Onward Christian Soldiers? The Religious Right in American Politics

Onward Christian Soldiers? The Religious Right in American Politics

Onward Christian Soldiers? The Religious Right in American Politics

Onward Christian Soldiers? The Religious Right in American Politics


They have money, influence, power- and they turn out to vote. They are credited with delivering a significant part of the Republicans' stunning 1994 electoral success, foreshadowed their status as major players in the elections of 1996."They" are groups like the Moral Majority, the Christian Coalition, and the religious right. But are they the greatest threat to liberty since Hitler or the last defenders of religious freedom and family values in America? In this book Clyde Wilcox tells us who they are, what their history has been in twentieth-century American politics, and how they might organize themselves for future political effectiveness. He tackles the sticky political dilemma of the proper role of religious groups in American politics and government while showing how the contemporary religious right does- and does not- fit into that context.


Writing about the Christian Right always brings out the schizophrenic elements in me, as my roots war with my politics. I grew up in rural West Virginia, and many of my family and friends who still live in that area are supporters of the Christian Right. My late father was a fundamentalist Sunday school teacher who taught me the Bible and was a fan of Jerry Falwell. My mother is a charismatic who regularly watches Pat Robertson's 700 Club. My great-aunts, to whom this book is dedicated, seldom missed a televised sermon by Charles Stanley.

As a child I attended the Walnut Grove United Methodist Church, a church in the revivalist tradition of spirit-filled fundamentalism. I was often drafted to play the piano in revival services in small churches in the surrounding area, where I spent a few hectic minutes trying to determine in which key I could play each song so as to minimize the number of dead keys on the very old, poorly maintained pianos. the people in those churches are fair-minded, warm, and compassionate. I could tell many tales of their extraordinary kindness. They are also very conservative, opposing not only abortion and gay rights but also the peace movement, the environmental movement, labor unions, and welfare. Although I am no longer a part of that culture, I respect, admire, and love the people there.

Yet I also came of age politically in the late 1960s and was shaped by the civil rights, antiwar, feminist, and environmental movements. I strongly oppose most of the policy agenda of the Christian Right. I want my daughter and son to grow up in a world where they have equal access to a wider range of roles than society now provides. I want my gay and lesbian friends to live free of discrimination based on whom they love. I want the public schools to teach my children to think for themselves, to be tolerant of diverse lifestyles, and to know about the latest scientific thinking. Thus my political values are in conflict with my roots, and I engage in much internal debate when I write about the Christian Right.

I hope this internal dialogue has produced a fair assessment of the role of the Christian Right in American politics and the dilemmas it creates for the polity. If the book is balanced, I owe a great debt to John Green, who engaged in a protracted dialogue and sometimes debate through e-mail. John read and . . .

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