The power of the religious right

Republicans are making an unprecedented push to get evangelical Christians to rally behind President Bush’s re-election campaign. Will conservative churchgoers swing the vote?

How powerful is the religious right?
Roughly 50 million to 70 million Americans—a quarter of the adult population—identify themselves as evangelical Christians. It’s a larger voting group than labor unions, African-Americans, or Hispanics. In 2000, according to national exit polls, evangelicals accounted for about 40 percent of George W. Bush’s votes. They’ve also played a critical role in giving the Republican Party control of both houses of Congress. Rev. Jerry Falwell, a Southern Baptist preacher who has helped lead conservative Christians into the political arena, boasts that the Republican Party “does not have the head count to elect a president without the support of religious conservatives.” It’s a claim that no one disputes.

What do evangelicals believe?
There are several factions under the evangelical tent, ranging from black evangelicals, who focus on an ecstatic experience of Jesus’ redemptive love, to fundamentalists, who believe that every word in the Bible is without error and are awaiting the Apocalypse. The majority of evangelicals, though, are affiliated with white Pentecostal and Southern Baptist churches and are glued together by four core beliefs: That the Bible is divinely inspired; that only belief in Jesus, not good works, can save the soul; that all Christians must declare their acceptance of Jesus as their personal savior; and that it is the duty of all Christians to evangelize, or share their faith with others.

Why do evangelicals prefer President Bush?
They see him as one of their own, although Bush has never used the term “evangelical” to describe himself. Bush has credited his faith for helping him to stop drinking; as president, he has sprinkled his speeches with frequent references to prayer, God, and the Bible. More important, evangelicals see Bush as a champion of conservative social values in the ongoing battle with secular liberals. At a recent meeting of Southern Baptists, Bush was introduced as a president who would help “our nation turn back to God.” It’s a message that resonates: A Christian polling organization, the Barna Group, has found that 86 percent of self-described evangelicals intend to vote for President Bush in November. In 2000, millions of evangelicals didn’t vote at all, and Bush’s chief strategist, Karl Rove, has resolved not to let that happen this year.

How is he mobilizing the vote?
The Bush campaign has hired Ralph Reed, the former executive director of the Christian Coalition, to run Bush’s campaign in five Southern states, and has instituted an aggressive “outreach” program to churches and evangelical organizations—especially those in key swing states such as Pennsylvania. In its most controversial tactic, the Bush campaign sent a memorandum asking its religious supporters to turn over membership rolls from thousands of congregations “where voters friendly to President Bush might gather on a regular basis.” The campaign has been contacting these churchgoers directly and urging them to register and vote.

Is that legal?
By law, tax-exempt religious groups may not explicitly endorse candidates or distribute campaign literature. In June, the IRS issued a warning to churches and to both campaigns, reminding them that the line was not to be crossed. Evangelicals have not been deterred. Falwell, for example, has endorsed Bush, but says he broke no law because he put the endorsement on a Web site separate from his religious ministry. Focus on the Family, a Colorado-based media ministry that reaches millions of Americans, this year formed a separate political arm to raise money, register voters, and urge people to vote for Bush and other conservatives running for office.

When did evangelicals become so political?
Until the 1970s, most evangelicals viewed politics as corrupt and worldly and largely irrelevant. But after the sexual revolution, feminism, and Roe v. Wade, evangelicals became increasingly disenchanted with the way “secularists” and liberal Christians were shaping popular culture and the law. In 1978, Falwell founded the Moral Majority, and the “Christian right” became an identifiable and influential faction in the political fray. Over the last five years, as the culture war became more pronounced and more bitter, Christian conservatism was transformed into a groundswell. This election year, says Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, is “our D-Day, or Gettysburg, or Stalingrad.”

Is that because of Islamic terrorism?
No—gay marriage. “Western civilization hangs on the issue,” Dobson said. Earlier this year, Massachusetts’ highest court ordered the state to legalize same-sex unions, and evangelicals now say that the Constitution must be amended to prohibit all 50 states from recognizing gay marriages. Bush supports the amendment drive, and for that reason alone, says Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, it’s a Christian’s duty to support Bush on Election Day.

What else do evangelicals want?
The agenda includes banning abortion, teaching creationism along with evolution in public schools, abstinence-only sex education, and bringing prayers and God back into the public square. In essence, evangelicals believe that America should function as a Christian nation, where the law and morality reflect Biblical teachings. Today’s evangelicals, says Kentucky pastor Bob Russell, are rising up against a secular culture in the same way American colonists threw off the tyranny of England. “They had taxation without representation,” Russell says. “We have imposed morality without representation. I don’t see how you can be a dedicated Christian and remain neutral.”

The new Israeli lobby


Ukraine hints it destroyed Russian missile shipment in Crimea
China's Xi Jinping and Russia's Vladimir Putin

Ukraine hints it destroyed Russian missile shipment in Crimea

Global happiness has been 'remarkably resilient' over the past three years
cathedral in Finland.
it wasn't all bad

Global happiness has been 'remarkably resilient' over the past three years

Is France 'on the edge of civil unrest'?
Protests against Macron's pension overhaul
Today's big question

Is France 'on the edge of civil unrest'?

The extreme weather events of 2023
An illustration of a tornado and wind-swept palm trees
In depth

The extreme weather events of 2023

Most Popular

The truth about alcohol
Alcohol being poured into a rocks glass.

The truth about alcohol

Russia's spring Ukraine offensive may be winding down amid heavy losses
Ukrainian tank fires near Bakhmut

Russia's spring Ukraine offensive may be winding down amid heavy losses

North Korea claims 800,000 people volunteered to fight against the U.S.
North Korean soldiers march in a parade in 2018.
A Frightening Figure

North Korea claims 800,000 people volunteered to fight against the U.S.