The Rise of The Evangelical Right: A Brief History of Religion and Politics in the USA (Repost from Tremr - 2016)

The Republicans have, for a long time, touted themselves as the party of small government and the advancement of the economy through empowering businesses. They continuously preach the values of the free market and the ills of government intervention. However, it is in the last 40 years that the right has grown a more conservative arm that leans on morality, an arm that implores the big government to maintain what it believes are "family values" and for the bible to supersede law in the United States.

Before 1972, the Republican party contained no references to God or Christian Values. However, in 1980 the Republican Party platform assumed positions shared with the New Christian Right, including dropping support for the  Equal Rights Amendment, adding support for a restoration of  school prayer , outlawing abortion, giving Federal funding to faith-based programs, fighting against LGBT individuals in the military, gay marriage and many other issues that have become key issues for the Republican Party. This piece aims to explore the history of the Christian Right and its intermingling with the Republican party. 

Post-prohibition, the Christian Right was hardly politically involved. It considered politics as ungodly and something that any right-minded true believer would never get involved in. During the Civil Rights-era of the 1960s, many Christian leaders chastised others who got involved in politics to achieve their aims. Baptist pastor Jerry Falwell derided Rev Martin Luther King Jr. 's march on Washington by saying that it is a preacher's place to be a soul winner and not a politician. Nearly a decade later, though, it was the same Pastor Falwell who, alongside other Christian leaders, began to urge conservative Christians to become involved in the political process.

The extreme evangelical Christians of the 70s were obsessed with social disintegration which, to them, took the form of the IRS revoking tax breaks to schools which discriminated against students in their admissions process. One of the most notable instances of the evangelical Christian Right taking this point of view is during the Bob Jones University v. Simon Supreme Court decision which had upheld the IRS' revocation of the school's  501(c)(3) nonprofit on the grounds of "racially discriminatory admissions policies" towards African Americans.

BJU taught fundamentalist beliefs such as that "God intended that people of different races live separately and not intermarry." The institution denied admission to black students from its founding in 1927 until 1975. When it allowed the admission of black students, it forbade interracial dating or marriage -- a ban which stayed in place until 2000. Bob Jones Sr, the founder and first president of the school, was a staunch segregationist and declared that "God had been the author of segregation and that opposition to segregation was opposition to God." He died six years before segregation was struck down at his institution. 

The Extreme Right took the SCOTUS decision, with many others, as an aggressive infiltration onto their rights and therefore began to mobilize. 

In response to the rise of the Christian right, key figures of the Republican Party of the 80s such as  Paul Weyrich began to notice this demographic as potential Republican voters. Weyrich,  through Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress (CSFC), began to tap into evangelical Christian churches to recruit and cultivate activists and support for social conservative causes.

As the Democratic Party became affiliated with a pro-choice position on abortion, equal rights for minorities and the LGBT community, and nontraditional societal values, social conservatives found themselves gravitating towards the Republican party. 

Pastors began to regard registering to vote as a pertinent task for all Christians who wish to see their country not fall privy to the whims of godlessness. Jerry Falwell criticized the former years of political inactivity among the Christian Right by saying: "Americans have stood by and watched as godless, spineless leaders have brought our nation floundering to the brink of death." He later went on to propose the three-point plan in his sermons: get them saved, get them baptized, get them registered to vote. 

These messages were broadcasts across the airwaves on then-fledgling Christian Broadcasting Network and Trinity Broadcasting Network, which disseminated these messages with ease.

From their pulpits, preachers who previously preached against involvement in politics began preaching for such involvement in the political process as a way to save one's country and maintain Christian values in the land. Jimmy Carter, a liberal Christian, elicited support from God-fearing voters during his first run. He did not win a second term as the evangelical Right, not impressed with his liberal beliefs, backed Ronald Regain in 1981, a man who was associated with Hollywood and its excess but was still seen as the darling of the Conservative party.

From then on, Republican National Convention speakers spoke of the healthy marriage of religion and politics illustrated by the Christian and Republican relationship, decried the downfall of society indicated by women being liberated from their responsibilities as homemakers and mothers and growing integration of the races, and advocated for the take-down of Hollywood and the so-called media elite. The issues raised by members of this New Religious Right have ranged from the concerning to the ridiculous such as controlling women's bodies and spending $8000 to cover up nipples on statues in Washington D.C.

It has also been one of the key justifications for the War in Iraq. Besides bringing democracy to the Middle East ( how'd that go, by the way?), the war was also seen as a fight against a foreign religion aiming to destroy a Christian nation on its soil. The war had seemingly unwavering support from evangelical leaders. It was a war to avenge America. President Bush quoted the Gospel of John 1:5 on the first anniversary of 9/11 saying: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it."



And so, that brings us to today where Donald Trump outperformed Ted Cruz, a man who was before pegged to be the candidate of the evangelical Christian Right. The Presidential Prayer Team, an organization dedicated to praying for the President and Political figures, considers it a sin to sit out of voting this election. In a piece by Jim Ray on their website titled "If Christians don’t vote, theere [sic] will be consequences", he beseeches Christians to vote in the "best interest of America". Comments on the site broadly voice support for Donald Trump. One comment said plainly:

"I am hearing from people of prophecy that God has raised up Donald Trump for such a time as this."

The son of the aforementioned Baptist pastor Jerry Falwell has hailed Donald Trump as a candidate, drawn parallels between the Republican front-runner and his own father, and described him as "one of the greatest visionaries of our time". 

Indeed, the evangelical Christian Right in the US, with the North Carolina HB2 laws and figures like Mike Huckabee has become more and more influential in US Politics with seemingly unlimited funding and dissemination networks resembling religiously motivated political movements in other regions. However, the crescendo of its influence may be at its peak. There is a rise in the irreligious Americans in the US -- especially among millennials. There are also pieces of the Religious Right breaking off to form more accepting groups to appeal to a broader section of the populace as the general public as a whole, slowly leans more to the left. However, the reactive nature of the Religious Right may signal its more extreme factions getting louder and more active as it shrinks into obscurity due to its sociological makeup. 

Could this year be the turning point of religion in American politics then? It is too early to tell. However, as the agents of social change shift and the racial, ideological and religious demographics of the country shift, the role of religion in American politics is set to change as well. 

George-Ann Ryan