Friday, August 22, 2003

Theocon Trek-The Next Generation-Ben had an interesting post last night
The day that Dr. Bill Bright retired to heaven marked the most recent departure of a leader of the social conservative movement. Francis Schaeffer and Dr. James Boice were among the first to go, and there are many more who are probably destined to leave us in the near future. Some of the other prominent social conservatives who are getting on in years: James Dobson Chuck Colson Phyllis Shlafly Paul Weyrich Morton Blackwell Tim & Beverly LaHaye Pat Robertson This list does more than highlight the graying of the movement -- it also reminds us that, for many of the folks listed, there's no clear line of succession within the organizations they lead. There are a handful of younger conservative leaders, to be sure. Yet most of them aren't original-style social conservatives -- instead they're grassroots activists within the party structure.
Many younger evangelicals of a political bent have become political operatives within the Republican party rather than be part of policy-oriented parachurch groups. People like Robertson protégé Ralph Reed and Dobson ally Gary Bauer moved into the political sphere. However, there will still be a call for people of faith to address policy issues, sometimes as part of a bigger agenda, such as Focus on the Family, or as the prime part of their agenda, such as the Christian Coalition, Family Research Council or Concerned Women For America. Let me take a quick run through Ben's list of the aging lions of the movement. James Dobson-I don't think that a particular person will succeed him; someone will be chief of Focus on the Family, but that person won't get the full mantle of authority as a leading spokesman. That person will have to earn it. Focus on the Family has grown into a major media empire which should live on after Dobson steps down. The successor may not have the cache that Dobson has today, but he will have a well-respected organization to work with. Chuck Colson-Colson is sui generis. His story of hard-boiled Nixon lawyer coming to the Lord while serving time for Watergate crimes is hard to duplicate. I looked upon his jail cell conversion with some skepticism at the time, but he's had three decades of witness to prove me and others wrong. He has a prophetic tenor to his approach that is also unique; prophets aren't supposed to be cute and cuddy and universally loved. Colson will tell it like it is and let the chips fall where they may. Prison Fellowship will go on without him, for prison ministry is on the hearts of many believers around the country. What may not go on is his unique giftings. Phyllis Shlafly-She won't have a successor. She served her purpose in the 70s by derailing the ERA; she stood athwart feminism yelling "Stop!" and got it to stop. She's become a bit too much of a pessimistic paleocon to be palatable to me and many others, almost a Pat Buchanan in a dress. Other women leaders seem to have a more optimistic attitude about changing society for the better rather than fighting against further degradation. Those gals will be her successors. Paul Weyrich-I think there will be plenty of people involved in things like the Free Congress Foundation. Weyrich also has a bit of the prophet in him in that he's going to stick to his guns even if he's in the minority. One of the problems with the success that conservatives have had in politics is that they are part of the formal GOP structure. We still need the prophets who aren't on the king's payroll that can tell him when he's screwed up. Morton Blackwell- I never heard of Blackwell until today, but he seems to have been active in conservative circles. His bio has this quote
He has worked nationally since 1960 to help conservatives become effective in the public policy process. In 1979, Mr. Blackwell formed the Leadership Institute to identify, recruit, train and place conservatives.
The farm system of good young conservatives has produced. Without such efforts in the 80s, we wouldn't have seen the Republican takeover of 1994. As religious conservatives become part of the GOP structure, getting conservatives in politics might not be as much needed as before. Beverly LaHaye-Her work with Concerned Women for America picked up Shlafly's banner and took it a notch further. CWA has far more members than NOW, despite what's you'd assume in the media. She'll have one of any number of articulate Christian women ready to take over. Janet Parschal would be a great choice. Pat Robertson-His founding of the Christian Coalition was a needed part of the integration of evangelicals into the conservative camp. However, the idea of evangelicals being a political force to be reckoned with will survive him. While the CC may be far less potent than it was a decade ago, the model of political activism has been taken to heart by dozens of grass-roots groups. There will be young evangelicals who will grow up to be the leaders of the future. However, they will be coming up into a system where they can function a lot easier because of the efforts of the people who came before them. Few on Ben's list will be directly replaced, but God's voice in the public square will continue to be heard.

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