IFAS | Freedom Writer | November/December 1990 | newright.html

The new radical religious right

By Skipp Porteous

"By the end of the decade the whole earth will view the church in a different light. The church will no longer be mocked and despised, but either loved or feared." Evangelist Paul Cain

As we approach the year 2000, we can expect an unprecedented flurry of activity as Christian missionary and evangelistic groups pull out all the stops in an attempt to "bring in the harvest."

The Christian right has quietly been born again. It has reorganized, and is beginning to arise as a major religious and social force. These radicals have not, and will not, go away.

Three significant and disturbing trends have taken firm hold in the new religious right. First, a broad doctrinal consensus has been reached in order to provide much-needed unity. Second, a dramatic shift in political focus has moved the new religious right's target from national politics to towns, cities, counties, and states. Third, the "troops" are now being recruited and trained. All of this is being accomplished through careful planning and networking. It is being carried out through a commitment to decisive action.

The goal of the radical religious right of the 1980s was to reconstruct American society according to the Bible. The term for this Reconstructionism has surfaced as a leading, across-the-board philosophy for the new religious right. While Reconstructionists do not agree on everything, they have reached a consensus on many social and moral issues and many Christians, without their knowledge, are greatly influenced by Reconstructionist philosophy.

Reconstructionists believe: God's law, as revealed in the Bible, should govern every area of life; local government, not federal government, should rule; prisons could virtually be closed if serious offenders were executed, and if less serious criminals worked to make restitution for their crimes; capital offenses, requiring the death penalty, should include unrepentant homosexuality, abortion, and adultery; pornography in any form should be eliminated; schools should be run by churches, and property taxes should be abolished; husbands should be the heads of the household, and women and children should be subservient.

Pat Robertson revealed the influence that the Reconstructionist mindset had on his own thinking when he predicted the time when Christians will take dominion over society. In December, 1984, he told an audience at evangelist Robert Tilton's Word of Faith World Outreach Center in Dallas, what he sees down the road. "The church members have taken dominion over the forces of the world...there are no more abortions...education is going to be in the hands of the godly people...prisons will be virtually empty... pornographers no longer have any access to the public whatsoever, where there is no more of that stuff on our newsstands or any place else."

The Rev. Leonard Coppes is pastor of the Providence Church of Denver, Colorado, and his 100-member church is part of the Orthodox Presbyterian sect, a group of 180 churches spread across the country. Coppes is an avowed Reconstructionist. He agrees that homosexuality and abortion should be punishable by death, and adds, "The question is, who is going to set the law system? I think God should set the law system, not man. Those laws that define the seriousness of a crime, and are rooted in the moral nature of God, are still binding on us. If they [homosexuals] don't repent, the Bible says that they ought to be put to death. It's just a matter of what God says."

"With reference to abortionists," he added, "if abortion is murder and I believe it is the penalty for murder from almost any evangelical theology is death."

"Believers have to stand for what they believe is right. We're commanded in the Scripture to pray that God's kingdom would come on earth as it is in heaven. And that's my prayer. What we pray for, surely, we're commanded to work for."

Rousas John Rushdoony, a former Presbyterian minister, is considered the father of Reconstructionism. Since 1964, the 74-year-old minister has quietly devoted his energies to research, writing, and promoting Christian Reconstructionism. Rushdoony's small organization, Chalcedon, has had a great impact on American Christianity. For instance, most of the books on Christian activism appearing in Christian bookstores are written by Reconstructionists.

Born-again Christian activism has not realized its political potential because of lack of unity and organization. While many doctrinal disputes will never be resolved, a confederation of new religious right leaders has made an important and enormous step in this direction.

Since 1986, the California-based Coalition on Revival (COR) has labored with little or no publicity. Its founder and national director is Jay Grimstead, an accomplished networker who advances COR's agenda within a close-knit alliance of new religious right leaders. Its steering committee of 112 well-known Christian leaders are a virtual who's who of the born-again movement. They represent millions of American Christians, and, collectively, wield more power than any single Christian group in the country.

According to Jay Grimstead, "COR creates documents that provide the philosophical foundation for action." He says there are "a number of items that we think ought to happen...political involvement...educational involvement...and well-regulated militias locally." It's Grimstead's understanding that both the county and the state are supposed to have militias, which he calls "local government with force."

Grimstead adds, "We believe that God has given the Bible as a rule book for all society, Christian and non-Christian alike." And, "I concur with most of the Reconstructionist matters; I am trying to help rebuild the society on the Word of God, and loosely, that would be a Reconstructionist orientation in anybody's book."

Grimstead says, "The Bible had something like eleven reasons for capital punishment. And murder was one. And homosexuality, and rape, and kidnapping were some others. The actual punishments we don't have agreement on, but we think that homosexuality, and abortion, and pornography should be outlawed."

Grimstead explained COR's strategy: "For example, in Santa Clara County there are about 14 cities, including San Jose, the big city. We think it's very possible, by the year 2000, to have Christians mature, biblically literate gain the majority of seats in all the city councils in our county. Plus, the Board of County Supervisors." He added, "That's one step, the political scene. That'll be the easiest."

"It's just organization," he continued. "And the facts are, we have enough Christians to totally, politically, by vote, overpower any other groups of minorities, if we would just do it. We have the majority vote. We are the largest minority."

"It is the goal of a number of us to try to Christianize the state of California."

Grimstead explained his viewpoint on church/state separation: "The church is not supposed to try to take over the government of San Jose. The people who take over the government of San Jose are American citizens who happen to be informed by the Bible on what is justice, and what is injustice. The Bible controls both church and state."

Fred Clarkson, a Washington-based journalist, agrees that COR is a Reconstructionist front, a way of packaging theopolitical ideas to do effective networking and political bridge building, to build a much more serious and permanent religious right political movement.

He says, "The numbers may not be large, as yet, but they don't have to be. Because if you develop an ideologically committed cadre of well-trained leadership, it doesn't matter what your numbers are, because you've got ministers of congregations. You have people who have a vision for the long haul...yeah, there'll be flakes but they'll also have some serious contenders who will know how to package themselves to get some county council seats, local sheriffs, and that kind of stuff. There are so few people who vote in those kinds of elections. ..you turn out a couple of churches full of people and away you go." Beverly LaHaye is a member of the COR's steering committee. She also heads the radical Concerned Women for America, a group which promotes the new religious right's agenda. Now ten years old, Concerned Women claims more than 600,000 members, making it the largest women's organization in America.

Like every group in the new religious right, Concerned Women has a detailed plan of action to achieve its agenda, and it, too, maintains that "this battle must be waged at the local level."

LaHaye's group has effective chapters in every state, and additional political action groups in many metropolitan areas. Their political training seminars are sometimes referred to as "basic training/boot camps."

Local chapters conduct briefings on state issues, and hold meetings and receptions with state legislators. Colorado state representative Kathi Williams, called CWA "a powerful force at the Capitol."

Concerned Women has four full-time attorneys on its staff, including Michael Farris, who also serves on COR's steering committee. CWA's legal staff has its hands full as it argues cases which affect its agenda across the nation.

LaHaye's group is hardly the only organization of the new religious right with an active legal staff. In fact, R.J. Rushdoony is a former board member of the Rutherford Institute, a Christian legal organization he helped found. Attorney John Whitehead is the group's national director and a COR steering committee member. In 1989, Rutherford handled some 190 cases, with several dozen currently pending.

Focus on the Family is another highly organized, radical ministry. Headed by Christian psychologist Dr. James Dobson, this California-based organization employs 750 workers, and operates on a $60 million a year budget. With the aid of a $4 million private grant, Focus on the Family plans to relocate to Colorado Springs, Colorado, in the near future.

Dobson, too, is forming coalitions of radical Christian political special interest groups. Although not directly connected to COR, Focus on the Family networks with, and endorses a number of COR affiliates. "Once these coalitions are in place," Dobson says, "our state legislators will discover they can no longer write off the concerns of conservative Christian families."

Having failed in his venture into national politics, Pat Robertson has also switched his efforts to the local arena. In the spring of 1990, he created a new organization called the Christian Coalition. While Robertson is not personally a member of COR, some of his Regent University staff are members.

According to Ralph Reed, the Christian Coalition's executive direc- tor, "The Christian community got it backwards in the nineteen-eighties. We tried to charge Washington when we should have been focusing on the states. The real battles of concern to Christians are in neighborhoods, school boards, city councils and state legislatures."

The participants in the Christian Coalition's Leadership School use "a nuts-and-bolts manual on how to start a coalition; how to fund raise for your candidate; how to back a candidate; how to groom a candidate; how to deal with the media for their candidate; how to be a candidate, and how to canvass your voters."

Robert L. Simonds another member of COR's steering committee is president of the California-based Citizens for Excellence in Education (CEE) and the National Association of Christian Educators (NACE). "Our job," according to Simonds, "is to evangelize...our schools are the battleground." Their goal is "to bring public education back under the control of the Christian community."

Simonds enjoys the endorsement of Thomas G. Tancredo, a high-ranking public official. Tancredo, director of the U.S. Department of Education's regional office in Denver, confirmed that "Bob Simonds' organization is the most valuable thing I have ever seen in all the current talk about educational reform. While everyone else talks, NACE/CEE acts." He added, "They are certainly reflective of our own goals in the Department in many ways."

"Prayer and action" serve well as the battle cry for all the new religious right-wing groups. The philosophy is that people will work for the agenda for which they pray. This is emphasized continually.

In the next few years, our battle will be on many fronts, against many groups of highly organized and dangerous religious zealots. Our only hope is to vigorously maintain the wall of separation between church and state.

© 1998 Institute for First Amendment Studies, Inc.