

  • I agree the socialist have their heart in the right place. Unfortunately their economic ideologies are really bad and won’t work. Besides consistently giving things to people destroys their self reliance and creates an entitlement. Right now there are too many people including corporations and illegals getting government assistance.

  • Government of the people needs to serve the people. What you call self reliance is typically called starvation, degradation and death from neglect.
    Democratic socialism posits that a society provides a bare minimum for the least of us in order to strengthen society as a whole. We can do without mass public health hazards, famine and mass neglect of the elderly.

    BTW illegals get almost no government assistance. You are I’ll informed.

  • Religious conservatives love to fudge their numbers to appear more numerous than reality suggests. !ying for the lord is a default position.

    As long as people think God grants them the power to make decisions for everyone else, you will see opposition. Frankly the religious right committed accidental suicide. Overestimation of the appeals to bigotry with the anti gay and anti feminist stance, ignoring how appealing racism is with the same crowd.

  • “Consistently giving” to those most in need “creates an entitlement”?

    That is “Us vs Them” defense of selfishness, self-exalted elitism, and prejudice at its very worst and most harmful — not only to them, but to society, and to our ideals of morality, humility, and decency.

    “We” don’t even acknowledge that “they” are individual persons and families, each living according to their own unique set of beliefs, values, objectives, priorities, aspirations, limitations, guesses, and compromises. The only difference between them and us is that we have the meanness and the opportunity. We use our right to congress to concoct a bunch of little non-white lives about them; then we deplore the lives that we lie that they live; then we snap their lifelines and force them to choose: Homelessness or prison? That’s how we care for our “entitled” poor.

    “Too many people…getting assistance”? We need to look in a mirror and ask ourselves what entitlement really is.

  • By your definition we are already a democratic socialist country. When taking care of people becomes routine and consistent you destroy their motivation and self reliance.
    The more socialistic a country becomes the more you destroy motivation. There will be far less new businesses because of excessive government regulation and existing businesses will suffer for the same reason. we already overtax businesses compared to most countries.
    All of these things work against having a robust economy. A good economy is what lifts people out of poverty and gives people a chance to better themselves. Generally as a percentage of countries who are socialistic it doesn’t work very well. We cannot afford to give everyone who wants it a free college education or have free medical care for all.