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New York Times Challenged on "Evangelical Crackup"

Background by, November 7, 2007

In his October 28th New York Times Magazine cover story, David Kirkpatrick uses 8,000 words to argue that fundamentalist Christian evangelicals are losing their political clout. He opens with a vignette about a fallen Wichita, Kansas patriot pastor before moving to the main point of his report: evangelicals have lost the great power they had in the national Republican Party. Kirkpatrick proposes that the Christian right is moderating and diversifying. His report made the Times' list of most-emailed stories.

Nevertheless, as we have in the past, we disagree with this thesis and find ourselves in good company. Jeff Sharlet, who titles his blog entry "New York Times Declares Religious Right Dead. Again." notes that the Times favors a simple narrative: "The NYT, like all daily papers, needs a basic -- and straightforward -- conflict narrative. Left vs. right is a good one, so the paper lines those ideologies up with the parties: Democrat vs. Republican, forget the nuances within the parties."

We note, yet again, that the religious right is steadily advancing its agenda on the state and local government level – and after seven years of the Bush administration, it is getting some help from the courts. Two examples, included in our current email, are a federal appeals court's ruling that the Indiana state legislature may resume its sectarian session opening prayers, and a Bakersfield school board's vote to post religious slogans in every classroom.

We also note the new book by D. Michael Lindsay, Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite. Focusing on four power centers -- White House, Wall Street, Harvard, and Hollywood -- and employing academic theories of elite formation to explain conservative evangelical ascendancy, Lindsay explains how these once-closed "secular" realms are now open to evangelical competition. In some instances, he argues, the Christian right's power has held steady; in other cases it has increased.

The Evangelical Crackup

David D. Kirkpatrick, The New York Times Magazine, October 28, 2007

David Kirkpatrick sets up his argument that the religious right's political power is waning with a look at Wichita pastor Terry Fox, a once rising star who now preaches in a small room. He writes:

Just three years ago, the leaders of the conservative Christian political movement could almost see the Promised Land. White evangelical Protestants looked like perhaps the most potent voting bloc in America. They turned out for President George W. Bush in record numbers, supporting him for re-election by a ratio of four to one. Republican strategists predicted that religious traditionalists would help bring about an era of dominance for their party. Spokesmen for the Christian conservative movement warned of the wrath of “values voters.” James C. Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, was poised to play kingmaker in 2008, at least in the Republican primary. And thanks to President Bush, the Supreme Court appeared just one vote away from answering the prayers of evangelical activists by overturning Roe v. Wade.

Today the movement shows signs of coming apart beneath its leaders. It is not merely that none of the 2008 Republican front-runners come close to measuring up to President Bush in the eyes of the evangelical faithful, although it would be hard to find a cast of characters more ill fit for those shoes: a lapsed-Catholic big-city mayor; a Massachusetts Mormon; a church-skipping Hollywood character actor; and a political renegade known for crossing swords with the Rev. Pat Robertson and the Rev. Jerry Falwell. Nor is the problem simply that the Democratic presidential front-runners — Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Senator Barack Obama and former Senator John Edwards — sound like a bunch of tent-revival Bible thumpers compared with the Republicans.

The 2008 election is just the latest stress on a system of fault lines that go much deeper. The phenomenon of theologically conservative Christians plunging into political activism on the right is, historically speaking, something of an anomaly. Most evangelicals shrugged off abortion as a Catholic issue until after the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. But in the wake of the ban on public-school prayer, the sexual revolution and the exodus to the suburbs that filled the new megachurches, protecting the unborn became the rallying cry of a new movement to uphold the traditional family. Now another confluence of factors is threatening to tear the movement apart. The extraordinary evangelical love affair with Bush has ended, for many, in heartbreak over the Iraq war and what they see as his meager domestic accomplishments. That disappointment, in turn, has sharpened latent divisions within the evangelical world — over the evangelical alliance with the Republican Party, among approaches to ministry and theology, and between the generations. Click here

Not All It's Cracked Up To Be
Why is the New York Times Magazine saying evangelical Christians are increasingly divided?

David Sessions, Slate Online Magazine, November 2, 2007

As a politically interested evangelical, I'm constantly surprised to find that newspapers know more about my political feelings than I do. I haven't even picked my presidential candidate yet, but, it turns out, I'm supposed to be frustrated and dissatisfied with my options—and my peers.

To hear the press tell it, the so-called values voter is disenchanted with the Republican Party and will stay home and pray for our country on Election Day '08 if the GOP nominee ends up being a cross-dressing home wrecker—or, God forbid, a Mormon. In October, New York Times Magazine gave the tale an epic reiteration with a cover story by David D. Kirkpatrick heralding a great "evangelical crackup." The "extraordinary evangelical love affair with Bush ended in heartbreak over the Iraq war and what they see as his meager domestic accomplishments," Kirkpatrick writes, and that desperation is supposedly sparking reactions from general disenchantment to leftward desertion.

But rather than pinpointing a genuine political trend, the piece just triggers a nagging sense of déjà vu, one confirmed by a search of the Times archives: In a February 2000 Times Magazine cover story, Margaret Talbot concluded that "it cannot be denied that as a political force, the religious right is flagging" and described "a newfound disillusionment with politics." Now, in 2007, Kirkpatrick calls 2004 the zenith of evangelicals' influence and says that the religious right is once again "cracking up," facing "end times." If this convoluted chronology is to be believed, then no other political demographic has ever vacillated as impressively between retreat and triumph. Continue.

New York Times Declares Religious Right Dead. Again.

Jeff Sharlet, The Revealer, October 28, 2007

With "The Evangelical Crack-Up," New York Times conservative beat reporter David D. Kirkpatrick's nearly 8,000-word cover story in this Sunday's magazine, the paper of record has attempted to cement a new chunk of conventional wisdom: The religious right is dead. Again.

The story is already the paper's most-emailed article, and the liberal blog has heralded it as long-awaited news -- a peculiar memory lapse for political junkies. This isn't the first time establishment media has declared the end of conservative evangelicalism as a movement: It did the same in 1992, when Clinton won; in 1996, when he won again. It declared American fundamentalism an artifact of the past in 1925, after the Scopes Trial, and then proceeded to ignore the build-up of a Christian conservatism that infused the Cold War with particularly fervent anti-communism that recognized only three shades, black, white, and red. And as recently as 2000, too, establishment media considered fundamentalism mostly a non-starter, at best a sideshow in the Gore-Bush contest.

Here we are again. The NYT's two reporters assigned to following the religious right -- or, rather, the electoral fortunes of the religious right -- have declared evangelical conservatism as dead as D. James Kennedy and Jerry Falwell. On October 7, Laurie Goodstein weighed in with a "Week in Review" piece titled "For a Trusty Voting Bloc, Faith Shaken," which made the classic establishment media mistake of reducing a social movement -- evangelicalism -- to its visible point of contact with the concerns of establishment elites, inside-the-beltway politics (see The Revealer, "Movements vs. Media Narratives"). And now, Kirkpatrick issues the official word in watercooler wisdom for political junkies: In 2004, he writes, "White evangelical Protestants looked like perhaps the most potent voting bloc in America." But today, "the movement shows signs of coming apart beneath its leaders." Continue.

Rudy, the Values Slayer

Frank Rich, Opinion, The New York Times, October 28, 2007

WITH the new president heading off to his Texas vacation during that slow news month of August 2001, I wrote a column about a man who would never be president: Rudy Giuliani. Banished from Gracie Mansion after dumping his second wife for Judith Nathan, New York’s lame-duck mayor had been bunking for two months with a gay couple. No brand-name American politician had ever publicly done such a thing, so I decided to pay a visit to Rudy’s home away from home.

His Honor was out that day, but Howard Koeppel, a garrulous Queens car dealer, and his partner, Mark Hsiao, a Juilliard-trained pianist, were gracious tour guides to their 32nd-floor apartment on East 57th Street. I asked Mr. Koeppel, a born comic, whether it was unexpected that Rudy would live with an openly gay couple. “I don’t know if it’s any more unusual than him wearing a dress,” he deadpanned. On a more sober note, Mr. Koeppel told me that the connubially challenged mayor was an admirer of his and Mr. Hsiao’s relatively “idyllic life” and had assured them that “if they ever legalized gay marriages, we would be the first one he would do.” Continue.

The Evangelist CrackUp Ain't as Cute as It Looks

Susie Bright, Susie Bright's Journal, October 29, 2007

Is the religious right ready to get their hands out of America's underwear? Is the shame margin not paying off the way it used to?

New York Times reporter David Kirkpatrick takes apart "The Evangelical Crackup" in this past Sunday Magazine, in what is sure to be one of the most talked-about stories of the pre-election season.

He interviews a number of pastors and politicos from the conservative churches— the bedrock of the "Moral Majority" and the base that won the Bush family their votes.

This is the movement that could be relied upon to do anything at the flick of an abortion-shaming or homo-hating switch. Get them on their high horse, with a sexy leather crop in their hands, and you had them sweating and frothing their way to the finish line. Continue.

That Evangelical Crackup

Richard John Neuhaus, First Things, October 30, 2007

All Souls Day, November 2, is for the ordinary folk. The “faithful departed” means all our brothers and sisters in Christ, including evangelical Protestants. (Some are less faithful than others, and, of course, the same is true of Catholics.) Evangelicals are seen as the especially ordinary folk. They are those whom the Washington Post described some years ago as “poor, uneducated, and easily led.” At least that is the way they are seen when they are not being viewed with alarm as a ruthless, hypocritical, well-oiled, right-wing juggernaut on the edge of taking over the country. On the latter perspective, see Ross Douthat’s delightfully devastating “Theocracy, Theocracy, Theocracy!” in the August/September 2006 issue of First Things.

Our parish newspaper, the New York Times, goes back and forth between portraying evangelicals as the Snopes family of Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County, on the one hand, and as Machiavellian theocratic crusaders, on the other. In the Times Magazine this week, the cover story is about the Machiavellians—meaning mainly Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council and James Dobson of Focus on the Family—and how they are losing their grip with the no longer easily led evangelical hordes. The story is titled “The Evangelical Crackup.”

The story is written by David D. Kirkpatrick. He is a decent fellow who was assigned by the Times some years ago to cover “the conservative beat.” It seems the word somehow managed to penetrate the ideological bubble in which the editors live that, out there in America, there are a lot of people who think of themselves as conservatives. They even have organizations such as think tanks and political action committees, and some of them are very effective at communicating what appear to be ideas. So the editors sent out Mr. Kirkpatrick as their scout to discover why the natives are so restless. This week he returned to 43rd Street from his foray into deepest Indian territory—Wichita, Kansas—where he talked with three or four evangelical pastors who have had it with political activism and reports that we need not worry, the insurgency is petering out. Hence “The Evangelical Crackup.” Continue.