Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 7

l__C_1-L-Yd_e_W_il_co_x__r

Laying Up Treasures in Washington


and in Heaven: The Christian Right
and Evangelical Politics in the
Twentieth Century and Beyond

OAH MAGAZINE OF HISTORY

JANUARY

2003 23

Downloaded from http://maghis.oxfordjournals.org/ at :: on March 3, 2015

n 1990, the Reverend Pat Robertson told an assembly of


been met. The Christian Right enjoyed some minor successes in
Christian Coalition activists and supporters that the
education, including federal funding for "abstinence only" sex
.
organization's goal was to elect a Republican majority to Coneducation programs, but most of its education agenda was still
unrealized. States continued
gress by the mid-1990s, and to
couple that with a conservato regulate abortion, but abortion remained legal. Indeed,
tive Republican president by
on some issues the Christian
2000. After the 2000 elecRight lost ground: Mothers
tions, for a brief moment,
Robertson's goals were
entered the paid labor force
achieved. The Republicans rein increasing numbers during
tained a narrow margin in the
the 1990s and gays and lesbians gained new protections in
House ofRepresentatives,and
held onto the Senate with the
many jurisdictions.
It is possible that the
help of a Republican vice
president to break ties. More
movement will make impor~
importantly, George W. Bush
tant strides to achieve its goals
in the future. Yet never beran with the strong support of
fore in American history has
Robertson and other Christian Right leaders (1).
a social movement been so
successful in elections and so
The 2000 elections
unsuccessful in policy. To fully
brought a man to the White
House who had frequently As a presidential candidate, George W. Bush emphasized the strength of his faith understand this paradox, it is
testified to his born-again ex- and his commitment to Christian values. On 1 October 1999, Bush spoke at Road useful to consider the history
perience, who had declared a to Victory '99, the ninth annual Conference and Strategy Briefing for the Christian of the Christian Right in the
Coalition in Washington. (AP Photo, Gene J. Puskar)
twentieth century. Through"Jesus Day" as governor of
Texas, and who had stated during the Grand Old Party (GOP)
out the century, Christian Right organizations have mobilized and
primary debates that Jesus was his favorite philosopher and that
pushed for policies only to retreat into political passivity. This
the Bible was his favorite book. Bush appointed an attorney
cycle has repeated itself many times.
general whose evangelical faith led him to hold prayer and Bible
reading sessions before the start of his workday with selected staff.
Surge and Decline of the
Combined with the growing evangelical contingent in Congress,
Fundamentalist Christian Right
it was clear that evangelicals had arrived in American politics.
The Christian Right is a social movement that seeks to
mobilize and represent evangelical Christians in politics.
Ironically, although the Christian Coalition had achieved its
electoral goals by the 2000 election, few of its policy goals had
Evangelicals in the United States are divided into distinctive

24

OAH MAGAZINE OF HISTORY. JANUARY

2003

Downloaded from http://maghis.oxfordjournals.org/ at :: on March 3, 2015

theological groups-fundamentalists, Pentecostals, charismatics,


offshoot, the Flying Fundamentalists, used a variety of tactics in
and neo-evangelicals-and throughout most of the twentieth
an attempt to pass state laws banning the teaching of evolution.
century there was considerable hostility between these groups.
Their leaders sought to meet with state legislators to persuade
This hostility has been a major limiting factor in the success of the
them of the validity of their positions, and other activists adChristian Right in the twentieth century, although there is some
dressed large rallies in an effort to mobilize public opinion. This
evidence that it dissipated significantly in the 1990s.
mixing of quiet persuasion and public pressure marked the antievolution crusades as one of the most sophisticated of the various
The theological differences among these groups are subtle, but
doctrine matters to evangelicals, and thus the differences are
waves of Christian Right activity.
important. Neo-evangelicals believe that the Bible is the unerring
In all, thirty-seven antievolution bills were introduced in
word of God, and that God might occasionally give some inditwenty state legislatures, but most failed to pass. One bill died in
viduals special gifts to help with his work. Neo-evangelicals are
a committee on fish, game, and oysters-apparently referred
the moderate evangelicals, epitomized by Billy Graham. Pentethere because the bill proscribed teaching that humans had
costals believe that many gifts of the Holy Spirit are important
evolved from lower organisms. The climax of the antievolution
parts of worship and are available
crusades was the famous Scopes
to all, including speaking in
trial, in which William Jennings
tongues, being "slain in the Spirit,"
Bryan took the stand to defend the
and other ecstatic activities. Penfundamentalist view of evolution,
tecostal Christians are found in
only to be humiliated by Clarence
specific denominations, such as the
Darrow's questioning. Bryan died
Assemblies of God. Charismatics
soon afterward, leaving the antialso believe in the gifts ofthe Spirit,
evolution crusades without a
but do not believe that everyone
prominent national leader (3).
receives them. Charismatics beAs enthusiasm for antievolulong to many different denomination activities waned, some fundations, and often join in
mentalist leaders began to focus
interdenominational worship or
on a different message-anticomlarge
nondenominational
munism. Anticommunism was a
megachurches. Fundamentalists
natural rallying issue for fundabelieve that the Bible is literally
mentalists, for many believed that
true, word for word. They reject
the Bible predicted that the ultiany notion of contemporary gifts Clarence Darrow (left) and William Jennings Bryan speak with each
mate battle between the forces of
other at the "Monkey Trial" in Dayton, Tennessee, in 1925. Darrow
of the Spirit as being at best was one ofthree lawyers sent by the American Civil Liberties Union Christ and the Antichrist would
unbiblical, and at worst Satanic. to defend John T. Scopes, a biology teacher, in his test of be fought in Israel, with the latter's
Fundamentalist leaderJerry Falwell Tennessee's law banning the teaching of evolution. Bryan testified forces coming from the land then
once joked publicly that people for the prosecution as an expert on the Bible. (AP Photo)
occupied by the Soviet Union.
who spoke in tongues had eaten
Communism was a new force in
too much pizza the day before. These theological divisions were
the world in the 1920s, and its militant atheism resonated with
once very intense: Ruben Archer Torrey, a leading fundamentalthis interpretation of Scripture.
ist in the early twentieth century called Pentecostals the "last
The Christian Right of the 1920s began as a broad coalition
vomit of Satan (2)," but there is some evidence that the antagoof conservative Christians, but was soon confined to the fundanisms have cooled in the past decade.
mentalist wing of evangelicalism. Despite potential support from
There have been social movement organizations that actively
mainline Protestants, Pentecostal evangelicals, and even some
sought to mobilize evangelicals throughout the twentieth cenconservative Catholics, the religious particularlism of the fundatury. Yet the religious and social bases of these groups, and their
mentalists prevented them from building religious coalitions.
policy agendas, have changed considerably over time. The first
During the Great Depression of the 1930s and into World
three waves of this activity occurred among fundamentalist ChrisWar II, many of the fundamentalist organizations remained
tians, whose religious prejudices prevented them from building
active, but their financial bases eroded substantially. Some of
larger coalitions.
their leaders drifted into fascism, anti-Semitism, and bigotry (4).
Early in the twentieth century, a movement within
The fundamentalist Christian Right continued to preach antievangelicalism that called itself fundamentalism promoted a litcommunism, but this theme lacked strong appeal in the depths of
eral reading of the Bible, dividing denominations and congregathe Great Depression, and the organizations faded into obscurity.
tions and generating great intellectual and social heat. This
In the aftermath of the Scopes trial and the failure of
energy spilled over into politics as ministers began to challenge
Prohibition, fundamentalists and other evangelicals retreated
the teaching of evolution in public schools. In the 1920s, organifrom politics into what has been called the "great reversal."
zations such as the Bible League of North America, the Bible
Politics was seen as an ultimately futile endeavor. Yet during
Crusaders ofAmerica, the Defenders ofthe Christian Faith and an
this period, fundamentalists built political Bible colleges,

homosexual lifestyle. (AP Photo/ Earl Cryer)

OAH MAGAZINE OF HISTORY. JANUARY

2003 25

Downloaded from http://maghis.oxfordjournals.org/ at :: on March 3, 2015

churches, and new organizations-infrastructure that would


The fundamentalist anticommunism crusades never attracted
a wide audience and were not well known even among those
prove useful in later years.
In the 1950s, new fundamentalist groups formed in support of
conservative fundamentalists most sympathetic to their message.
McCarthy's crusade ended in disarSenator Joe McCarthy's antiray after he attacked the military,
communist campaign. The
but the groups survived McCarthy's
Christian Crusade, the Chrisdemise and signed on with enthusitian Anti-Communism Cruasm to Barry Goldwater's 1964 presisade, and the Church League
dential bid. After his landslide
emphasized primarily the threat
defeat, the fundamentalist anticomofqbmestic communists. Using
radio broadcasts and traveling
munist groups slid into obscurity.
Yet even as the Christian Right
"schools of anticommunism,"
of the 1950s faded away, the relithese groups focused narrowly
on the "Red Menace." These
gious conservatives that served as
their target constituency continued
schools did not always emphato build infrastructure-Bible colsize the fundamentalist roots of
leges, Christian bookstores, and spethe organizations and thus atcialized magazines and newspapers.
tracted not only highly religious
One
of the best-selling books of the
fundamentalists who were re1970s
was Hal Lindsey's The Late
cruited in churches, but also
Great Planet Earth (1970), which
secular anticommunists (5).
mixed premillennialism with farThe issue agenda was slightly
right, often paranoid politics. Chrisbroader than the one pursued
tian radio and television programs
by the antievolution groups of
the 1920s. The Christian Antiand stations began to proliferate,
Communism Crusade officially Senator joseph McCarthy and his chief counsel Roy Cohn providing leading fundamentalist,
opposed Medicare, labeling it appear during a committee hearing on 26 April. 26 1954, in Pentecostal, and evangelical preachers with a wider audience.
socialized medicine, and sex Washington. (AP Photo)
In the late 1970s, Republican
education, arguing that it would
activists helped provide resources to form yet another wave of
weaken the nation's moral fiber and make America ripe for
fundamentalist political groups such as the Moral Majority, the
communist takeover. These issues were secondary to combating
Christian Voice, and the Religious Roundtable (6). Of all the
domestic communist infiltration, however, and were alwayslinked
fundamentalist groups of the period, the Moral Majority attracted
directly to the communist conspiracy.
the most attention. Its leader was Jerry Falwell, a Baptist Bible
Fellowship pastor who had built the Thomas Road Baptist
Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, from an initial gathering of
thirty-five adults into a megachurch with more than fifteen
thousand members. Falwell was an eager advocate for the
Christian Right, appearing on television programs soon after
the 1980 election to claim that evangelicals had provided
Reagan's victory margin.
The Moral Majority built its organization primarily through
pastors in Falwell's denomination, the Baptist Bible Fellowship (BBF). Falwell recruited most of the organization's state
and county leaders through the BBF, and this enabled him
quickly to establish organizations in most states and in many
counties (7). When the media "discovered" the Christian
Right in early 1981, the Moral Majority appeared on the
surface to have a thriving organization.
These ready resources came with a price, however. The
BBF pastors were religious entrepreneurs, and a pastor
often built a church from scratch from a small circle of
friends who first met in the pastor's living room. Many
pastors hoped eventually to establish a megachurch as
The Reverend Jerry Falwell, a spiritual leader of the Moral Majority, holds up a
Tinky Winky Teletubby doll during a 15 February 1999 speech to a conference
Falwell and some others had done. Most sought to build
of ministers. Falwell condemned the doll because he believed it promoted a
auxiliary organizations such as church schools. These men

26

OAH MAGAZINE OF HISTORY JANUARY

2003

Downloaded from http://maghis.oxfordjournals.org/ at :: on March 3, 2015

were frequently too busy with their religious construction to


The Robertson Campaign
build a political organization.
In 1987, Marion (Pat) Robertson announced that he would
Moreover, the BBF pastors were a generally intolerant lot.
seek the Republican presidential nomination. Robertson was all.
They were hostile to Catholics, Pentecostals, charismatics,
ordained Baptist minister with a nationally televised religious
evangelicals, mainline Protestants, and not especially warm totalk show called the 700 Club, which had a large audience.
ward other Baptist churches. Their state Moral Majority organiRobertson had a strong base among charismatic evangelicals,
zations seldom had leaders outside of their faith, and those who did
but his program welcomed guests from many religious tradiserve often felt uncomfortable and unwelcome. Not surprisingly,
tions, including Catholics, mainline Protestants, evangelicals,
surveys of state Moral Majority membership generally found that
fundamentalists, Pentecostals, charismatics, and black Protesa majority were Baptists and few, if
tants. Robertson himself noted his
any, were Catholics (8).
eclectic approach: "In terms of the
Thus, although the Moral Masuccession of the church, I'm a Roman
jority organization looked impresCatholic. As far as the majesty of worsive on paper, in practice most state
ship, I'm all. Episcopalian; as far as the
organizations were moribund (9).
belief in the sovereignty of God, I'm
The few state and local groups that
Presbyterian; in terms of holiness, I'm
were active went their considerably
a Methodist; in terms of the priestdivergent ways, often to the embarhood of believers and baptism, I'm a
rassment of the national organizaBaptist; in terms of the baptism of the
tion. In Maryland, for example, the
Holy Spirit, I'm a Pentecostal. So I'm
state organization made its stand on
a little bit of all of them" (10).
the issue of the sale by a beachfront
The Robertson campaign mobilized
bakery of "anatomically correct"
Pentecostal Christians into politics.
cookies, which the organization laIndeed, many studies revealed that his
beled as pornographic. The incicampaign gathered little support bedent attracted national media
yond Pentecostal and charismatic
attention and ultimately succeeded
Christians (11). Moreover, fundamenin boosting cookie sales.
talists were actually less likely than
The Moral Majority, Christian
mainline Protestants to support
Voice, and other groups ofthe 1970s
Robertson, presumably because of disand 1980s had a far broader issue
approval of his Pentecostal leanings,
agenda than their predecessors. The
and Jerry Falwell endorsed Episcopacore agenda involved opposition to
lian George Bush rather than fellow
abortion, civil rights protection for
Baptist pastor Robertson.
gays and lesbians, and the ERA, and
Robertson's campaign often made
support for school prayer and tuunusual political arguments: He sugition tax credits for religious schools.
gested that one major problem with
But the organizations staked posiabortion was that, it was killing off
tions on a variety of other issues as
potential citizens who could pay for the
well. Falwell made a highly publi- Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Coalition, addresses
retirement of baby boomers. His ecocized defense of South Africa and a Faith and Freedom celebration on 1 August 2000 in
nomic positions were complex and did
consistently supported increases in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/GeneJ.Puskar)
not fit neatly into the mainstream Redefense spending. The Moral Mapublican debates between fiscal conjority Report, the organization's newsletter, attempted to build
servatives and supply-side economists.
support for conservative economic issues as well, including a
He strongly criticized the morality of large corporations that put
subminimum wage, a return to the gold standard, and cuts in social
profits ahead of morals. He blamed the world banking cartel for
welfare spending.
maintaining tight money that hurt working families. His most
The Moral Majority disbanded in 1989 because it found it
controversial stand was his call for a "Year of Jubilee," a year in
increasingly difficult to raise money through direct mail. Falwell
which debt would be forgiven. Basing his proposal on all. Old
claimed that he quit because he had accomplished his goal, but the
Testament account ofa similar policy in ancient Israel, Robertson
key issue agenda of the Moral Majority remained unrealized. Like
argued that the growing mountains of debt (both domestic and
the other fundamentalist crusades before it, the Moral Majority
foreign) threatened to overwhelm the international economy. By
eventually folded its tent and went home.
calling for debt relief and "looser" money, Robertson echoed the
earlier populist campaign ofWilliamJennings Bryan but drew the
ridicule of the Wall Street Journal.

OAH MAGAZINE OF HISTORY JANUARY

2003 27

Downloaded from http://maghis.oxfordjournals.org/ at :: on March 3, 2015

Robertson's campaign made many mistakes and ultimately


a grassroots mobilization of immense scope. The goal was to have
spent some $36 million to win thirty-five pledged delegates.
activists in place in every precinct in America by the millennium,
Yet Robertson raised more money than any candidate had
to influence the GOP nomination process and to elect a "propreviously and won or did well in a number of caucus states
family" Congress and president by 2000. The movement never
where high turnout among Pentecostal Christians helped in
succeeded in building precinct organizations, but it did help the
low turnout contests.
GOP regain control of Congress and elect President Bush. The
Yet from the ashes of the Robertson campaign arose a new,
Christian Coalition was the most visible ofthe new organizations.
more sophisticated Christian Right. In many states where Bush
The organization's first executive director, Ralph Reed, wrote of
won the Republican primary, Robertson's forces continued to
the need for a new ecumenicism in the movement and has
work to select delegates to the
appealed directly for conservative
convention. Many of these acCatholics, Jews, and African Ameritivists worked to gain influence
cans to join the coalition (13). The
in and even control ofstate and
Coalition made a conscious effort to
local party committees. These
build its state and county chapters
activists provided a core of
around political activists, not preachskilled political workers ready
ers, in order to attract members from
to enlist in the next Christian
many religious traditions. It distributed
Right crusade.
materials and held training sessions on
In 1989, Robertson launched
how different religious groups can work
the Christian Coalition. InJune
a,nd play well together.
1990, the coalition took out a
The Christian Coalition and other
full-page ad in the Washington
organizations of the 1990s initially had
Post and other national newsconsiderable success in building
papers warning members ofCongrassroots organizations, forming many
gress to vote against funding for
active county chapters in a number of
the National Endowment for the
states. The Coalition and other new
Arts. The coalition threatened
groups also had considerable success in
to pass out one hundred thouforging ecumenical coalitions. In Virsand reproductions of controginia, the state Christian Coalition chair
versial
art
by
Robert
was for a time a Catholic, and in many
Mapplethorpe and Andres
other states Catholics and mainline
Serrano in districts where memProtestants have served as county chairs.
bers voted for funding. The text
The Christian Coalition focused its
of the advertisement described
primary activity on electoral politics.
the kind of coalition Robertson
Robertson and Reed worked hard to
wanted to build. 'There may be
recruit precinct workers, and to build a
more
homosexuals
and
large computer database of potential
Ralph Reed, thetirst executive director of the Christian Coalition,
pedophiles in your district than lectu'res at Cornell University in April 1998. (Photo courtesy of , Republican voters who could be conthere are Roman Catholics and Corqell UniversitY) , ,
tacted by'mail or phone prior to an
Baptists. You may find that the
election. Although the organization
working folks in your district'
professed
a bipartisan stance, Robertson
t
want you to use their tax money tel, tc:ach their sons how to
publicly admitted that this was only apose. The Coalition's main
sodomize each other. You may find thanhe Roman Catholics in
tactic was to dE;veloP and distribute voter guides in local churches
your district want their money spent on pictures of the Pope
across the country. Jhese guides professed to portray the positions
soaked in urine. BUT MAYBE NOT."Robertson's clear appeal to
of both candidates fairly, but most observers saw a clear proCatholics and Baptists~two constitueI;lcies that did not rally to
Republican bias in these guides. Although the Coalition could
his presidential bid-signaled a conscious effort to build a broader,
pointto roll-call votes to justify its depiction of candidates, the
ecumenical Christian Right.
connection between those votes and the positions depicted often
required considerable imagination.
The Ecumenical Christian Right
The Christian Coalition taught its activists and candidates
At the end of the 1980s, the Christian Right seemed defeated.
to couch their arguments differently for religious and nonreliMost of the major organizations that had been active in that
gious audiences. Activists must "mainstream the message" by
decade were either disbanded or moribund, and the conservative
avoiding explicitly religious language in public speeches and by
direct-mail industry was crowded and in disarray (12) . Yet even as
emphasizing positions on taxes and crime instead of abortion
the large nationa,l organizations died, movement activists planned
and gay' rights. As part of their efforts to adopt the secular

28 OAH MAGAZINE OF HISTORY.

JANUARY

2003

Downloaded from http://maghis.oxfordjournals.org/ at :: on March 3, 2015

language of politics, Christian Right candidates and activists


Near the end of the decade, the Christian Coalition stumbled
and most of its state and local chapters disbanded. Ralph Reed
have couched their political arguments in the "rights" language
resigned as executive director and hung out his shingle as a
of liberalism (14). Rather than argue that America is a Christian
nation and therefore public schools should begin with a Chrispolitical consultant. His departure destabilized the organization,
which depended on Reed's keen ear for politics to offset Robertson's
tian prayer, activists now argue that Christian children have a
tendency to extreme
right to exercise their rerhetoric and unexpected
ligious beliefs freely in
proclamations. Since
prayer. Instead of arguing
Reed's
departure,
that certain textbooks endorse evil lifestyles, acRobertson has played a
far more active role in the
tivists now talk of
"parental rights" in helporganization.
ing mold their children's
Ironically, it has been
Robertson's public modeducation. Along this
eration that led to a series
line, abortion involves
of key resignations by nathe rights of the unborn.
The substantive solution
tional, state, and local leaders. In late 1998 and again
to these infringements on
in early 1999, Robertson
asserted rights is identiproGlaimed that a ban on
cal to those policies adabortions was not achievvocated by earlier
incarnations of the Chrisable and that the Coalitian Right, but the justition should work to limit
fication for those policies
abortions through addiis markedly different.
tional restrictions and bans
Like the Moral Majoron certain late-term procedures. More importantly,
ity, the ChristianCoalition
and other groups of the
in February
1999,
Robertson calledfor an end
1990s had a wide policy
agenda that included doto efforts to remove Bill
Clinton from the presimestic policy positions on
healthcare reform, taxes,
dency. Most tellingly,
and crime, but the primary
Robertson proclaimed in a
radio interview that he unconcerns of most activists
were abortion, education,
derstood why China had
and a constellation of isadopted a policy of forced
sues relating to families and
abortions, and that the
sexuality.Yet the Christian
most problematic aspect of
Right groups of the 1990s
the pdlicy was the dilution
were more clearly political
of the Han race because
organizations than their
the country would be
predecessors, and they atforced to import women
tracted a more eclectic set
from abroad.
ofactivists with varying sets
A second, more potenof policy concerns.
tially important developThe Christian Right of
ment is the emergence of
the 1990s was far more
a debate among some longeffective than the organistanding movement activAttorney General John Ashcroft, center, sings with the congregation at Boston's
Cathedral of the Holy Cross, November 2001. Ashcroft came to help celebrate Red
zations that came before
ists over whether political
Mass which honors judges, attorneys and others in the judicial system. His appointment
it. Political scientist Mataction is effective. As the
signals George W. Bush's commitment to the Christian community. (AP Photo/
thew Moen was among the
impeachment
effort
Lawrence Jackson)
first to write of this transstalled in 1999, Paul
formation: "The Christian Right became a more sophisticated
Weyrich announced that the culture war was lost, advising conserpolitical player ... by virtue of its early leaders gaining some
vative Christians to create alternative cultural institutions and to
experience in politics, and by the infusion of politically adept
withdraw from the culture. Former Moral Majority activists Cal
newcomers to supplement (or supplant) the 'old guard'" (15).
Thomas and Ed Dobson argued in a highly publicized book that the

evangelicals had been seduced by the lure of political power, and


that they should return to their primary mission of saving souls.

The 2000 Elections and Beyond

Endnotes
1. Clyde Wilcox. "Wither the Christian Right? The Elections and Beyond," In
Stephen J. Wayne and Clyde Wilcox, eds., The Election of the Century
and What It Tells UsAbout the Future ofAmerican Politics (Armonk, NY:
M.E. Sharpe, 2002).
2. Richard Quebedeaux, The New Charismatics II, (New York: Harper and Row, 1983).
3. Michael Lienesch, Redeeming America: Piety and Politics in the New
Christian Right (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press,
1995). See also Edward L. Larson, Summer for the Gods: The Scopes
Trial and America's Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion
(New York: Basic Books, 1997).
4. Leo Ribuffo, Tbe Old Christian Right (Philadelphia: Temple University
Press, 1983).
5. Raymond E. Wolfinger, Barbara Kaye Wolfinger, Kenneth Prewitt, and
Sheilah Rosenhack, "America's Radical Right: Politics and Ideology," in
R. Schoenberger (ed.) The American Right Wing (New York: Holt,
Rinehart, and Winston, 1969); Clyde Wilcox, God's Warriors: The
Christian Right in 20th..CenturyAmericq(Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins
University Press, 1992).
6. James Guth, "The Politics of the New Christian Right," in Allen Cigler and
Durbette Loomis, eds., Interest Group Politics (Washington, DC: CQ
Press, 1983); Wilcox, God's Warriors; Matthew Moen, "From Revolution
to Evolution: The Changing Nature of the Christian Right," in S. Bruce,
P. Kivisto, and W. Swatos, eds., The Rapture ofPolitics (New Brunswick,
NJ: Transaction Press, 1995).
7. Robert Liebman, "Mobilizing the Moral Majority," in Robert Liebman
and Robert Wuthnow, eds., The New Christian Right (New York:
Aldine, 1983).
8. Wilcox, God's Warriors; Sharon Georgianna, The Moral Majority and
Fundamentalism: Plausibility and Dissonance (Lewisten, NY: E. Mellen
. Press,1989).
9. Jeffrey K. Hadden, Anson Shupe, James Hawdon, and Kenneth Martin, "Why
Jerry Falwell Killed the Moral Majority," in M.Fishwick and R. Browne
eds., The God Pumpers: Religion in the Electronic Age (Bowling Green,
OH: Popular Press, 1987).
10. David E. Harrell, Pat Robertson, A Personal, Religious, and Political Portrait
(San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1988).
11. John C. Green, and James L.Guth, "The Christian Right in the Republican
Party: The Case of Pat Robertson's Contributors," Journal ofPolitics 50:
150..65; Wilcox, God's Warriors; and Clifford Brown, Lynda Powell, and
Clyde Wilcox, Serious Money: Fundraising and Contributing in Presiden ..
tial Nomination Politics (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995).
12. Moen.
13. Ralph Reed, "What do Religious Conservatives Really Want?" in Michael
Cromartie, ed., Disciples and Democracy (Washington, DC: Ethics and
Public Policy Center, 1994).
14. Matthew Moen, The Transformation of the Christian Right (Tuscaloosa,
AL: University of Alabama Press, 1992).
15. Ibid., 3.

Clyde Wilcox is professor of government at Georgetown


University. He has written widely on the Christian Right in
American politics. His latest book is Marching to the
Millenium: The Christian Right rin American Elections

1980..2000.
OAH MAGAZINE OF HISTORY JANUARY

2003 29

Downloaded from http://maghis.oxfordjournals.org/ at :: on March 3, 2015

In 2000, the Christian Right threw its electoral support behind


George W. Bush in the GOP primary campaign, rather than
longtime movement activist Gary Bauer or social conservatives
Alan Keyes or Patrick Buchanan. Bush spent months traveling the
country testifying to his faith to small groups of evangelicals and
promising to bring morality back to the WhiteHouse. Although
Bush was not an obvious choice for the movement-indeed in
1996 some of the more ideological movement activists sought to
keep him from attending the GOPconvention because he was
perceived as a moderate-his testimony convinced evangelicals
hungry for a candidate who could beat Al Gore and thereby
remove the "ethical stain" of the Clinton presidency.
In office, Bush delighted the Christian Right with his appoint..
ment ofJohn Ashcroft as Attorney General. Ashcroft unsuccess..
fully challenged the Oregon physician..assisted suicide law, and
has taken other positions that have kept the evangelical base
happy. But the Christian Right candidate for secretary of defense
was rejected because of his opposition to gays in the military, and
Bush has appointed openly gay citizens to his administration.
Within a few months, this dream was shattered when Repub..
lican Senator Jim Jeffords bolted the party to give the Democrats
a majority in the United States Senate. Yet as the 2002 elections
approached, Bush had an unprecedented level of popularity, and
the GOP recaptured the Senate.
The Christian Right has succeeded in mobilizing evangelicals
into electoral politics. Although white evangelicals still vote
slightly less often than other whites with similar levelsofeduca..
tion and income, the gap has narrowed greatly. More importantly,
white evangelicals are the single most loyal GOP constituency
group. The 2000 exit polls showed that those identifying with the
Religious Right gave Bush eighty percent of their votes.
Clearly Bush would not be president without the organized
support of evangelicals, who helped him defeat John McCain in
the GOP primaries and provided him with many votes in key
states. Yet many evangelicals are beginning to voice disappoint..
ment with the Bush administration. Bush's first maj or push was for
a large tax cut targeted toward wealthy families, and after the
terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, he pushed for huge
increases in military spending. The -social conservatives have
much less to show for their efforts on Bush's behalf. Bush quickly
dropped vouchers from his education bill, and his compromise on
stem cell research prompted evangelicals to put on a brave face but
to privately complain of his waffling.
Reagan and George W. Bush refrained from pushing the
evangelical agenda because it is not a majority position in America,
and because it arouses fierce opposition. Although the Christian
Right has mobilized its troops and is part of a larger political
coalition that can vie for control of government, it has yet to
persuade the culture of its positions on gender roles, abortion,
education, or gay rights. In the absence of success in the arena of
public opinion, victories on these issues in politics are unlikely.

The Bush administration may prove pivotal to the future of


this incarnation of the Christian Right, which has invested its
resources in electoral politics to an unprecedented degree. If Bush
were to appoint pro..life justices to the Supreme Court, and then
move actively to push for part of the Christian Right's agenda,
then evangelical Republican activism is likely to endure for many
years. But if the Christian Right becomes disillusioned with Bush
as they did with Ronald Reagan, then the argument that politics
is a dirty business full of dishonesty and compromise may begin to
take hold, and evangelicals may again retreat into an era of
political passivity. 0