The Decade in American ChristianityEssays, Featured — By Jordan Green on December 31, 2009 at 12:35 am
While every President since Washington could ostensibly be labeled Christian, few were as outspoken in their faith as George W. Bush.
Fresh off three years of Slick Willy’s sex scandals and inept military strikes, right-leaning Christians finally found hope for regime change in a plain-speaking, unabashed Evangelical with an impressive resume. As the US entered a new millenium, George W. Bush’s supporters believed he would return dignity to the nation’s highest office, and build on the unbridled economic growth of the ’90s. Bush edged Al Gore in a controversial election, and conservative Christians across the land rolled up their sleeves and prepared to practice what they’d been preaching since Reagan’s term ran out.
Perhaps in a different time. Shortly after the bursting tech bubble revealed much of America’s economic explosion to be overinflated, terrorists crashed planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon. The veneer of peace Americans had enjoyed since the collapse of the Berlin Wall was fractured, and the Evangelical-in-Chief was quickly mired in two wars, outrageous government spending, and a Keystone Kop-like search for an old bearded Muslim guy. Presidents throughout history have faced satirical imagery…Clinton was a philanderer, Ford was a blunderer, and George Sr.’s lips turned out to be lying about no new taxes…but it’s never good when a President’s go-to characteristic is his lack of intelligence.
Four years later, faced with an even weaker opponent, even those doubting President Bush threw up their hands and blurted, “Well, we may as well give him four more to figure this out.” In his second term, George W. distanced himself from his hawkish, neo-conservative staff, but the damage had been done. As the years crept by with Osama Bin Laden still at large, a mounting death toll against a demoralizing insurgency in Iraq, and finally a realization that the war in Afghanistan was being lost, the hope bled out. Americans were left with the sneaking suspicion that the DotCom era might just have been America’s pinnacle.
George Bush’s election might have been most damaging to Evangelicalism itself. Young believers raised on conservative Christianity were suddenly faced with the realization that the political realm wasn’t as effective in spreading the Gospel as they’d been told. Maybe Bush’s failures weren’t solely to blame, but the disillusionment of the Moral Majority seemed to coincide with young Christians splitting from the Evangelical church in favor of New Calvinism, the emergent movement, or even returning to traditional forms of worship in Anglican and Catholic services.
These divisions came to a head during the 2008 election, as the conservative Christian remnant turned a cliche-spitting Alaskan with uncommon ambition into a figure on par with Mary and a youthful and newly liberal batch of Christians sought political salvation in the Gen-X cool of Barack Obama. By the time the votes were tallied, it was clear the last eight years had dealt a serious blow to the political might of the Religious Right.
Through the first year of the Obama administration, the fear of history repeating is palpable. Once again swayed by the hope of dignity returned to the nation’s highest office, President Obama’s Christian supporters, particularly those who backed George Bush 8 years previous, are still nervously awaiting great things.
Fortunately, we are remembering some of the lessons of the Bush administration: Christians don’t need political strength to change the world.