What and why the religious right lost in the 2012 election

Taken together, four  letters to the New York Times editor, posted on Nov. 19, 2012, sum up what happened to the supposedly all-powerful religious right in the 2012 election–and why. The first is from a woman who self-identifies as a ” white upper-middle-class married mother of three and a mainline Protestant, in other words, Mitt Romney’s targeted demographic.” She says that she has voted twice for President Obama, because her “religious understanding involves healing the sick and feeding the poor, so I support food stamps and Obamacare.”

As an educated person, I find myself alienated by the anti-woman and anti-science sentiments espoused by the G.O.P. Its “take back America from the undesirables” message nakedly exploits and encourages people’s prejudices against undocumented immigrants, gays, single mothers and minorities.

I wouldn’t allow such hateful and nonsensical talk at my dinner table; I certainly don’t want to send it to Washington.

The second letter writer says:

At long last Election Day efforts to legislate religious beliefs met with failure throughout the country. Personal liberty and freedom were affirmed when anti-abortion candidates were defeated and measures permitting people the right to same-sex marriage were enacted.

In this process there has been no infringement of the rights of churchgoers to practice their own theology but confirms that they may not impose their dogma on others.

The third sees the election as a rejection of the religious right’s “effort to create civil law to enforce or deny behavior based on one’s religious belief. Teaching and preaching about moral principles are certainly legitimate functions of religious leaders, but to try to enlist the government as an enforcer is to go down a dangerous path.”

And the fourth letter admonishes religious leaders not to attempt to cast the election as ” a sign of America’s rejection of moral values and of our national decline.” The opposite is true, he asserts.

We have rejected moralism, not morality. We have rejected the premise that sanctimonious preachers can herd our votes by claiming to be on God’s chat list. We are evolving to a higher morality of knowledge, compassion and stewardship.

The pessimist in me takes issue with that final sentence. But overall, I’m hoping that what happened at the polls on Nov. 6, 2012 will, indeed, be construed as a rejection of the political overreach–and may I say “chutzpah?”–that  has typified the religious right  in recent decades.