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Christian right

Christian right is a term used in the United States to describe right-wing Christian political groups that are characterized by their strong support of socially conservative policies. Christian conservatives principally seek to apply the teachings of Christianity to politics and public policy by proclaiming the value of those teachings and/or by seeking to use those teachings to influence law and public policy.[1]

In the U.S., the Christian right is an informal coalition of numerous groups, chiefly evangelicals and Catholics.[2] The Christian right is strongest in the South, where it replaced the core of the Republican Party.[3] Besides conservative positions on domestic issues such as opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage,[4] in recent years, quite a lot of the Christian right is strongly supportive of Israel in foreign affairs.[5] There are similar, smaller Christian right movements in other countries, including Canada,[6] Australia,[7] and the Philippines.[8]



The terms Christian right and religious right are often used interchangeably, although the terms are not synonymous. Religious right includes Christians, Muslims and Orthodox Jews. For example, they cooperate in national and international projects through the World Congress of Families and United Nations NGO gatherings.[9] Christian right, by contrast, refers only to conservative Christians, which can include those who are accepting of cooperation with other faiths and those who are not.

About 15% of the electorate in the United States supports the Christian right, and generally votes heavily for the Republican Party. John C. Green of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life states that Jerry Falwell used the label religious right to describe himself, until it developed negative connotations, such as of hard-edged politics and intolerance, which resulted in very few people to whom the term would apply using it to describe themselves any more. Gary Schneeberger, vice president of media and public relations for Focus on the Family, states that "[t]erms like 'religious right' have been traditionally used in a pejorative way to suggest extremism. The phrase 'socially conservative evangelicals' is not very exciting, but that's certainly the way to do it."[10]

Evangelical leaders like Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council have called attention to the special problem of equating the terms with evangelicals. Although evangelicals constitute the core constituency of the Christian right, not all evangelicals fit the description. The problem of description is further complicated by the fact that religious conservative may refer to groups like some Mennonites and the Amish, who are theologically conservative but not involved in politics.


Jerry Falwell, whose founding of the Moral Majority was a key step in the formation of the New Christian Right
Jerry Falwell, whose founding of the Moral Majority was a key step in the formation of the New Christian Right

Origins of the Christian right in the United States

The Alienation of Southern Democrats

Into the 1960 election, Catholics and evangelicals worked against each other, as evangelicals mobilized their forces to defeat Catholics Al Smith in 1928 and John F. Kennedy in 1960.[11] By the 1980s, however, Catholic bishops and evangelicals worked together on issues such as abortion.[12][13][14]

The alienation of Southern Democrats from the Democratic Party contributed to the rise of the Right, as the counterculture of the 1960s provoked fear of social disintegration. In addition, as the Democratic Party became identified with a pro-choice position on abortion and with nontraditional societal values, social conservatives joined the Republican Party in increasing numbers.

Ability to organize

The contemporary Christian right became increasingly vocal and organized in reaction to a series of United States Supreme Court decisions (notably Bob Jones University v. Simon and Bob Jones University v. United States) and also engaged in battles over pornography, obscenity, abortion, state sanctioned prayer in public schools, textbook contents (concerning evolution vs. creationism), homosexuality, and sexual education.

Grassroots activism

Much of the Christian right's power within the American political system is attributed to their extraordinary turnout rate at the polls. The voters that coexist in the Christian Right are also highly motivated and driven to get out a viewpoint on issues they care about. As well as high voter turnout, they can be counted on to attend political events, knock on doors and distribute literature. Members of the Christian Right are willing to do the electoral work needed to see their candidate elected. Because of their high level of devotion, the Christian right does not need to monetarily compensate these people for their work.[15][16]

Political leaders and institutions

Led by Robert Grant's Christian Voice, Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority, Ed McAteer's Religious Roundtable Council, James Dobson's Focus on the Family, and Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network, the new Religious Right combined conservative politics with evangelical and fundamentalist teachings.[17] The birth of the New Christian right, however, is usually traced to a 1979 meeting where televangelist Jerry Falwell was urged to create a "Moral Majority" organization.[18][19]


  • Early 1960s Barry Goldwater's political campaign draws much attention from conservative leaders. A number of prominent former Dixiecrats, including Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms, eventually would switch to the Republican Party.
  • 1968 Richard Nixon's presidential campaign uses a Southern strategy of exploiting racial anxiety among white voters in the South, eventually contributing to a realignment of the South with the Republican Party.[20]
  • 1972 Eagle Forum is formed.
  • 1973 In Roe v. Wade, the United States Supreme Court held that the Constitution guaranteed the right to choose abortion in certain circumstances.
  • May 15, 1974 The United States Supreme Court that held, in Bob Jones University v. United States, that the Internal Revenue Service could, without the approval of the United States Congress, revoke the tax exempt status of organizations that are contrary to established public policy. The decision came about from the university's ban of "admission to applicants engaged in an interracial marriage or known to advocate interracial marriage or dating."[21]
  • 1974 Robert Grant founds the American Christian Cause as an effort to institutionalize the Christian Right as a politically active social movement.
  • 1977 Focus on the Family is formed.
  • 1978 Robert Grant, Paul Weyrich, Terry Dolan, Howard Phillips, and Richard Viguerie found Christian Voice, to recruit, train, and organize Evangelical Christians to participate in elections.
  • 1979 Jerry Falwell founds Moral Majority, which is often said to be the beginning of the New Christian Right. Concerned Women for America is formed.
  • April 29, 1980 Washington for Jesus founded by John Giminez, the pastor of Rock Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Dr. William Bright, Benson Idahosa from Africa, and many other high-profile Christians marched on Washington DC, in an effort to support Ronald Reagan's presidential run. This event provides a place for the Christian Right to outline many of their beliefs in speeches and statements.
  • 1980 Ronald Reagan elected president, serving two presidential terms (1981 1989). Republicans capture the Senate for the first time since 1952.
  • 1982 The Washington Times newspaper founded in Washington D.C. by the Unification Church. On May 18, 1982, President Reagan introduced a proposed School Prayer Amendment to the United States Constitution.[22]
  • 1983 The Family Research Council is formed. On March 8, 1983, President Ronald Reagan addresses the annual convention of the National Association of Evangelicals and refers to the Soviet Union as an "evil empire"; the speech becomes known as the "Evil Empire" speech.[23][24] President Reagan publishes an article entitled "Abortion and the Conscience of a Nation."[25][26][27]
  • 1984 President Ronald Reagan proclaims January 13, 1984 to be National Sanctity of Human Life Day. President Reagan announces the adoption of the Mexico City Policy, which required "all non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that receive federal funding to refrain from performing or promoting abortion services, as a method of family planning, in other countries."
  • April 30, 1987 Pat Robertson founds the Christian Coalition, which later becomes the most prominent voice in the Christian Right.
  • 1988 George H. W. Bush is elected president with the support of most conservative Christian voters.
  • 1989 Liberty Counsel is formed.
  • 1990 The American Center for Law and Justice is formed.
  • 1992 The Christian Coalition produces voter guides and distributes them to conservative Christian churches.
  • 1994 Conservative Republicans take control of the House of Representatives, led by Christian conservative Newt Gingrich. The Alliance Defense Fund is formed.
  • 1996 The Defense of Marriage Act is enacted.
  • 2000 The Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) is passed. In Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, the United States Supreme Court holds that the First Amendment allows the Boy Scouts to exclude openly homosexual males from membership in its organization.
  • January 20, 2001 George W. Bush becomes president with the overwhelming support of white conservative evangelical voters.
  • 2001 George W. Bush re-institutes the Mexico City Policy.
  • 2002 The Born-Alive Infants Protection Act of 2002 is enacted.
  • 2003 The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 is enacted.
  • 2004 The Unborn Victims of Violence Act is enacted. President Bush announces his support for a Federal Marriage Amendment.[28]
  • 2006 President George W. Bush vetoes the Stem Cell Research Enactment Act of 2006.
  • 2007 The National Organization for Marriage is formed. President George W. Bush vetoes the Stem Cell Research Enactment Act of 2007. The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 is upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States in the case of Gonzales v. Carhart.[29]

Christian right institutions in the United States


National organizations

One early effort to institutionalize the Christian right as a politically-active social movement began in 1974 when Dr. Robert Grant, an early movement leader, founded American Christian Cause to advocate Christian moral teachings in Southern California. Concerned that Christians overwhelmingly voted in favor of President Jimmy Carter in 1976, Grant expanded his movement and founded Christian Voice to mobilize Christian voters in favor of candidates who share their socially conservative values.

In the late 1980s Pat Robertson founded the Christian Coalition, building from his 1988 presidential run, with Republican activist Ralph Reed, who became the spokesman for the Coalition. In 1992, the national Christian Coalition, Inc., headquartered in Virginia Beach, Virginia, began producing voter guides, which it distributed to conservative Christian churches. Under the leadership of Reed and Robertson, the Coalition quickly became the most prominent voice in the conservative Christian movement, its influence culminating with an effort to support the election of a conservative Christian to the presidency in 1996. In addition, they have talked about attempting to intersperse the traditional moral issues associated with the Christian Right into a broader message that emphasizes other political issues, such as healthcare, the economy, education and crime.[30]

Focus on the Family's Visitor's Welcome Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Focus on the Family's Visitor's Welcome Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Political activists worked within the Republican party locally and nationally to influence party platforms and nominations.[31] More recently Dr. James Dobson's group Focus on the Family, based in Colorado Springs, and the Family Research Council in Washington D.C. have gained enormous clout among Republican lawmakers. While strongly advocating for these "moral issues", Dobson himself is more wary of the political spectrum and much of the resources of his group are devoted to other aims such as media.[32] However, as a private citizen, Dobson has stated his opinion on presidential elections; on February 5, 2008, Dobson issued a statement regarding the 2008 presidential election and his strong disappointment with the Republican party's candidates.[33]

In an essay written in 1996, Ralph Reed argued against the moral absolutist tone of Christian Right leaders, arguing for the Republican Party Platform to stress the moral dimension of abortion rather than placing emphasis on overturning Roe v. Wade. Reed believes that pragmatism is the best way to advocate for the Christian Right.[34]

Partisan activity of churches

Overtly partisan actions by churches could threaten their 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status due to the Johnson Amendment of the Internal Revenue Code.[35] In one notable example, the former pastor of the East Waynesville Baptist Church in Waynesville, North Carolina "told the congregation that anyone who planned to vote for Democratic Sen. John Kerry should either leave the church or repent".[36] The church later expelled nine members who had voted for Kerry and refused to repent, which led to criticism on the national level. The pastor resigned and the ousted church members were allowed to return.[37]

The Alliance Defense Fund started the Pulpit Freedom Initiative[38] in 2008. ADF states that "[t]he goal of Pulpit Freedom Sunday is simple: have the Johnson Amendment declared unconstitutional and once and for all remove the ability of the IRS to censor what a pastor says from the pulpit."[39]

Electoral activity

Christian Right organizations sometimes conduct polls to determine which presidential candidates will receive the support of Christian Right constituents. One such poll is taken at the Family Research Council's Values Voter Summit.[40][41] George W. Bush's electoral success owed much to his overwhelming support from white evangelical voters, who comprise 23% of the vote. In 2000 he received 68% of the white evangelical vote; in 2004 that percentage rose to 78%.[42]


The Home School Legal Defense Association was cofounded in 1983 by Michael Farris, who would later establish Patrick Henry College, and Michael Smith. This organization attempts to challenge laws that serve as obstacles to allowing parents to homeschool their children and to organize the disparate group of homeschooling families into a cohesive bloc. The number of homeschooling families has increased in the last twenty years, and around 80 percent of these families identify themselves as evangelicals.[43]

A number of universities and colleges have been founded due to the growing popularity of the Christian right. The main universities associated with the Christian Right are:

  • Bob Jones University Protestant Fundamentalist university, founded in 1927. George W. Bush spoke at the school's chapel hour on February 2, 2000 as a presidential candidate.
  • Oral Roberts University a private, Charismatic Christian, comprehensive university, founded in 1963. Accredited in 1971 by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.[44]
  • Liberty University founded by Jerry Falwell as Lynchburg Baptist College in 1971. Accredited in 1980; law school was accredited in 2006.
  • Regent University founded in 1978 by Pat Robertson, (originally CBN University). Accredited in 1984, renamed Regent University in 1990. Regent Law School was fully accredited in 1996. The two universities and their law schools have numerous conservative activists and politicians as alumni, and have hosted important speeches by conservative national politicians since Ronald Reagan.
  • Patrick Henry College Protestant college, incorporated in 1998 and officially opened in 2000. Granted TRACS accreditation in 2007.
  • Baylor University


The media has played a major role in the rise of the Christian Right since the 1920s and has continued to be a powerful force for the movement today. The role of the media for the Religious Right has been influential in its ability to connect Christian audiences to the larger American culture while at the same time bringing together religion, politics, and culture that was personal and practical.[45] The political agenda of the Christian Right has been disseminated to the public through a variety of media outlets including radio broadcasting, television, and books. Religious broadcasting began in the 1920s through the radio.[45] Between the 1950s and 1980s, TV became a powerful way for the Christian Right to influence the public through shows such as Pat Robertson's The 700 Club and The Family Channel. The use of the Internet has also helped the Christian Right reach a much larger audience. Organizations websites contain easily accessible and detailed information on the issues the organizations are involved in and the positions they take, along with ways the site viewer can get involved. The Christian Coalition, for example, has used the Internet to inform the public, as well as sell merchandise and gather members.[46] Fox News Channel, which has numerous conservative commentators, has been the preferred news network for the Christian right; as many of the network's key figures are Evangelical Christians.[47]



The Christian Right has worked to modify the public school curriculum in a number of ways. It has made inroads by having its followers win school board elections. Research suggests that these candidates run solely to propagate their religious or moral beliefs as school policy.[48] The smaller the jurisdiction, the greater the tendency for the Christian Right pragmatically to support favorable candidates who can win, regardless of political-party affiliation.

The Christian Right has strong opinions on how American children should be educated, speaking out in support for activities like state-sanctioned prayer in public schools.

Educational choice

The Christian Right strongly advocates for a system of educational choice, using a system of school vouchers, instead of public education. Vouchers would be government funded and could be redeemed for "a specified maximum sum per child per years if spent on approved educational services".[49] This method would allow parents to determine which school their child attends while relieving the economic burden associated with private schools. The concept is popular among constituents of church-related schools, including those affiliated with Roman Catholicism.


The Christian Right has promoted the teaching of creationism and intelligent design as opposed to the teaching of evolution.[50][51] The Christian Right has not supported the teaching of evolution in the past, but it does not have the ability to stop it being taught in public schools as was done during the Scopes Trial in Dayton, TN, in which a science teacher went on trial for teaching about the subject of evolution in a public school.[52]

The Discovery Institute, through their Intelligent design initiative called the Center for Science and Culture, has tried to encourage schools to utilize the teach the controversy approach. Such an approach would ensure that both the strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory were discussed in the curriculum.[53] Many scientists, including evolutionary biologists do not believe there are weaknesses in evolutionary theory, and evolution theory is overwhelmingly supported by biologists and those in related fields in America.[54] This tactic was criticised by Judge John E. Jones III in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District , describing it as "at best disingenuous, and at worst a canard."

Sexual Education

On the issue of sexual education in public schools, a spectrum of views exist within the Christian Right. Some advocate removing sexual education from public schools, others support teaching abstinence until marriage, and still others advocate encouraging modesty and chastity.

The Christian Right has been successful in promoting abstinence-only curricula. In fact, 30 percent of America's sexual-education programs are abstinence based.[55] These programs promote abstinence until marriage as the only way to prevent pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and the emotional issues that could arise from sexual activity.[56]


The Christian right sees homeschooling and private schooling as a viable alternative to secular education. In recent years, the percentage of children being homeschooled has risen from 1.7% of the student population in 1999 to 2.2% in 2003.[57] Much of this increase has been attributed to the desire to incorporate Christian teachings into the curriculum.[58] In 2003, 72% of parents who homeschooled their children cited the ability to provide religious or moral instruction as the reason for removing their children from secular schools.[59]


As a right-wing political movement, the Christian right is strongly opposed to left-wing ideologies such as socialism and the welfare state. To some, communism is seen as a threat to the Western Judeo-Christian tradition.[60]

Role of government

The Christian Right sees the government's proper role in society as cultivating virtue, not to interfere with the natural operations of the marketplace or the workplace.[61] It promotes conservative or literal interpretations of the Bible as the basis for moral values, and enforcing such values by legislation.

Separation of Church and State

The Christian Right believes that separation of church and state is not explicit in the American Constitution, believing instead that such separation is a creation of what it claims are activist judges in the judicial system.[62][63][64] In the United States, the Christian Right often supports their claims by asserting that the country was "founded by Christians as a Christian Nation."[65][66] Members of the Christian Right take the position that the Establishment Clause bars the federal government from establishing or sponsoring a state church (e.g. the Church of England), but does not prevent the government from acknowledging religion. The Christian Right points out that the term "separation of church and state" is derived from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson, not from the Constitution itself.[67][68][69] Furthermore, the Alliance Defense Fund takes the view that the concept of "separation of church and state" has been utilized by the American Civil Liberties Union and its allies to inhibit public acknowledgment of Christianity and restrict the religious freedoms of Christians.[70]

Thus, Christian Right leaders have argued that the Establishment Clause does not prohibit the display of religion in the public sphere. Leaders therefore believe that public institutions should be allowed to display the Ten Commandments. This interpretation has been repeatedly rejected by the courts, which have found that such displays violate the Establishment Clause. Public officials though are prohibited from using their authority in which the primary effect is "advancing or prohibiting religion", according to the Lemon Supreme Court test, and there cannot be an "excessive entanglement with religion" and the government.[71] Some, such as Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association, argue that the First Amendment, which specifically restricts Congress, applies only to the Congress and not the states. This position rejects the Incorporation of the Bill of Rights.[72]

Because it does not believe in the separation of church and state, the Christian Right supports the presence of religious institutions within government. It also supports the presence and activities of religion in the public sphere. It supports the reduction of restrictions on government funding for religious charities and schools. However, some politically conservative churches refuse government funding because of their restrictions regarding acceptance of homosexuality and other issues. Others have endorsed President Bush's faith-based initiatives and accept government funding.


The Christian Right also supports economic conservative policies such as tax cuts and social conservative policies such as child tax credits.[73] Sectors of the Christian right also vocally oppose the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, sometimes even claiming that it is government-run health care, which they say is against their religion and therefore violates their first amendment rights to freedom of religion. For the most part, it seems that these groups mean not that health care in general violates their religion (they generally accept germ theory), but that the increased role of government in the economy is the infringement.

The Middle East

The Religious Right has given very strong support to the state of Israel in recent decades, encouraging the United States government to support Israel and treating Israeli international relations as a holy war against Islam.[74] Some have linked Israel to Biblical prophesies; for example, Ed McAteer, founder of the Moral Majority, said "I believe that we are seeing prophecy unfold so rapidly and dramatically and wonderfully and, without exaggerating, makes me breathless."[75]

International cooperation

While the Christian Right speaks about the importance of the government's role in international political issues, it often has opposed International cooperation, speaking against the United Nations and the Olympic Games as well as standing in opposition to strong international trade.


The Christian Right opposes abortion, believing that life begins at conception and that abortion is murder. Therefore, those in the movement have worked toward the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and have also supported incremental steps to made abortion less available; such efforts include bans on late-term abortion (including intact dilation and extraction),[76] prohibitions against Medicaid funding and other public funding for elective abortions, removal of taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood and other organizations that provide abortion services, legislation requiring parental consent and/or notification for abortions performed on minors,[77] legal protections for unborn victims of violence, legal protections for infants born alive following failed abortions, and bans on abortifacient medications such as the morning-after pill. The Christian Right also opposes euthanasia, and, in one highly publicized case, took an active role in seeking governmental intervention to prevent Terri Schiavo from being deprived of nutrition and hydration.

Because the Christian Right believes life begins at the moment of conception, it has worked for the regulation and restriction of certain applications of biotechnology. In particular, the Christian Right opposes therapeutic and reproductive human cloning and stem cell research that involves the destruction of human embryos.

Sex and sexuality

The Christian Right takes the position that sexuality should be expressed only within the context of a marriage.[78] The Christian Right also believes that in most circumstances, divorce is harmful to spouses and children, and has deleterious effects on society. Thus, the Christian Right generally opposes no-fault divorce, pornography, premarital sex, and prostitution.

The Christian Right also believes that homosexuality is immoral and unhealthy, that mothers and fathers each play important and indispensable roles in the lives of children, and that children should, whenever practicable, be raised by their own married mother and father. Leaders in the Christian Right speak out against same-sex marriage, same-sex civil unions, adoption of children by same-sex couples, hate crime legislation that include sexual orientation as a protected category, and the employment of LGBT people as teachers, soldiers, pastors, or politicians. Some organizations identified with the Christian Right, including Exodus International, believe that gay or bisexual people can become heterosexual and enjoy fulfilling marriage relationships with members of the opposite sex. Concerns have been expressed by all major US mental health organizations regarding therapies promoted to modify sexual orientation, which have not been shown to be safe or effective and which may be harmful.[79]


It is sometimes debated whether Jesus would be considered left or right within modern politics. Some claim that Jesus' concern with the poor and feeding the hungry, among other things, are attributes of the modern day left wing. While the dialogue of Jesus has some of the same talking points as the modern left, the right considers these subjects important as well and has different opinions about how to care for the poor. The Christian right in particular faces accusations of politicizing the teachings of Jesus for its own purposes.[80][81]

Race and diversity

The conclusions of a review of 112 studies on Christian faith and ethnic prejudice were summarised by a study in 1974 as being that "white Protestants associated with groups possessing fundamentalist belief systems are generally more prejudiced than members of nonfundamentalist groups, with unchurched whites exhibiting least prejudice."[82] The original review found that its conclusions held "regardless of when the studies were conducted, from whom the data came, the region where the data were collected, or the type of prejudice studied."[83] More recently in 2003, eight studies have found a positive correlation between fundamentalism and prejudice, using different measures of fundamentalism.[84]

A number of prominent members of the Christian right, including Jerry Falwell and Rousas John Rushdoony, have in the past supported segregation, with Falwell arguing in a 1958 sermon that integration will lead to the destruction of the white race.[85][86] He later changed his views.[87]

In Thy Kingdom Come, Randall Balmer recounts comments that Paul M. Weyrich, who he describes as "one of the architects of the Religious Right in the late 1970s", made at a conference, sponsored by a Religious Right organization, that they both attended in Washington in 1990:[88] Bob Jones University had policies that refused black students enrollment until 1971, and admitted only married blacks from 1971 to 1975. The university continued to forbid interracial dating until 2000.[89] In an interview with The Politico, University of Virginia theologian Charles Marsh, author of Wayward Christian Soldiers and the son of a Southern Baptist minister, stated:[90]


Social scientists have used the word "dominionism" to refer to adherence to Dominion Theology[91][92][93] as well as to the influence in the broader Christian Right of ideas inspired by Dominion Theology.[91] Although such influence (particularly of Reconstructionism) has been described by many authors,[18][94] full adherents to Reconstructionism are few and marginalized among conservative Christians.[18][95][96]

In the early 1990s, sociologist Sara Diamond[19][97] and journalist Frederick Clarkson[98][99] defined dominionism as a movement that, while including Dominion Theology and Reconstructionism as subsets, is much broader in scope, extending to much of the Christian Right.[100] Other authors who stress the influence of Dominionist ideas on the Christian Right include Michelle Goldberg[101] and Kevin Phillips.[102][103]

Essayist Katherine Yurica began using the term dominionism in her articles in 2004, beginning with "The Despoiling of America".[104][105][106] Yurica has been followed in this usage by authors including journalist Chris Hedges,[107][108][109] Marion Maddox,[110] James Rudin,[111] Sam Harris,[112] and the group TheocracyWatch.[113] This group of authors has applied the term to a broader spectrum of people than have sociologists such as Diamond.

The terms "dominionist" and "dominionism" are rarely used for self-description, and their usage has been attacked from several quarters. Journalist Anthony Williams charged that its purpose is "to smear the Republican Party as the party of domestic Theocracy, facts be damned."[114] Stanley Kurtz labeled it "conspiratorial nonsense," "political paranoia," and "guilt by association",[115] and decried Hedges' "vague characterizations" that allow him to "paint a highly questionable picture of a virtually faceless and nameless 'Dominionist' Christian mass."[116] Kurtz also complained about a perceived link between average Christian evangelicals and extremism such as Christian Reconstructionism:

The notion that conservative Christians want to reinstitute slavery and rule by genocide is not just crazy, it's downright dangerous. The most disturbing part of the Harper's cover story (the one by Chris Hedges) was the attempt to link Christian conservatives with Hitler and fascism. Once we acknowledge the similarity between conservative Christians and fascists, Hedges appears to suggest, we can confront Christian evil by setting aside 'the old polite rules of democracy.' So wild conspiracy theories and visions of genocide are really excuses for the Left to disregard the rules of democracy and defeat conservative Christians by any means necessary.[115]

Other criticism has focused on the proper use of the term. Berlet wrote that "some critics of the Christian Right have stretched the term dominionism past its breaking point,"[117] and argued that, rather than labeling conservatives as extremists, it would be better to "talk to these people" and "engage them."[118] Sara Diamond wrote that "[l]iberals' writing about the Christian Right's take-over plans has generally taken the form of conspiracy theory," and argued that instead one should "analyze the subtle ways" that ideas like Dominionism "take hold within movements and why."[119]

Dan Olinger, a professor at the fundamentalist Bob Jones University in Greenville said, We want to be good citizens and participants, but we re not really interested in using the iron fist of the law to compel people to everything Christians should do. [120] Bob Marcaurelle, interim pastor at Mountain Springs Baptist Church in Piedmont, said the Middle Ages were proof enough that Christian ruling groups are almost always corrupted by power. When Christianity becomes the government, the question is whose Christianity? Marcaurelle asked.[121]

Movements outside the United States

While the Christian Right is a strong movement in the United States, it has a presence as well in Canada. There is nothing quite like it in Europe.[122] and indeed Alan Curtis makes the point that the Christian right "is a phenomenon that is very hard for Europeans to understand."[123]


Religion has been a key factor in Canadian politics since well before Canadian Confederation in 1867, when the Conservatives were the party of traditionalist Catholics and Anglicans and the Liberals were the party of Protestant dissenters and anti-clerical Catholics. This pattern largely remained until the mid-twentieth century when a new division emerged between the Christian left (represented by the Social Gospel philosophy and ecumenicism) and the Christian right (represented by fundamentalism and biblical literalism). The Christian left (along with the secular and anti-religious left) became supporters of the New Democratic Party while the right moved the Social Credit Party, especially in Western Canada, and to a lesser extent the Progressive Conservatives.

The Social Credit Party, founded in 1935 represented a major change in Canadian religious politics. Until that time, fundamentalists had shunned politics as "worldly", and a distraction from the proper practice of religion. However, the new party was founded by fundamentalist radio preacher and Bible school teacher William Aberhart or "Bible Bill". Aberhart mixed his own interpretation of scripture and prophecy with the monetary reform theories of social credit to create a movement that swept across Alberta, winning the provincial election of 1935 in a landslide. Aberhart and his disciple Ernest Manning then governed the province for the next forty years, several times trying to expand into the rest of Canada. In 1987 Manning's son, Preston Manning, founded the new Reform Party of Canada, which soon became the main party of the religious right. It won majorities of the seats Western Canada in repeated elections but was unable to break through in Eastern Canada, though it became the official opposition from 1997 to 2003 (Reform was renamed the Canadian Alliance in 2000). In 2003 the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives merged to create the Conservative Party of Canada, led by Stephen Harper, a member of the Alliance Church, who went on to become prime minister in 2006.

Canada has had a Charter of Rights and Freedoms since the Canadian Constitution was patriated in 1982. As a result, there have been major changes in the law's application to issues that bear on individual and minority group rights. Abortions were completely decriminalized after two R. v. Morgentaler cases (in 1988 and in 1993). A series of provincial superior court decisions allowing same-sex marriage led the federal government to introduce legislation that introduced same sex marriage in all of Canada. The current prime minister, Stephen Harper and his Conservative Party of Canada, stated before taking office that he would hold a free vote on the issue,[124] but declared the issue closed after a vote in the Canadian House of Commons in 2006.[125]

Other countries

Commentators have sometimes compared small or ephemeral movements in Europe to the Christian Right in America. Only in the Netherlands is there something comparable.

Karen Armstrong has mentioned English evangelical leader Colin Urquhart as advocating positions similar to the Christian Right.[126] Of course the United Kingdom has a state church of which the Queen is the head. In Australia, fundamentalist Christianity is the base for Fred Nile and his small Christian Democratic party, as well as the Family First party. Nile in 1967-68 was Assistant Director of the Billy Graham Crusade in Sydney. Both parties promote social conservatism, opposing gay rights and abortion, but they have never elected anyone to parliament.[127]

The Swiss Federal Democratic Union is a small conservative Protestant party with about 1% of the vote.[128] In Scandinavia, the Centre Party is a bible-oriented fundamentalist party; it has about 4% of the votes in the Faroe Islands. However, the Norwegian Christian People's Party, the Swedish Christian Democrats and Danish Christian Democrats are less religiously orthodox and are similar to mainstream European Christian Democracy.

The Netherlands

In the Netherlands Calvinist Protestants have long had their own political parties, now called the Reformed Political Party (SGP) on the right, and the ChristianUnion (CU) in the center. For generations they operated their own newspapers and broadcasting association. The SGP has about 28,000 members, and three members of parliament. It has always been in opposition to the government.[129]

Political parties of the Christian Right

Though many conservative and centre-right parties have electoral support from the Christian Right, most of these parties do not explicitly define themselves as "Christian". However, some minor political parties have formed as vehicles for Christian Right activists:

  • Christian Heritage Party (Canada)
  • Christian Party (United Kingdom)
  • Christian Liberty Party (United States)
  • Christian Unity Party (Norway)
  • Federal Democratic Union (Switzerland)
  • Party of Bible-abiding Christians (Germany)
  • Reformed Political Party (Netherlands)

See also

  • Christian Left
  • Religious right (disambiguation)
  • Bible Belt
  • Bible Belt (Netherlands)
  • Family values
  • Focus on the Family
  • Intelligent design movement
  • Moral Majority
  • Trinity Broadcasting Network
  • American Center for Law & Justice
  • Campaign Life Coalition
  • Christian Coalition of America
  • Christian politics


Further reading

  • Boston, Rob. 2000. Close Encounters with the Religious Right: Journeys into the Twilight Zone of Religion and Politics. Prometheus Books. ISBN 978-1-57392-797-0
  • Boyd, James H., Politics and the Christian Voter
  • Bruns, Roger A. 2002. Preacher: Billy Sunday and Big-Time American Evangelism. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0-252-07075-4
  • Diamond, Sara. 1995. Roads to Dominion: Right-Wing Movements and Political Power in the United States. New York: Guilford. ISBN 0-89862-864-4. an attack from the left
  • Green, John C., James L. Guth and Kevin Hill. 1993. Faith and Election: The Christian right in Congressional Campaigns 1978 1988. The Journal of Politics 55(1), (February): 80 91.
  • Green, John C. "The Christian Right and the 1994 Elections: A View from the States," PS: Political Science and Politics Vol. 28, No. 1 (Mar., 1995), pp. 5-8 in JSTOR
  • Himmelstein, Jerome L. 1990. To The Right: The Transformation of American Conservatism. University of California Press.
  • Marsden, George. Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism.
  • Martin, William. 1996. With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America, New York: Broadway Books. ISBN 0-7679-2257-3
  • Noll, Mark. 1989. Religion and American Politics: From the Colonial Period to the 1980s.
  • Noll, Mark and Rawlyk, George: Amazing Grace: Evangelicalism in Australia, Canada, Britain, Canada and the United States: Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press: 1994: ISBN 0-7735-1214-4
  • Ribuffo, Leo P. 1983. The Old Christian right: The Protestant Far Right from the Great Depression to the Cold War. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. ISBN 0-87722-598-2.
  • Rosin, Hanna. God's Harvard. Orlando: Harcourt, Inc. ISBN 978015101626.
  • Smith, Jeremy Adam, 2007, Living in the Gap: The Ideal and Reality of the Christian Right Family. Public Eye magazine, Winter 2007 08.
  • Wald, Kenneth. 2003. Religion and Politics in the United States.
  • Wilcox, Clyde. Onward Christian Soldiers: The Religious Right in American Politics. survey by two neutral scholars

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