IFAS | Freedom Writer | May/June 1991 | phase3.html

The new religious right
Phase Three: Christianizing America

By Skipp Porteous

In November 1990, Christian conservatives met in Washington, D.C. to discuss the gains of the radical religious right, and to plan the movement's future. The symposium was sponsored by the influential Heritage Foundation and the Ethics and Public Policy Center. The conference helped set the stage for what we see as Phase Three of the radical religious right's agenda to Christianize America.

In Phase One, Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority and Pat Robertson's presidential campaign stimulated the "Christian nation" myth and awakened a sleeping giant. On the surface, both of these political efforts failed. However, they brought conservative Christian voters to the Republican Party by the tens of thousands and helped to elect Ronald Reagan and George Bush. As a result, hundreds of conservative judges have been appointed to the federal courts. The opinions of these judges will continue to affect First Amendment freedoms for years to come. Some of these judges will like David Souter eventually end up on the U.S. Supreme Court.

In Phase Two of the radical religious right's agenda we saw the formation of Christian political coalitions. They include, but certainly are not limited to the Coalition on Revival, Concerned Women for America, Focus on the Family, and Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition. Working hand in hand, these groups coalesce with hundreds of groups from all the states. In turn, they represent millions of born-again Christians. (According to a Gallup poll, there are between 65-70 million born-again Christians in the U.S.) The main attribute of Phase Two was a dramatic shift from national politics to local politics. This means taking over school boards, city councils, county boards of supervisors, county sheriffs, etc.

Now, we come to Phase Three. Phase Three, the current phase, involves the entrenchment of the radical religious right agenda.

The Washington conference, which touted Phase Three, was organized around an article in the Heritage Foundation's Policy Review by Thomas C. Atwood, a former member of Pat Robertson's staff. At- wood is now Policy Review's managing editor. Self-critical of the religious right, the article was called: "Through the Glass Darkly: Is the Christian Right Overconfident It Knows God's Will?"

Atwood criticized the religious right for failing to follow some of politic's basic rules. These include respect for opposing views, coalition building, compromise, and careful rhetoric.

With coalitions already in place, Phase Three's emphasis is on careful rhetoric in the public arena. Atwood told the gathering that the religious right activists and leaders "often came across as authoritarian, intolerant and boastful, even to natural constituents."

He urged the leaders to play down appeals to Scripture and "messianic rhetoric" and appeal instead to "common-sense values." He said, "the best thing that could happen to the movement is for it to be less identifiable as a movement and have its people and its ideas percolate through the system."

He acknowledged the fact that now "evangelical activists are more discreet and more concerned about using language that can be understood by their coalition partners." This is precisely why today's religious right is not out making headlines like it did during the tenure of the Moral Majority.

The conference further observed that religious right causes are progressing quietly through the court system. The main exception to this "quiet progression" is abortion. In addition, participants generally agree that abortion is the main issue keeping the coalitions united. Other unifying issues are so-called "family" issues, such as opposition to erotica, gay rights, the New Age, and secular humanism.

Since last fall's conference, the religious right has issued new marching orders to its troops. James Dobson, one of the religious right's most important new leaders, promotes his political agenda through his Focus on the Family Citizen magazine. Tom Minnery is Dobson's vice president of Public Policy, and writes for Citizen magazine. Two articles by Tom Minnery in the April 15, 1991 Citizen outline the "biblical underpinning" for Christian activism. Basing his rationalization on several biblical texts (Romans 13:1-2, Romans 13:3-4, and I Timothy 2:14), Minnery says:

"When government restrains chaos, conditions are best for preaching the gospel, and God desires that all people be given the opportunity to repent and be saved. That is why government is essential. Salvation is God's ultimate goal, and government, with all its faults, provides necessary conditions for the church to accomplish His purpose. What stronger motivation could there possibly be for the Christian to want to ensure that government works well?"

His message is two-fold: One, that the ultimate purpose of Christian activism is conversion to fundamentalist Christianity. Two, this mission can best be accomplished through a government that is responsive to their agenda, and the best way to assure this is to control it.

Rather than picketing a school, or removing one's children, Minnery says that it is better for a Christian to run for a seat on the school board. That way, he says, they can, for example, "prevent objectionable sex education programs."

Minnery continues: "Unfortunately, in our country we have ample evidence of how a government gone astray impedes the church's influence. Christian symbols, such as nativity scenes, have been removed from public property in some places, the Ten Commandments have been ordered off the walls of public schools, the rich Christian influence in our very history as American people has been down-played in our children's textbooks, and the publicly owned airwaves have been permitted to carry viciously immoral messa ges on radio and television. Worst of all, the government permits abortion, which destroys the very notion of the sacredness of human life. All of this contributes to a harsher climate for the church to strive for the attention of the people."

He fails to mention the separation of church and state and other First Amendment freedoms, because these principles are the antithesis of the radical Christian right's agenda.

After presenting his arguments for Christian activism, Minnery, in a separate article, elaborates on Phase Three, as presented at last year's Washington conference.

Rhetorically, he asks, "How can we bring our views to the public square without being accused of forcing others to conform to our religious beliefs?" Minnery is not suggesting here that the radical Christian right intends to stop trying to force its morality onto the rest of society. Quite the contrary, for, later he writes, "Although we may not quote our source in the marketplace, we derive our morals from the Bible." He doesn't mean that they are forbidden to quote the Bible as their source of morality, but that their new tactics dictate that they not quote from it. The only thing that has changed are the methods by which they go about advocating their biblical-based morality.

Minnery offers some examples of how Christian activists can apply common-sense values, or moral law, to advance their agenda. He mentions "Thou shalt not kill," "Thou shalt not steal," "Thou shalt not commit adultery." Although found in the Bible, these a re principles accepted by the majority of people world-wide. He adds, "A mutually faithful, monogamous heterosexual marriage is not only scriptural, but studies have shown it is better for children, better for the health of parents, and better for the stability of the community." Thus, in a round-about way, he condemns all relationships outside of monogamous, heterosexual marriages.

"When Christians," Minnery continues, "use reason and logic to make their points in public debate, they are really appealing to natural, moral law." With such an appeal to reason and logic, Minnery sounds exactly like a secular humanist, but that is hardly the case.

As another example of appealing to natural, moral law, he mentions pornography. "There is no clearer concept in Scripture than the celebration of sexual life within the confines of marriage. Nothing is more clearly condemned than sexual license for its own sake. Depictions of sexual wantonness, in modern terms, constitutes pornography."

He continues, "When Christian citizens make anti-pornography arguments, they shouldn't use Scripture. Instead, they should use moral arguments that make sense to all." He then lists "facts" concerning the dangers of porn. Pornography degrades women; leads to rape and other violence; causes addiction to "even more bizarre forms"; promotes prostitution; and conveys a false impression of sexual life, thereby distorting husbands' desires and lowering the esteem of wives, which, in turn, breaks up marriages and causes emotional stress for children.

These arguments, he claims, are backed by scientific studies, thus proving that biblical law is good for society.

Another example of argument based upon reason and logic relates to homosexuality. It demeans marriage and the nurturing of children, and spreads a host of infectious diseases, he says. While Minnery argues that the Bible condemns homosexuality, it is better to argue against it on moral terms. "Homosexuality is obviously unhealthy for society," Minnery proclaims.

Finally, Minnery urges his readers to "bring the good news of salvation into a fallen world," and the way to accomplish this evangelization is to construct arguments in "appropriate fashion for their secular audience."

In summary, by ignoring the constitutional provision for a separation between church and state, the new radical religious right will continue to promulgate its political agenda. They will often be less identifiable as a radical religious movement because they operate under innocuous-sounding names such as Focus on the Family, American Family Association, Concerned Women for America, and Children's Legal Foundation. The religious overtones will be largely absent, thus deceiving the unwary public about its true agenda. That agenda is to build a theocratic nation, thus eliminating our democratic values of diversity, dissent, and debate.

© 1998 Institute for First Amendment Studies, Inc.