Right gets more than its share of blame, usually by TV talking heads
who are even more to blame. The obvious example is the commitment
of the Christian Right to Bush’s war in Iraq. These Establishment-based
critics were in positions of influence to challenge Bush’s war in
2003, yet they were on board with great fervency. So were liberal
Democrats in Congress, who licked their index fingers, stuck them
into the wind, and voted for the war.
Right does not control America’s media. It does not control positions
of leadership inside the Washington Beltway. Its leaders do not
get invited to become members of the Council on Foreign Relations
or the Trilateral Commission. It listens to Rush Limbaugh, who is
not a Christian.
accompanies power. Critics say that the Christian Right is responsible
for . . . exactly what? It is all a bit vague. To answer this question,
the critics must first identify the institutional basis of the Christian
Right’s supposed power. It must come to grips with this inescapable
relationship: “No power = no responsibility.”
What is the
institutional basis of the political power that is supposedly possessed
by the Christian Right, either today or in 1980? Only this: it is
a swing voting bloc. How did this come about?
Prior to 1980,
Christian conservatives were not perceived as a political threat
by the Establishment which controls Council on Foreign Relations
Team A (the Democrat Party’s senior advisors) and CFR Team
B (the Republican Party’s senior advisors). This perception
changed in November, 1980, with the election of Ronald Reagan.
As a swing
vote, the Christian Right can sometimes affect the outcome of the
well-orchestrated, thoroughly entertaining Punch and Judy show that
Americans call national politics. Prior to 1976, when Jimmy Carter
openly campaigned as a Christian — the first Presidential candidate
to do so since William Jennings Bryan — the Christian Right did
not exist. I say this as a minor player in the construction of the
I was able
to wheedle my way into the speaker’s line-up at the three-day public
meeting at which the Christian Right came into existence, the National
Affairs Briefing Conference, held in Dallas in late summer, 1980.
The Establishment did not note its existence, and its historians
still don’t, but that was where Ronald Reagan told 13,000 new converts
to politics, “You can’t endorse me, but I endorse you.” Those words
served as a kind of political baptismal formula — infant baptism,
I might add: babes in the woods.
did not like his endorsement. They had tried to keep him from appearing
at the meeting, but they were unsuccessful. Carter’s handlers were
successful. He and John Anderson failed to show up, although both
had been invited. Carter’s decision not to show up turned out to
be crucial for the creation of the Christian Right, which ended
his Presidency two months later. It was in the final two months
that Reagan overtook Carter in the polls. The Christian Right took
the Presidency away from him. Yet he had helped create it in 1976.
Bob Slosser, later a ghost writer for Pat Robertson (The
Secret Kingdom, 1992), wrote a little paperback book, The
Miracle of Jimmy Carter, in 1976. Carter betrayed these
people, beginning in 1977. Actually, he didn’t betray them. They
had imagined him to be something that he wasn’t, which they should
have known if they had read his campaign book, Why
Not the Best? For this perceived betrayal, they got even
with him in 1980.
IN THE WOODS
From the media’s
orchestrated circus at the Scopes “monkey” trial in 1925 — the
first such orchestrated media event on the radio — until the election
of 1976, Protestant Christian fundamentalists had been out of America’s
social and cultural loop.
campaign against William Jennings Bryan in 1925 had begun in 1922,
after he began calling for state anti-evolution laws governing tax-funded
high schools. This media campaign seemed successful. Bryan died
in Dayton, Tennessee, where the trial had been held, five days after
he had won the case but lost the war of public opinion. I have covered
this in an earlier essay on this site, “The Significance of the Scopes
In the following
year, 1926, the triumph of theological liberals began in the northern
Baptist association (John D. Rockefeller, Jr.’s) and the northern
Presbyterian Church (Rockefeller’s by proxy). Ironically, it was
Rockefeller’s son David who lured the fundamentalists in from the
political wilderness in 1976 when he perceived in 1973 that Carter,
a little-known Georgia governor, might represent a new political
constituency as a political outsider. That was why Carter got into
the Trilateral Commission, which Rockefeller began in 1973.
What was not
perceived until the publication of Joel Carpenter’s article in Church
History in 1980 was that 1926 marked the beginning of the great
reversal of liberal Protestantism, and also the beginning of the
growth of the fundamentalist-evangelical church movement. Growth
in membership began to slow in the Seven Sisters of mainline Protestant
denominationalism, while growth began to accelerate in independent
church circles and fundamentalist denominations-associations. The
fundamentalists voted with their feet. What Carpenter described
for church historians in 1980 became apparent to the Establishment
a few months later in the Presidential election of 1980.
For half a
century, 1926 to 1976, fundamentalists had played no role as a separate
voting bloc. They generally voted in the way that a majority of
voters had voted in their region, state by state. Furthermore, the
fundamentalists’ theology of premillennial, dispensational pietism
became ascendent in conservative Protestant circles. Fundamentalists
expected (and still expect) that Jesus will come with His angels
to set up a tightly run, international, Christian bureaucratic hierarchy,
which will at long last put non-believers in their rightful place
as scraps-eaters under the table of the faithful (Matthew 15:25—28).
Until then, however, their rallying cry was “politics is dirty.”
They avoided political action. They regarded political activism
as the heresy of theological liberalism, as incarnated in the National
Council of Churches, a creation of both Rockefellers, Senior (1908—1916)
and Junior (1917—1960).
They were under
assault in the public schools, although they did not perceive this.
That was because, until about 1960, Bryan’s campaign had been institutionally
successful. Evolution was not taught in the public schools below
the college level. Nothing was said in high school textbooks about
either creation or evolution. So, as it turned out, from 1926 to
1960, the year Rockefeller died, Bryan had won the ideological battle
in the schools. His politics — liberal-radical — also triumphed.
against fundamentalism was in terms of the textbooks’ version of
history, politics, and economics: the legitimacy and triumph of
the New Deal. American fundamentalists, 1933—1960, were as
committed to the New Deal’s legacy as any other victorious voting
bloc was. In the American South, they were more committed than in
the Protestant Midwest. So, they were not a separate swing voting
bloc. They were politically invisible.
— premillennial dispensationalism — taught a doctrine
of earthly cultural and political defeat prior to Christ’s Second
Coming. As the 1950’s radio preacher J. Vernon McGee put it, “You
don’t polish brass on a sinking ship.” This outlook implied a specific
concept of historical victory: “Out of the jaws of defeat.” First,
all Christians will be “raptured” by Jesus into heaven. (The word
“rapture” does not appear in the Greek text of the New Testament,
nor does it appear in the King James Bible.) Second, beginning three
and a half years later, the slaughter of two-thirds
of the Jews by the forces of the Antichrist will begin. Third,
three and a half years after this, Christians in their heaven-supplied,
perfect, sin-free, immortal bodies will return with Christ to take
over the world. From then on, it’s the rod of iron for a thousand
years. It’s payback time. It’s “no more Mr. Nice Guy.” This is what
popular dispensationalism has taught for over a hundred years.
This view of
social causation might be said to teach that there is no relationship
between training in history and total power in history. This interpretation
would be incorrect. Fundamentalism’s view of social dominance in
history rests on an even more astounding, unstated, but operational
theory of eschatological cause and effect: “The self-conscious lack
of training or experience in exercising leadership in history is
the basis of obtaining total power in history. The self-conscious
lack of responsibility in history is the basis of gaining total
responsibility in history.” This is the Betty Crocker theory of
historical causation: “Just add the Rapture and have God stir history
for three and a half years. Then bake in the oven at 350 degrees
for three and a half more.”
Falwell publicly held this view of self-conscious political withdrawal
until the early 1970’s. In a much-quoted sermon which he preached
in 1965, shortly after Martin Luther King’s march to Selma, Alabama,
Falwell made this declaration: “Believing the Bible as I do, I would find it impossible
to stop preaching the pure saving gospel of Jesus Christ and begin
doing anything else — including the fighting of communism,
or participating in the civil rights reform. . . . Preachers are
not called to be politicians, but to be soul winners.”
the year that postmillennial Calvinist R. J. Rushdoony started the
Chalcedon Foundation, and 1976, when Southern Baptist Jimmy Carter
became a brief miracle, a shift in fundamentalist political opinion
took place. By 1980, it had visibly changed. Its theology hadn’t,
but its conclusions had. I referred to this oddity at the time as
the intellectual schizophrenia
of the New Christian Right. It remains just as schizophrenic
WORKBOOKS, OR PLAYBOOKS
generally have had no accredited liberal arts colleges for their
children. The only major exception has been the Church of Christ,
which has half a dozen. In the 1940’s, the only Christian college
president in America who testified before Congress against New Deal
policies was Harding College’s George S. Benson. He stood alone
in his day. Hardly anyone has heard of him. His small Arkansas college
was the only fundamentalist college that had anything like a separate
curriculum for its students, and most of these materials were supplied
by Benson’s on-campus National Education Program. There is a reason
for this exceptionalism. Church of Christ preaching is generally
not dispensational. The roots of the denomination go back to the
ex-Presbyterian pastor, Alexander Campbell. The Presbyterian Church
in his era (1810—20) was postmillennial and socially activist.
Go into any
campus book store at a Christian college. Look at the required textbooks.
You will find the same textbooks at the nearby junior college or
the fourth-tier state university in the region. You will not find
workbooks by the professors that show, point by point, how and why
the textbooks favor the conventional academic humanist worldview.
Why not? Because the professors adopted this worldview when they
were in graduate school. To gain accreditation, a college’s faculty
must have people with Ph.D. degrees. The university accreditation
system — invented by Rockefeller, Sr. (the
General Education Board began in 1903) — has accomplished its
parents send their children through the tax-funded K-12 system,
which is at war with Christianity. A few of them then send their
children into the humanist-accredited collegiate system. The students
return home just as they left home: intellectually schizophrenic,
as Rushdoony described in his 1961 manifesto, Intellectual
1700, Protestants have taken sides: the right-wing Enlightenment vs.
the left-wing Enlightenment. They have not developed a systematic
worldview of their own. Fundamentalists generally favor the right-wing
Enlightenment, but they send their children into schools dominated
by the left-wing Enlightenment.
anyone expect fundamentalists to offer a well-thought-out alternative
to the choice between CFR Team A and CFR Team B? Mainline Protestantism
hasn’t. The Catholic Church hasn’t. Mormonism hasn’t. Nobody has.
Hardly anyone thinks this is necessary, let alone possible.
You can’t beat
something with nothing.
To the extent
that the Christian Right corporately accepts the idea that there
is any good reason to get involved in national politics, it is responsible
for its share of the outcome. But what share? That of a swing voting
bloc. It has not formulated the policies it votes for. It has not
organized the media’s machine. It does not have any experience at
the national level. It does not have much disposable income. It
has only one institution of acknowledged excellence: Wycliffe Bible
translators. It has sat in the back of humanism’s bus since 1926,
and without protest until 1980.
There has been
only one man in my lifetime who has had an outside possibility of
reversing this: Ron Paul. If, in 2008, he offers to his digital
name base a full-scale, non-partisan training program for local
political mobilization — what I have called the
dogcatcher strategy — we might actually get a choice a
decade or two from now.
still are no textbooks, workbooks, or playbooks. Maybe he can supply
a few playbooks.
But who will
supply the textbooks?
How about you?