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the Body Politic
Vol. 6, No. 9 - September 1996, Page 17
Copyright © 1996, 1997 by the Body Politic Inc.
Or Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Christian Right
Interview by Anne Bower
It was the 70s and Fred Clarkson was in Washington, DC doing political organizing. Jimmy Carter was President and the Democrats controlled Congress. Suddenly it was the 80s. Ronald Reagan was President and with his new Administration came the New Right, which today is called the Christian Right. With this change of government came new political activists and thinkers plus people like Jerry Falwell. Times had changed.
A few years after Ronald Reagan's inauguration, a new newspaper, The Washington Times came into being. In a town where newspapers had folded, leaving only The Washington Post, a new daily, full-color paper was an amazing occurrence.
Intrigued with the new politicos and the new newspaper, Mr. Clarkson, author of the soon-to-be-released, Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Democracy and Theocracy, embarked on a course of research that took him down many paths. His investigations revealed The Washington Times was a project of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the Korean who founded a religion who adherents are often referred to as Moonies. Rev. Moon was prepared to pour vast amounts of money into his publishing enterprise for the opportunity to have a say close to the political capitol of the United States.
Mr. Clarkson's research on the Moonies lead him to an understanding of their relationship to the Christian Right and how both those entities were related to the Reagan Administration's private aid to the Contras and their connections to the U.S. Intelligence Agency.
The fruits of his discoveries on the ties of religiously based political movements astounded Mr. Clarkson. Out of his years of work has come, Eternal Hostility, an integrated account of the Theocratic Right and their plans for America.
Q: Fred, you called your book, Eternal Hostility. Where does that title come from?
A: Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Democracy and Theocracy is not a ploy to sell books. What this comes from is a quote from Thomas Jefferson, who was faced with severe attacks on his religious character during the election campaign of 1800. The Congregationalist clergy in New England, in particular, were very upset with Jefferson because they believed (and probably rightly) that they would lose a considerable part of their political power as the established church.
They were whipping people up into a frenzy. He was called in the Federalist Press an infidel and an atheist neither of which was true. Jefferson was a very religious man. He did not want to address any of this in public, but he wrote to his friend Dr. Benjamin Rush, and gave his private response to all this character assassination. That response is inscribed inside the rotunda of the Jefferson memorial."I have sworn on the altar of God eternal hostility to every form of tyranny over the mind of man."That line struck me because it tells us the struggle between theocratic political elements and those who favor religious equality, democracy, and pluralism is an important part of our history. Arguably, the most traditional of American values is opposition to theocracy.
Q: So, you don't see your book as a part of the "reason vs. religion" debate?
A: Quite to the contrary. Jefferson saw reason as an extension of religious experience, not a substitute for it. I don't think one need have this "reason vs. religion" debate any more than they would have a "mind vs. body" debate. These things go to together.
The Framers of the Constitution were trying to set up degrees of secularity in public affairs as a buffer against people having to invoke competing gods. They had seen millennia of terrible religious warfare in Western Europe where huge numbers of people died.
The Framers didn't want that to happen in this new country they were trying to found. They wanted to create a cultural ethos of respect for differing religious beliefs. This ethos was established in the form of Constitutional doctrine which is the most original contribution of American Constitutional government. In fact the United States is the only country in the history of the world that was established without an official god or the blessing of an official church.
Q: Then how does the Theocratic Right, which is the subject of your book, come to the revelation that America is a "Christian nation?"
A: In a lot of ways. Very often it's through a clever form of nostalgia. They like to invoke the views of the Founding Fathers. Of course, they allow themselves a very broad definition of who the Founding Fathers are. Theocrats see everyone from the Pilgrims at the Massachusetts Bay Colony to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson as Founding Fathers. That's a 150 year time frame.
The original 13 Colonies, were, by and large, Christian theocracies. It was that experience of the persecution that took place in those theocracies against dissident Christian sects and religious minorities and even native Americans that informed the decision of the Framers to say, "we learned that lesson and we aren't going to repeat it."
The Theocratic Right also like to selectively quote from the Framers their views on religion in politics and government. Most of these people were sincere believing Christians mostly Calvinists. It's because they took their religion seriously that they decided not to make the United States a Christian nation. The best evidence of this is Article VI of the Constitution.
Q: An Article often overlooked by the Theocratic Right.
A: Yes. Article VI says there shall be no religious test for public office anywhere in the United States. What that meant was the specific rejection of Christian Oaths of Office that were often required to hold public office in the Colonies and in the early States. Article VI was voted on unanimously. So whatever the religious differences between the Calvinist and the Deists they understood that if you're pledging oaths to any God, you are taking a clear stand about the relationship between theology and the affairs of the state and they rejected that.
Q: I wonder what this nation would look like if someone like Randall Terry who preaches the beauty of Intolerance were at the founding convention?
A: Well, if we'd had a gang of Randall Terrys we would have had something that looked much more like the Massachusetts Bay Colony where, not only were witches tried and hung, but so were Quakers. Quakers were hung on Boston Common. There were even laws about having a Quaker in your home. You could be punished for allowing a Quaker inside.
Q: In your book, you point out the philosophy guiding the current group of Theocrats is Reconstructionism. Would you explain what this means?
A: Reconstructionist generally believe the laws that govern Old Testament Israel should govern Mankind. Some will argue about which laws apply, but in general, a Reconstructionist would consider the Massachusetts Bay Colony as a good try at having a Reconstructionist society. In this society, Biblical law would rule. Only men of the correct sect would be allowed to hold public office. The society would be seen as being in a specific covenant with God which means you must faithfully execute God's laws of Justice. This would include 18 capital offenses.
Q: Including, if I remember the list in your book, Astrology.
A: Yes. Among other things. In the society governed by Biblical Law, Ronald and Nancy Reagan would have been in a heap of trouble. They were regularly consulting an Astrologer in their personal life and even for affairs of state. So, the Captain of the Christian Right, would have been committing capital offenses.
But there were many more crimes which merited the death penalty. Some are not surprising like murder, rape, and kidnapping. However, many sexual and religious crimes also carried the death penalty like heresy, blasphemy and apostasy.
This would mean, if you were a member of this religious community and began to have differing ideas which you discussed with anyone, you might be prosecuted for committing what R.J. Rushdoony calls, Treason against the Covenant.
The same idea applies to the family. Sexual offense are viewed as treason against the family, whether it's adultery or homosexuality. These are sexual offenses against God's Covenant.
People talk a lot now about The Family. It's become a political football and one of the litmus tests to become part of the Christian Right. If God has very narrowly defined what a family is and should be and it is sacred in certain ways, and there should be laws to protect it, how far are they willing to go? How far you buy into and are informed by Reconstructionism defines how far as a Christian Right person you might go in ordering society to defend the family.
Q: This discussion of the family leads into one of the chapters in your book the Promise Keepers Movement. They have been portrayed by the media in a rosy light but you are shedding a different color on them. How do you see Promise Keepers and do they fit into the Reconstructionist movement?
A: That's not entirely clear to me at this point, but I think that some of the leaders of the Promise Keepers, particularly James Dobson, are at least somewhat informed by the Reconstructionist world view. He certainly adopts the idea of the United States as a Christian nation.
A lot of the Pentecostal and Charismatic preachers who promote the idea of Promise Keepers have also been informed by variations on Reconstructionism in ways that allows them theologically to enter into political life. There are relatively few people who accept the whole body of work called Reconstructionism and call it their doctrine. But the significance of Reconstructionism as it applies to the Promise Keepers and lots of other cultural aspects of the Christian Right is that its body of ideas has been influential.
As happens with ideas, just like anything else that percolates around the culture, something comes along and you adopt it but you don't always know exactly where it came from. That's true of any ism whether it's Feminism, or Marxism, or Fascism, or Liberalism. Things enter into the culture and you accept them. This is true of Reconstructionism in the wider Evangelical Christianity. I think we see elements of that in Promise Keepers in terms of very conservative definitions of the Family and what are the appropriate roles of men and women and how society should be structured to accommodate that.
Q: Fred, I'm jumping around your book a bit, but because this is a pro-choice publication, I want you to speak to the issue of abortion and what part it has played in this picture. How do you see the Theocratic Right using abortion?
A: Abortion is certainly used as a "wedge" issue, but for a lot of the Theocratic Right, this is not a "single issue." They see abortion as a serious symptom of an attack on the kind of society they want. They have a comprehensive view.
Q: It certainly is a useful "hot button" issue to get people to your cause.
A: Sure. And I think there are opportunistic uses of the issue in that way, but I would encourage people to step back from assuming those kind of crass, cynical motives on the part of people who are anti- abortion. While that's present and real, it's also important to understand that for many people abortion is part of a world view that is fundamentally different from others. It is part of an integrated whole that needs to be understood in its particulars and not one piece picked out and fought over.
In order for the pro-choice community and the rest of the society to deal with abortion and the whole range of sexual and reproductive issues related to the Christian Right, it's important to understand their world view as it relates to those issues. Only then can one begin to develop an effective strategy for culturally and politically winning and also being able to incorporate into that strategy the element of humanity and civil discourse that allows us to not so shred the fabric of society that it's a miserable place to live, regardless of who wins.
Q: Speaking of shredding the fabric of society, you have a chapter on Vigilantes of the Theocratic Right and you name Paul Hill as one of those Vigilantes. When he first emerged on the scene on The Donahue Show, many of us were bewildered because we had never seen or heard of him before. You investigated his background and found Reconstructionist connections.
A: Paul Hill attended the Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi which was a hotbed of Reconstructionist thought at the time he was there. He came out of that seminary a convinced Reconstructionist.
He pastored Reconstructionist-oriented churches throughout the 80s. These churches were not storefront operations, but serious conservative Presbyterian denominations which Reconstructionism is part of in a conservative wing of the Protestant tradition.
What was unique about Paul Hill, was not so much that he held these ideas but rather he came to the conclusion that it was necessary not to change society to their world view but rather, that he and others found it necessary to actually become vigilante enforcers of God's Law.
Then, it goes even farther than that. Paul Hill, like elements of the militia movement and others believe, it's not only necessary to act singly, but collectively to fight what they view as a tyrannical government which does things in fundamental contradiction to God's Law. Paul Hill brings to the table a sense of strategy about how to have a resistance movement. Paul Hill calls for armed citizen militias to begin to figure that out.
Q: One of the chapters in Eternal Hostility provided a critique of the works of Professor James Hunter and his work, Culture Wars. He appears to be taking a moderate stand about public discourse and the role of religion in society. You did a lot of digging that puts his work in perspective.
A: People find Professor Hunter and his book Culture Wars very attractive because he speaks convincingly about the need for civil discourse and he's very concerned that what he calls "the culture war" will lead to violence and civil war in the United States. His book is a wealth of detail about the culture war and different elements within it.
This book is used as an important source by different people across the spectrum. I find that disturbing because his pose of neutrality is a false one. Far from being an objective scholar who has tried to reasonably keep his own biases out of the content of the book, instead he has used the pose of neutrality as a way of disguising his biases and convincing his reader of the elements of them. Important parts of the book become propaganda that way.
I learned, for example, that's he's done work for a major anti-abortion organization in helping to do a survey of American's attitudes on abortion.
Q: Americans United for Life?
A: That's right. He's worked hard to conceal his relationship to the data that's been widely publicized and used in the propaganda activities of the Christian Right.
Q: That's the Gallup Poll of 1990.
A: Yes. He also testified as an expert witness in a classic school textbook case in Alabama in which a group of conservative Christian parents sued the school board over the use of textbooks which they claimed promoted the religion of secular humanism. There is no "religion of secular humanism." This is a boogie man that was crafted by the Christian Right to try to explain what was going on in society that they didn't like. Prof. Hunter came in and tried to explain how some elementary and junior high level social studies books promoted the religion of secular humanism. Ultimately, the Appeals Court judges found his arguments to be utterly without merit.
He writes in his book about this case, which was a very important case at the time, without disclosing his relationship as an expert witness, just as he talks about the Gallop Poll in which he also played a role as an employee of Christian Right organizations.
Q: You also review Stephen Carter's book, The Culture of Disbelief, which was highly recommended by Bill Clinton. In Eternal Hostility you essentially say, Stephen Carter doesn't get it.
A: Stephen Carter believes that American culture and politics ridicule religious expression. If that were so, one might be very concerned, but he presents very little evidence that is the case. What's interesting about his ideas is this is an argument often made by the Christian Right. They claim that Liberals and the Government are picking on them because they're Christians and the Government opposes religious expression. This is preposterous.
What's peculiar about Mr. Carter is the degree of influence he has had in the debate of the role of the Christian Right in society. I think that people have gotten a little skittish about being critical about groups like the Christian Coalition lest they be subject to the charge of Christian bashing and being a religious bigot. Mr. Carter's book has helped fuel that fear and nervousness.
Next month Mr. Clarkson continues with a critique of the works of Stephen Carter and the discusses the Christian Coalition and the news media, then offers his thoughts on what must done to counter the agenda of the Theocratic Right.
Mr. Clarkson's book, Eternal Hostility, will be released some time in October 1996 by Common Courage Press. The Body Politic will make it available to readers.
(Eternal Hostility is available from the Body Politic.)
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