Michael Ryan and Les Switzer. God in the Corridors of Power: Christian Conservatives, the Media, and Politics in America. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2009. 504 + xiv pp. $50.00 (Hardcover, CAD). ISBN-13: 978-0313356100
Ryan (Catholic) and Switzer (Protestant) are both veteran journalists--and now academics--who bring their considerable experience in these areas to the task of exploring public American conservative Christianity in this expansive work. Their distinct analytical contribution is to place American Christian conservatives within the broader American conservative political movement--a solid decision and something few other writers have done.
After a chapter devoted to the historical development of American Christian conservatism and a chapter on American conservatism more generally, each subsequent topical chapter--on civil religion and the constitution; two on sex, gender, and religion covering abortion and gay marriage; science, and religion; and two on media and religion covering militarism and terrorism--includes a critical treatment of Christian conservatives alongside the conservative movement writ large. These chapters are quite thorough, covering a truly astonishing number of sources, though one could protest the omission of at least one important work: Gary Dorrien's massive tome on The Neo-Conservative Mind. (1) Further lacking is any work of serious scholarship on American religious conservatives and millennialism, such as Stephen Spector's American Evangelicals and Israel, (2) a categorical oversight producing an unfortunate weakness, indeed. Further, each chapter is not just historically rich: the authors apply a wide variety of critical theory to each topic--feminist, sociological, media, political, and psychological theory, among others--making it a valuable resource for general readers.
The most important chapter, however, may be the one which showcases Ryan and Switzer's unique journalistic background, that on media theory, religion, and politics. In this chapter, they advocate a reflexive and critical (rather than positivist) objectivity in journalistic practice; provide critical reflection on the use of binary language in media; explore media frames; and provide a history of religion and the print press, television (from televangelism to secular news media), radio, and the Internet. They even include brief sections on conservative media moguls, empires, think tanks, educational institutions, and use of direct mail campaigns by parachurch organizations.
The text is very accessible and well organized--not so easy a task when covering so much literature on theory. There are some concerns with their overall approach, however. Specifically, they suggest that American religious conservatives operate with a distinct epistemology comprised of "scripture--together with reason, church tradition, and the experiences of the believer" (2). This is not a helpful characterization of the movement. Most familiar with the literature would recognize this fourfold epistemology as distinctive of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. This (Methodist) approach is a much broader epistemology than many, if not most Christian conservatives, would advocate; in fact, the iconoclastic character of some segments, such as the Baptist tradition from which Jerry Falwell hailed, would openly and actively reject church tradition and even experience. Certainly most Christian conservatives do not come from the Methodists, a distinctly moderate denomination as the authors themselves note. …