Wednesday, May 17, 2017

May 17, 2017--The Evangelicals

Until reading Frances Fitzgerald's definitive book about the Evangelical tradition in the United States, The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America, I grossly underestimated the influence the religious right has had on our electoral process. Their influence puts to shame whatever the Russians did or didn't do to affect our most recent presidential election.

The book is over-detailed and far from a page turner, but anyone interested in the religious and political history of our country, very much including how they are entwined, needs to work one's way through it.

The "story" really picks up in about 1988 when Pat Robertson and his protege, 27-year-old Ralph Reed enter the picture. Up to then, socially active Christians had largely devoted themselves to cultural issues such as abortion (totally against it), homosexual issues (totally against expanding gay people's rights), prayer in school (totally for it), and pornography (totally opposed to it), but they didn't in any substantial way organize themselves politically, believing on some level that church and state should remain more-or-less separate.

With Reed in mind to lead the effort to win the culture wars through direct engagement in the political and legislative process, that agenda changed and to that end Robertson created the Christian Coalition and tasked it under Reed's leadership to select and support candidates who shared his values to run for office at all levels from school boards to the presidency.

Here are the key paragraphs from The Evangelicals that lay out this radical new plan--
The Christian Coalition worked with lay evangelicals of different traditions and made alliances with other Christian Right groups at the local level. Its core mission was "to mobilize and train Christians for effective political action." In Robertson's vision the Coalition would recruit five or more activists in each of the nation's 175,000 precincts (my italics); it would start with elections for school boards, county commissioners, and other local races, where a small percentage of registered voters could make the difference. It would work up from there to congressional races and the White House. Ralph Reed, who ran the operation and served as the public face of the Coalition, had what was often called "choir boy looks," but he was a political engineer. . . . 
Reed sometimes described his voter mobilization program as a covert military operation. "I want to be invisible," he told the Virginia Pilot in November 1991. "I do guerrilla warfare. I paint my face and travel at night. You don't know it's over until you're in a body bag. You don't know until election night."
What is interesting and upsetting is how off the case the liberals and the media were. The Christian Coalition's strategic plans and victories were barely noticed or commented upon. And in the absence of that, progressive voters did little more than show up at the polls every two or four years. While politically active conservative Christians were mobilized in every election district in the country, liberals remained relatively dormant.

As Reed said, we wouldn't know what was going on until election night. Especially this past November 7th. We woke up and discovered that evangelicals had elected Donald Trump and both houses were to be solidly in Republican hands.

We had grown self-satisfied and lazy.

Fair warning.

Ralph Reed and Pat Robertson

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