"Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past." Orwell-- The US is probably moving toward becoming a heavily controlled Rightist state. This blog is an effort to document how that happened.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Christian Right

In the United States, right-wing populism appealed to an element that was not so important in Europe--evangelical, fundamentalist, and traditional Christianity. What has developed is, in the words of Italian writer Emilio Gentile "political religion, " defined as the use of religion, its language and symbols for political combat. The Christian adherents of the New Right-wing populism have been called the Religious or Christian Right. The Religious Right provided the most dedicated foot soldiers of the New Right, especially conservative Protestants who were reentering the political arena in the 1970s. Forty-two percent of American voters describe themselves as born-again, and about 75% of them have come to support the Republican Party. In time the majority of traditionalist Catholics joined them on the Religious Right. Opposition to abortion, stem cell research, euthanasia, and homosexual practice unified it. Some members of the Christian Right differ from non-Religious Right-wing populists in that they are interested in eroding the wall separating church and state, and they are even more opposed to an open society. Some on the Christian Right adhere to "dominionism," the belief that true Christians must acquire political power and lead the nation by carrying our their biblical principles. In the past evangelical Christians sometimes refrained from political involvement.

Many supported born-again Jimmy Carter for president, but they did not long remain in the Democratic camp. They began to organize as a political force when the Carter administration began to threaten the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University and of segregated Christian schools, mainly in the South. Bob Jones was not segregated; its offense was forbidding blacks and white students to date. Neither was abortion the issue that brought them together, but it soon became their cement shortly before the 1980 election.

In 1981, the southern Baptists called for legalizing abortion and other white Evangelicals supported it. The Roe decision in 1973 initially attracted little opposition from white Evangelicals, many of them had supported legalized abortion, but they were to reverse their stand on this and support Governor Ronald Reagan for the presidency. He too reversed his position on the question after having signed the nation’s most sweeping pro-abortion law.

The Christian Right took shape in the 1970s, and was helped come into being by conservative operatives and strategists Paul Weyrich, Richard Viguerie, E.E. McAteer, and Howard Phillips. Their strategy proved to be so effective that one would expect it to have been hatched by several brilliant sociologists. In a 1976 interview, Viguerie said they were busy building support among white Evangelicals and getting "preachers into politics." They focused on ministers like Reverend Jerry Falwell, who believed America was being ruled by the "wicked." Christian Voice, an important evangelical group, was then saying that “Satanist forces” were attacking America. This kind of black and white thinking did not invite dialogue, only fear, anger, and determination to seize power. By 2005, members of the Christian Right were announcing that those who opposed efforts to strip Democratic Senators of the right to filibuster against Republican judicial nominees were enemies of God. Republican Congressman Christopher Shays admitted that his party had been transformed into the "party of theocracy." Former Senator John Danforth, an Episcopal priest, observed that his party had been transformed "into the political arm of conservative Christians. "In most respects, there was a meshing of views and attitudes between the white Evangelicals and the right-wing populists. Even many members of the evangelical Churches, while usually voting for Republicans, were much more inclined to agree with their ministers on the evils of feminism or abortion than on other questions.

Perhaps they were acting at the polls more as right-wing populists than as Evangelicals, but certainly the appeals to the Religious Right helped activate their populism. Whether as Evangelicals or as populists, they were equally disposed to demand that the United States take a more assertive role in world affairs, and they were frustrated when foreign countries failed to heed the leadership of this virtuous nation. Both were likely to see the Vietnam War as a noble venture. For decades, this burning nationalism or what scholars call "foreign policy fundamentalism" had been firmly suppressed by a bipartisan foreign policy establishment. With the election of George W. Bush, those favoring a far more aggressive and assertive foreign policy took power, and public outrage over the terrible events of September 11, 2001 made it possible for them to implement their policies. For some on the Christian Right, the invasion of Iraq was predicted in the Book of Revelation and should be seem as a large step toward the events of end times when one third of humankind is slain and millions of sinners are sent to eternal hellfire and torment .

The Religious Right draws its greatest strength from conservative and evangelical Protestants. It is estimated that there are at least 70 million fundamentalists and Evangelicals in America. They attend over 200,000 churches, many of which have gradually become centers of Republican politics. If one thinks of God as the symbol of peace, compassion, and unity, it is necessary to remember that Reverend Gary Frazer likes to cite Isaiah 53, which proclaims God a warrior and stern judge.

Fundamentalist and evangelical Protestants began to enter politics some years after the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. Francis Schaeffer, their most important theologian and leader, was stunned by the decision, and called on his followers to enter the arena and do battle for the Lord against secular humanism. But it took time for his followers to heed his call to action. Eventually, Christian leaders would have a major voice in the inner sanctums of government through the Council for National Policy, which Schaeffer disciple Tim LaHaye helped found. Its membership is secret but is thought to include clergy, industrialists, politicians, and activists. A smaller inner circle called the Arlington Group stays in regular telephone touch and meets about twice a month in Washington. Jerry Falwell admits to being part of this inner circle. By 2006, he was sending a monthly newspaper to 200,000 evangelical pastors, enlightening them on political matters and telling them what they needed to do about these political questions.

Most members of the Religious Right came from conservative Protestant denominations, but some came from mainline Protestant churches and the Catholic and Jewish faiths. By the late 1970s, the Democrats were beginning to lose many Catholic voters, but this development was not noted until the appearance of Reagan Democrats in 1980. Pentecostals, who had grown from 2 million members in 1960 to 12 million, were also a major part of the Religious Right coalition. The concept of cultural wars, as it is currently used, postulates progressive-traditionalist cleavage across a range of denominations. Thus, there would be some progressives in evangelical Protestant denominations, but political conservatives would be far more numerous in those groups. For a half-century, fundamentalist and evangelical refused clergy to talk politics from the pulpit or become involved in political action for fear this would be sinful and taint their efforts to bring people to God. By 2000, there was no question that they had become overwhelmingly Republican and often were seen as campaign-givers, community activists, and campaigners. Among Jews, there is an historical tendency to support progressive politics, but the number of politically conservative Jews has been rising, particularly as the Religious Right has come to support the State of Israel.

The Southern Baptists were to become the largest Protestant denomination and the center of the Religious Right, having grown from 7,080,000 to 15,044,000 members between 1950 and 2000. By 1968, the Democrats were only able to capture 24.2% of the Southern Baptist vote. By 2000, George W. Bush claimed about 70% of the Baptist vote. Four years later, he was greeted with great enthusiasm at the convention of the Southern Baptist Convention and the president of the SBC praised him as a man of personal faith whose leadership is great for America. Increasingly other born-again Christians gave their votes to Republican candidates. From 1976 to 2000, the percentage of born again Christians in the U.S. population increased from 34% to 45%, which gave the GOP a growing advantage in elections.

Of course, not all Evangelicals voted Republican. Black Evangelicals tended to vote strongly Democratic and a few small peace and justice evangelical groups such as the Sojourners Fellowship were open to voting Democratic but in 2000, 84% of white Evangelicals voted for George W. Bush. Members of the Assemblies of God are very likely to vote Republican, and their numbers have swollen 18.6% from 1990 to 2000. Members of the Latter Day Saints Church, although they are not Evangelicals, are among the most reliable Republican voting groups, and they have grown 19.3% in the same period. They are, however, fully engaged participants in the culture war.

Many of the conservative Protestant churches are thriving today because they offer in abundance the benefits of what scholars call popular religion. People, who feel adrift in a chaotic, pluralistic world, find in these religions the emotional support, stability, and reassurance they need to fit into reality as it is. Particularly the fundamentalists among them feel like outsiders in American society. Industrial, cosmopolitan, secular America has colonized their neighborhoods and regions, and they deeply resent it. Since the 1960s, many parts of the South have been experiencing in-migration, rapid industrialization, and urbanization. Many of the people moving south have different religions and cultural backgrounds. The process has gone on long enough now that some native southerners are seeing their children adopt ideas and modes of behavior that violate traditional norms.

They see a cultural invasion occurring that brings alien ideas and influences. They feel that they are under attack and fear uncertainty and much of modern and postmodern culture. Experts, science, the media, and the revolution in sexual behavior threaten the world they knew and loved. Born- again Christians tend to join the Christian Right, but they are not immune to the cultural climate of the times. In 2003, 39% of them thought it was morally acceptable for unmarried couples to cohabit, and a slightly higher percentage of them have experienced divorce than other Americans. Yet, they seem to feel greatly threatened by the new morality, and they are clearly very uncomfortable with cultural pluralism.

People like Paul Weyrich, a Catholic in the Religious Right, frequently say, “We are talking about Christianizing America. We are talking about simply spreading the Gospel in a political context.” Their talk of Christianizing America and creating a “thoroughly Christian republic” unsettles many, but they are convinced this is what God intended when Europeans settled North America. Some hold to a dominion theology, which means that God has given them the mission to control the world’s main institutions and to enforce the Mosaic law. They object to a society where there are few distinctions between the sexes, homosexuals and lesbians are tolerated, creationism is not taught in the schools, and abortion is tolerated. Warren Chisum, a Republican leader of the Texas House of Representatives, even argued in 2007 that the teaching of evolution should be banned because the theory was based on “Rabbinic writings” and other Jewish materials. For religious conservatives, attacking the free enterprise system and championing the equality of all were also signs of social disintegration. In their view, secular humanism meant hedonism and dissolute lives as well as a plot to spread these infections throughout society. . Conservative Christians and Jews see secular humanism as a rival religion, and they equate it with political liberalism. The secular humanism they attack is a caricature in many ways. There are many secular humanists who are economic and political conservatives.

Religious and cultural conservatives are not looking for a belief system that challenges the main outlines of American society; rather it must uphold the beliefs they learned as young people. They need assurance that what exists is fundamentally good and will eventually work to their benefit. By the same token, they want a God who is on duty all the time helping them. To the extent that these religions have a social theology it is unspoken and legitimizes the social and economic status quo. They channel and vent their frustrations with the world as it is by focusing upon efforts to change the personal behavior of others and dealing with cultural matters such as opposing abortion or gay marriages. Among many, there is an intense religious and cultural fundamentalism, which pervades their entire lives and those of their immediate friends.

This powerful “fusion of politics and ultimate meaning” produces determined and effective political operatives who can be capable of ruthlessness and intense anger. Conservative Protestants ally with the New Right in part because they perceive them as strong defenders of traditional family values and individual virtue. Most of these conservative Christians believe that the role of the church is to promote personal virtue. They oppose church involvement in promoting social justice because that is difficult to define and because this quest had distracted liberal religion from the primary objective of promoting individual salvation. Lacking a theology of social justice and preoccupied with personal virtue, most conservatives came to support the G.O.P.

Not all Christian conservatives and Evangelicals vote Republican. Polling data shows that a large group of Evangelicals identified as “centrist Evangelicals “ listed economic and welfare issues above gay marriage and abortion in importance by more than 20%. They had not forgotten the traditional Christian concern for the poor and downtrodden. There are also signs that Evangelicals are showing more interest in protecting the environment. In early 2007, Reverend Richard Cizik, the Washington policy director for the National Association of Evangelicals, expressed concern about global warming. He was quickly denounced by Dr. James Dobson and other Christian Right leaders because he shifted attention from the “great moral issues of the day,” rather than teaching children abstinence, and opposition to abortion, homosexuality, and gay marriage. Nevertheless, Cixik’s organization stood behind him and had him deliver the keynote message at its annual meeting. Thirty-eight of thirty- nine voting directors also backed a statement expressing concern about the environment, poverty, human rights, and the treatment of prisoners of war and detainees. The statement was first adopted three years ago. The organization speaks for 30,000,000 of some 60 million evangelicals. However, when these people go to the polls other concerns usually trump the environment and concern for the poor. Some Evangelicals have even taken to expressing concern about the environment.

The Third Way Culture Project acquired some publicity in 2007 as effort on the part of some evangelicals to end the culture war and drain the vitriol and anger from the discussion of what have been considered wedge issues. These people also showed interest in environmental and poverty questions. It is thought that some younger conservative Christians are sympathetic to efforts such as this and that of Reverend Cizik.

It is most likely that the sense of victimhood and the belief that there is an elite conspiring against Middle America will trump these concerns. The Alliance Defense Fund, found in 1994, plays to this sense of Christian victimhood. It busily attacks homosexuals and claims that Nickelodeon has a homosexual agenda. It frequently launches law suites to chip away at the wall separating church and state and succeeded in forcing the Commonwealth of Virginia to fund Christian clubs in its universities. It National Litigation Academy has trained 900 lawyers to litigate cultural issues. In 2006, it took in $21,000,000.

The contemporary Christian Right's crusade for family values has shaped this identification with the Republican Party, the result of which is that the family has taken the place of the Christian community as the center of attention. The individual's duties to the family have become much more important than those to the community. Attention is now diverted from one’s duties to the poor and marginalized, and the radical communal vision that Christianity has historically projected is sharply displaced. Because homosexuality has no function in creating the bourgeois family, it is something to be opposed at all costs. The new roles women are assuming also conflict with this cult of domesticity, but there is evidence that conservative Protestants are learning to accept many of them.

Among the most important religious lobbying organizations were Christian Voice and Stop-ERA, the latter of which was run by Phyllis Schlafley, a Roman Catholic. Although, it was relatively small, it had considerable influence. More than any other person, she was responsible for bringing about the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment. Her rhetorical posture was always that of battling evil. Her opponents were never downright wrong or confused, but evil, and the very fate of civilization as we know it was always at stake. Who knows if she was really serious? She pioneered this style while Laura Ingraham and Ann Coulter were still children, and this form of argumentation eventually became standard among the New Right and on talk radio and conservative cable television. In a class of his own among shock jocks, was Don Imus. He once called a respected black journalist a “cleaning lady” and said one of his producers was hired to pen “nigger jokes.” His true beliefs were unclear. He tended to mock Democrats and to go easy on Republicans, but this might have been because he concluded that talk radio’s audience responded best to such talk. In 2007 he went too far, ridiculing blacks on Rutgers University’s women’s basketball team, and he was fired by CBS and MSNBC. It would be difficult to deny that rants and the obnoxious style of most of talk radio has been very effective in generating Republican votes, but they clearly have done great damage to civility in politics .

The Christian Right was voicing these social concerns in the 1970s, but it was not until the late 1980s and the collapse of Communism that it became apparent to Republican strategists that these cultural issues, such as the campaign for the revival of traditional sexual and family values, would be their ticket to dominance in Washington. This cultural crusade would infuse conservative politics with the passion that anti-Communism had at its peak. Republican strategist William Kristol recently explained to Princeton students that religion was becoming “the defining force in U.S. politics”. Beginning in 1972, cultural, social and religious divides began to become more salient, more important, in explaining people’s voting behavior.

By embracing the economic doctrines of the so-called free market, the Christian Right may have opted into a “ creeping libertarianism” which brings with it moral relativism, advocacy of the supremacy of “freedom of choice” in all matters, and materialism. Many observers see most America as a “therapeutic democracy” whose citizens are “easygoing, nonjudgmental moral libertarians who are primarily concerned with material comforts. “

Evangelical Protestants have attempted to use secular psychology for their own purposes; it is possible that they will come to accept the idea that psychological well-being should be the basis for deciding what is moral conduct. There is some evidence that Evangelicals often discuss biblical morality in terms of whether it makes psychological sense, rather than the other way around. Given that the Christian Right has accepted economic libertarianism, materialism, and the premises of modern psychology, one wonders whether they can resist eventually accepting the behavior they have long condemned. In the long run they will have great difficulty defending moral relativism and materialism in the economic realm while speaking about moral absolutes in sexual matters. Amitai Etzioni has suggested that another problem of the Christian Right is that they tend to “protest lurid rap songs much more than the severe beating of several African Americans by the police.”

Sherman has written African American Baseball: A brief History, which can be acquired from LuLu Publishing on line.http://www.lulu.com/browse/search.php?search_forum

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Sherm spent seven years writing an analytical chronicle of what the Republicans have been up to since the 1970s. It discusses elements in the Republican coalition, their ideologies, strategies, informational and financial resources, and election shenanigans. Abuses of power by the Reagan and G. W. Bush administration and the Republican Congresses are detailed. The New Republican Coalition : Its Rise and Impact, The Seventies to Present (Publish America) can be acquired by calling 301-695-1707. On line, go to http://www.publishamerica.com/shopping. It can also be obtained through the on-line operations of Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Do not consider purchasing it if you are looking for something that mirrors the mainstream media!