Religion in a Changing World: Comparative Studies in Sociology

By Madeleine Cousineau | Go to book overview

21
Pragmatism and Its Discontents: The. Evolution of the Christian Right in the United States

Mark J. Rozelland Clyde Wilcox

On April 23, 1997, Ralph Reed, the executive director of the Christian Coalition, announced that he was stepping down from his post to begin a new career as an independent political consultant. Reed argued that he could accomplish his goals more effectively as a consultant than as the head of a "nonpartisan" organization and promised to become a "Christian Lee Atwater." 1 His departure forced leaders of the Christian Right to take another look at their strategies for influencing the American political process.

The modern Christian Right is a movement composed mainly of evangelical Protestant groups that seek to influence American politics in a conservative direction. In choosing strategies for achieving this goal, leaders of the movement have to decide between confrontation and accommodation. If they choose confrontation, they will maintain the strict positions on such issues as abortion, gay rights, and prayer in the public schools that their members favor. However, this approach may fail to persuade elected political leaders, who favor compromises to maintain a broad base of voter support. On the other hand, if Christian Right leaders opt for accommodation, "softening" their positions and being more pragmatic and open to compromise, they may lose the support of many of their members.

In recent years, Ralph Reed had been the leading Christian Right proponent of a pragmatic approach to politics. Under his leadership, the Christian Coalition moderated its rhetoric and altered its policy agenda. The organization backed Republicans of all ideological stripes, and Reed worked behind the scenes to win support for a more moderate GOP platform plank on abortion. Such pragmatism allowed the Christian Coalition and other movement organizations to grow, and to become important players in GOP politics, winning control of many state and local party organizations ( Rozell and Wilcox 1995, 1996, 1997). Yet his pragmatism angered some leaders and many movement activists and created a deep division in the Christian Right. The future of the Christian Right--whether it expands,

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