The Rise of American Fundamentalism 1990-1993

Aug 22 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Pat Robertson Gives it to America

Having Reagan out of the White House did not slow the rise of fundamentalism, nor did the dissolution of the Moral Majority. In fact, the year 1991 marks the year the Religious Right finally completed its seizure of power of the Republican Party. John C. Green argues that “While the movement did back some extreme candidates with little success, it more commonly – and successfully – operated as part of a broader Republican condition, a pattern that reached full flower in the 1994 elections.”[1]

But, says

“Journalists attended Christian Coalition and Republican Party events in the early nineties documenting the tactics of the newly formed organization. Reports appeared in newspapers around the country detailing the takeover of the local Republican Party committees and efforts by moderate Republicans to form competing entities.”

“Politically evangelicals (including fundamentalists) have displaced mainline Protestants as mainstays of the Republican Party.” Studies show that “This politicization of religious beliefs has been attributed to the greater legitimacy evangelicals accord to political cues from preachers.”[2] This was an ominous sign of a trend that would only continue as the decade wore on.

Studies argue that “some antipathy toward Christian fundamentalists might be a backlash in response to perceived religious intolerance”[3] but Dolce and Maio argue that “At present, there appears not to be much truth to these observations.”[4]

But, if antipathy was missing, a reaction was not. John C. Green points out that “the movement’s core agenda and political activity have produced intense counter-mobilization by opponents, particularly among religious liberals and the non-religious.”

There was good reason for this: the growing influence of religious extremists in the Republican Party was demonstrated in 1992 when the Republican Party of Washington State had banning witchcraft and yoga classes on their platform. Criminalizing witchcraft is so…medieval, but yes, they did it. And yes, yoga classes, because they’re so “of the devil”.

Also in 1992, Pat Robertson said to the Denver Post, “We want…as soon as possible to see a majority of the Republican Party in the hands of pro-family Christians…” Randall Terry agreed, saying in April: “What it is coming down to is who runs the country. It’s us against them. It’s the good guys versus the bad guys. It’s the God-fearing people against the pagans, and some of the pagans are going to church.”[5]

By 1992 the contemporary fundamentalist is “less the ignorant hillbilly or cracker, and more a conservative suburban housewife who votes Republican”[6] But see experience of Jo Martin below for at least one exception. Says Jo Martin, who calls herself “an Episcopalian and fifth-generation Texan”, and a life-long Republican who hadn’t been active in politics “for many years until they happened to attend a local GOP meeting last spring”:

“The party apparatus had been taken over by religious activists intent on bringing ‘biblical principles’ to government: outlawing abortion, ostracizing homosexuals and teaching creationism in public schools, among other things. We honest to goodness felt like we had fallen through a time warp into a Nazi brown-shirt meeting,” Martin said.[7]

And not only in Texas: the San Jose Mercury News reported that year that,

“A group dedicated to making the Bible the law of the land has quietly positioned itself to take over the Republican Party’s power structure in Santa Clara County… A fund-raising letter for that slate, sent by the Santa Clara County chapter of the California Republican League, warned that the Coalition on Revival’s agenda includes ‘a call for the death penalty for abortion, adultery and unrepentant homosexuality.'”

The growing polarization of the American political landscape was evident at the party conventions in 1992: “Christian fundamentalists were viewed (and acted) as ideological partisans (i.e. conservative Republicans) doing battle with liberals, feminists, gays, Democrats, and environmentalists.”[8] This attitude was epitomized by Pat Buchanan’s delivery of a speech at the Republican National Convention in Houston that year enthusiastically endorsing the culture war.

One study showed “The principle effect of 1992 was to bind evangelicals to the Republican Party”[9] and unsurprisingly Dolce and Maio saw these elections “as a critical demarcation point.”[10]

“[P]artisanship and newer concerns associated with ideological and cultural issues began dividing the public” and “This restructuring had the result of giving antifundamentalist sentiment a distinction liberal, culturally progressivist, and partisan Democratic cast throughout the 1990s.”[11]

This move was often successful. According to William Martin Chavanne, in “1992, 1994 and, it appears, in 1996, they [the Religious Right] won about forty percent of the elections they were involved in.”

The 1992 presidential elections saw Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton face off against incumbent George H.W. Bush. Democratic centrist Bill Clinton won by a wide margin with 43 percent of the popular vote against Bush’s 37 percent. The Christian Right was blamed for the defeat in 1992[12] and in truth, many of them did turn away from Bush over his views on abortion according to exit polls. Even so, Bush did get 47 percent of the White protestant vote and 61 percent of the born-again or religious right, a group that at the time amounted to 17 percent of the vote.

The defeat did not deter fundamentalists from their ultimate goal of achieving complete control of the Republican Party per Pat Robertson and Randall  Terry: “What the Christian right spends a lot of time doing,” says Marc Wolin, a moderate Republican who ran unsuccessfully for Congress from San Francisco last year, “is going after obscure party posts. They try to control the party apparatus in each county. We have a lot to fear from these people. They want to set up a theocracy in America.”[13]

If antipathy was iffy in 1992, by 1993 this was no longer true. A1993 Gallup poll showed that 25 percent of respondents had an unfavorable opinion of born-again Christians and a Zogby Group poll showed nearly the same thing, with 24 percent of respondents having negative feelings towards fundamentalist Christians.[14]

Antipathy was certainly present on the Christian side. Randall Terry was not talking about loving his enemies or turning the other cheek in 1993 when the Operation Rescue founder told a congregation in August, “I want you to just let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good. … Our goal is a Christian nation. We have a Biblical duty, we are called by God, to conquer this country. We don’t want equal time. We don’t want pluralism.”[15]

America was forewarned, and we still not at the high-water mark.


The Antecedents of American Fundamentalism 1606-1925
The Rising Tide of American Fundamentalism in the 1940s and 50s
The Cresting Tide of American Fundamentalism in the 1960s
American Fundamentalism in the 70s – The Rise of the Moral Majority
The Rise of American Fundamentalism – The Year 1980
The Rise of American Fundamentalism – the Reagan Decade

[1] John C. Green, Religion and the Culture Wars: Dispatches From the Front, 1996:3-4

[2] Dolce and Maio 1999:32

[3] Ted G. Jelen, The Political Mobilization of Religious Beliefs New York: 1991; Robert Wuthnow The Restructuring of American Religion: Society and Faith Since World War II Princeton NJ: 1988

[4] Dolce and Maio, 1999:53

[5] Speech in Jackson, Mississippi, April 1992

[6] Dolce and Maio 1999:33

[7]The GOP’s Religious War” by Joan Lowey of Scripps-Howard News Service

[8] Dolce and Maio 1999:48

[9] Lyman A. Kellstedt, JohnC. Green, James L. Gruth, and Corwin E. Smidt, “Religious Voting Blocs in the 1992 Election: The Year of the Evangelicals?” in Religion and the Culture Wars: Dispatches from the Front, 1996:284

[10] Dolce and Maio 1999:50

[11] Dolce and Maio 1999:52

[12] John C. Green, “The Christian Right and the 1994 Elections: A View from the States,” PS: Political Science and Politics Vol. 28, No. 1 (Mar., 1995), pp. 5-8

[13] (“The Fifteen Percent Solution: How the Christian Right is Building From Below to Take Over From Above.” By Greg Goldin, published in The Nation (1993

[14] Dolce and Maio 1999:40

[15] At an anti-abortion rally in Fort Wayne, Indiana; quoted by the Fort Wayne News Sentinel 1993-08-16

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