The Growth of the Christian Counter-Culture

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As the Christian Right has become significant in mainstream politics and government, it both stimulates and benefits from a growing conservative Christian counter-culture. This counter-culture takes many forms and its growth contributes to the institutionalization of the Christian Right. Christian schools and colleges are experiencing unprecedented growth. Membership in conservative evangelical churches is growing, partly at the expense of mainline Protestant churches, and Christian publishing, epitomized by the best selling apocalyptic novels of Tim LaHaye, is experiencing explosive growth.

The rise of the Christian counter-culture may be seen most dramatically in the separatist Christian home schooling movement. The "right" to home school children, part of the Republican Party platform since the 1980's, provides support for Christian Right legislative efforts to allow home schooling at the state level. Estimates of the number of home schooling families vary wildly, but may be a million. Many states have little oversight, let alone scrutiny of home schools or home school materials. The absence of state oversight has shielded some of the extreme antiabortion militants who home school their children, notably convicted murderer Paul Hill and militia proponent Matt Trewhella. Thousands of children are being raised to be Christian theocratic revolutionaries. While there is no guarantee that these children will turn out as their parents may hope, there is no question about the intentions of their parents.

The home schooling movement, (like the rise of private white Christian academies as a backlash to the integration of public schools) is quietly led and informed by the Christian Reconstructionist movement. For example, one large purveyor of home schooling materials and services is the Christian Reconstructionist-oriented Christian Liberty Academy, headed by Rev. Paul Lindstrom in Arlington, Illinois. Reconstructionism is a politically oriented theological movement that provides the ideological catalyst for the Christian Right. Reconstructionism has played a central role in politicizing conservative evangelicals.

Before the 1980s, conservative evangelicalism generally steered clear of politics because it was dominated by the pre-millennial view that the world cannot be significantly changed or "saved" until the Second Coming of Jesus. This view has been transformed by an extraordinary theological shift, catalyzed by the profoundly theocratic political vision of the Christian Reconstructionist movement, and its variants, which we may broadly call "dominion theology." Dominion theology shook the evangelical church off the political sidelines in part by arguing that the apolitical views of most of evangelicalism in the 20th century was a betrayal of what has been called the cultural mandate, or the dominion mandate found in the book of Genesis. The compromise ultimately struck during the 1980s among conservative evangelical factions was that Christians are obligated to build the kingdom of God in so far as that is possible. This compromise has allowed evangelicals to agree to disagree about the timing and political significance of the Second Coming, while uniting over a general political mandate to "Christianize" government and public life along conservative lines.

The doctrine of "compassionate conservatism" popularized by Marvin Olasky epitomizes the percolating influence of this theocratic strain, even as it seeks to take the edge off traditional, uncompassionate business conservatism. Joe Conn, editor of Church & State magazine demonstrated that leading Reconstructionist writers and thinkers have influenced Olasky's thinking about compassionate conservatism.49 Olasky is an elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, (PCA) a conservative splinter denomination and home to a number of Reconstructionist leaders. While some scholars continue to dismiss Reconstructionism as a "fringe" element within conservative evangelicalism, in fact, the movement has been consistently, albeit quietly, integral to the genesis, ideological formation and maturation of the Christian Right.50

The home schooling movement made a significant advance in the Fall of 2000, when Patrick Henry College in Purcerville, Virginia opened as a four-year college with the explicit purpose of training home-schooled children in politics and government. There are plans for a law school, and possibly undergraduate programs in journalism, computer science and business. Located just outside Washington, DC, the school emphasizes hands-on experience as interns in government and advocacy organizations so students can jump-start their careers in the Christian Right.51 The college is a "ministry" of the Home School Legal Defense Association headed by Michael Farris. Farris follows in the footsteps of fellow Virginians Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell who established and still lead their own and much larger institutions of higher learning, Regent University and Liberty University.

The growth of home schooling reflects the increased popularity of separatism among conservative evangelicals. In 1999, Paul Weyrich, President of the rightist Free Congress Foundation,

argued that conservative Christians have essentially lost the culture war and issued a provocative call for Christians to separate from secular institutions.52 The separatist nature of the home-schooling movement is consistent with, and predates his view. Weyrich called for "building our own schools, media, entertainment, universities, every institution that people need in order to lead good lives."53 Weyrich was attacked for what he later gently called his supposed intention to "give up the fight." Writing in the Olasky-edited World magazine in response, Weyrich explained, "Instead of relying on politics to retake the culturally and morally decadent institutions of contemporary America, I said that we should separate from those institutions and build our own."54 In many respects, Weyrich was actually issuing a call for support for a well-established trend-the institutionalization of the Christian Right in all of its manifestations, with politics as a secondary aspect of the movement.55

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