The marriage battle is over and everybody knows it, even Maggie Gallagher, even World, which nevertheless just dedicated part of a cover package to a small group of young evangelicals who have vowed to keep fighting. The dispersal of the troops continues to be a fascinating thing to watch, mostly because this revolution is happening so quickly and there are so many trends and pressures playing upon how evangelicals engage with politics right now. There’s everything from Tony Perkins finally proposing a breakup with the RNC to Rod Dreher literally quoting Cassandra.
If I had to guess what was going to emerge from evangelicals under 30, it would be something like a bell curve: a large loop of silence and relative apathy with tails of committed support and opposition trailing off each side. The supporters are perhaps the least surprising and least interesting, and I think it’s fair to say they will eventually make the bell somewhat lopsided, i.e., there will be a larger number of open, committed supporters of gay marriage than there will be opponents.
The large, complex middle tells the story of the past 15 years. There are lots of different stripes of people who make up this center: some silently supportive of gay marriage, some privately opposed. Probably the largest group is those who feel a unsettled mix of apathy and indecision: their theology is relatively conservative, but the proximity of their gay friends and co-workers and the radical shift in the surrounding culture’s attitude has done its work. Most of all, the legacy of the religious right still haunts; it’s difficult to overstate just how deeply the rejection of the politicized fundamentalism of the past three decades has shaped them. Even if they remain theologically opposed to gay marriage, they are likely to be aware the battle is lost and unsure it’s all that big a deal. I suspect we’ll hear—are already hearing—excuses like, “the government shouldn’t be involved in marriage anyway” or “divorce is worse for marriage than the gays” or “we should focus on religious freedom.” Because of how deep the rejection of and apathy about politics goes among this group, there will be virtually no civic participation in any direction; they’re likely to mostly lay low until this is such a non-issue that no one really talks about it anymore.
What will be the most unpredictable and interesting will be the right-wing tail: the committed opponents, like those profiled in this New York Times piece and the previously mentioned World story. It’s difficult to know what the motivations are here—conviction, careerism, the glory of holding out for a lost cause, or maybe all of the above. These guys will continue to have jobs and funding and pats on the back from the evangelical establishment as it further fades in relevance. But it seems inevitable that they will become more and more isolated from anything like the evangelical mainstream, and that this will provoke radicalizing delusions that could harden into a kind of intellectual far-right that’s different than the one we’re used to—better educated, more savvy, but darker because they’re more realistic about what they’re up against. But then again, the pull of the Christian-right lobbying machine in Washington may co-opt the careerist among them and produce another generation of Tony Perkinses. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.
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