The religious right learns to put not its faith in princes

July 05, 1996|By Cal Thomas

WASHINGTON -- So it has come to this: After 17 years of highly visible political activism in which religious conservatives managed to place moral and social issues at or near the top of the agenda for both parties, the nominee of the party with which they most closely identify says their paramount issue -- abortion -- is less important than, say, defending the tobacco industry.

Appearing on ''Regis and Kathie Lee,'' Bob Dole was asked about New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman as a running mate.

nTC Kathie Lee noted that Ms. Whitman does not share Mr. Dole's pro-life position. ''That's all right,'' said he. ''My view is we can all be Republicans and have different views on different issues.''

Goodbye, holy grail

Really? Would Senator Dole select a running mate who favored higher taxes, bigger government, cuts in defense spending, the status quo on welfare, affirmative action, condoms in the classroom, special rights for homosexuals and more environmental regulations?

It must be frustrating for conservative religious activists to have the holy grail snatched from them by the gods of political pragmatism. If Mr. Dole is defeated, the role of religious conservatives will be diminished. Even if he wins, he will have done so unbeholden to the ''Religious Right,'' and they will have even less influence than they had in the Reagan and Bush administrations.

Religious conservatives face two alternatives. They can intensify their efforts, or they can select an option that has not yet been tried.

Trickle-down morality

When faced with diseases of the soul, the last place to look for treatment is in politics. Even if it were possible to restore a spiritually sick nation through the ballot box and produce trickle-down morality, the numbers just aren't there.

In the mid-'70s, a Gallup poll estimated that 50 million Americans considered themselves ''born again.'' Today, in light of society's sickness, that number seems wildly inflated. Not all of these hold the same views on all issues, so a still smaller number can be counted on to favor the agenda of religious conservatives.

I asked Ralph Reed, executive director of the Christian Coalition, what might happen if his members began following the example and obeying the instructions of their Leader (not Pat Robertson, but the Supreme Leader).

He said, ''The impact would be revolutionary.'' Anticipating my follow-up question, he added, ''That needs to be our next step.''

What were the commands given by that Leader? They were things clearly absent from much of the activism that is conducted in his name: love your enemies; pray for those who persecute you; if someone wants your shirt, give him your cloak as well; if he asks you to walk a mile with him, go the second mile.

Such behavior is not found in politics or anywhere else. It is unnatural. It is, in fact, supernatural. When practiced, it produces something far more powerful and long-last- ing than anything found in the political process.

It changes hearts, and changed hearts produce changed lives, which in turn can change a nation.

So, religious conservatives can make new declarations of greater activism and commitment to their agendas, or they can make a new declaration of dependence on their Leader and start behaving as he instructed.

'Last days'

One of their Leader's early servants prophesied what things would be like in ''the last days.'' He said they will be ''terrible times.

''People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. . . .''

Can any of these things -- the source of most of our discontent -- be fixed by government? They can't. They can only be fixed through the spirit. The Spirit seems willing, if the flesh will acknowledge its weakness.

Cal Thomas is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 7/05/96

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