The Christian Right, Mid-term Elections, & Social Movements
Chip Berlet printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Oct 02, 2006 at 04:38:27 PM EST
Senior Analyst, Political Research Associates (author info)
After recovering from the angry and often hateful rhetoric of the "Washington Briefing: 2006 Values Voters Summit," in late September, I surfed the web searching for articles.

For the most part, mainstream corporate media missed the context and content of the event, mostly focusing on sports-page reporting of elected officials and the upcoming mid-term elections. What surprised me was the number of articles predicting doom and gloom for the Christian Right. I have heard this tune before.

Most of the really substantial reporting was by alternative journalists such as Max Blumenthal; activist groups such as the folks at American United for Separation of Church and State, People for the American Way, and the Center for American Progress; and let's not forget our posts here at Talk2Action, especially the work of Bruce Wilson. Over at Political Research Associates we are working on a story for the next issue of Public Eye magazine.

Among the articles predicting the demise of the Christian Right were:

Paul Krugman, 2006, "Things Fall Apart," op-ed column, The New York Times,  October 2,

Rose French, 2006, "Evangelical voters more jaded in 2006," Associated Press, September 22,

Chris Kromm, 2006, "Religious Right Falters on Eve of Elections,"

I don't know how the Republicans will do in the upcoming elections, but I do know that the Christian Right as a social movement will survive, and remain a powerful factor in the social, cultural, and political life of the United States. Every few years--following an electoral defeat of Republicans, the collapse of a Christian Right organization, or a televangelist getting caught with his pants down (literally)--the death of the Christian Right is announced in the media...corporate or alternative.

I wish I had a dime....

Christian Right groups come and go, the Christian Right as a social movement remains strong. For example, the Christian Coalition replaced the Moral Majority. The Christian Coalition collapsed several years ago as a national network.

Now it is being replaced by the FRC Action coalition, which will do highly targeted voter mobilization among conservative Christian evangelicals using sophisticated techniques that will go under the radar unless you are enmeshed in the conservative Christian evangelical subculture.

According to the Associated Press, "In November, eight states will have referendums on state constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage: Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin."

Win or lose, skilled Christian Right activists will emerge with stronger grassroots organizations and longer lists of names of potential recruits.

That's why we are here building Talk2Action for the long haul.

The Christian Right is here to stay, no matter what the outcome of the mid-term elections.

So are we.

Chip Berlet, Senior Analyst, Political Research Associates

The Public Eye: Website of Political Research Associates
Chip's Blog

The RR is a fluid movement, as is conservative/liberal movements.  That the RR is utilizing the machinations of government does not mean they won't fail in their quest.

The truth of humanity, is that people can only be governed (controlled) to the extent they allow.

Plenty of RR go home to close their blinds, drive long distances or travel to "let off steam", live double lives in their communities at the risk of being shamed or forced out of their churches.  Americans are not going to live in shadows, our spirit and human will is too strong.  People will flock to other churches when they finally understand that they are trapped.  My ancestors and family members have left churches when they got to nosy, and many left the Southern Baptist Convention when they started that thing about women submitting.  They recruit new people, some fade away, they go too far, and people push back or it falls apart from within.  It all looks like roses when they have the deck stacked, but the Church is essentially prone to human falibility, and we all know how that ends up, just ask Foley, Abrahmoff, Bishop Law, and Tammy Faye Baker.

by lilorphant on Mon Oct 02, 2006 at 11:27:25 PM EST

I am looking for lots of advice and suggestions for how to talk about this, and whether or not what I posted makes sense to folks. I think it is an important point to make, but often feel I lack the words to explain what I think. And, then, maybe I am just wrong.


_ _ _

Chip Berlet: Research for Progress - Building Human Rights
by Chip Berlet on Mon Oct 02, 2006 at 05:50:24 PM EST

BBC story, September 29th 2006 :

An organisation called Truth in Science has also sent resource packs to all UK secondary school science departments.

It promotes the idea of intelligent design - that there was an intelligence behind the creation of the universe.

The religious right is a global movement. That's one critical aspect that most commentators miss.

by Bruce Wilson on Tue Oct 03, 2006 at 01:11:01 AM EST

I am going to go read the clips you link to in the post, but there has been a long tradition of declaring the religious right dead.

Author John Meacham has a good phrase that I will be writing more about soon, and that is the "tyranny of the present."  If we do not know history, then we do not have the benefit of learning from the past -- no matter how recent.  

While I think there is a vast ahistoricality in much contemporary journalism and politics, this is especially so with regard to the religious right.

Pronouncements about any large political/social movement based on the fortunes of a single organization, a single leader; or the fall out of a single election or a single scandal is preposterous -- and all excellent examples of the consequences of the tyranny of the present.

I wrote about these things a bit in my post about Richard Viguerie's book and a follow up post about conservatives pulling back from the GOP this time.  

Those who don't see that important elements of the conservative movement are eager for corrupt and/or moderate Republicans to lose to unlikely democratic opponents this cycle are missing what the conservatives have done in the past.  For example, it is reasonable to assume that they would rather run in opposition to a first term democrat in a historically GOP district than have to try to take out an entrenched GOP incumbent.

by Frederick Clarkson on Mon Oct 02, 2006 at 07:06:17 PM EST

I think few people in the mainstream realize how Christian Right people can appear to take part in a common culture, but in reality be insulated from it by a parallel media universe.

I first noticed it simply by having a 100,000 W radio station (Bot network, a big Midwest conservative religious network with Dobson, DJKennedy, etc) blot out weak non-profit radio signals just a bit lower on the dial. I started listening, got interested, took field trips to local Christian bookstores (an average Borders has a better selection of actual theology and Biblical studies), watched the occasional TV show. If I didn't have a taste for ethnology, and didn't have a commute to waste on cruising the radio dial, I probably would never have noticed the parallel universe all around me. (St. Louis MO, a tiny blue dot in a red region).

by NancyP on Tue Oct 03, 2006 at 12:44:38 AM EST

Several social scientists have studied the Christian Right and found that many folks do, indeed, tend to exist in a separate subculture in terms of informations sources that they trust.
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Chip Berlet: Research for Progress - Building Human Rights
by Chip Berlet on Tue Oct 03, 2006 at 11:19:22 AM EST
I've watched that process - in the case of one family member - for decades.

by Bruce Wilson on Tue Oct 03, 2006 at 03:04:10 PM EST

that is what I'd like to hear more about.  you are indeed correct that the religious right is a social movement that won't go away even if its electoral fortunes dwindle in the short term.  but no social movement lasts forever, and the question i have, is how to bring about the day when the religious right is significantly weakened as a social movement?

reading Kingdom Come (and other sources), I get a sense that the religious right is composed of concentric circles of supporters.  on the inside are the folks deeply committed to the notion of America as a Christian nation, and on the outside are the folks who stroll into evangelical mega churches because that's where the community is in their neighborhood.  based on that, i would guess that the best way to shrink the christian right is to try and siphon off those people in the outermost circles, by providing them an alternative, progressive religious community.

i'd like to hear what your thoughts are along those lines, whether that's a useful line of thinking or if it's totally off-base.

by PlantingLiberally on Mon Oct 02, 2006 at 11:46:51 PM EST

Neutralize the ideological underpinnings. Easier said - of course - than done but crucial.

by Bruce Wilson on Tue Oct 03, 2006 at 01:03:20 AM EST
i'd love to hear an example of what you mean by that.  do you mean, for example, that we should find a way to undermine the arguments of Christian nationalism, let's say by proving to RR followers that the Founders did indeed want a secular country?  if so, how would those folks be reached?

by PlantingLiberally on Tue Oct 03, 2006 at 07:02:52 AM EST
Sara Robinson, six part series on understanding religious fundamentalists and how to reach out to them through an understanding of the dynamics of followers of authoritarian leadership.

Posted on Orcinus Blog:

Cracks In The Wall, Part I: Defining the Authoritarian Personality, Thursday, August 10, 2006, ng.html

Cracks In The Wall, Part II: Listening to the Leavers, Saturday, August 12, 2006, ning-to.html

Cracks in the Wall, Part III: Escape Ladders, Wednesday, August 16, 2006, pe-ladders.html

Tunnels and Bridges, Part I: Divide and Conquer, Friday, August 25, 2006 ivide-and.html

Tunnels and Bridges, Part II: Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself
Sunday, August 27, 2006, nothing-to.html

Tunnels and Bridges, Part III: A Bigger World, Tuesday, August 29, 2006, -bigger.html

_ _ _

Chip Berlet: Research for Progress - Building Human Rights
by Chip Berlet on Tue Oct 03, 2006 at 11:49:57 AM EST
Maybe I'll do an anthology.

by Bruce Wilson on Tue Oct 03, 2006 at 03:15:44 PM EST

A month or so ago, Orcinus (see link at right) had a guest blogger, Sara Robinson, who  did a series on helping "authoritarian followers" (religious or political fundamentalists) leave their community for the reality-based world. The series started out as a riff on John Dean's new book.

by NancyP on Tue Oct 03, 2006 at 12:49:12 AM EST

..............and I'm no more convinced than you are. I just hope and pray that we liberals don't get complacent and slack off on account of it.

Great series from Orcinus. Thanks!

by anomalous4 on Tue Oct 03, 2006 at 02:04:48 PM EST

Is that the longest term researchers on the Christian right I've met seem to have a sense that it's a very hard movement to get a bearing on due to its constantly shifting, diversified, and heterogenous nature. The Christian right's strength and resilience - in part - depends I think on overlapping organization at a number of different scales. So, think - cell churches, and other sub-church level entities, then churches, then various associations and political groupings, on and on.

Saying that the Christian right is somehow "over" seems nonsensical to me - as nonesensical as declaring that "the left" or any major societal and cultural grouping ( depending on how one sliced things up ) was somehow "over".

But - in reality - without a decline in underlying ideologies all that happens is that individual organizational centers ( the Christian coalition, whatever ) rise and fall. But, there are so many smaller organizations that generally move under the public radar and that really constitute - I'd say - the real strength of the movement, the big national organizations can function as a distraction because casual observers, witnessing the collapse of one or more big national Christian right groups,give such events probably far more importance than warranted.

Meanwhile - I suppose the Christian right ideology could be waning but I haven't seen much evidence of that so far.

by Bruce Wilson on Tue Oct 03, 2006 at 03:29:17 PM EST

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