We have seen how the extreme became mainstream as moderate Christians were displaced by well-funded and well-organized fundamentalists. Ideas people once blanched at were being discussed openly, evincing a degree of intolerance that was shocking to liberals but becoming commonplace among conservative Christians. I discussed earlier how Christian reconstructionism, established by R.J. Rushdoony, called for Old Testament-style government and punishments.
GodDiscussion.com reports, “Gary DeMar, one of Rushdoony’s protégés and founder of American Vision, said back in 1998 that, “Our goal is to continue to define the issues. I think this is what irritates a lot of people about what we do. It’s that we force them to look at things in absolutes. There’s no neutrality.” During the 1998 conference, Rushdoony said that the logical conclusion of democracy was “to destroy morality” because everything was equal. He favored an authoritarian government based on Biblical standards.”
This appeal to absolutes has become commonplace, as has the idea that the federal government is waging war on morality and is therefore somehow the enemy.
On a positive note, the Christian Coalition began an abrupt decline in 1999 when it lost its tax exempt status. According to the Washington Post (Friday, June 11, 1999),
The IRS has rejected the Christian Coalition’s 10-year struggle to win tax-exempt status, dealing a major setback to a mainstay of the Republican Party and to the political-business empire that turned broadcaster Pat Robertson into a power broker of the religious right.
The Washington Post suggested that
In the wake of other damaging developments, the IRS ruling, which was first reported yesterday by the St. Petersburg Times, further diminishes the ability of the coalition to maintain its influence in the Republican Party. Over the past 10 years, the Christian Coalition has emerged as the counterpart to organized labor and the women’s movement in the Democratic Party.
At the time, this was seen as a near fatal blow to the Religious Right’s political aspirations, the Post reporting “that A number of conservatives described the IRS action as a roundhouse punch to a group that is already on the ropes, as its revenue dropped from $26 million in 1996 to $17 million in 1997.” John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, a conservative legal group. Was quoted as saying,
“This is the last piece of a puzzle. The Christian right has been potent for a while, but now it’s going away.”
But people should have known better. The first cry of wolf came in 1989 when Falwell disbanded the Moral Majority. As Americans United says, “It died again in 1992 when Bill Clinton was elected president. Then it croaked once more in 1996 when Clinton was reelected.”
Studies done in the 1990s show that religiously conservative Protestants have become more suburban and less rural and Southern than they were in the 40s and 50s but a 1999 Study of Dolce and Maio found anti-Christian fundamentalist (and antievangelical) antipathy “among seculars, cultural progressives, the highly educated, and ideological liberals. These individuals are more likely to view religiously conservative Christian beliefs as culturally alien or politically threatening.” And why not? What progressive wants to return to the 13th century?
“Because whites and blacks differ in their religious outlooks and political orientations, and because the political meaning and implications of religious behavior also differ within these two communities, our analyses are restricted to whites.” Asking what underlies this antagonism, Dolce and Maio report that “the results seem to be consonant with the ‘culture wars’ imagery of contemporary social conflict. Culture wars is the metaphor used to describe the clash between progressivist and traditional moral perspectives over such issues as abortion, homosexuality, school prayer, and gender roles.” They go on to say that “Fundamentalists appear as the principal antagonists in these controversies and are associated with some of the least popular and most polarizing groups defining the American political landscape” while homosexuals and feminists are “challengers to cultural orthodoxty.”
In preparation for the 2000 election, the Christian Coalition put out 75 million voter guides to support George W. Bush. Even so, reports Americans United, “In 2000, The Economist declared the Religious Right D.O.A. on the eve of the election – just days before the movement helped put George W. Bush in the White House.” The Economist later admitted (in November 2004),
In 2000, 15m evangelical Protestants voted. They accounted for 23% of the electorate, and 71% of them voted for Mr Bush. This time, estimates Luis Lugo, the director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, they again accounted for about 23% of the electorate—which means that evangelicals did not increase their share of the vote. But overall turnout was much higher, and 78% of the evangelicals who voted, voted for Mr Bush. That works out at roughly 3.5m extra votes for him. Mr Bush’s total vote rose by 9m (from 50.5m in 2000 to 59.5m), so evangelical Protestants alone accounted for more than a third of his increased vote.
On January 20, 2001 Texas governor George W. Bush becomes president thanks to conservative Christian support, including that of White Evangelical Protestants (he received 68 percent of the white evangelical vote). Raney Aronson, producer of the PBS documentary The Jesus Factor, which recounts how Bush became a born-again Christian, says “President Bush has been called the most openly religious president in modern history.” Bush, who believed God wanted him to be president, was certainly the most active on behalf of a conservative Christian agenda and he immediately went to work on behalf of his fundamentalist supporters and against the U.S. Constitution.
Just nine days later, on January 29, 2001 the OFBCI “Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives” was established by President George W. Bush through executive order on January 29, 2001, signaling a new wave of attacks on the First Amendment. An eight year reign of terror had just begun, and the world would never be the same.
That did not mean those who believed in tolerance and human rights would not fight back. After the 2000 election Joan Bokaer, whom we first met back in Iowa in 1986 discovering the fundamentalist plan to take over the GOP, realized that few people understood that the religious right had taken working control of the Republican Party, and decided that she needed to dedicate her energies to raising awareness about that subject, so she founded TheocracyWatch, a project run by the Center for Religion, Ethics and Social Policy (CRESP), located at Cornell University.
On December 5, 2001 Pat Robertson would resign from the Christian Coalition, abruptly ending it’s era of dominance in American politics. The organization had already suffered a blow in 1999 when the IRS “determined that the tax-exempt Coalition had engaged in too much politicking, forcing the group to restructure.” The disgraced and once-influential Ralph Reed had already left, and when Robertson left he took his funding and support with him. But the damage had been done; fundamentalist Christianity had established a beachhead in the federal government they would only continue to expand.
READ ALL THE ARTICLES IN THE SERIES:
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
The Rise of American Fundamentalism 1990-1993
The Rise of American Fundamentalism 1994-1997