Timothy Dalrymple of Patheos, a past critic of the Religious Right, ventures into the belly of the beast — a chicken dinner in Iowa — and likes what he sees. Excerpts:

Perhaps I had bought in, just a little bit, to the caricatures and condemnations of the Religious Right that stream forth from the major organs of media and opinion.  Perhaps I had absorbed just a touch of their scorn.  And, I confess, perhaps I had succumbed to the temptation to criticize in order to feel superior, in order to establish some distance between me and “them”.  If I could defend Religious Righters from caricature, and yet simultaneously criticize them for errors and excesses, then it sets me apart as a new breed of Christian conservative, a better and more respectable version.

I still believe that we can and should learn from the mistakes of the Falwell/Robertson era.  I think that certain regions of the American evangelical church essentially became owned-and-controlled colonies of the GOP.  Since the GOP (at least in theory) stood for their values on life and family issues, Christian conservatives were too inclined to overlook the ways in which the Republican Party failed to stand for biblical values in other areas.  Republican politicians sought greater power for themselves and so they expanded the size and the reach of the federal and state governments; the evangelical church should have been more critical of an adventurist foreign policy, of the failure of the GOP to move the ball further on the protection of a culture of life, and of the growth of crony capitalism and its corrupt imbrication of big government and big business.

And yet, Dalrymple, who is himself a conservative Evangelical, was reminded by his time in Iowa that “what the Religious Right has right is vastly more important than what it has wrong.” I agree, and for the reasons Dalrymple cites in his extraordinary short essay. I’m glad somebody wrote this, and I’m glad that somebody was someone as intelligent as Tim Dalrymple.

(H/T: First Things)