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Religious Right's Political Health

May 10, 1987

Columnist Cal Thomas (Editorial Pages, April 30) is wrong in asserting that the Religious Right is politically dead. It is true that many politicians will not be so quick to court favor with the celebrity wing of the "electronic church" due to the Jim Bakker scandal, resulting in a perceived loss of influence, but PTL's woes have not changed the right's (religious or otherwise) emphasis on a limited social agenda of right to life, school prayer and the family.

The Religious Right favors this limited agenda because those issues are the ones where a clear moral choice is perceived, and the politically astute leaders such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson will continue to exert tremendous influence over their audiences in these areas.

The agenda never developed into a unified social ethic for several reasons, some of which Thomas outlines, but the single most significant problem is that there is no clear-cut, black-and-white moral choice on many social issues, and it is the moral choice that binds the diverse factions in the Religious Right together.

To create a unified political ethic to cover a broad social spectrum from an essentially nonpolitical (moral) point of view is simply beyond the powers of most leaders. The best that politicians of any persuasion have been able to do is forge large coalitions from smaller ones, finding the themes that unify each individual group. That the Religious Right hasn't grown from one of the small groups to a single large one is easily understandable.

The Religious Right may have been perceived as kingmakers, but their past influence has been due more to Ronald Reagan's voicing of the themes that caught their interest and unified them rather than them conferring on Reagan a voice that they had developed on their own.

As long as they continue to vote their morals, the Religious Right's political influence will continue to exist. The question is whether or not a single candidate will emerge who can unify the group so that their influence is significant.


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