The Growth of the Religious Right
The major views of the Religious Right are well known. They are opposed to legalized abortion, they favor "choice" in education (meaning they favor subsidized private education), they believe in creation instead of evolution and often try to legislate its teaching, they are opposed to "secular humanism" and believe homosexuality is not only aberrant but immoral, they are thoroughly committed to traditional "family values", and they are trying to break down the wall of separation between church and state, denying that there ever was a "wall" intended by the Founding Fathers. Michael Lienesch, in Redeeming America, a major study of the philosophy and personality of the Religious Right, has surveyed the major authors in the movement to more fully elaborate the milieu of the above views.
In the first two chapters of that work Lienesch looks at the autobiographies of some of the key figures in the Right, and looks at their teachings on family life. Personally, the concept of conversion is primal. The key figures lament their lives of sin, emptiness, and selfishness before conversion. Lienesch notices that a common thread in the biographies seems to be weak or absent fathers and mothers who are champions. All had humble origins, even Robertson, who though born to a man who would be a United States Senator, lived hand-to-mouth mostly on soybeans during a period soon after his conversion.45 Their conception of family, if it must be stated laconically, is that men should rule, women submit, and children obey. The literature of the Right chides weak-willed husbands. A remasculinization of Christianity is called for, but this ideal can include the idea of being a servant-father, serving wife and family needs, not simply barking commands. Charles Stanley says that this concept changed his whole life, and it ends up being the best way to motivate wives to be submissive.46
Beverly LaHaye teaches that motherhood is the highest form of femininity. The husband is the head and the wife the heart. A common problem in troubled evangelical marriages is "frigid wives." Lienesch summarizes the counsel of LaHaye and others by stating that the key to a good marriage is the happiness of the husband. Because they are in authority they cannot be expected to change. Thus the pressure is on the woman to please the husband. Wives should accept, admire, and appreciate husbands and learn to adapt to them. It is in their power to have husbands adore them. "It is really up to her. She has the power."47
Single women pose problems to Christian women writers. Women should be married and mothers. Beverly LaHaye warns single Christian women about lesbianism. "Beware of an improper physical attraction between you and your roommate..." Feminists are feared (and often loathed) by the Christian woman writers. To Phyllis Schlafly, feminism is synonymous with sin. LaHaye is more sympathetic, attributing feminism to any unhappy upbringing. The great problem is the failure of these women to submit to their husbands. Thus submission remains the antidote for these writers. The woman should make the happiness of the man her primary goal. Often quoted is this passage from the apostle Paul in Ephesians:
"Wives, yield to your husbands, as you do to the Lord, because the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ is the head of the church. And he is the Savior of the body, which is the church." -- Eph 5:22-3 (NCV)
"You can live fully by dying to yourself and submitting to your husband," concludes Beverly LaHaye.48 As for the family, it is to provide a haven in an otherwise heartless world. These writers focus on the fallen nature of children. Willfulness, obstinacy and uncooperativeness characterize them. The LaHayes chide that training must be done while they are young, tender, and still trainable, before eight years of age. Training must take place before they discover their sexuality. By intervening at an early age, parents can achieve some control over their children...Young males in particular are described as having male aggressiveness, almost unable to exercise self-control. Beverly LaHaye urges young ladies to not misuse their own seductiveness.
Dr. James Dobson's work is presented as the "Dr. Spock" of conservative Christians. Dobson blames Spock and other liberals for their indulgence and permissiveness. The parents lost control and this generation has grown up to challenge every form of authority that confronts it. Dare to Discipline is Dobson's biggest selling book. He teaches that when children do not obey they must be punished. Small children should be spanked, but only in response to acts of defiance, when they challenge the authority of their parents. The parent must be in charge. Enemies of the family our own government, the public schools which are in moral decay, colleges which Schlafly says are "citadels of atheism" and "training grounds for criminals," and pornography which is the "single most inflammatory force for evil in our society."49
On the whole the evangelical experts do not know what to do with teens. There is the general feeling that once children have reached the teenage years there is little that can be done. Either the young person has made a personal commitment to purity or the forces of the flesh, so powerful at that age, almost impossible to resist, will take over. There is not much that can be done to alter this scenario, and thus the emphasis on training for the youngest. Other than that there is the standard conservative Christian counsel.
Pat Boone says that the challenge is to rear children to focus on God without making them weirdoes. LaHaye chides boys about dating: "Dating is a sacred trust. You bear responsibility for another man's most treasured possession." Girls must be encouraged to "save the flower of her sexuality for marriage."50
Economically they are contemporary Calvinists believing the righteous through effort will achieve wealth. Scarcity is assumed, being a part of the curse after the fall. Individual responsibility, and sacrifice will help achieve success in an environment of free enterprise. Persistence is necessary. Classical liberalism (the night watchmen state) is the preferable governmental arrangement with government supplying only defense and justice.51
The Religious Right believes America is a chosen nation, some metaphorically, many literally. The Founding was Providential. Bradford and the Pilgrims were a "new Israel" in the same way that Moses and Israel functioned as theocracy 3500 years ago. While admitting to the diverse religious views of the Founders, they focus on the distinct Christian culture. The Constitution and Declaration of Independence were meant to prevent consolidation of political power and were profoundly libertarian documents, perfectly blending Christian and republican principles. Jerry Falwell points out that the Founding Fathers knew that liberty is only found in obedience to law.52
Thus the Right views the increase of government power in this century as a great evil. They view the era when liberals ruled, the 1960s and 70s as a time of great moral decline. Often the date 1963, when the Supreme Court decided Abingdon v. Schempp and "took God out of the schools", is given as the beginning of the secularization of America. The Right is thus angered at liberals and the Court in speeding the country's decline. The Religious Right also blames itself for having abandoned its political responsibilities during this era. But in spite of their suspicions about the American state, these Christians are patriots, strongly committed to the American nation.53
Humanism is viewed as a great evil that has also corrupted America's culture. Humanist thinking originated in Babylonian paganism. From the Renaissance to the Enlightenment the corruption of humanism continued, with the Enlightenment being the disastrous crowning achievement of evil. America was founded on Protestant principles with a culture that resisted the worst effects of the Enlightenment. But the Twentieth Century experienced a caving in to humanism in the forms of the philosophy of John Dewey, sympathy to Communism, and now in the growth of internationalists. Rich banking families and other unelected elites rule over governments in their conglomerate control of wealth and media. Franky Shaeffer calls it an "electronic dark age with new pagan hordes controlling technology."54 The educational system of the US, founded on humanism, is collapsing, crumbling.
Because of these views the Religious Right authors are reluctant pluralists. While the more eclectic among them, such as religious liberty attorney John Whitehead55 , recognize that state sponsored prayer is a restriction of personal liberty, others like Franky Shaeffer say that classical liberalism is really a front; "Pluralism" does not mean that men may differ in their views of truth, but that the truth does not really exist at all. "The question," he says, "is who will dominate." Adds Richard Viguerie: "While tolerance is a fine thing, enough is enough."56
The New Religious Right points to the Bible as the basis for all good government. The most radical, the Reconstructionists, would want to move back to the Puritan jurisprudence of making the Bible the supreme civil law of the land. The others would simply say that Biblical law should inform and undergird all other law. The Reformation is held up as a model of good balance between allowing citizen freedom and yet maintaining social order. Christians should be "salt" and "light", biblical metaphors indicating their responsibility to mix in the affairs of society ("salt") and to present the alternative of the gospel to the present fallen structures of society ("light").
Within this framework there are three self-characterizations of the New Religious Right. Leaders Tim LaHaye and Jerry Falwell see the Right as the moral majority, the traditional values coalition,57 Franky Shaeffer, son of the late Christian philosopher Francis Shaeffer, sees the Right as the militant minority, and the third group sees the Right as the persecuted outcast. The proliferation of religious liberty groups among the Right testifies to the reality of this characterization. The Right feels the media and larger culture consistently belittles their faith and credibility.58 All three of these views offer a truthful observation of at least one portion of the Right.
Internationally, the Religious Right is pro-strong defense and against pacifism. Decline is synonymous with disarmament. The surest means to peace is through military strength, even in a nuclear age. Proliferation is deterrence. Phyllis Schlafly goes so far as to say that the atomic bomb is a "marvelous gift that was given to our country by a wise God."59 Anticommunism is an article of faith with the New Right. President Reagan was speaking to the National Association of Evangelicals when the term "the evil empire" was first used, and they approved the appellation. The current "fall" of communism has not changed the tune of the Right. This is the same old dog. Perestroika is a ploy of public relations. While there is the recognition that the Russian empire is weak, like a third world power, at the same time it still has tremendous military power. Robertson sees the "collapse of Communism" as a possible Soviet ploy to reassert its diminishing influence in the world. But Robertson, perhaps more than some of associates in the Right is realistic. He realizes that the alternative--Western liberal democracy--may be almost as bad as the disease.60
A fixed part of the foundation underlying the above superstructure of opinion is the conviction among the Right that the end of the world is near. The Bible's last book, the book of Revelation, assures them of this. This millennial promise of the return of Christ has been a permanent part of American evangelical religion, and historian William McGloughlin would argue a basis of America's cultural core.61 While the authors among the Right have various views, the majority are premillenialists, Tim LaHaye being the most prolific. The pre-millenialists see an era of cataclysmic events coming which will terminate in the battle of Armageddon and then the Second Coming of Christ. There is a growing revival of the postmillenial position--that Christ will come after 1000 years of peace on earth brought about by the righteous work of the Cromwellian faithful. This revival is fueled by Reconstructionists North and Rushdoony.
They see the world as a sort of construction site for the righteous to work in, not a sinking ship as do the premillenialists. Michael Lienesch notices that there is a convergence among these two groups as they want to work together more. As their political outlook--to get righteous legislation to displace the prevailing liberalism--has come together, their doctrinal differences have been diminishing. Pat Robertson has been a fulcrum for this convergence.62
The nation of Israel is a key to the eschatology of the New Christian Right. Because of certain interpretations of the New Testament, there is a widespread belief in the Right that less than a single lifetime would transpire between the founding of the nation of Israel (1948) and the return of Christ. All events in the Middle East are interpreted in the light of Bible prophecy. The New Right insists on U.S. support of Israel. Many believe that Israel will be devastated in the coming conflagrations known as the "tribulation." In the end, however, somehow Israel will be saved. The Right believes that those nations who have historically persecuted the Jews have been Providentially punished and those who have protected her have been rewarded. This has been the basis for the Right's support of Israel. But as Jewish intellectual liberals, in the media and elsewhere, have been critical of the Right, the Right's support for Israel has waned. Thus Robertson says the support for Israel may be drying up.63
45 Michael Lienesch, Redeeming America (Chapel Hill, NC: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1993), chapter 1.
46 Lienesch, chapter 2.
47 Lienesch, 69, quoting Marabel Morgan.
48 Ibid, 73, quoting LaHaye from Spirit-Controlled Woman, 78.
49 Ibid, 83, quoting B. LaHaye in Sex Education, 119.
50 Ibid, 89.
51 Lienesch, chapter 3.
52 Ibid, chapter 4.
55 Whitehead directs the Rutherford Institute, a growing organization, supported by the Religious Right, whose lawyers defend religious liberty cases.
56 Ibid, 169.
57 Nesmith points out that the only groups advocating the side of traditional morality in the core of issues which trademark the Right are religious. Nesmith, 42.
58 John Dart, veteran journalist with a specialty in religion, has documented the two alien cultures of media and religion, and the misunderstandings characterizing each for the other. Bridging the Gap: Religion and the News Media, (The Freedom Forum First Amendment Center, Vanderbuilt University, 1993). The popularity of Yale professor Stephen Carter's new book, The Culture of Disbelief, (Basic Books) which describes how a secularized modern culture wrongly pushes religious concerns to the fringe, is another indication of the general truth of the Right's perception.
59 Lienesch, 211.
60 Ibid, 222.
61 McGloughlin's thesis is that the core of America's culture is redefined at each major crisis-revival period, but redefined around the original Puritan culture. Milleniarism is part of this core.
62 Lienesch, 223.
63 Ibid, 229-246.