‘Religious Right’ seeks kinder, gentler moniker

Evangelical leaders are bellyaching that their self-anointed “moral majority” vocabulary is working against them, according to a story in Christianity Today. So they’re on a new mission to erase the hard-edge, politically intolerant-sounding catchphrases from the lexicon of journalists.

But finding an accurate shorthand label is vexing. Not all “religious conservatives” are Christians evangelicals. Extremely pious groups such as the Amish, Orthodox Jews and strict Muslims don’t back anti-civil rights ballot measures or act as self-appointed guardians of socially conservative American political intercourse.

According to Christianity Today, very few people today will own up to the term “Religious Right” — which was coined in the 70s by Moral Majority co-founder Jerry Falwell — even if it applies to them. So instead, the moral is disown the label and blame the messenger:

“When the so-called ‘Religious Right’ agrees with us, we applaud their good taste and good judgment,” said [Richard] Land, who is president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission for the Southern Baptist Convention. Some phrases need to be eliminated from journalists’ vocabulary entirely, he said. “Until Tony Perkins or Jim Dobson puts a pistol on the table and threatens to kill someone, they shouldn’t be called ayatollah of the Right or the Jihadists of the Right.”

Gary Schneeberger, vice president of media and public relations for Focus on the Family, agrees:

… when writers include terms like “Religious Right” and “fundamentalist,” they can create negative impressions.

“Terms like ‘Religious Right’ have been traditionally used in a pejorative way to suggest extremism,” Schneeberger said. “The phrase ‘socially conservative evangelicals’ is not very exciting, but that’s certainly the way to do it.”

Though I think Aurora-based blogger and Lutheran Pastor John Petty sums it up quite well at Progressive Involvement.com:

They could take another approach. Rather than staying the same and switching labels so as to appear more moderate, maybe they should try keeping the label and switching their attitudes and tactics to be more moderate. As Steve Benen puts it, “If the movement’s leaders believe ‘religious right’ has become synonymous with extremism and hatred, perhaps the movement should be less extreme and hateful.”

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