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Column: Time for a Cease Fire in the Culture Wars

Seattle

Like most wars, the culture war that has raged for 40 years was expected to eventually exhaust itself, with no clear winner.

Then came the 2012 election.

“The right has lost the culture war,” declared Columbia University professor Thomas Edsall, like a referee calling a late-round knockout.

He based this in no small part on Washington state, where voters legalized both gay marriage and pot. Florida, no liberal bastion, rejected a measure by 10 points that would have barred public funds for abortion.

“On every burning issue that preoccupies the right, the country has moved steadily leftward,” he concluded, citing generational liberal drift on contraception, women’s rights and the American family.

Is the war really over, I asked the Rev. Joe Fuiten, of Cedar Park Church in Bothell, Wash., who has been in the trenches here for the religious right side for decades?

“I don’t know if it’s totally lost,” he said. “But these are some huge defeats. We are definitely losing.”

To him, it’s so bad it feels like “the Babylonian Captivity has begun.”

Fuiten knows I side with the Babylonians. We sometimes talk across the chasm anyway. I want to understand the concerns about what truly are once-in-a-century changes in social policies. To his credit, he listens to my secular points of view.

He’s not sure what his side will do now. Since the 1980s, the religious right locally worked the political system to try to stop abortion, aid-in-dying, gay rights and the erosion of religion from schools and the public square. Only to lose on every front.

“I respect elections,” Fuiten said. “That’s what’s so painful here — it shows this is the society people want. They don’t believe the Biblical values anymore.”

In Washington state, “we are now living under what I call ‘functional atheism,’” he said.

I suggested a more traditional name would be “separation of church and state.” The vote wasn’t necessarily anti-religion. But it was to keep religion out of government.

For about as long as I’ve been alive, the religious right, starting with Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, then the Christian Coalition in the ‘90s through the groups of today, has been trying to win their vision for everyone through politics. That’s what has failed.

But that doesn’t make religion a loser. Churches could be far more effective if they stayed out of government and spread their gospels the old-fashioned way — quietly, one soul at a time.

Take gay marriage. Church marriage hasn’t changed. What gays and lesbians can do now is get a civil marriage license at city halls. But government still has no authority over religious marriage.

And now, for the first time, vice versa. What’s so apocalyptic about that?

Fuiten said I’m naive to think we can compartmentalize government from faith.”There’s no point in having laws if we don’t have shared values,” he said.

True. But the message of the election isn’t that we lack shared values. It’s that they don’t all come from the Bible. Admittedly that’s easier for the godless, like me, to get used to.

So what now? Fuiten says when you’re losing, you guard what you’ve got. He says his church already employs a full-time constitutional lawyer due to worries that the new social paradigms may be foisted on them.

You know, the powerful argument for same-sex marriage was: Let gay people do what they want. Within reason the same holds for churches.

I doubt the culture war really is over. But it would be a nice cease fire if we could all learn, a little bit, how to just let each other be.

Danny Westneat writes for The Seattle Times.