Colorado experienced nationally the largest growth rate in child poverty from 2000 to 2006, according to a study released yesterday: 180,000 children — 15.7 percent of the state total — were living in poverty in Colorado in 2006, a 73 percent increase since 2000.
Reading this study, I did a quick and admittedly unscientific web search to see what, if anything, religious right organizations in the Colorado Springs and Denver area (the epicenter, nationally, for these groups), from Focus on the Family to the megachurches to the dozens of other parachurch groups, had to say. The answer doubtless will shock you: nothing much, aside from generic statements about how marriage is good for kids and children in married families are less likely to be raised in poverty.
Fair enough; I would not dispute those statements, and there's a good argument that strengthening families is a good policy measure to combat poverty. Of course, in this world "strengthening families" has nothing to do with providing decent health insurance for the nearly 50 million uninsured, or providing the kind of post-natal support and parental leave common in European countries, or addressing critical state priorities in education, and on and on.
(Just to cite one random example: Higher education is one of the single greatest drivers of economic growth and lifting people's prospects, yet Colorado has ranked 49th in per capita higher education funding recently, just to cite one randomly chosen example. After a recent referendum in state tax policy allowing for the retention for a few years of "excess" tax revenue, I think we're all the way up to 44th now. Of course, the religious right locally opposed this change in tax policy).
I also know what we've gone through politically here in the last election cycles, and sure to be the case in this one as well: a frenzied focus on homosexuality, "the gay agenda," and especially gay marriage, sure to be worsened this time by the California Supreme Court decision and a statewide ballot measure banning gay marriage (similar to the one in Ohio in 2004). Again, scan the websites of these Colorado groups and you would assume that gay marriage will put the Republic in clear and present danger -- just as, in a previous generation, they portrayed miscegenation and the grave threat of interracial marriage, prior to the Loving case in 1967.
The disproportionate attention paid to these sideshow wedge issues has worked in firing up the base, but for how much longer? Even while evangelicals nationally appear to be waking up, belatedly, to a broader range of issues beyond the firebombs, Colorado's evangelicals still sound the same calls for culture wars.
Update: For evidence of my final statement above about some Colorado evangelicals, see this post from a local (Colorado Springs) pastor who sees complaints about poverty to be evidence of the "covetousness" of the impoverished. He writes: As Christians, we must look at the Bible's objective standards of poverty rather than at the federal government's poverty guidelines.
In other words, lack of access to affordable and decent food, health care, and education is perfectly biblical.
By contrast, we must "fight the good fight" on the central battleground for our times -- that being, of course, fighting the "homo-agenda." Onward, Christian soldier.