IFAS | Freedom Writer | May/June 1999 | failing.html

Religious Right failing

New York, NY According to several top Religious Right leaders, the movement has failed in its mission to inject conservative Christianity into American culture. Earlier this year, Paul Weyrich, a prominent long-time Religious Right activist, sent a controversial letter to fellow Religious Right leaders announcing the death of the movement. Weyrich originated the name "Moral Majority" for the organization once headed by the Rev. Jerry Falwell.

On Sunday, May 16, Leslie Stahl, of the CBS program "60 Minutes," interviewed past and current members of the Religious Right, including Paul Weyrich. She asked, "You say we lost the culture war?" Weyrich responded, "Yes." He added, "It is very clear that there is no longer if there ever was a moral majority."

Two former leaders of the Moral Majority, Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson also appeared on "60 Minutes." Thomas is a syndicated columnist and Dobson is a Grand Rapids, Michigan pastor.

According to Thomas, the Religious Right is unable to accomplish its goals. "We had Newt Gingrich and the Contract with America, and the House of Representatives under Republican control and mostly conservative control for the first time in 40 years. If we couldn't get it done with all that presumed political power, then it's quite clear, to me at least, that it can't be done."

Leslie Stahl noted that in spite of all the Religious Right groups, abortion is still legal, organized school prayer is still banned, there is more acceptance of homosexuality than ever before, and that the National Endowment for the Arts still survives.

Thomas commented, "Why would people send money to an organization or person who never succeeds?"

Pat Robertson, with a multimillion-dollar empire at stake, refused, to a degree, to back down. "We can't withdraw; this is part of our life. We can't do that. I just can't buy defeatism. I can't give up and say to my grandchildren I have 13 grandchildren 'Grandpa dropped out of the fight because Paul Weyrich wrote a letter.'"

Stahl mentioned Pat Robertson's recent launching of a $21 million fund drive to aid the Christian Coalition's participation in the 2000 elections.

Commenting on Robertson's efforts, Weyrich said, "Well, let's see what they have to show for it after the 2000 election. I doubt that they will succeed."

In spite of his bravado, Robertson conceded, "There is no way that we are going to pass a constitutional amendment banning abortion. It's just not going to happen."

Pastor Ed Dobson, who doesn't allow Christian Coalition voter guides in his Michigan church, had harsh criticism for the Christian Coalition.

"Whenever you identify a movement as Christian Christian Coalition, or whatever term you affix to [Christian] and it's primarily a political movement, you have identified Jesus with that movement. So," Dobson said, "the perception outside the movement is that to be a Christian I must agree with all these political positions."

"And I must be a Republican," Stahl added.

"In this case, yes," Dobson said.

"And this offends you?"

"Yes, because I meet with 12 black pastors in our community. We've spent hundreds of hours together. And they're all Democrats. They're not Republican."

"And they're all Christians," Stahl said.

"They're authentic, dedicated, passionate followers of Jesus Christ. Jesus is not even American," Dobson said.

"Or Republican," Stahl said.

"Or Republican."

Dobson said that he believes that Christians need to change culture by example, not politics. His church feeds the homeless in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and operates a home for pregnant teenagers.

His message to the Christian Coalition is: "Drop the name 'Christian.' Stop pressuring pastors to be politically active from the pulpit. Stop pressuring churches as the main organization to effect political change."

Sociologist Alan Wolfe also appeared on the program. He interviews Americans about religion and politics.

"Americans love God and Americans hate politics," Wolfe said. "So, the idea that you would mix these up, that you would politicize religion, is just crazy. It's not something they ever want to do."

"I found that people believe very much in morality," Wolfe added, "but because they also believe in freedom, they want to have a say in what are going to be the moral rules that are going to govern their lives. People don't like the meddling."

Wolfe said that in his many interviews with Americans across the country, he found hostility not only against Pat Robertson, but also Jesse Jackson, who, like Robertson, mixes politics and religion. This mixing of politics and religion is the very reason why the Religious Right is losing ground, he said.

Gary Bauer, formerly of the Family Research Council, a Focus on the Family affiliate, is a Republican presidential candidate. Also appearing on "60 Minutes," he brushed off Paul Weyrich's comments as coming from one who is "tired."

Weyrich countered, "If he is right, and I'm wrong, he'll be elected." He said that he told Bauer that, "Even if you were to be elected President, you could not advance the cultural agenda. [Bauer] said, 'That's absolute nonsense, because I would be a leader. It's a leadership question.'"

"No, I said, it isn't a leadership question, because the culture has shifted so far that any leader that would attempt to push these ideas at this point would find himself embroiled in such a controversy that his administration would be totally stymied."

Bauer replied, "That's defeatist."

At the end of the program, Leslie Stahl asked Weyrich, "Is it painful to admit you're wrong?"

"Of course. It's never easy."

He said that his friends told him that he's finished politically, but he concluded, "It's foolish to congratulate yourself for non-accomplishment."

© 1999 Institute for First Amendment Studies, Inc.