Fundamentalist Christianity has shown that it is not above using any means at its disposal to find converts, even if those conversions are essentially coerced – coercion itself being an ancient weapon in the Church’s arsenal – the means by which, after all, most of the Christian world was converted. The government will help people with nothing expected in return; when Evangelical groups have the reins, they require conversion as the price of assistance.
A noted example of this behavior comes from 2006. From the New York Times:
In June, 2006, U.S. District Judge Robert W. Pratt ruled that a faith based-program at a Newton, Iowa prison called InnerChange, operated by Charles Colson’s Prison Fellowship Ministries, unconstitutionally used tax money for a religious program that gave special privileges to inmates who accepted its evangelical Christian teachings and terms. “For all practical purposes,” Judge Pratt said, “the state has literally established an Evangelical Christian congregation within the walls of one its penal institutions, giving the leaders of that congregation, i.e., InnerChange employees, authority to control the spiritual, emotional, and physical lives of hundreds of Iowa inmates.” [See Americans United v. Prison Fellowship Ministries, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 36970, June 2, 2006]
From appearances, the Religious Right was going strong. They had their man in the White House, they had their Faith Based initiatives and their war chests were filling faster than ever before. According to Americans United, Religious Right groups better funded than ever:
“James Dobson’s Focus on the Family took in $142.2 million in 2006, a $4.4 million increase over the previous year. Tony Perkins’ Family Research Council took in $10.3 million in 2006, an increase of over $900,000 over the previous year.”
It is unsurprising therefore that before 2006 the United States had come very close to theocracy but the midterm elections would take us from the brink. From TheocracyWatch.org:
Before the midterm elections of 2006, dominionists controlled both houses of the U.S. Congress, the White House and four out of nine seats on the U.S. Supreme Court. They were one seat away from holding a solid majority on the Supreme Court. As of January 1, 2007, dominionists will not control the leadership of either house of Congress, and the President will no longer be able to so easily appoint dominionists to the federal courts.
The midterm’s results were perhaps as striking as those of 2010: Five of the Republican Senators who were unseated on November 7 received whopping scores of 100% from the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family Voter Scorecards. Those Senators were: Conrad Burns (R-MT), George Allen (R-VA), Rick Santorum (R-PA), James Talent (R-MO), and Mike DeWine (R-OH). Rick Santorum was the number three ranking Republican in the party. Santorum and Allen both had Presidential ambitions, and as we all know, Santorum has been busy in 2011 trying to realize his, to the extent of finishing second in the Iowa Caucus.
But all was not rosy; the Religious Right still controlled two branches of government: On June 25, 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation that executive orders may not be challenged on Establishment Clause grounds by individuals whose sole claim to legal standing is that they are taxpayers. Both of Bush’s appointees, John G. Roberts and Samuel Alito, sided with the majority. So much for “We the People.”
Some, like the Economist earlier, drew the wrong conclusions from the Midterm results and were quick to pronounce the Religious Right dead. On October 30, 2007, the AU Blog, The Wall of Separation reported:
On Sunday, The New York Times unleashed two more Religious Right obituaries: Reporter David Kirkpatrick wrote a cover story about turmoil in the Religious Right for the Times Magazine, and columnist Frank Rich gloated over the so-called death of the Religious Right on the Opinion page.
From October 19 to October 21, 2007 the Family Research Council convened a summit of several hundred conservative Christian activists in Washington, DC called the Values Voters Summit. The mission of the meeting was to conduct a straw poll on who is the best choice for religious conservatives. According to Christianpost.com:
“The FRC head opened the event by listing the key issues for value voters – restoring a culture of life, upholding marriage as between one man and one woman, promoting pro-family values, protecting religious freedom, and supporting the nation’s defense and responsible foreign policy.”
It was not as though the Religious Right was down and out. Despite the results of the midterm, they were still a powerful and influential voting block. According to the Washington Post, February 3, 2011 “Sixty percent of GOP caucus-goers in the 2008 presidential election described themselves as evangelical Christians.”
We met Jo Martin in an earlier article and saw her reaction to the Christian takeover of the GOP in ’92. In ’08 there was “home-schooling mom Kim Pearson of suburban Polk County” who “didn’t take much notice in 2008 of Huckabee’s ample record of increasing state taxes and spending when he was governor of Arkansas. Like other Republican caucus-goers who catapulted Huckabee to victory, Pearson was charmed by the candidate’s Christian faith and his stances on such social issues as abortion and same-sex marriage.”
To claim today, as has Ralph Reed, that the Evangelical vote is more nuanced and encompasses more than social issues is rather humorous. Kim Pearson sounds a great deal like the average Evangelical voter at the 2012 Iowa Caucus, where issues like abortion were important to them than the economy – an attitude that fits in well with the GOP’s agenda.
On October 3, 2008, the Freedom From Religion Foundation sued President George W. Bush, Jim Doyle, Shirley Dobson, chair, National Day of Prayer Task Force, and White House Press Secretary Dana Perino at a Madison, Wisconsin federal court, challenging the federal law designating the National Day of Prayer
AU’s Feb 2011 Church & State reported:
“ADF lawyers organized a May 2008 meeting with Grassley’s staff to demand that the electioneering restriction be lifted and to insist that religious organizations be kept free of any significant new governmental oversight. Among the attendees were representatives of the Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, the National Religious Broadcasters and others.”
The Religious Right would never stop fighting and scraping for every advantage they could get in order to keep control of the White House.
It is easy with hindsight to see already back in 2006 the origins of the Tea Party movement. From New York Times, “Crashing the Tea Party” by David E. Campbell and Robert D. Putnam:
“Next to being a Republican, the strongest predictor of being a Tea Party supporter today was a desire, back in 2006, to see religion play a prominent role in politics. And Tea Partiers continue to hold these views: they seek “deeply religious” elected officials, approve of religious leaders’ engaging in politics and want religion brought into political debates. The Tea Party’s generals may say their overriding concern is a smaller government, but not their rank and file, who are more concerned about putting God in government.”
The Democrats had managed to stifle the Bush administration for its final two years, preventing further severe damage to American democracy and to the First Amendment, but as Evangelicals would demonstrate in the ’08 election, they were capable in their desperation of embracing rhetoric – and candidates – more extreme than any American voters had previously encountered.
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
The Rise of American Fundamentalism 1998-2001
The Rise of American Fundamentalism 2002-2003
The Rise of American Fundamentalism 2004-2005