Legend has it that seminal blues figure Robert Johnson made a deal with the devil while standing at a desolate crossroads. The devil supposedly had the power to grant young Robert both fame and fortune in exchange for his soul. Fame did come to Robert Johnson, but the price exacted from him was more than just his soul. He ultimately died tragically while still a young man. That's how deals with the devil always go.
The 2006 elections are looming ever closer and the religious right has been brought back to the crossroads. This is not the first time they have been there. They journeyed there some years ago when they placed their heart on the altar of the Republican Party. In the process they traded their collective soul for assurances of political influence primarily in the realm of abortion and pro-family issues.
Many are awakening to realize that something has gone terribly wrong with the deal. Candidate Bush assured them in the campaign for the 2000 election that he was born again. They liked the fact that he stood on character as an issue. Now many are experiencing disappointment as revelations of gross and nefarious deception come to light. The blinders are falling off the most ardent supporters as the evidence mounts that there is a stench of corruption emanating from the White House. Most had already realized and accepted that their Republican consorts were not going to produce any substantial or viable legislation addressing their concerns. Their hopes for Bush in a second term were basically reduced to him making some Supreme Court appointments that might lead to overturning Roe.
Now it looks like they may get their wish in that regard and even the best-case scenario for them will still not bring abortion to an end. Most states will scramble to ensure continued abortion services and some will outlaw it. There will probably be a slight reduction in abortion, but an increase in loss of life for women that will feel forced to seek illegal and unsafe abortions.
The cost for this possible gain of dominance in the highest court has proven to be beyond exorbitant. The greatest cost for the religious right has been in the realm of moral credibility. Being a credible witness to the world has always played a prominent role in the power and effectiveness of Christians competing in the market place of ideas. Hoisting up George W. Bush, as the poster boy for their movement was part of the deal cut at the crossroads. Now his failings reveal something far more disturbing than simple ineptitude or misfortune.
There are two basic and unavoidable conclusions for the Bush religious constituency to choose between. Either way should lead them to the same conclusion. One is that he really is a Christian, but has somehow been corrupted by his associations with evil men. The other is that he cunningly used the Christian image as a con in hopes of gaining those coveted few extra percentage points in the polls and ballot boxes. Taking either approach will bring many disillusioned Christians out of the Bush camp.
Many of them are former democratic voters that converted to the GOP in the eighties because they felt like the Democratic Party had abandoned their values. They were promised things at the crossroads. Now, they have been shamed by the blatant violations of decency and truth by this administration and the party it represents. They have sacrificed their credibility by making a deal with the devil. Getting to wine, dine and sleep with the powerful is all they really ever received in return.
So, here they stand at the crossroads once again. They have a chance to undo the deal. They have a fleeting opportunity to break off the shackles that have held them bound to a party whose policies proclaim the sanctity of life while destroying it. Many are tempted to leave behind and forget the political arena all together. They feel abandoned by the Democrats and burned by the Republicans. This would prove to be a tragic loss to the vitality of the democratic process that desperately needs the kind of integrity that real Christians demonstrate.
Ironically, the Democratic Party finds itself standing at the crossroads as well. Whatever deal they made with the devil in the past has brought them to a place of obscure impotence. They are barely left clinging to tenuous rules that allow for filibuster and surprise closed meetings. These are the last gasp resorts of a party that once held great power, but squandered it and lost its way after tossing their moral compass. They seem to be placing all their hopes on a Republican implosion. They are experts at pointing out the failings of the opposition, but have not been offering any real substantive alternative solutions to our most pressing needs.
Alas, there is hope for these disenfranchised Christians and the Democratic Party. There is an over due change taking place within the very fabric of faith expressions that offers both some common ground. There is a great stirring among Christian moderates and progressives to reframe the conversation concerning faith and politics. There is a grassroots movement gaining great traction to bring a broader Christian agenda into the arena of government.
These Christian activists are advocating for social and political changes that would address the concerns and needs of the impoverished of America and the world. They are lobbying for compassion to be the bottom line instead of profit. They are prioritizing clean air and water for all people. They are pushing for fair and safe labor practices globally. They desire immigration policies that reflect the words emblazoned on the Statue of Liberty. They want equal rights for all citizens and policies enacted that will help to reduce the abortion rate. The broad scope of issues on this agenda has never been welcomed by the Republican Party and never will be. The GOP never made a real effort to accommodate even the very few and narrow demands of the religious right.
CrossLeft.org is a leading organization in this fast emerging movement. They are working to network the many organizations and individuals within the communities of faith that want to see the fullness of Christian compassion brought to bear in government. They are blogging and podcasting to get their message out on the Internet. They are putting together a speaker's bureau to help place articulate and passionate speakers out on the speaking circuit. They are putting together conferences and think tanks to develop new strategies for making government a more noble and compassionate servant to the governed. Most importantly, they are doing it in a way that respects the basic premises of separation of church and state.
The religious right and the Democratic Party stand at the crossroads with a unique opportunity to undo their deals with the devil. The democrats stand there in need of regaining some moral backbone. People of all faiths stand there in need of a political party that will offer them a genuine platform to express their compassionate concerns. Will either side budge? Will someone offer an olive branch of reconciliation? What would Robert Johnson have done if he had been given a second chance at the crossroads?
Gary Vance was licensed to preach as a Southern Baptist in 1976. Most of his years as a Christian have been spent in the ranks of the evangelical, fundamental, and charismatic church expressions. He currently pastors a church in Tennessee and is an active proponent for issues of social justice.