Saturday, December 25, 2004

How the Christian Right is Attempting to Transform Public Policy

Conservative Christians have been a part of the political landscape of American society for the better part of the twentieth century. The roots of this movement grew out of the Fundamentalist movement which emerged in the early part of the century as a response to the theological relativization of "Modernism" within the mainline Protestant churches. With the advent of Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority in 1973, modern day Christian religious political conservatism emerged in force.

However, the major advancement of Christianity and Politics with the conservative populace truly took form with the formation of the Christian Coalition which originated in 1989 in Lexington, Virginia under the leadership of Pat Robertson. Ralph Reed became Executive Director of Robertson's "Christian" Coalition in 1989 until his departure in 1997 and led the coalition in what many describe as "stealth" politics in focusing on school boards and communities in organizing a massive grass roots campaign with intent to influence public policy. Today, Roberta Combs is the President and carries on the strategy developed by Reed.

As a political organization, the Christian Coalition does not have an explicit set of theological beliefs. Rather, the Coalition pursues a political agenda that its founder believes to be consistent with Christian doctrine. While prohibited by federal law from participating in partisan politics, the political views and agenda of the Christian Coalition are well known. They have had a profound impact on politics and especially the Republican party. The Christian Coalition supported the 104th Congress' "Contract With America." When the Christian Coalition unveiled their own "Contract with the American Family" virtually every conservative Congressman and Senator was on hand for the press conference. The "Contract With the American Family" embodies the Christian Coalition's beliefs. Specifically, it states that the Christian Coalition seeks to protect the sanctity of life through its anti-abortion stance and to reaffirm traditional family values by opposing the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) that would provide equal rights for women and gays. The Contract would also restrict pornography and profanity, as well as promote their definition of family values within the media landscape. The Contract With the American Family also seeks to blur the Constitutional doctrine of separation of church and state by amending the Constitution to include the Religious Equality Amendment that would "allow voluntary, student and citizen-initiated free speech in non-compulsory settings such as courthouse lawns, high school graduation ceremonies, and sports events."

The Christian Coalition spurred momentum, participation and increased sophistication in the Evangelical movement in the mid-90's. Prior to the 90's, publicly with media elements, Billy Graham's evangelical platform was born in the 70's, Jim & Tammy Baker and Jimmy Swaggert capitalized (financially) on the Evangelical movement in the 80's and in the 90's, many influential evangelical organizations emerged and have tremendous influence today. These organizations, such as James Dobson's Focus on the Family a Colorado Springs based ministry, are awesome in scope. Focus on the Family publishes books and magazines, disseminates Dobson's weekly newspaper column to more than 500 papers, and airing radio shows—including Dobson's own—that reach people in 115 countries every week, from Japan to Botswana and in languages from Spanish to Zulu. The ministry receives so much mail it has its own ZIP code. In 2004, Dobson proselytized hard for George Bush, organizing huge stadium rallies and using his radio program to warn his 7 million American listeners that not to vote would be a sin. Dobson may have delivered Bush his victories in Ohio and Florida.

Another of the most influential evangelicals is John Stott, framer of the Lausanne Covenant and Lausanne II, the organizing document for modern Evangelicalism, who has written 40 books that have sold in millions, and has traveled the world preaching and teaching. Stott says he practices thoughtful allegiance' to scripture, and he does not believe good and evil can be relativized. Taking a more moderate approach to Evangelicism, Stott tends to temper a stringent fundamentalist belief as preached by Dobson. Stott wrote Basic Christianity which has sold over three million copies in more than fifty languages. From his home base of All Souls Church in London's West End, he has helped shaped the moderate face of Evangelicalism around the world and has tremendous influence in the United States' Evangelical movement. In general, the evolving and somewhat conflicting forms of Evangelicism as demonstrated by Stott and Dobson are prevalent in the United States today.

The Christian Right is not solely defined as the Christian Coalition or Evangelical Church - the conservative Catholics and other Christian denominations are also included as part of the Christian Right. With Evangelicals estimated at 40 percent of the U.S. population, Catholics estimated at 25 percent, the other Christian denominations make-up the rest of the 76.5 percent of Americans who identify themselves as Christians. Estimates of the conservative Christian percentage have been approximated between 45-47 percent ...and growing.

Why is this background on the Christian Right relevant in today's political landscape? The Republican Party, as we know it today, has evolved in response to the Christian conservative movement. Organized, active and with an intention to transform public policy accordingly with their values and belief systems, herein lies the underlying motivation of the Christian Right. And with the support of the Republican party, the Christian Right has become the major force in today's political landscape.

The objective of this Blog is to stimulate discussion and raise awareness of the conservative Christian political movement. Its goal is not to necessarily attack the Christian Right's agenda, or Christians in general, but rather to understand the value and belief systems of the Christian Right and how our current regime in Washington D.C., and the Republican party on a whole, has reframed political language, rhetoric, media control, judicial appointments and economic influence to increase the allegiance of the Christian Right. Politically, this allegiance of the Christian Right to the Republican party has one common objective; to define public policy in terms of their value system based on literal interpretations of the Bible, primarily the New Testament, for the seemingly "good" of America on a whole.

By raising awareness and understanding the strategy and language/rhetoric utilized by the Republican party and Christian Right through their media outlets, as well as through personal interactions and discussions from a grass roots level, the rest of America can respond in reframing and promoting their values and public policy objectives in a manner consistent to what is believed to be the true foundation of the United States - freedom of individual choice & speech and equal rights for all.

It is important to organize, mobilize and be a powerful, alternative voice to the Christian Right. It is important to clarify and share values in contrast or comparison to the Christian Right. It is important to be a "watch dog" on stealth tactics used to transform public policy at the local, state and federal level. It is important to challenge rhetoric, language and actions of the Christian Right masked in piety and manipulation in order to further their cause. It is important to protect and enhance civil liberties and personal choice in response to the Christian Right's platform on Gay rights, a women's right to choose and separation of church & state respective of public funding, public space and our public educational system. And one element we can use to organize in heightening awareness is through this Blog - The Christian Wrong.

18 Comments:

At 4:02 PM, Blogger waylander said...

Roger Williams, Baptist minister and founder of Island, wrote of the “corrosive nature of virtue” as the reason for keeping church and state separated. We are seeing his fears come to light today with the destructive moralizing of the Christian Right.

Williams understood well from his personal experience challenging the Puritans rulers in Massachusetts that if political power is given to those imbued with the certainty of their convictions intolerance is sure to follow. Power corrupts both ways in this case. The zeal and power to have everyone follow your religious vision is matched by the denigration of that same vision as it becomes politicized. What if the party of God loses an election? God will havebeen diminished and trivialized. Politicians will wring the sanctity out of religion just as quickly as the moralizing religious will make narrow and mean the essential nature of a democracy.

I would argue we need to make the separation of church and state clear by separating morality and ethics with morality being the province of the church and ethics the basis of the state. If the Religious Right wants to talk about a good versus evil dichotomy, Liberals need to talk instead about right versus wrong. If religious conservative want to condemn homosexuality, for example, we need to talk about the ethics of equality. The United States government (the state) should recognized Civil Union as a legal contract with a full and equal range benefits and do so as a matter of equal treatment under the law. Marriage should be a separate designation, one that is sanctified or acknowledged by religious entities (the church). If a church considers homosexuality a sin they can chose not to sanctify the civil union between two individuals of the same sex who chose to belong to their sect, but they cannot limit the legal benefits those individuals have received from the state.

I believe we need to make a clear argument that we were not founded as a Christian nation but rather as a country that recognized the ethical foundations of Christianity.
We are a nation founded on the rule of law not ecclesiastical canon. Our roots are in the political structures of the pagan Greeks and Romans not biblical law. The framers of our Constitution deliberately chose not to have a religious test for political office and for very good reason: they knew what havoc religious wars had wrought in Europe. They chose to deliberately separate church and state. They understood the wisdom of Roger Williams.
When Ben Franklin was stopped by a fellow citizen as he walked out of the constitutional convention on Philidelphia and asked what form of government has been devised he said: a republic----if you can keep it.

 
At 5:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent Blog... I applaud and support what you are doing and will alert friends far and wide to the beginning of an exceptional forum. It is clear that we are at a pivotal time in our history where silence can not be an option. Where it is far too important to not speak about the issues you well defined and others, openly, forcefully and clearly.

Some thoughts on your strong beginning:
I am far less sanguine than you regarding the Christian right's 'good intentions on an individual level'. My sense and experience is that you are falling into a trap by taking responsibility from the individuals for their 'individual and personal choices' while laying blame at the top (the politicos/religios etc.). This is a blind spot, indeed a classic 'liberal blind spot'. It rings of superiority and traps one in a complete misunderstanding of the underpinning and strength this very real religious & social movement which, whether one supports its notions and actions or not, is strong, very real and must of reality be acknowledged for its success. Your point re: years of planning is correct.

To borrow a line attributed to Jesus: “Forgive them, for they know not what they do” is in essence to say, therefore, we with far better vision, education, income and awareness, know more and know better...and thus we will one day, save the day. Wrong!

While the individuals who comprise the religious right may not, in fact, grasp the economic realities of their votes because of the supremely duplicitous efforts of the Republican party… And granted the Democratic party's miserable and inexcusable failure to clearly frame and define that duplicity nor provide a sound easily understood platform which truly resonates with plus really serves and betters the lives of the this group (and the entire country, in fact), the individuals of the Christian right do know exactly what they are doing when it comes to those very religious/social matters where the are clearly voting their deeply held beliefs. The simple truth here is: Beliefs are stronger than truths. So, we need to keep in mind that at the end of the day: personal choices and beliefs drive choice, action and participation.

We need to remember that fundamentalism, in any guise, is at its very essence intolerant of anything but its own ideologies, teachings, god(s), leaders and followers. Is it happenstance that there is so much commonality in respect to how concepts are framed, how those who are non- believers are defined, between fundamentalist groups regardless of country or the native language. I think not.

I see our conversation about language and the defining of the debate through defining the language of the debate had resonance. There was a terrific On The Media show about 2 or 3 weeks ago specific to this notion. You should go to the NPR site and track it down. You will find the show will inform your thoughts further. Thus, your name choice is in some ways, perfect...and flawed. From your comments it is apparent that you wrestled with the blog name for some time. Frustratingly, even the name, Christian Wrong is, at its core, reactive to the defining position framed by the phrase Christian Right. The dual intent of 'Right' is highly effective in carving both the 'correct and righteous' stance against any and all who deign to challenge it. Battling those who are 'correct' is hard enough...then throw in 'god' for good measure…. Ya take your chances, now…dontcha.


Unfortunately, “wrong' has only one meaning. And, though that meaning is absolutely right (ha!) from my perspective, I do look forward to it raising the ire of those who feel chosen to really speak the 'truth'. Which is, in and of it self, perfect. Let's see where the worm holes of language take this. Let's see where the discourse takes us.

More importantly, we need to be more than reactive. We do need to brilliantly illumine, reveal, speak loudly and clearly for and about the very issues and trends you define in your opening thoughts as well as many more which bear exploration.

We must not allow the Bushies to define the language of the 'debate' in order to control the context in which notions are explored and decisions made. And…We must not allow them to polish misstatements, mischaracterizations, half-truths and more within the pseudo religious framework they utilize so effectively. When this occurs we are allowing deceit to hold sway which tears at the very fabric of democracy.

Nor, do I believe, can we allow the Bushies and fundamentalists to push this country backwards to before the Mayflower arrived. This country was not formed to be informed and guided by any one religion, bible, church, or religious belief system or organization. Indeed, the escape from those very constraints was core to the tens of millions of immigrant families who have come to our shores from that first boat landing to now. Some seem to have forgotten this essential notion..forgetting their own family histories.

Which brings me to what is perhaps the most important point:
Language being the definer of debate it is, I do take issue with the following which you wrote:
“It is important to organize, mobilize and be a powerful alternative voice to the Christian Right”.

My sense of this blog is not that it be an 'alternative' to anything. My hope is that this blog becomes a weighty, informed and valued meeting place (indeed for all people and beliefs). That it provide a call to action, and a voice to define and support the true center of America. My belief is that the Center of America has yet to organize, to fully grasp the issues, to find its voice and speak, and then to act. Perhaps this blog will serve as just such a catalyst.

Again, thank you for starting this forum. I look forward to participating, discussing the issues and learning from all who do, as well.

 
At 8:02 PM, Blogger waylander said...

re: The simple truth here is: Beliefs are stronger than truths.

I agree, so what is the solution? Seeing may be believing but often believing is not seeing. Facts are powerless to persuade those who are blindly devoted to their ideals.

The reason people are drawn into fundamentalist religions is a lack of belief in their own self and their ability to survive as an individual. By joining a group the true believer becomes an intrinsic thread in a fabric far greater and more important than themselves. Their failures are forgiven and made small; their stature swells with greatness of the religious vision. This is true in each fundamentalist religion. Muslims today may reject the western education they received when it comes with no guaranteed success. A return to the earliest version of their religion is a return to an an acknowledged and guaranteed tribal status, one that requires only that one is male. There is certainty and clarity.
Here in the United States many in the middle class are feeling their very economic security hollowing out: costs of health and child care soaring, wages somewhat stagnant, retirement in question. With their ability to hold on to the middle class dream in question they want to be soothed and comforted. A church that forgives their failures, that allows them to be reborn as a new individual linked arm and arm with kindred spirits is a compelling vision. Democrats this year did not comfort; they warned instead of greater discord.
Democrats need a compelling vision for people to believe in. Barak Obama seemed to be outlining one in his speech at the Democratic convention:

"In the end, that is God's greatest gift to us, the bedrock of this nation; the belief in things not seen; the belief that there are better days ahead. I believe we can give our middle class relief and provide working families with a road to opportunity. I believe we can provide jobs to the jobless, homes to the homeless, and reclaim young people in cities across America from violence and despair."

Can we make this kind of compeling vision real to a majority of Americans? Hearing Barak speak, hearing him ask if I had the same energy, urgency and passion as he, I felt I did. His vision is not a desire to return to a past that never was but to a future that could be. We do need something to believe in.

 
At 8:18 PM, Blogger waylander said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 10:02 AM, Blogger PWB said...

This may seem somewhat silly in quoting a movie respective of this Blog, but the following speech from Joan Allen's character in the movie "The Contender" made me think about acknowledging those that define themselves as Atheists. Although, I am certain there may be religious discussions (and/or arguments) made on this Blog based on using the very name Christian in the title, the intent to further awareness on separation of religion respective to government policy makes me want to acknowledge those that believe in a higher power and those that do not. Allen's character was that of a Senator who was before the congressional committe in being considered to replace the deceased Vice-President of the United States. Here is her closing comments to the committee (interesting to note this movie's debut was in the year 2000 and how far the political discourse has moved to the right in four short years):

"Let me be absolutely clear.

I stand for a woman's right to choose.

I stand for the elimination of the death penalty.

I stand for a strong and growing armed forces because we must stomp out genocide on this planet and I believe that is a cause worth dying for.

I stand for taking every gun out of every home period.

I stand for selling cigarettes to our youth a federal offense.

I stand for term limits and campaign reform.

I stand for the separation for church & state, and the reason I stand for that is the same reason I believe our forefathers did. It is not there to protect religion from the grasp of government but to protect our government from the grasp of religious fanaticism. I may be an Atheist. But that does not mean I do not go to church. I do go to church. My church is the one that emancipated the slaves, gave women the right to vote, gave us every freedom that we hold dear. My church is this very chapel of democracy that we sit in together, and I do not need God to tell me what are my moral absolutes. I need my heart, my brain and this church."

 
At 9:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Both Anonymous and Waylander wrote and acknowledged the following "re: The simple truth here is: Beliefs are stronger than truths. I agree, so what is the solution? Seeing may be believing but often believing is not seeing. Facts are powerless to persuade those who are blindly devoted to their ideals."

Waylander went on to write how and why the blindly devoted are seemingly non-negotiable in their faith, especially the more strict in interpretation as reflective of their group/church. Waylander's comments were very insightful, and I do not disagree.

However, although there is an underlying intent (seemingly) on this Blog to mobilize the Democratic base as well as those categorized as Independents, I have a personal experience with a colleague and friend who in the election of 2000 was most definitely part of the Christian Right. However, although still a very devout conservative Catholic, in 2004 this colleague voted against Bush mainly because of his posturing to the Chrsitian Right. Between 2000 and 2004 this person was exposed to numerous media accounts, books, discussions, etc. that reflected all spectrums of the belief systems. The reason for the change in vote? A personal in-depth discussion which elevated her awareness on how the Christian Right's objective to change public policy to define their value system for the populace was an attack on the individual.

So I have optimism that even with those whose beliefs are stronger than truths can see a different light. Remember, many of those as part of The Chrstian Right were once progressive in their beliefs and were influenced in some way and evolved their beliefs and values in aligning with the Christian Right. It can certainly happen as well with those that are conservative in beliefs in a realignment of beliefs congruent to progressive values.

Just a thought to consider in going forward - it is much easier to interchange with the like-minded but I encourage the readers of this Blog to not hesitate and dialogue with the Christian Right. Not only do you have the ability to have some influence but you may better understand (and even respect)the formulation of their beliefs. And, the more you can understand another the better one can be respected and have influence.

 
At 5:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

link to americablog.blogspot.com for the complete post:'

Religious right Web sites ignore Tsunami relief, while liberal religious sites appeal for tsunami donations
by John in DC - 1/2/2005 05:03:10 PM

A review of the home pages of the religious right, inspired by a post to my comments, shows that America's "value voters" don't seem to have very good values. Most of the sites have taken the lead from their AWOL president and are far more concerned about gays and judges than about the human catastrophe in Asia. The chief Web sites of the "religious left" have all donated the top of their sites to appeals for money to help the tsunami victims.

 
At 7:37 AM, Blogger PWB said...

Re: John in D.C.'s email notice on the Religious Right's web sites not putting the Tsunami disaster as the headline on their sites, I had a sense this past week that the Relgious Right will donate less money individually than others (Progressives, Liberals, Independents and moderate Republicans). If anyone can find further evidence of this, please post it.

My experience in direct discussions with the Christian Right is that their belief as a "chosen people" tend to put their lives, and in general American lives, at a higher level than others.

Per the article in the Wall Street Journal last Thursday, December 29th, "the contrast to how the U.S. or other developed countries cope with natural disasters at home was acute. The Federal Emergency Management Agency spent $1.16 BILLION in Florida alone in recent months to aid the state's recovery from four hurricanes that hit last summer but did nowhere near the damage of Sunday's tsunami in Southern Asia."

It was encouraging to see $350 million donated so far by our current regime, and I only hope we continue to step-up as a country, both in federal funding and as individuals, in donating hundreds of millions of dollars more. With a conservative wave engulfing this country, the question remains - "are we a country of isolationists or a country of benevolence?" Is protection of life of human beings (and reconstruction efforts) in Southern Asia different than Americans in Florida?" If one answers yes, it seems you put the importance of one life over another based on race, religion and heritage. I don't believe this is the ethical foundation of this country.

Again, please post any evidence (both pro and con) on how the Christian Right is responding to the Tsunami crisis compared to Progressives, Independents and moderate Republicans.

 
At 8:08 AM, Blogger San Fran said...

So glad to see our country stepped-up last week in increasing the money to $350 million and even as importantly in terms of the execution and investment in terms of our military in aiding the relief effort. In addition, the effort launched with former Presidents Bush and Clinton in reaching out to the American people to support this tragedy is commendable.

I really think this is an opportunity for the world to unite once again (like after 9-11) and can really be a catalyst for the U.S. in diplomacy over the next four years.

One word of caution - Colin Powell and Bush have consistently stated that there will be long-term efforts by the U.S. in the region and have framed this language in a way that implies how committed the U.S. is. However, my instincts (and experience with the Bush regime) tell me that the Bush & Company will use this disaster for political and military gain in the region.

Whether it be for political gain and/or a show of genuine action (or a combination), one must watch closely how the relief effort by the U.S. evolves in 2005. Again, I am glad to see our President stepping-up here but keep an eye on how this unfolds.

 
At 9:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The facts are on our side, we just have to make the better argument. The Puritans, as Fundamentalist in their beliefs as those who call themselves the same today, had to flee their home in England because Church and State were one . MIxing religion and politics is fine as long as your particular beliefs are in the ascendency. Between 1547 and 1558 the Established State religion in England changed three times! Heads rolled when the crown moved from head to royal head. We are shocked by present day beheadings in the Middle East, but we are not too far remove from such action ourselves in the West. Separating Church and State was crItical to keeping our heads In place.

How can we make the dangers apparent to religious conservatives?
(This is Waylander having trouble posting under my name)

 
At 10:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A new multi-million-dollar Museum of Creation, which will open this spring in Kentucky is aimed at the growing ranks of Fundamentalist Christians. Dinosaurs are shown side by side with man.

Link to a complete discription at
http://www.portal.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2005/01/02/weden02.xml&pos=portal_puff3

This distortion of fact with religious myth is exactly the sort of misdirection we need to counter--quickly! Americans, secular and religious alike, criticize the religious extremism coming out of Madrassahs in Muslim countries yet are blind to the danger of the insertion of Creationism into school curriculums here in the US.

 
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