Two friends, Bill and jim, were chatting last week. Bill is a Catholic and Jim a Christian Right Protestant. Jim: “Bill if you are really a good Catholic you cannot vote for Biden because he favors the legalization of abortion.” Bill: “Actually I think I CAN vote for Biden. You, however, absolutely CANNOT vote for Trump. He may oppose abortion; but in no way is he pro-life….”
Fortunately, Bill and Jim are still good friends and both respect each other, even with their political and theological differences. They are good examples however of the variety of “Christians” today; and a good introduction to my reflection this weekend on “The Christian Right.”
Today’s Christian Right is well known for promoting socially conservative positions on issues like school prayer, intelligent design, embryonic stem cell research, homosexuality, LGBT rights, and abortion. Most often the term “Christian Right” is connected with political action groups in the United States. In fact however, far right Christian groups are active in several contemporary European countries. I think immediately, for example, of Hungary under its far-right leader, Viktor Orbán and the far-right Catholic revival in Poland under its far-right president Andrzej Duda.
In the United States, evangelical Christians constitute a core constituency in the Christian Right but one should not therefore say that all evangelicals belong to the Christian Right. A large number of American Catholics also belong to the Christian Right’s core base; and 52% of US Catholics, remember, voted for Donald Trump in 2016.
An historical perspective helps one understand the contemporary Christian Right, which the investigative journalist, Katherine Stewart, calls the “Power Worshipers,” because so many of them are indeed cult-like authoritarian followers. [See Stewart’s book: The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism.]
Already In 1863, representatives from eleven Christian denominations (Protestant leaders and Catholic bishops) organized the National Reform Association with the goal of adding an amendment to the US Constitution. They wanted to establish the United States as a Christian state. Their amendment stated that they would acknowledge “Almighty God as the source of all authority and power in civil government, the Lord Jesus Christ as the Ruler among nations, His revealed will as the supreme law of the land, in order to constitute a Christian government….”
In 1895, the largest women’s organization in the United States, at that time, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union announced its solidarity with the National Reform Association, proclaiming “God in Christ is the King of Nations, and as such should be acknowledged in our government; and His Word made the basis of our laws.”
The National Reform Association never achieved its constitutional amendment goal and separation of church and state is still a key official US jurisprudential principle for defining the political relationship between religious organizations and the state.
In the 1970s, the Christian Right became a notable force in both the Republican party and American politics, when the Baptist Pastor Jerry Falwell and other Christian leaders began to urge conservative Christians to actively involve themselves in the US political process. A number of US Christian Right universities began, as well, to actively educate young Americans in the philosophy and theology of the Christian Right. Key among them are: Bob Jones University (Greenville, South Carolina) – Protestant Fundamentalist, founded in 1927; Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University (Lynchburg, Virginia) – Baptist, founded in 1971; Christendom College (Front Royal, Virginia) – Roman Catholic, founded in 1977; and Regent University (Virginia Beach, Virginia) – Evangelical Christian, founded in 1977.
Members of the Christian Right hold to a literal interpretation of the Bible and a more static rather than developmental understanding of human nature. They see God as a rigid reward-and-punishment task master. The Christian Right’s “enemies” therefore are God’s enemies and deserve damnation, punishment; and some a cruel death.
Since about 1980, the Christian right has been the focus of several socio-political movements: Moral Majority, the Christian Coalition, Focus on the Family, and the Family Research Council. The Christian Right strongly supported Ronald Reagan’s 1980 victory over Jimmy Carter; and Reagan was the first US president to describe himself as a “born-again Christian.”
More recently however members of the Christian Right — much like Al-Qaeda – have begun to promote violent right-wing extremists who lash out and kill in the name of religion. They are terrorists who consider themselves “Holly Warriors” acting through paramilitary organizations, cults, and loose groups of people who promote hatred and chaos. They find support and promote the current US president as their God-sent savior, in a very cultic authoritarian way. They are indeed Power Worshippers.
So what is my point in all of this? I will pursue and explain that next week…..