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Christian right or religious right is a term used mainly in the United States to label right-wing Christian political factions that are characterized by their strong support of socially conservative policies. Christian conservatives principally seek to apply their understanding of the teachings of Christianity to politics and to public policy by proclaiming the value of those teachings or by seeking to use those teachings to influence law and public policy.
In the U.S., the Christian right is an informal coalition formed around a core of evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics. The Christian right draws additional support from politically conservative mainline Protestants, Jews, and Mormons. The movement has its roots in American politics going back as far as the 1940s and has been especially influential since the 1970s. Its influence draws, in part, from grassroots activism as well as from focus on social issues and from the ability to motivate the electorate around those issues. The Christian right is notable today for advancing socially conservative positions on issues including school prayer, intelligent design, embryonic stem cell research, homosexuality, contraception, abortion, and pornography. Although the term "Christian right" is most commonly associated with politics in the United States, similar Christian conservative groups can be found in the political cultures of other Christian-majority nations.
The Christian right is "also known as the New Christian Right (NCR) or the Religious Right", although some consider the religious right to be "a slightly broader category than Christian Right".
John C. Green of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life states that Jerry Falwell used the label religious right to describe himself. Gary Schneeberger, vice president of media and public relations for Focus on the Family, states that "[t]erms like 'religious right' have been traditionally used in a pejorative way to suggest extremism. The phrase 'socially conservative evangelicals' is not very exciting, but that's certainly the way to do it."
Evangelical leaders like Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council have called attention to the problem of equating the term "Christian right" with evangelicals. Although evangelicals constitute the core constituency of the Christian right, not all evangelicals fit the description. The problem of description is further complicated by the fact that religious conservative may refer to other groups. Mennonites and the Amish, for example, are theologically conservative, however there are no overtly political organizations associated with these denominations.
Patricia Miller states that the "alliance between evangelical leaders and the Catholic bishops has been a cornerstone of the Christian Right for nearly twenty years". Since the late 1970s, the Christian right has been a notable force in both the Republican party and American politics when Baptist pastor Jerry Falwell and other Christian leaders began to urge conservative Christians to involve themselves in the political process. In response to the rise of the Christian right, the 1980 Republican Party platform assumed a number of its positions, including dropping support for the Equal Rights Amendment and adding support for a restoration of school prayer. The past two decades have been an important time in the political debates and in the same time frame religious citizens became more politically active in a time period labeled the New Christian Right. While the platform also opposed abortion and leaned towards restricting taxpayer funding for abortions and passing a constitutional amendment which would restore protection of the right to life for unborn children, it also accepted that many Americans, including fellow Republicans, were divided on the issue. Since about 1980, the Christian right has been associated with several institutions including the Moral Majority, the Christian Coalition, Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council.
While the influence of the Christian right is typically traced to the 1980 Presidential election, Daniel K. Williams argues in God's Own Party that it had actually been involved in politics for most of the twentieth century. He also notes that the Christian right had previously been in alliance with the Republican Party in the 1940s through 1960s on matters such as opposition to communism and defending "a Protestant-based moral order."
Into the 1960 election, Catholics and evangelicals worked against each other, as evangelicals mobilized their forces to defeat Catholics Al Smith in 1928 and John F. Kennedy in 1960. Secularization came to be seen by Protestants as the biggest threat to Christian values, however, and by the 1980s Catholic bishops and evangelicals had begun to work together on issues such as abortion.
The alienation of Southern Democrats from the Democratic Party contributed to the rise of the right, as the counterculture of the 1960s provoked fear of social disintegration. In addition, as the Democratic Party became identified with a pro-choice position on abortion and with nontraditional societal values, social conservatives joined the Republican Party in increasing numbers.
In 1976, U.S. President Jimmy Carter received the support of the Christian right largely because of his much-acclaimed religious conversion. However, Carter's spiritual transformation did not compensate for his liberal policies in the minds of Christian conservatives, as reflected in Jerry Falwell's criticism that "Americans have literally stood by and watched as godless, spineless leaders have brought our nation floundering to the brink of death."
Ability to organizeEdit
The contemporary Christian right organized in reaction to a series of United States Supreme Court decisions, most notably Bob Jones University v. Simon and Bob Jones University v. United States, which challenged the tax-exempt status of schools that discriminated against blacks. It has also engaged in battles over pornography, obscenity, abortion, state sanctioned prayer in public schools, textbook contents (concerning creationism), homosexuality, and sexual education. It was long believed that the Supreme Court's decision to make abortion a Constitution-protected right in the 1973 Roe v Wade ruling was the driving force behind the New Christian Right Movement's rise in the 1970s. Despite the large grassroots campaigns that were organized by the movement to protest the Roe decision, comments made by senior figures, including the movement's chief architect Paul Weyrich, have suggested that the New Christian Right Movement's rise was not centered around the issue of abortion, but rather Bob Jones University's refusal to comply with the Supreme Court's 1971 Green v. Connally ruling that permitted the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to collect penalty taxes from private religious schools that violated federal laws.
In the course of one of the sessions, Weyrich tried to make a point to his Religious Right brethren (no women attended the conference, as I recall). Let's remember, he said animatedly, that the Religious Right did not come together in response to the Roe decision. No, Weyrich insisted, what got us going as a political movement was the attempt on the part of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to rescind the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University because of its racially discriminatory policies.
Bob Jones University, a private, non-denominational Protestant university located in Greenville, South Carolina, had policies that refused black students enrollment until 1971, admitted only married blacks from 1971 to 1975, and prohibited interracial dating and marriage between 1975 and 2000. In the 1974 Bob Jones University v. Simon case, the US Supreme Court further enforced the Green decision and ruled that the IRS could penalize the University for enforcing segregation policies. The following year, the IRS sought to penalize Bob Jones University for refusing to allow interracial dating. During this time, Weyrich organized a campaign to defend the University and alleged that various social issues that were deemed immoral by various religious conservatives justified the need to end federal intervention in religious schools. As Balmer recalled:
During the following break in the conference proceedings, I cornered Weyrich to make sure I had heard him correctly. He was adamant that, yes, the 1975 action by the IRS against Bob Jones University was responsible for the genesis of the Religious Right in the late 1970s. What about abortion? After mobilizing to defend Bob Jones University and its racially discriminatory policies, Weyrich said, these evangelical leaders held a conference call to discuss strategy. He recalled that someone suggested that they had the makings of a broader political movement—something that Weyrich had been pushing for all along—and asked what other issues they might address. Several callers made suggestions, and then, according to Weyrich, a voice on the end of one of the lines said, "How about abortion?" And that is how abortion was cobbled into the political agenda of the Religious Right.
Ballmer also pointed out a 2014 Politico article that in 1968, a symposium sponsored by the Christian Medical Society and Christianity Today, which was the flagship magazine evangelicals at the time, encouraged "individual health, family welfare, and social responsibility" as justifications for abortion and that in 1971, delegates to the Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis, Missouri, passed a resolution encouraging "Southern Baptists to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother." The Southern Baptist Convention, which Weyrich sought a strong alliance with, upheld this resolution until 1979.
Much of the Christian right's power within the American political system is attributed to their extraordinary turnout rate at the polls. The voters that coexist in the Christian right are also highly motivated and driven to get out a viewpoint on issues they care about. As well as high voter turnout, they can be counted on to attend political events, knock on doors and distribute literature. Members of the Christian right are willing to do the electoral work needed to see their candidate elected. Because of their high level of devotion, the Christian right does not need to monetarily compensate these people for their work.
Political leaders and institutionsEdit
Led by Robert Grant advocacy group Christian Voice, Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority, Ed McAteer's Religious Roundtable Council, James Dobson's Focus on the Family, Paul Weyrich's Free Congress Foundation and The Heritage Foundation, and Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network, the new Religious Right combined conservative politics with evangelical and fundamentalist teachings. The birth of the New Christian right, however, is usually traced to a 1979 meeting where televangelist Jerry Falwell was urged to create a "Moral Majority" organization. In 1979, Weyrich was in a discussion with Falwell when he remarked that there was a "moral majority" of Americans ready to be called to political action. Weyrich later recalled in a 2007 interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that after he mentioned the term "moral majority," Falwell "turned to his people and said, 'That's the name of our organization.' "
Weyrich would then engineer a strong union between the Republican Party and many culturally conservative Christians. Soon, Moral Majority became a general term for the conservative political activism of evangelists and fundamentalists such as Pat Robertson, James Robison, and Jerry Falwell. Howard Schweber, Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, writes that "in the past two decades", "Catholic politicians have emerged as leading figures in the religious conservative movement."
Institutions in the United StatesEdit
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One early attempt to bring the Christian right into American politics began in 1974 when Robert Grant, an early movement leader, founded American Christian Cause to advocate Christian ideological teachings in Southern California. Concerned that Christians overwhelmingly voted for President Jimmy Carter in 1976, Grant expanded his movement and founded Christian Voice to rally Christian voters behind socially conservative candidates. Prior to his alliance with Falwell, Weyrich sought an alliance with Grant. Grant and other Christian Voice staff soon set up their main office at the headquarters of Weyrich's Heritage Foundation. However, the alliance between Weyrich and Grant fell apart in 1978.
In the late 1980s, Pat Robertson founded the Christian Coalition of America, building from his 1988 presidential run, with Republican activist Ralph Reed, who became the spokesman for the Coalition. In 1992, the national Christian Coalition, Inc., headquartered in Virginia Beach, Virginia, began producing voter guides, which it distributed to conservative Christian churches, both Protestant and Catholic, with the blessing of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York. Under the leadership of Reed and Robertson, the Coalition quickly became the most prominent voice in the conservative Christian movement, its influence culminating with an effort to support the election of a conservative Christian to the presidency in 1996. In addition, they have talked encouraged the convergence of conservative Christian ideology with political issues, such as healthcare, the economy, education and crime.
Political activists lobbied within the Republican party locally and nationally to influence party platforms and nominations. More recently James Dobson's group Focus on the Family, based in Colorado Springs, and the Family Research Council in Washington D.C. have gained enormous respect from Republican lawmakers. While strongly advocating for these ideological matters, Dobson himself is more wary of the political spectrum and much of the resources of his group are devoted to other aims such as media. However, as a private citizen, Dobson has stated his opinion on presidential elections; on February 5, 2008, Dobson issued a statement regarding the 2008 presidential election and his strong disappointment with the Republican party's candidates.
In an essay written in 1996, Ralph Reed argued against the moral absolutist tone of Christian right leaders, arguing for the Republican Party Platform to stress the moral dimension of abortion rather than placing emphasis on overturning Roe v. Wade. Reed believes that pragmatism is the best way to advocate for the Christian right.
Partisan activity of churchesEdit
Overtly partisan actions by churches could threaten their 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status due to the Johnson Amendment of the Internal Revenue Code. In one notable example, the former pastor of the East Waynesville Baptist Church in Waynesville, North Carolina "told the congregation that anyone who planned to vote for Democratic Sen. John Kerry should either leave the church or repent". The church later expelled nine members who had voted for Kerry and refused to repent, which led to criticism on the national level. The pastor resigned and the ousted church members were allowed to return.
The Alliance Defense Fund started the Pulpit Freedom Initiative in 2008. ADF states that "[t]he goal of Pulpit Freedom Sunday is simple: have the Johnson Amendment declared unconstitutional – and once and for all remove the ability of the IRS to censor what a pastor says from the pulpit."
Christian right organizations sometimes conduct polls to determine which presidential candidates will receive the support of Christian right constituents. One such poll is taken at the Family Research Council's Values Voter Summit. George W. Bush's electoral success owed much to his overwhelming support from white evangelical voters, who comprise 23% of the vote. In 2000 he received 68% of the white evangelical vote; in 2004 that percentage rose to 78%.
The Home School Legal Defense Association was co-founded in 1983 by Michael Farris, who would later establish Patrick Henry College, and Michael Smith. This organization attempts to challenge laws that serve as obstacles to allowing parents to home-school their children and to organize the disparate group of homeschooling families into a cohesive bloc. The number of homeschooling families has increased in the last twenty years, and around 80 percent of these families identify themselves as evangelicals.
The main universities associated with the Christian right in the United States are:
- Bob Jones University – Protestant Fundamentalist institution, founded in 1927.
- Christendom College – Roman Catholic institution, founded in 1977
- Liberty University – Baptist institution, founded in 1971
- Regent University – Evangelical Christian institution, founded in 1977
The media has played a major role in the rise of the Christian right since the 1920s and has continued to be a powerful force for political Christianity today. The role of the media for the Religious right has been influential in its ability to connect Christian audiences to the larger American culture while at the same time bringing and keeping religion into play as both a political and a cultural force. The political agenda of the Christian right has been disseminated to the public through a variety of media outlets including radio broadcasting, television, and literature.
Religious broadcasting began in the 1920s through the radio. Between the 1950s and 1980s, TV became a powerful way for the Christian right to influence the public through shows such as Pat Robertson's The 700 Club and The Family Channel. The Internet has also helped the Christian right reach a much larger audience. Organization's websites play a strong role in popularising the Christian right's stances on cultural and political issues, and informed interested viewers on how to get involved. The Christian Coalition, for example, has used the Internet to inform the public, as well as to sell merchandise and gather members.
The Christian right has strong opinions on how American children should be educated.
The Christian right strongly advocates for a system of educational choice, using a system of school vouchers, instead of public education. Vouchers would be government funded and could be redeemed for "a specified maximum sum per child per years if spent on approved educational services". This method would allow parents to determine which school their child attends while relieving the economic burden associated with private schools. The concept is popular among constituents of church-related schools, including those affiliated with Roman Catholicism.
The Christian right in the United States generally promotes the teaching of creationism and intelligent design as opposed to, or alongside biological evolution. Some supporters of the Christian right have opposed the teaching of evolution in the past, but they did not have the ability to stop it being taught in public schools as was done during the Scopes Trial in Dayton, Tennessee, in which a science teacher went on trial for teaching about the subject of evolution in a public school. Other "Christian right organizations supported the teaching of creationism, along with evolution, in public schools", specifically promoting theistic evolution (also known as evolutionary creationism) in which God is regarded as the originator of the process.
Members of and organizations associated with the Christian right, such as the Discovery Institute, created and popularized the modern concept of intelligent design, which became widely known only with the publication of Of Pandas and People in 1989. The Discovery Institute, through their intelligent design initiative called the Center for Science and Culture, has endorsed the teach the controversy approach. Such an approach would ensure that both the strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory were discussed in the curriculum. This tactic was criticized by Judge John E. Jones III in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, describing it as "at best disingenuous, and at worst a canard." The overwhelming majority of scientific research, both in the United States and elsewhere, has concluded that the theory of evolution, using the technical definition of the word theory, is the only viable explanation of the development of life, and an overwhelming majority of biologists strongly support its presentation in public school science classes. Outside the United States, as well as among American Catholics and Mainline Protestants, Christian conservatives have generally come to accept the theory of evolution.
Some Christian groups advocate for the removal of sex education literature from public schools, for parental opt-out of comprehensive sex education, or for abstinence-only sex education. 30 percent of America's sexual-education programs are abstinence based. These programs promote abstinence until marriage as the only way to prevent pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and emotional issues that could arise from sexual activity. There is no evidence supporting the effectiveness of abstinence-only sex education; multiple studies have failed to find any benefit, and have even found that it may be harmful. It has been found to be ineffective in decreasing HIV risk in the developed world. Likewise, it does not decrease rates of sexual activity or unplanned pregnancy when compared to comprehensive sex education.
The Christian right promotes homeschooling and private schooling as a valid alternative to public education for parents who object to the content being taught at school. In recent years, the percentage of children being homeschooled has risen from 1.7% of the student population in 1999 to 2.2% in 2003. Much of this increase has been attributed to the desire to incorporate Christian teachings into the curriculum. In 2003, 72% of parents who homeschooled their children cited the ability to provide religious or moral instruction as the reason for removing their children from public schools. The Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District case established that creationism cannot be taught in public schools, and in response officials have increasingly appropriated public funds for charter schools that teach curricula like Accelerated Christian Education.
Role of governmentEdit
Supporters of the Christian Right have no one unified stance on the role of government since the movement is primarily one that advocates social conservatism; in fact, "struggles [have] broke out in state party organizations" between supporters of the Christian Right and other conservatives. It promotes conservative interpretations of the Bible as the basis for moral values, and enforcing such values by legislation. Some members of the Christian right, especially Catholics, accept the Catholic Church's strong support for labor unions.
Separation of church and stateEdit
The Christian right believes that separation of church and state is not explicit in the American Constitution, believing instead that such separation is a creation of what it claims are activist judges in the judicial system. In the United States, the Christian right often supports their claims by asserting that the country was "founded by Christians as a Christian Nation." Members of the Christian right take the position that the Establishment Clause bars the federal government from establishing or sponsoring a state church (e.g., the Church of England), but does not prevent the government from acknowledging religion. The Christian right points out that the term "separation of church and state" is derived from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson, not from the Constitution itself. Furthermore, the Alliance Defense Fund takes the view that the concept of "separation of church and state" has been utilized by the American Civil Liberties Union and its allies to inhibit public acknowledgment of Christianity and restrict the religious freedoms of Christians.
Thus, Christian right leaders have argued that the Establishment Clause does not prohibit the display of religion in the public sphere. Leaders therefore believe that public institutions should be allowed to display the Ten Commandments. This interpretation has been repeatedly rejected by the courts, which have found that such displays violate the Establishment Clause. Public officials though are prohibited from using their authority in which the primary effect is "advancing or prohibiting religion", according to the Lemon Supreme Court test, and there cannot be an "excessive entanglement with religion" and the government. Some, such as Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association, argue that the First Amendment, which specifically restricts Congress, applies only to the Congress and not the states. This position rejects the incorporation of the Bill of Rights.
Generally, the Christian right supports the presence of religious institutions within government and the public sphere, and advocates for fewer restrictions on government funding for religious charities and schools. Both Catholics and Protestants, according to a 2005 Gallup study, have been supportive of school prayer in public schools.
Early American fundamentalists, such as John R. Rice often favoured laissez-faire economics and were outspoken critics of the New Deal and later the Great Society. The contemporary Christian right supports economic conservative policies such as tax cuts and social conservative policies such as child tax credits.
Many evangelical Protestant supporters of the religious right has given very strong support to the state of Israel in recent decades, encouraging support for Israel in the United States government. Some have linked Israel to Biblical prophesies; for example, Ed McAteer, founder of the Moral Majority, said "I believe that we are seeing prophecy unfold so rapidly and dramatically and wonderfully and, without exaggerating, makes me breathless."
Abortion and contraceptionEdit
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The Christian right opposes abortion, believing that life begins at conception and that abortion is murder. Therefore, those in the movement have worked toward the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and have also supported incremental steps to make abortion less available. Such efforts include bans on late-term abortion (including intact dilation and extraction), prohibitions against Medicaid funding and other public funding for elective abortions, removal of taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood and other organizations that provide abortion services, legislation requiring parental consent or notification for abortions performed on minors, legal protections for unborn victims of violence, legal protections for infants born alive following failed abortions, and bans on abortifacient medications.
The Christian right contends that morning-after pills such as Plan B and Ella are possible abortifacients, able to interfere with a fertilized egg's implantation in the uterine wall. The labeling mandated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for Plan B and Ella state that they may interfere with implantation, but according to a June 2012, New York Times article, many scientists believe that they work only by interfering with ovulation and are arguing to have the implantation language removed from product labels. The Christian right maintains that the chemical properties of morning-after pills make them abortifacients and that the politics of abortion is influencing scientific judgments. Jonathan Imbody of the Christian Medical Association says he questions "whether ideological considerations are driving these decisions." Specifically, many Catholic members, as well as some conservative Protestant members, of the Christian right have campaigned against contraception altogether.
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Due to the Christian right's views regarding ethics and to an extent due to negative views of eugenics common to most ideologies in North America, it has worked for the regulation and restriction of certain applications of biotechnology. In particular, the Christian right opposes therapeutic and reproductive human cloning, championing a 2005 United Nations ban on the practice, and human embryonic stem cell research, which involves the extraction of one or more cells from a human embryo. The Christian right supports research with adult stem cells, amniotic stem cells, and induced pluripotent stem cells which don't utilise cells from human embryos, as they view the harvesting of biological material from an embryo lacking the ability to give permission as an assault on a living being.
The Christian right also opposes euthanasia, and, in one highly publicized case, took an active role in seeking governmental intervention to prevent Terri Schiavo from being deprived of nutrition and hydration.
Sex and sexualityEdit
The modern roots of the Christian right's views on sexual matters were evident in the 1950s, a period in which many Christian conservatives in the United States viewed sexual promiscuity as not only excessive, but in fact as a threat to their ideal vision of the country.:30 Beginning in the 1970s, conservative Christian protests against promiscuity began to surface, largely as a reaction to the "permissive sixties" and an emerging prominence of sexual rights arising from Roe v Wade and the gay rights movement. The Christian right proceeded to make sexuality issues a priority political cause.:28
The Christian right champions itself as the "self-appointed conscience of American society". During the 1980s, the movement was largely dismissed by political pundits and mainstream religious leaders as "a collection of buffoonish has-beens". Later, it re-emerged, better organized and more focused, taking firm positions against abortion, pornography, sexual deviancy, and extreme feminism.:4
Influential Christian right organizations at the forefront of the anti-gay rights movement in the United States include Focus on the Family, Family Research Council and the Family Research Institute.:15–16 An important stratagem in Christian right anti-gay politics is in its rejection of "the edicts of a Big Brother" state, allowing it to profit from "a general feeling of discontent and demoralization with government". As a result, the Christian right has endorsed smaller government, restricting its ability to arbitrate in disputes regarding values and traditions. In this context, gay rights laws have come to symbolize the government's allegedly unconstitutional "[interference] with individual freedom".:170–171
The central tenets of Focus on the Family and similar organizations, such as the Family Research Council, emphasise issues such as abortion and the necessity of gender roles. A number of organizations, including the New Christian Right, "have in various ways rejected liberal America in favor of the regulation of pornography, anti-abortion legislation, the criminalization of homosexuality, and the virtues of faithfulness and loyalty in sexual partnerships", according to sociologist Bryan Turner.
A large number of the Christian right view same-sex marriage as a central issue in the culture wars, more so than other gay rights issues and even more significantly than abortion.:57[dubious ] The legalization of same-sex marriage in 2004[where?] changed the Christian right, causing it to put its opposition to these marriages above most other issues. It also created previously unknown interracial and ecumenical coalitions, and stimulated new electoral activity in pastors and congregations.:58
The unholy alliance of the Political Right and the Religious Right threatens to destroy the America we love. It also threatens to generate a revulsion against God and religion by identifying them with militarism, ecological irresponsibility, fundamentalist antagonism to science and rational thought, and insensitivity to the needs of the poor and the powerless.
Interpretation of ChristianityEdit
One argument which questions the legitimacy of the Christian right posits that Jesus Christ may be considered a leftist on the modern political spectrum. Jesus' concern with the poor and feeding the hungry, among other things, are argued, by proponents of Christian leftism, to be core attributes of modern-day socialism and social justice.
Race and diversityEdit
The conclusions of a review of 112 studies on Christian faith and ethnic prejudice were summarized by a study in 1980 as being that "white Protestants associated with groups possessing fundamentalist belief systems are generally more prejudiced than members of non-fundamentalist groups, with unchurched whites exhibiting least prejudice." The original review found that its conclusions held "regardless of when the studies were conducted, from whom the data came, the region where the data were collected, or the type of prejudice studied." More recently in 2003, eight studies have found a positive correlation between fundamentalism and prejudice, using different measures of fundamentalism.
A number of prominent members of the Christian right, including Jerry Falwell and Rousas John Rushdoony, have in the past supported segregation, with Falwell arguing in a 1958 sermon that integration will lead to the destruction of the white race.
In Thy Kingdom Come, Randall Balmer recounts comments that Paul M. Weyrich, whom he describes as "one of the architects of the Religious Right in the late 1970s", made at a conference, sponsored by a Religious Right organization, that they both attended in Washington in 1990:
In the course of one of the sessions, Weyrich tried to make a point to his Religious Right brethren (no women attended the conference, as I recall). Let's remember, he said animatedly, that the Religious Right did not come together in response to the Roe decision. No, Weyrich insisted, what got us going as a political movement was the attempt on the part of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to rescind the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University because of its racially discriminatory policies.
Bob Jones University had policies that refused black students enrollment until 1971, and admitted only married blacks from 1971 to 1975. The university continued to forbid interracial dating until 2000. In an interview with Politico, University of Virginia theologian Charles Marsh, author of Wayward Christian Soldiers and the son of a Southern Baptist minister, stated:
As someone who grew up in Mississippi and Alabama during the civil rights movement, … my reading is that the conservative Christian movement never was able to distinguish itself from the segregationist movement, and that is one of the reasons I find so much of the rhetoric familiar – and unsettling.
By the end of the civil rights movement, the way was set for this marriage of the Republican Party and conservative Christians. … At the Neshoba County Fair in Mississippi in 1980, (Ronald) Reagan's statement "I am for states' rights" was a remarkable moment in the conservative South. The Southern way of life was affirmed and then deftly grafted into national conservative politics.
Whilst the Christian right in the United States is making a tough stand against the progression of LGBT rights, other Christian movements have taken a more lenient approach towards the matter, arguing that the biblical texts only oppose specific types of divergent sexual behaviour, such as paederasty (i.e. the sodomising of young boys by older men).
Use of dominionism labelingEdit
Some social scientists have used the word "dominionism" to refer to adherence to Dominion Theology as well as to the influence in the broader Christian Right of ideas inspired by Dominion Theology. Although such influence (particularly of Reconstructionism) has been described by many authors, full adherents to Reconstructionism are few and marginalized among conservative Christians. In the early 1990s, sociologist Sara Diamond defined dominionism in her PhD dissertation as a movement that, while including Dominion Theology and Reconstructionism as subsets, is much broader in scope, extending to much of the Christian Right. She was followed by journalists including Frederick Clarkson and Chris Hedges and others who have stressed the influence of Dominionist ideas on the Christian right.
The terms "dominionist" and "dominionism" are rarely used for self-description, and their usage has been attacked from several quarters. Journalist Anthony Williams charged that its purpose is "to smear the Republican Party as the party of domestic Theocracy, facts be damned." Stanley Kurtz labeled it "conspiratorial nonsense," "political paranoia," and "guilt by association", and decried Hedges' "vague characterizations" that allow him to "paint a highly questionable picture of a virtually faceless and nameless 'Dominionist' Christian mass." Kurtz also complained about a perceived link between average Christian evangelicals and extremism such as Christian Reconstructionism:
The notion that conservative Christians want to reinstitute slavery and rule by genocide is not just crazy, it's downright dangerous. The most disturbing part of the Harper's cover story (the one by Chris Hedges) was the attempt to link Christian conservatives with Hitler and fascism. Once we acknowledge the similarity between conservative Christians and fascists, Hedges appears to suggest, we can confront Christian evil by setting aside 'the old polite rules of democracy.' So wild conspiracy theories and visions of genocide are really excuses for the Left to disregard the rules of democracy and defeat conservative Christians – by any means necessary.
Lisa Miller of Newsweek said that many warnings about "dominionism" are "paranoid" and that "the word creates a siege mentality in which 'we' need to guard against 'them.'" Ross Douthat of the New York Times noted that "many of the people that writers like Diamond and others describe as 'dominionists' would disavow the label, many definitions of dominionism conflate several very different Christian political theologies, and there's a lively debate about whether the term is even useful at all." According to Joe Carter of First Things, "the term was coined in the 1980s by Diamond and is never used outside liberal blogs and websites. No reputable scholars use the term for it is a meaningless neologism that Diamond concocted for her dissertation," while Jeremy Pierce of First Things coined the word "dominionismist" to describe those who promote the idea that there is a dominionist conspiracy.
Other criticism has focused on the proper use of the term. Berlet wrote that "some critics of the Christian Right have stretched the term dominionism past its breaking point," and argued that, rather than labeling conservatives as extremists, it would be better to "talk to these people" and "engage them." Sara Diamond wrote that "[l]iberals' writing about the Christian Right's take-over plans has generally taken the form of conspiracy theory", and argued that instead one should "analyze the subtle ways" that ideas like Dominionism "take hold within movements and why."
Dan Olinger, a professor at the fundamentalist Bob Jones University in Greenville said, "We want to be good citizens and participants, but we're not really interested in using the iron fist of the law to compel people to everything Christians should do." Bob Marcaurelle, interim pastor at Mountain Springs Baptist Church in Piedmont, said the Middle Ages were proof enough that Christian ruling groups are almost always corrupted by power. "When Christianity becomes the government, the question is whose Christianity?" Marcaurelle asked.
Movements outside the United StatesEdit
While the Christian Right is a strong movement in the United States, it has a presence as well in Canada. Alan Curtis suggests that the American Christian right "is a phenomenon that is very hard for Europeans to understand." Robin Pettitt, a professor at Kingston University London, states, however, that like the Christian right in the US, Christian Democratic movements in Europe and Latin America are "equally driven by the debate over the role of the state and the church in political, social and moral life."
Religion has been a key factor in Canadian politics since well before Canadian Confederation in 1867, when the Conservatives were the party of traditionalist Catholics and Anglicans and the Liberals were the party of Protestant dissenters and anti-clerical Catholics. This pattern largely remained until the mid-twentieth century when a new division emerged between the Christian left (represented by the Social Gospel philosophy and ecumenicism) and the Christian right (represented by fundamentalism and biblical literalism). The Christian left (along with the secular and anti-religious left) became supporters of the New Democratic Party while the right moved to the Social Credit Party, especially in Western Canada, and to a lesser extent the Progressive Conservatives.
The Social Credit Party, founded in 1935 represented a major change in Canadian religious politics. Until that time, fundamentalists had shunned politics as "worldly", and a distraction from the proper practice of religion. However, the new party was founded by fundamentalist radio preacher and Bible school teacher William Aberhart or "Bible Bill". Aberhart mixed his own interpretation of scripture and prophecy with the monetary reform theories of social credit to create a movement that swept across Alberta, winning the provincial election of 1935 in a landslide. Aberhart and his disciple Ernest Manning then governed the province for the next forty years, several times trying to expand into the rest of Canada. In 1987 Manning's son, Preston Manning, founded the new Reform Party of Canada, which soon became the main party of the religious right. It won majorities of the seats in Western Canada in repeated elections, but was unable to break through in Eastern Canada, though it became the official opposition from 1997 to 2003 (Reform was renamed the Canadian Alliance in 2000). In 2003 the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives merged to create the Conservative Party of Canada, led by Stephen Harper, a member of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, who went on to become prime minister in 2006.
Canada has had a Charter of Rights and Freedoms since the Canadian Constitution was patriated in 1982. As a result, there have been major changes in the law's application to issues that bear on individual and minority group rights. Abortions were completely decriminalized after two R. v. Morgentaler cases (in 1988 and in 1993). A series of provincial superior court decisions allowing same-sex marriage led the federal government to introduce legislation that introduced same-sex marriage in all of Canada. Former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper stated before taking office that he would hold a free vote on the issue, but declared the issue closed after a vote in the House of Commons in 2006.
In the Netherlands Calvinist Protestants have long had their own political parties, now called the Reformed Political Party (SGP) on the right, and the ChristianUnion (CU) in the center. For generations they operated their own newspapers and broadcasting association. The SGP has about 28,000 members, and three members of parliament, of the 150. It has always been in opposition to the government. The SGP has helped the Dutch government to get laws through the Second Chamber 2010–2012. In exchange that government did not increase the number of Sundays on which shopping is allowed.
In Northern Ireland, Ian Paisley led a Protestant fundamentalist party, the Democratic Unionist Party, which had a considerable influence on the province's culture. Karen Armstrong has mentioned English evangelical leader Colin Urquhart as advocating positions similar to the Christian Right. Some of the members of the Conservative Party also support some of the values of the Christian right.
In Australia, fundamentalist Christianity is the base for Fred Nile and his Christian Democratic Party as well as the Family First Party. Nile in 1967–68 was Assistant Director of the Billy Graham Crusade in Sydney. Both parties promote social conservatism, opposing gay rights and abortion. Some party members of the Liberal and National Party Coalition and the Australian Labor Party also support some of the values of the Christian right on abortion and gay rights. The Australian Christian Lobby argues for opposition to same-sex marriage in state and federal politics.
In Scandinavia, the Centre Party is a bible-oriented fundamentalist party; it has about 4% of the votes in the Faroe Islands. However, the Norwegian Christian People's Party, the Swedish Christian Democrats and Danish Christian Democrats are less religiously orthodox and are similar to mainstream European Christian Democracy.
In Fiji, Sodelpa is a conservative, nationalist party which seeks to make Christianity the state religion, while the constitution makes Fiji a secular republic. Following the 2014 general election, Sodelpa is the main opposition party in Parliament.
In Brazil, the evangelical bloc have a great influence at the parliament and in the society in general. The bloc promotes strong socially conservative positions, like opposition to abortion, lgbt rights, marijuana legalization, sexual and gender education at schools and support to decrease of age of defense of infancy. The Party of the Republic, the Brazilian Republican Party and the Social Christian Party are the main parties of the bloc, but except to left-wings and far-left parties with strong social progressive beliefs like Workers Party or PSOL, Christian conservatives can be found in all political parties of Brazil. In 2016, Marcelo Crivella, a licensed pentecostal pastor from the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, won in a runoff the election to mayor of Rio de Janeiro, the second biggest city in Brazil, with the Brazilian Republican Party, making for the first time an evangelical bloc member mayor of a big city in Brazil.
The Christian right has a strong position in several Conservative parties worldwide, although many members of these parties would also, paradoxically, strongly oppose such views.
Associated minor political partiesEdit
Some minor political parties have formed as vehicles for Christian right activists:
- Australian Christians (Australia)
- Christian Democratic Party (Australia)
- Christian Electoral Community (Austria)
- Christian Heritage Party (Canada)
- Christian Liberal Party (South Korea)
- Christian Liberty Party (United States)
- Christian Party (United Kingdom)
- Christian Party of Austria (Austria)
- Christian Unity Party (Norway)
- Christian Values Party (Sweden)
- The Christians (Norway)
- Constitution Party (United States)
- Costa Rican Renewal Party (Costa Rica)
- Danish People's Party (Denmark)
- Federal Democratic Union (Switzerland)
- Nicaraguan Party of the Christian Path (Nicaragua)
- Party of Bible-abiding Christians (Germany)
- Reformed Political Party (Netherlands)
- Social Christian Party (Brazil)
- Sociology: understanding a diverse society, Margaret L. Andersen, Howard Francis Taylor, Cengage Learning, 2005, ISBN 978-0-534-61716-5, ISBN 978-0-534-61716-5
- Deckman, Melissa Marie (2004). School Board Battles: The Christian Right in Local Politics. Georgetown University Press. p. 48. ISBN 9781589010017. Retrieved April 10, 2014.
More than half of all Christian right candidates attend evangelical Protestant churches, which are more theologically liberal. A relatively large number of Christian Right candidates (24 percent) are Catholics; however, when asked to describe themselves as either "progressive/liberal" or "traditional/conservative" Catholics, 88 percent of these Christian right candidates place themselves in the traditional category.
- Schweber, Howard. "The Catholicization of the American Right". The Huffington Post. Retrieved February 24, 2012.
In the past two decades, the American religious Right has become increasingly Catholic. I mean that both literally and metaphorically. Literally, Catholic writers have emerged as intellectual leaders of the religious right in universities, the punditocracy, the press, and the courts, promoting an agenda that at its most theoretical involves a reclamation of the natural law tradition of Thomas Aquinas and at its most practical involves appeals to the kind of common-sense, "everybody knows," or "it just is" arguments that have characterized opposition to same-sex marriage ... Meanwhile, in the realm of actual politics, Catholic politicians have emerged as leading figures in the religious conservative movement.
- Melissa Marie Deckman. School Board Battles: the Christian right in Local Politics. Georgetown University Press.
Indeed, such significant Christian Right leaders such as Pat Buchanan and Paul Weyrich are conservative Catholics.
- Smith, David Whitten; Burr, Elizabeth Geraldine (2007). Understanding World Religions: A Road Map for Justice and Peace. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 106.
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To summarize, in the Republican Party, many Catholic activists held conservative positions on key issues emphasized by Christian Right leaders, and they said that they supported the political activities of some Christian Right candidates.
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Perhaps the most prominent example of this was when the Archdiocese of New York joined forces with the Christian Coalition during the New York City school board elections in 1993 and allowed the distribution of Christian Coalition voter guides in Catholic parishes.
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Some Christian Right leaders established their own institutions, such as Pat Robertson's Regents University and Jerry Falwell's Liberty University.
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Throughout the twentieth century, many evangelicals accepted theistic evolution ... Some Christian right organizations supported the teaching of creationism, along with evolution, in public schools.
- Wilson, J. Matthew (22 October 2007). From Pews to Polling Places: Faith and Politics in the American Religious Mosaic. Georgetown University Press. p. 178. ISBN 9781589013261.
Among Catholics and Latinos who practice other religious traditions, more than seven in ten support having organized prayer in public schools. ... Catholics are much more likely to state that both evolution and creationism should be taught in the schools.
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Abstinence-only curricula have been found to contain scientifically inaccurate information, distorting data on topics such as condom efficacy, and promote gender stereotypes. An independent evaluation of the federal program, several systematic reviews, and cohort data from population-based surveys find little evidence of efficacy and evidence of possible harm.
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Related to their support of school prayer, most Americans also believe that religion should have a greater "presence" in public schools. ... Protestants are most likely to favor school prayer (82%), followed closely by Catholics (75%).
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Again, parties mobilised on religious grounds, most notable in the form of Christian Democratic parties found in, for example, Germany, but also, sometimes to a lesser extent, in much of the rest of Europe. Christian Democratic parties are also found in Chile and Mexico. It could be argued that the rise of the Christian right in the United States and its increased strength in the Republican Party is an example of this cleavage at work. The Christian right in the United States ... is equally driven by the debate over the role of the state and the church in political, social and moral life.
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