So, Jerry Falwell has died. He was probably the most polarizing religious figure in the last half of the 20th century. Reading peoples' reactions to him is a surreal experience. No one wants to jump with the glee at the thought of not having to hear his lunatic ravings anymore, but neither do folks want to let him off the hook for the crazy things he said over the years.
John Ibbitson, in his prose typical of media folks who don’t know how to talk about religion, says that there is no real successor to Falwell. He calls Falwell an “anachronism,” which, according to downtown Toronto standards, may be true.
But while the Big Man has died, religious conservatism is still alive and doing quite well. Despite GWB’s wonderfully low poll numbers, and that the Democrats took back both houses of Congress last November, the Religious Right is not on the decline. This is a liberal fantasy that will bite them in the socio-electoral butt.
While folks like Rick Warren don’t have the fixation on abortion and homosexuality the way older evangelicals have, these are still issues for many rank-and-file evangelicals. They haven’t replaced a “pro-family” agenda with an environmental and economic one. They see issues of personal morality as intertwined with social justice concerns.
A new discussion is happening among Christians. One that’s less partisan but no less passionate. American Christian conservatives feel culturally at home in the GOP. But they are less interested in partisan gain than their grandparents’ generation – symbolized by folks like Falwell.
Evangelical Christians will form the base of the GOP the same way that greenies support the Dems. In 2006, the conservative Christians didn’t vote Democrat. They simply stayed home.
Update: John Stackhouse on Falwell's life and death.