Sunday, March 06, 2005

A Mellow Christian Right?

The Style Section of today's Washington Post has a typically odd but interesting Hanna Rosin feature about how Christian Right activists are settling down and getting in touch with their Inner Moderate now that they are landing serious day jobs in George W. Bush's D.C. The poster people for this alleged domestication of the Christian Right are a couple named Jeff and Lyric Hassler, whose grinning, wholesome visages are displayed on both the cover and jump page of Style. She's a political consultant who worked on the Bush campaign; he's a staffer for Sen. James Inhofe (the somewhat-less-crazy of the two Republican Senators from Oklahoma).

The basic idea is that people like the Hasslers, although they haven't changed their views on much of anything, now view the extremist tactics of the Movement's salad days as, well, kind of embarrassing. "No more thundering sermons on Wiccans and floods and child molesters," Rosin says in summarizing the change of tone. "They may believe all the same things," evangelical scholar Michael Cromartie tells her, "but they aren't going to go on 'Larry King Live' and say all homosexuals should die. They've learned how to present themselves."

You get the idea from the piece that folks in the Christian Right have been engaged in their own form of Lackoffian "re-framing," now that they are, well, partially in charge of running the country and all. But you wonder how deep the makeover has really gone.

The climax of Rosin's feature is the revelation that the Hasslers have become Episcopalians, of all things, after settling down in Fairfax County. Indeed, she quotes Lyric Hassler burbling about how much she's come to love "High Church" stuff like vestments and traditional hymns.

Smart as Rosin is, she seems to miss the joke: the particular church the Hasslers are attending is the notorious Truro evangelical Episcopal parish, home to Ollie North and Clarence Thomas, and one of the main protaganists of the right-wing movement to pull congregations out of the Church to protest the ordination of a gay bishop, and other offenses to cultural conservatism. Entering mainline Protestant Christianity through Truro is sort of like getting to know African-American opinion by listening to a lot of Armstrong Williams. I noticed looking at the church's calender that it's featuring a Jews-for-Jesus presentation on Maundy Thursday (the day before Good Friday). That shows a fine sensitivity to Jewish concerns about the supercessionist themes that have so often led to anti-Semitic violence during Holy Week, eh?

Maybe the Hasslers and hundreds of their peers who have laid down their fetus posters and picked up the reins of power have mellowed, but in part that's because Washington has moved in their direction. Speaking of how a superior in the Bush campaign looked at her, Lyric Hassler commented that she no longer "stood out," saying: "Ten years ago she [her boss] might have thought I was a total freak. But now she just thought I was a little weird."
-- Posted at 3:43 PM | Link to this post | Email this post

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