The Political Mobilization of the New Religious Right by Bryan Le Beau
Part III

Whither the New Christian Right

     The previously noted caveats notwithstanding, the New Christian Right's ability to restructure itself after the 1992 election and its organization ever since are impressive.

"Rather than rejecting the values of the wider society, the Christian Coalition sought to reengage the outside world."

In predicting its future, however, we must take into account the growing influence of evangelicals in what was once a fundamentalist led movement. This is of major consequence, first, because evangelicals comprise the fastest growing religious group in America (Solomon 1996, 411), and second, as noted earlier, because evangelicals are wealthier, better educated, more sub/urban, and less conservative than fundamentalists (Solomon 1996, 415). Contemporary evangelicalism is a world-affirming faith, capable of adapting to its surrounding culture, and the effect of this world-affirming view appears to have brought about, or at least accommodated, the reinvention of the New Christian Right.
Photo of Ralph Reed     The Reverend Jerry Falwell, co-founder of Moral Majority is a fundamentalist, as were most of the NCR's early leaders (Shibley 1998, 70). In 1986, however, when Falwell disassembled Moral Majority, which was becoming ineffective, Pat Robertson became the focal point of the movement. Robertson is a socially conservative evangelical, but he opened the door to more moderate evangelicals when, in 1989, he founded the Christian Coalition and anointed Ralph Reed executive director. Born in 1961, Reed was part of a new generation of born-again Christians who were not reared in a fundamentalist subculture or even a conservation evangelical culture. Reed was a contemporary evangelical with an essentially political vocation (ibid. 81).
     Reed's work with the Christian Coalition between 1989 and 1997 in effect transformed the Christian Right into a modern political organization, both tactically and ideologically. The Christian Coalition affirmed the basic tenets of conservative Protestant belief but rejected the extreme anti-intellectual and sectarian tendencies of fundamentalism. Rather than rejecting the values of the wider society, the Christian Coalition sought to reengage the outside world. It took for granted many of the cultural norms of middle class life as it was being redefined by the baby-boom generation (Roof 1993).
     Following the Republican Party's impressive gains in 1994, Reed endorsed the Contract with America and unveiled the Contract with the American Family--conservative and "pro-family" but not belligerent (Martin 1997, 364). Reed spelled out the Christian Coalition's new position in his book Active Faith, published in 1996. He cautioned religious conservatives to "resist the temptation to replace the social engineering of the left with the social engineering of the right by forcing compliance with the moral principles that motivate us so deeply." Religious conservatives, he said, must shun harsh language on critical issues--abortion and homosexuality--and learn to speak of their opponents with charity (Reed 1996, 28).
     Reed angered some to his right by endorsing presidential candidate Bob Dole in 1996 when Dole appeared likely to select a pro-choice running mate (Diamond 1996, 44), but Reed's decision was consistent with his ultimate goal of building a political organization that would be a player in mainstream politics (Solomon 1996, 414). As Mark Shibley put it: "Reed clearly has a vision of the role of religious conservatives in politics that is broader than the sectarian movement he inherited (Shibley 1998, 82).
     The future of the Christian Coalition, and of the now-not-so-new Christian Right depends on finding new, equally effective leadership to replace Ralph Reed. Any pronouncements on Randy Tate would be premature. Tate did succeed in holding on to religious conservatives alienated by Reed's more moderate, pragmatic policies, but he also presided over the electoral reversals of 1998 and faces dissent in the ranks for the year 2000.
     By its very nature, the future of the Christian Coalition will continue to be dependent on galvanizing issues. But perhaps the greatest danger to the Christian Right as a social and political movement may grow out of its very success. The truly "New" Christian Right, led by evangelicals, has been successful because it has learned to engage the world. It has learned to engage the world because it has become more like the world. But if it becomes too much like the world, it will cease to be an effective voice for the "outsiders" whom the Christian Right has represented for most of this century (Beinart 1998, 29). If that happens, as did the "old" Christian Right in the 1920s, the movement will fall into disarray, and its more conservative constituents will retreat, once again, to saving souls, not the nation.


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Mobilization of the New Christian Right Part 2

Mobilization of the New Christian Right Part 1

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