Political Denominationalism

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I’ve been thinking about this Arlen Specter business.  For the most part, I think it’s much ado about not much.  Specter has never been much of a senator.  If anything, his party switch is a lose-lose: GOP loses a seat, Dems lose a chance to run a liberal for that seat.  A win for the Dems would have been Specter’s retirement.

The only thing about it that actually interests me is the continued contraction of the Republican Party.

More and more, it looks to me like the GOP is now following the pattern we’ve seen over and over in the history of American Christianity: outbreaks of tremendous fervor, followed by shattering into several smaller groups.  It’s the story of American denominationalism.  As everyone becomes convinced of the Ultimate Importance of the basic subject and pores over it more and more minutely, they discover fissures in it, different groups privilege different pieces of the puzzle, each group declares its privileged piece to be of the Most Ultimate Importance, and what was a fairly unitary, diverse movement splits into a bunch of bickering, purified movements.

It looks to me like the GOP has hit its splitting/purifying moment.  The interesting thing to watch for is: will it follow through fully on the evangelical pattern and actually split into multiple parties, or will it follow a more typical pattern for our 2 major political parties, and find a way to reunite and expand?

Ordinarily, I’d just assume the latter.  But given the GOP’s wholesale embrace of evangelicalism over the past 40 years, and the extraordinary degree to which Republican identity has been melded with evangelical identity, I’m not so sure which pattern they’ll follow this time.

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