Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas 2006

This is a special day for those of us who are Christians, yet there are a myriad of meanings in the hearts and minds of the people who gather around the world professing this religion.

When I took communion last night I did not do so thinking it made me better than people of another religious or spiritual tradition; or better than those who reject religion or spirituality altogether.  I am saddened by those who insist that to be a "real" Christian I must reject gay marriage, or the right of women to control their own reproductive system.

The hymns I sang last night did not speak of the need to wage war or cut taxes. None of the prayers were about vengeance or retribution. The sermon was not about the necessity to end affirmative action or welfare. I find no emphasis in our sacred text on voting for conservative Republicans who support a specific platform.

As a congregation we did pray for those who were sick or in pain or distress. We remembered those who had died. We requested protection for the homeless and those who live in poverty. We asked that there be comfort for those "who suffer in the sadness of our world." We called for the strengthening of "those who work for justice and peace."

What I recall most clearly, though, was the choir singing of the need to love one another; of a law based on love and a gospel calling for peace. How chains must be broken, because all slaves are our brothers and sisters. How we are called to demand that "all oppression shall cease."

To me it does not matter how one comes to stand for peace and justice. It can be a theology, a secular philosophy, or just an inexplicable yearning to set things right. It can be based on logic, a spiritual sense, or the mysteries of a religious faith.

Here on Talk2Action we have a community that embraces many ideas on how to move forward in the defense of separation of church and state; the struggle for civil and human rights, and the demand for full equality--nothing more yet nothing less. We all have different ways of rededicating ourselves to these goals.

What matters most is that we move forward together.

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Monday, October 16, 2006

Liberty Sunday: Gay Bashing for Republican Victory

The Liberty Sunday rally on October 15, 2006 continued the orchestrated campaign of gay bashing for Republican victory in the midterm elections.

Tony Perkins, leader of the Family Research Council which staged the event, told the audience, especially the viewers in other states, to vote their values, especially in states where gay marriage is on the ballot. And if they live in one of those states...they should call ten people on election day. Perkins said that for gay rights activists, tolerance is a one way street, and that the protestors want to silence the voice of the church, even to the point of intimidating voters.

Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney strode onstage live accompanied by his wife Ann. He had been scheduled to appear by video.

There were several pre-taped video segments opened with an audio of hoof beats, tied at the beginning to Paul Revere, warning of the impending attack by the British. Perkins noted that Revere was riding toward a church.

Bishop Wellington Boone once again stated that the "Sodomites" were engaged in the "rape of the civil rights movement."

Dr. Roberto Miranda spoke of the "powerful  aggressive instinct," of homosexual organizers, and described the struggle for gay rights, saying: "like a rogue foreign cell inside an organism, it will continue to replicate itself."

The Rev. Donald Wildmon warned evangelicals that the day could come when government agents  could come into their church and arrest them for a hate crime just for speaking their mind as a Christian about homosexuality.

Dr. James Dobson observed that the two political parties have different perspectives about gay marriage, and with the election coming up, folks needed to know that one or two Supreme Court Justices are just hanging on, and that the confirmation of the next justice could be pivotal.

Kris Mineau of the Massachusetts Family Institute warned that homosexual money is flooding into this state to deny evangelicals their right to vote and their right to free speech. And therefore everyone needed to vote their values on November 7.

Alan Chambers, Exec. Dir. of Exodus International, opened by saying that there but for the grace of God, I might have been outside protesting this event.  "There is an agenda to silence the truth."  Freedom from homosexuality is possible, he claimed, and that is through an intimate relationship "with our savior Jesus Christ."

Bishop Harry Jackson denounced the "attempt to hijack the civil rights movement."

For background, visit:

my earlier story

The People for the American Way href="">rightwingwatch website.

The Americans United for Separation of Church and Statehref=""> website.

Official List of Speakers

  • Tony Perkins, Family Research Council

  • Dr. Roberto Miranda, Pastor, Lion of Judah Congregation

  • Bishop Gilbert Thompson, Senior Pastor, Jubilee Christian Church

  • Bishop Wellington Boone, Wellington Boone Ministries

  • Alan Chambers, President, Exodus International

  • Ann Romney, First Lady of Massachusetts

  • Mitt Romney, Governor of Massachusetts

  • Ray Flynn, Former Mayor of Boston

  • Dr. James Dobson, Focus on the Family

  • Chuck Colson, Prison Fellowship

  • Gary Bauer, American Values

  • Professor Robert George, Princeton University

  • Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, Colorado (R)

  • Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana (R)

  • Judge Charles Pickering

  • Alan Sears, Alliance Defense Fund

  • Rev. Don Wildmon, American Family Association

  • Maggie Gallagher, Institute for Marriage and Public Policy

  • William Donohue, Catholic League

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Monday, October 09, 2006

October 15: Liberty Sunday - Bigotry, Gay Bashing, and Partisan Pandering

The event is billed as "Liberty Sunday: Defending Our First Freedom," with the slogan, "Preserving the light of the Church." Sunday, October 15, 2006 at 7pm eastern time, in Boston at the Tremont Temple Baptist Church, "in response to the legal battles over marriage taking place in Massachusetts."

One notice from FRC is titled "First Amendment Under Attack," and reads: "Family Research Council will tackle one of the most divisive debates in the culture wars during a nationwide simulcast." The program simulcast will be hosted on the Sky Angel satellite broadcast service.

These battles are destined to have an impact not only on marriage, but also on the free speech and freedom of religion rights of all citizens. Liberty Sunday will broadcast live in churches across the country via Sky Angel satellite system, and will also broadcast on Daystar Television, Bott Radio Network, American Family Radio and web-cast on

Massachusetts governor Mitt Romey will appear by video, but he is sending his wife to the event to introduce his cyber appearance. Here is the announcement from FRC:
Mrs. Romney Joins Liberty Sunday

I am pleased to announce that Ann Romney, the First Lady of Massachusetts, will join us for Liberty Sunday, a nationwide FRC simulcast that will air from Tremont Temple Baptist Church in Boston, Massachusetts. She will introduce her husband, Gov. Mitt Romney, who will join by video to discuss the legal battles over marriage taking place in Massachusetts. Governor Romney has seen the impact that these battles have had not only on marriage but also on parental rights, the well-being of children, and the free speech rights of citizens in his state. (FRC Email, October 9, 2006)

"Send us your Stories" urges the blurb on the front page of the FRC website.
Have you been forced to attend pro-homosexual "diversity" training at work? Have your children subjected to pro-homosexual rhetoric in school? If your religious liberties have been affected in these and other ways, we want to hear from you. Send us your stories. Then, join us as we address these issues. (Cite:)

Here is the full invitation:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

So begins the Bill of Rights with the first amendment to our Constitution--one that guarantees a God-given freedom. For over 200 years the light of the church has illuminated this freedom, but now a radical agenda seeks to extinguish that flame.

The expansion of non-discrimination laws to include homosexuality inevitably constricts our right to express and act on our religious beliefs. Recently, there has been a string of incidents involving government intolerance against those who live out their faith in the public square.

To respond to this growing threat, I'm pleased to announce that on October 15, 2006, FRC will host a nationwide simulcast from Boston, Massachusetts called "Liberty Sunday: Defending Our First Freedom." I invite you to join us as we examine the cultural and legal influences that threaten to erode religious liberties and muzzle free speech.

Tony Perkins, President Family Research Council


Typical of FRC? Yes. Family Research Council Vice President for Government Affairs Tom McClusky recently posted: "Brad Pitt Apparently Endorses Bigamy, Pedophilia and Bestiality." McClusky was commenting on interview in Esquire magazine where actor Brad Pitt said his partner "Angie [Angelina Jolie] and I will consider tying the knot when everyone else in the country who wants to be married is legally able."

This sensitivity to the issue of gay marriage is ridiculed by McClusky on his FRC blog where he wrote: "So until people and animals can marry or one man can marry multiple women or a forty year old man can marry a twelve year old girl - Brangelina will stand strong." (Cite:)

Sky Angel, which will be broadcasting the live feed of Liberty Sunday, features a full color online feature about gay marriage, Liberty Sunday, and two antigay specials being aired later in the month.

Author Nancy Christopher notes of Liberty Sunday:

it's certainly no coincidence that the event is being held less than one month before mid-term elections, being that there are eight constitutional amendments related to marriage on the ballot across the country.

No kidding! Christopher interview with Perkins is also illuminating:
[According to Perkins:] "What we've seen in the last two years since Massachusetts (approved) same-sex marriage is the evidence of what we were projecting would happen, that there was a coming conflict between the homosexual agenda and Christianity that was vibrant and active in the public square," he says.

A "hate crimes bill" making it a crime to speak out against homosexuality is imminent if Christians don't continue to be engaged in this issue, according to Perkins.

"The ability to preach the Gospel is at risk because the Gospel fully preached is offensive," says Perkins. "Same-sex marriage is the vanguard of the homosexual agenda. If it becomes the law that you cannot speak anything that offends, it's just a matter of time before the Gospel itself will be unwelcome public speech.


Sky Angel is also broadcasting two specials on gay marriage after Liberty Sunday and before the midterm elections: "Veil of Deception: The Impact of Same Sex Marriage on American Youth"; and "No Tolerance for Truth."
Here are the blurbs:
Veil of Deception investigates the impact of same-sex marriage on today's youth. It aims to show concerned citizens how critically important it is to stand up and oppose efforts to legalize same-sex marriage for the sake of the children. The special also reveals homosexual activism in schools and communities across America, how experimentation is encouraged to children, and how parents, community leaders and teachers are speaking out.

No Tolerance for Truth examines what our children are learning about homosexuality in schools, clubs and even church groups and shows how there's an intense propaganda campaign to normalize homosexuality and gender confusion to our children. Viewers will hear from parents, teachers and school board members who have fought the homosexual agenda in their communities, as well as from experts who have been studying the issue.


According to Romney, speaking at the Christian Right’s “Values Voter Summit” in Washington , DC, the “culture of America is under attack”

Now my state's Supreme Judicial Court, about a year ago, struck a blow against that family unit, in my view.  It said that our Constitution, written long ago by John Adams, requires people of the same gender to marry.

But the Court focused on adult rights…The mistake was they should have focused on the rights of children.  Because marriage is primarily about the development and nurturing of children. The development of a child in the history of civilization has been enhanced by the opportunity to learn from the gender characteristics of a mother and a father.  Every child has a right to have a mother and a father….the impact on children will be felt not just in a day or two or a year or two but over generations as we think about the development and nurturing of children.

And what does Romney have to say about the ballot initiative in Massachusetts?:
those that are in control of the legislature may employ various tactical procedural moves to keep a vote from every occurring.  Now how is it that the liberals would be so active at assuring that democracy can't have its way?  I'm afraid that in some cases liberals love democracy only so long as the outcome is guaranteed in their favor.

And on the federal level:
We desperately need to have a federal marriage amendment.

(Cite: Democracy in Action, Eric Appleman,  transcript of the Romney speech).

The “Values Voter Summit” was coordinated by the Family Research Council's action arm. Liberty Sunday is the next move in their campaign.

Liberty Sunday: Bigotry, Gay Bashing, and Partisan Pandering. The quotes in this post tell the whole story.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

New Front in the Culture War:
Gay Rights Sacrificed on the Altar of the Mid-Term Elections

The Christian Right has regrouped and launched a new offensive in the ongoing Christian Right Culture War. Gay marriage and the "homosexual agenda" are the primary tactical scapegoats. These culture warriors are on a mission from God, and like a band of blue state brothers (and now sisters), they seek to mobilize "values voters" to go to the polls in November and vote for Godly candidates. They are encouraged by new evidence that this type of Christian Right voter mobilization plan did indeed help elect the Godly candidate, George W. Bush, President in 2004.

After attending two days of speeches at the "Washington Briefing: 2006 Values Voters Summit," it was evident to me that the terms "Godly candidates" and "Republican candidates" are seen as pretty much identical by the Christian Right. The event was held from September 21-24 in Washington, D.C., with the main conference on Friday and Saturday, the 22nd and 23rd. The event was coordinated by FRC Action, the political action arm of the Family Research Council. Co-Sponsors included other political action arms of major Christian Right groups: Focus on the Family Action (Dr. James Dobson), Americans United to Preserve Marriage (Gary Bauer), and American Family Association Action (Donald Wildmon).

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins suggested the nation was under attack from without and within, which was a theme throughout the conference. The domestic forces of Satan--secularists, liberals, homosexuals, feminists, abortionists, pornographers--are the subversives within; while the barbaric terrorist Islamic fascists are the external enemy. Godly "values voters" should remember how they felt on 9/11, and then go into the voting booth and vote to prevent the Democrats from having the opportunity to appoint more activist judges who are wittingly or unwittingly in league with the evil forces of darkness.

Some speakers tried to make a distinction between Islam and Islamic terrorists, but others crossed the line into broad attacks. Perkins, for example, suggested the Pope was on target to have linked Islam and violence. Given the Crusades, the Inquisition, and witch hunts, one might have prayed that Perkins been more self-reflective. The Pope, head of the Roman Catholic Church, has not been cited as a religious authority during much of the history of Protestant Christian evangelicalism in the United States, but there were Catholic speakers and participants at the event, although they remained a small minority.

This new Christian Right project seeks to replace the work of the Christian Coalition, a group that hosted similar "Road to Victory" meetings well-attended in the 1990s, but which recently has fallen on hard times. There were about 1,000 people at the opening sessions, with total participation reaching over 1,700 by the close of the event. Not as big as the biggest Christian Coalition meetings, but not shabby, either. The exhibit hall was much smaller, however.

According to Perkins, radical homosexuals and activist judges are a threat to religious freedom; and the nation is facing a clear and present danger. A clear theme was that it is all for the children--whether it is pro-life issues, opposition to gay marriage, restoring morality to America, or terrorist attacks. The American Civil Liberties Union was routinely denounced, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State was slammed, with its executive director, Barry W. Lynn, denounced by name several times. Lynn, an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, apparently has a Godliness deficit. Other favorite targets were Ted Kennedy, Nancy Pelosi, and Rosie O'Donnell. Pelosi (D-CA) is the Democratic Leader in the House of Representatives.

The goal of the Godless liberal secular humanist horde, according to conference speakers, is nothing less than the suppression of religious expression in public. Not just eliminating prayer in schools, but banning any mention of God or religion across America. While some speakers chose their words more carefully than others, it was obvious that the Christian Right goal in the upcoming election is to elect Republicans and foil attempts by Democrats to seat "activist" judges.

Gary Bauer urged the audience not to be afraid of the ACLU, Ted Kennedy, or Nancy Pelosi, and told the attendees they should put Christian citizenship at the top of their list of priorities. We are close to winning these battles, Bauer said, and then we can give our children a shining city on a hill. This is a reference to the idea of early Christian settlers that they could create in the Puritan and Pilgrim colonies a New Jerusalem to build the kingdom of God, and light a beacon of hope for the world from Boston--the city on the hill. This idea was based on the belief that America should be a Christian theocracy.

Christian Right Moral Values Voters Helped Elect Bush in 2004

The Christian Right urges its core supporters to run for every political post "from dog-catcher on up." as one speaker at the FRC Action conference this past weekend told the audience. It was obvious that the leaders of the Christian Right believe that Christian Right "Moral Values" voters helped elect Bush in 2004, and now there is scholarly evidence to back up that claim.

After the election in 2000, there was a brief flurry of media reports that voters who were concerned about "moral values" played a significant role in electing George Bush. Then there was an avalanche of reports claiming that since the question in the exit poll interviews was ambiguous, that values was not a factor. It turns out the initial reports were essentially correct, although at the time there was no proper evidence to back up the claim.

A study by John C. Green and Mark Silk, "Why Moral Values Did Count," appeared in  Religion in the News, in Spring 2005.

According to Green and Silk (who used highly sophisticated statistical tools), regional variations in how voters ranked their issue concerns demonstrate that "moral-values voters were more important to the president's victory than the national totals imply." And in Ohio especially, Christian evangelicals and "regular worship attenders and less regular attenders were both more likely to be Bush moral values voters." Green and Silk conclude that as "Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell hoped, the coalition of the moral has expanded beyond evangelicals, but for the most part more in the evangelical heartland than elsewhere." This group of "religious folks were more likely to choose moral values in the Bush regions than in the Kerry regions."

This indicates that the Christian Right mobilization of voters in key states such as Ohio did make a difference in the 2000 election, and the FRC Action conference openly embraced that notion. It was clear from conversations with attendees that many felt the statewide initiatives to block gay marriage had drawn many evangelical voters to the polls, and that the vote for Bush came along for the ride.

Judge Pickering made this same point at the FRC Action summit when he said the Bush might not have won Ohio if the Marriage Amendment had not been on the ballot. Pickering said there was a culture war with the battle over the confirmation of judges a central front.

Gay Marriage as Scapegoat

Governor Mitt Romney (R-MA) quoted scholar David Landes on the centrality of culture. According to Romney, every child has a right to have a mother and father.  Liberals, he said, support democracy only when they think that the outcome is a foregone conclusion that favors their views. Romney urged support for the Federal Marriage Amendment.

I think the warm reception for Romney is significant. The man next to me leaned over and said: "That's our next President."

Time and again speakers at the conference made it clear that gay marriage was the key battle in the campaign to protect religion, (and thwart the plans of the Devil). Gay marriage, we were told, will spread like a disease across America from the source of the infection--Massachusetts and its cabal of activist judges. Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney appears in an FRC promotional video built around this attack on gay marriage. The video advertises "Liberty Sunday," a nationally simulcast rally to be held October 15, 2006 at a Boston church.

The flyer for the event proclaims:

"For over 200 years the light of the church has illuminated the true meaning of freedom. Now a radical agenda seeks to extinguish that flame."

The true meaning of "freedom," based on many statements made at the FRC Action conference, is that real Freedom comes from God (and through his son Jesus Christ), and that the First Amendment was written to protect churches from government interferences. This is half a loaf, Constitutionally speaking. The flip side is that there should not be any state-sponsored religion--a concept brushed aside by comments suggesting that a specific mention of the phrase "separation of church and state" never appears in the Constitution or Bill of Rights. This is like suggesting that when the Rolling Stones sang "Let's spend the night together," they were not thinking about sex.

As for gay sex, if we allow it to be sanctioned, then freedom is lost and God offended. Following this line of argument? Me neither....

Patriotism is Apparently Republican

Gary Bauer told the story of the passengers on United Flight 93 on 9/11 who met at the back of the plane to discuss forcing their way into the cockpit to prevent the aircraft from being used as a missile. Bauer observed the group of passengers voted, since they were Americans after all, and then they stood for family, faith, and freedom by running up the aisle to the front of the plane, forcing the hijackers to react, which sent the plane hurtling into the ground and prevented an even greater catastrophe.

Bauer looked at the audience and told them that they were just being asked to run to the voting booth. The connection between the Islamic terrorist attack on America on 9/11, and the threat posed to American society by homosexuals, liberal secularists, activist judges and Democrats was repeated a number of times throughout the conference.

Alliance Defense Fund

Beyond the mid-term election in November, there are plans to extend the Culture War.

Day two of the meeting dawned with the Alliance Defense Fund breakfast, where there was much food, little tolerance for gay marriage, and no room to get in. An overflow crowd of 250 sat through what was essentially an extended advertisement for the Alliance Defense Fund, which seeks to position itself as the major adversary to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Another topic was the alleged "War on Christmas," which refers to disputes over the boundaries of bringing the religious aspects of the holiday into the classroom and shopping mall.

ADF speakers also described how they had launched the "Day of Truth" to follow the Day of Silence during which young supporters of gay rights attend classes but otherwise do not speak in a silent protest of oppression. The "truth" involves invoking Biblical interpretations that are claimed to denounce homosexuality as an affront to God--a matter disputed within Christianity.

This was a crowd that booed the ACLU, groaned at the mere mention of the city of San Francisco, and snickered at a crude jibe at Barry Lynn, head of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which, along with the ACLU, has become a favorite target for speakers throughout the event.

Connie Marshner

There was only one short time period on Saturday for break-out workshops during the event, and I attended the one on "Voter Identification and Turnout: A Church Plan," run by Connie Marshner. Not a name known to most on the political left, but Connie Marshner was one of the earliest key architects of the "pro-family" movement that helped mobilize the Christian Right, which became a key sector of the New Right coalition.
Marshner announced at the start of the workshop that she had used the set of techniques in her 17-page handout to help re-elect Rick Santorum (R-PA), one of the staunchest allies of the Christian Right in Congress.
She began to outline her very practical nuts-and-bolts techniques, which she plainly stated was based on first obtaining the list of members of a church, parish, temple, or Mosque if there are any pro-life Muslims, she added with a smile. She explained that if your pastor does not want to have the church involved in politics, then this is a people-to-people campaign that does not expose the church to IRS sanctions regarding tax exempt status. Oh really?
The process starts with anonymous cold calls to members of the church to determine their voting leanings. Marshner suggested the caller be someone not in the congregation who could pose as being from a polling company.  Hmmmm.

Someone in the audience wanted to know what to say if someone wanted to know where the caller got their name and phone number.
Say you got it from the list of registered voters, advised Marshner, it is a public record.
What if the number is unlisted?
Here is where I understood Marshner's response to suggest that the good Christian folks in the room just tell a fib. And not surprisingly, there were some grumbles from the crowd. This advice seemed, shall we say, deceptive.

Sensing discontent, Marshner said individuals should leave it up to their conscience on how to answer the question.
I turned to the man next to me and asked if this all seemed questionable ethically.
"Yes," he answered.
Read more about this at the AUSCS website:

"Speaker At 'Values Voter Summit' Recommends Church-Based Organizing Plan Based On Deception"

Katherine Harris and Spiritual Warfare

Former Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris (an elected U.S. Representative now running for the Senate), recently announced she had studied in Switzerland with the godfather of the Christian Right, Francis A. Schaeffer.
She told the audience at the FRC Action meeting of the importance of winning in November, and then suggested it was a battle against "principalities and powers," which many in the audience would hear as a Biblical reference to a struggle with the demonic agents of Satan.
Schaeffer, the pop theologian who pioneered the concept of dominionism and helped spark the Christian Right, urged Christian to engage in civil disobedience against immoral civil authority.
A few websites reporting this story have confused generic dominionism (Schaeffer) with Christian Reconstructionism (Rushdoony). The two are not identical. See these articles that place Dominionism, Schaeffer, and Rushdoony in context:

The Perfect Ending

A highlight of the closing "Family, Faith & Freedom Gala" banquet was a lecture by Newt Gingrich on Morality and Politics. Who says the Christian Right doesn't appreciate the surreal?

At what could be more surreal than the emcee at the very end reminding the audience that we were engaged in "Spiritual Warfare"

One of the many subtexts here is the view of many premillennial dispensationalists that we are in the End Times and thus true Christians must struggle with the literal forces of Satan. Elite political and religious leaders are expected to betray true Christians during this period, according to certain readings of the book of Revelation. No mention of the End Times was needed, it simply could be read into the rhetoric by those so inclined. Thus the event sidestepped a specific theological mention of the End Times while hitting the hot buttons of many who hold those views--and thus the leadership of the event is avoiding potential criticism of pandering to apocalyptic beliefs.

On the way out, we were all handed a coupon for a free Chick-fil-A® Chicken Sandwich.

More about the conference at:
People for the American Way's Right Watch

"US Senator Inhofe Claims Global Warming is a UN Conspiracy" by Bruce Wilson

"Bill Bennett, God-Man : 'When 4 Americans Are Hung.... You Level The City'" by Bruce Wilson

Chip Berlet, Senior Analyst, Political Research Associates

The Public Eye: Website of Political Research Associates

Chip's Blog

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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

God, Calvin, and Social Welfare - Part Seven: Born Again Political Activism

After World War Two, many American evangelicals and fundamentalists thought that it was the external threat of Soviet military power and the internal threat of communist subversion that was likely to send Americans hurtling into Hell. Global nuclear annihilation, in this context, might be preferable to a Godless secular collectivist society. The strategy of Mutually Assured Destruction earned its ironic acronym.

Meanwhile, social welfare was being framed as a communist plot.

Evangelist Billy Graham began a series of revivalist crusades during this period, originally through rallies scheduled by Youth for Christ. Graham struck off on his own and in 1949 a hugely successful Los Angeles crusade boosted him into public prominence, in part because anticommunist tycoon William Randolph Hearst instructed the newspapers he owned to "puff Graham."

Graham started a national radio program in late 1950, The Hour of Decision, which in turn led to sporadic and rather dull television specials beginning in 1951. Graham in person and on the radio was a more charismatic and persuasive figure. In 1957 Graham went to Madison Square Garden in New York City to lead a crusade; and J. Howard Pew, who funded a variety of anticommunist groups, offered a financial guarantee to bring the crusade to network television.

Both Hearst and Pew viewed the New Deal social welfare programs as a form of collectivism that would lead to socialism and communism, and further saw that a particular brand of Christian evangelicalism rooted in libertarian Calvinist themes could provide a bulwark against further slippage down the slope from social welfare to communist totalitarianism, in their view.

Hearst and Pew had backed a winner with their support of Graham. According to William Martin:

"The first broadcast, on 1 June, [drew] approximately 6.4 million viewers, more than enough to convince the evangelist of television's great promise as a vehicle for the gospel. A Gallup poll taken that summer revealed that 85% of Americans could correctly identify Billy Graham, and three-quarters of that number regarded him positively" (Martin, n.d.).

Graham's homey view of the ideal individual in the idealized America fit neatly into plans by ultraconservatives to roll back the collectivist social welfare policies of the New Deal. Writers such as Ludwig von Mises wrote about the natural affinity between Christianity and Capitalism. There were also extensive mass media efforts to "teach" Americans of the benefits of a particular form of "Free Market" capitalism over communism, with material from the National Association of Manufacturers, and the Foundation for Economic Education with its magazine Freeman. Part of this plan included strengthening America against the external and internal threats of communism by increasing public participation in civic life.

Liberty Bell front

In 1956 the presidential election featured a "Get out the Vote" campaign built around the theme of "Let Freedom Ring." Thousands of Boy Scouts hooked cardboard Liberty Bells onto doorknobs in an effort to attract new voters to the polls.

Some evangelicals were convinced to re-enter the political arena; which many had avoided since the embarrassment of the Scopes trial in 1925. Still, the evangelical voting patterns that emerged were not politicized. An evangelical's preference for Republicans or Democrats was primarily determined by demographic factors other than theological belief or religious affiliation. This would change.

A series of Supreme Court decisions in the 1950s and early 1960s worried many conservative Christians, and some began to get involved in public policy debates and organizing over issues such as obscenity and pornography, and then other social issues. Groups such as Fred Schwarz's Christian Anti-Communism Crusade, the Church League of America, and the Freedoms Foundation joined other ultraconservative organizations in education and training against communist subversion by liberals in mainline Protestant denominations and even the Catholic Church. In 1959 the John Birch Society (JBS) was born. These and other institutions would form the foundation of what later emerged as the New Christian Right in the late 1970s (Diamond 1989, 1995, Hardisty; Berlet & Lyons; Goldberg)

Eckard V. Toy, Jr. explains that:

"The genesis of the JBS can be traced to a number of sources, but a meeting in New York City in early 1958 was a primary cause. Welch and several men who would later join him in the Birch Society attended a meeting held by conservative polemicist Merwin K. Hart at the University Club on February 14, 1958, to discuss ways to reverse what Hart described as the national trend toward collectivism" (Toy).

From the beginning, Roosevelt, the New Deal, and the social safety net were targets of intense criticism from the JBS and similar groups, and much of what was dismissed in the 1960s as dubious Birch Society ideological fantasy is now part of the Republican Party platform or enacted into law.


Berlet, Chip and Matthew N. Lyons. 2000. Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort. New York: Guilford Press.

Burch, Philip H., Jr. 1973. "The NAM as an Interest Group." Politics and Society, vol. 4, no. 1.

Diamond, Sara. 1989. Spiritual Warfare: The Politics of the Christian Right. Boston: South End Press.

Diamond, Sara. 1995. Roads to Dominion: Right-Wing Movements and Political Power in the United States. New York: Guilford Press.

Goldberg, Michelle. 2006. Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism. New York: W.W. Norton

Hardisty, Jean V. 1999. Mobilizing Resentment: Conservative Resurgence from the John Birch Society to the Promise Keepers. Boston: Beacon Press.

Himmelstein, Jerome L. 1990. To the Right: The Transformation of American Conservatism. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Lyons, Matthew N. 1998. "Business Conflict and Right-Wing Movements." In Amy E. Ansell, ed. Unraveling the Right: The New Conservatism in American Thought and Politics (pp. 80-102). Boulder, CO: Westview.

Martin, William C. 1996. With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America. New York: Broadway Books.

Saloma, John S. III, 1984. Ominous Politics: The New Conservative Labyrinth. Hill and Wang.

Toy, Eckard V. Jr. 2004. "The Right Side of the 1960s: The Origins of the John Birch Society in the Pacific Northwest." Oregon Historical Quarterly, Vol. 105, No. 2 (Summer);

• For Billy Graham, see:

Martin, William C. "Billy Graham Crusades: U.S. Religious Program." The Museum of Broadcast Communications,

Martin, William C. 1991. A Prophet With Honor: The Billy Graham Story. New York: William Morrow.

• Pew continued to worry about liberalism in the church:

• On von Mises networking economic libertarians and 1940s-1960s Christian evangelical right-wing groups, see:


See specifically:

Ludwig von Mises, 1950, “The Alleged Injustice of Capitalism,” Faith and Freedom. 1:7(June), pp. 5-8. Included as Part 3, Chapter 4, in The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality. Reprinted in 1952, Reflections on Faith and Freedom, Los Angeles: Spiritual Mobilization, pp. 39-45.

Ludwig von Mises, 1960, “The Economic Foundations of Freedom,” Christian Economics, 12:2(January 26, 1960)1-2; online here.

Ludwig von Mises, 1960, “The Economic Foundations of Freedom,” The Freeman, (Irvington, N.Y.) 10:4(April), pp. 44-52; von Mises, “The Economic Foundations of Freedom,” in Essays On Liberty, VII.

• There is a longstanding relationship between the Freedoms Foundation and the anti-union National Right to Work Committee and its Foundation. See: here and here

• For a list of various "public service" campaigns in this period, see

God, Calvin, and Social Welfare: A Series

Part One: Coalitions

Part Two: Calvinist Settlers

Part Three: Roots of the Social Welfare Debate

Part Four: Apocalypse and Social Welfare

Part Five: Fundamentals, Prophecies, and Conspiracies

Part Six: Godlessness & Secular Humanism

Part Seven: Born Again Political Activism

Ported from Talk to Action
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Based on the Public Eye article "Calvinism, Capitalism, Conversion, and Incarceration"

Chip Berlet, Senior Analyst, Political Research Associates

The Public Eye: Website of Political Research Associates

Thursday, June 29, 2006

God, Calvin, and Social Welfare - Part Six: Godlessness & Secular Humanism

In the 1950s and 1960s conservatives in evangelical and fundamentalist churches, and conservatives in mainline Protestant denominations, felt themselves under assault by the growth of secular and humanist ideas in the society. Religious belief in general seemed to be waning. Godless communism seemed to be advancing while the Godly in America seemed to be retreating.

Conservative Christians were particularly horrified by a series of U.S. Supreme Court and other federal court rulings on pornography, prayer in schools, the tax status of segregated Christian academies, and abortion.

The country seethed with demands for justice and equality by the Civil Rights movement which spawned the student rights movement, and then the antiwar movement, the women's rights movement, the ecology movement, and the gay rights movement. Conservative religious forces responded with campaigns to clean up the movies and stop smut, restore prayer in public schools, and end abortion.

A critical moment came when a group of parents in Kanawha county West Virginia launched a campaign in 1974 against new textbooks introduced into the public school system. Frank discussions about sexuality and race relations were seen as part of a coordinated attack on the moral values of traditional families. Several national conservative groups including the Heritage Foundation rallied to the side of the parents. In many ways the conservative framing of social issues in terms of "family values" traces back to this campaign against the influence of progressive secular and humanistic ideas. (Berlet and Lyons).

The idea that a coordinated campaign by "secular humanists" was aimed at displacing Christianity as the moral bedrock of America actually traces back to a group of Catholic ideologues in the 1960s (Mason). It was Protestant evangelicals, especially fundamentalists, who brought this concept into the public political arena and developed a plan to mobilize grassroots activists as foot soldiers in what became known as the Culture Wars of the 1980s.

A popular theologian named Francis A. Schaeffer caught the attention of many Protestants in a series of books and essays calling on Christians to directly confront sinful and decadent secular culture with its humanist values. Several other authors picked up this attack on "secular humanism" and extended it (Diamond, Martin, Berlet and Lyons).

George Marsden argues that this new focus on secular humanism "revitalized fundamentalist conspiracy theory." The threats of "Communism and socialism could, of course, be fit right into the humanist picture," Marsden notes, "but so could all the moral and legal changes at home without implausible scenarios of Russian agents infiltrating American schools, government, reform movements, and mainline churches" (Marsden: 109).

Two leading activists of the Christian right, Gary Bauer and James Dobson, called the battle pitting secular humanists against Christians over the moral foundation of America a "great Civil War of Values" (Martin:344).

The idea of a conscious and coordinated conspiracy of secular humanists has been propounded in various ways by a variety of national conservative organizations, including the Christian Coalition (Pat Robertson), the Eagle Forum (Phyllis Schlafly), Concerned Women for America (Beverly LaHaye), American Coalition for Traditional Values (Tim LaHaye), Christian Anti-Communism Crusade (Fred Schwarz), and the John Birch Society (Robert Welch).

By framing this set of claims as a conspiracy to provoke a "Culture War," conservative Christians transform political disagreements into a battle between the Godly and the Godless, between good and evil, and ultimately between those that side with God and those that wittingly or unwittingly side with Satan. This has important implications when merged with neo-Calvinist ideas about the relationship between human nature and proper public social policies; and premillennial expectations about the proper role of Christians in the apocalyptic End Times.


Berlet, Chip, and Matthew N. Lyons. 2000. Right-Wing Populism in America. New York: Guilford.

Diamond, Sara. 1995. Roads to Dominion: Right-Wing Movements and Political Power in the United States. New York: Guilford Press.

Marsden, George M. 1991. Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Martin, William. 1996. With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America. New York: Broadway Books

Mason, Carol. 2002. Killing for Life: The Apocalyptic Narrative of Pro-Life Politics. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

God, Calvin, and Social Welfare: A Series

Part One: Coalitions

Part Two: Calvinist Settlers

Part Three: Roots of the Social Welfare Debate

Part Four: Apocalypse and Social Welfare

Part Five: Fundamentals, Prophecies, and Conspiracies

Part Six: Godlessness & Secular Humanism

Ported from Talk to Action
Post comments on this article at

Based on the Public Eye article "Calvinism, Capitalism, Conversion, and Incarceration"

Chip Berlet, Senior Analyst, Political Research Associates

The Public Eye: Website of Political Research Associates

Friday, June 16, 2006

God, Calvin, and Social Welfare - Part Five: Fundamentals, Prophecies, and Conspiracies

The mainline Protestant denominations had learned to live with the secular civic arrangements of the American republic at the dawn of the Twentieth Century. Mainline Protestants supported separation of church and state. They saw the scientific method as revealing the wonder of God, and accepted scientific discoveries as complementary to religion rather than competition for hearts, minds, and souls.

This all was heresy to a group of conservative ministers who condemned church leaders and urged the rank and pew laity to return to what they saw as the fundamentals of orthodox Protestant belief.

From 1910 to 1915 these reactionary theologians published articles on what they saw as the fundamentals of Christianity. Thus they became known as the fundamentalists. Among their beliefs was the idea that the Bible was never in error and was to be read literally, not as metaphor.

While rejecting Calvinist ideas of predestination and the Elect, fundamentalists sought to restore many orthodox Calvinist tenets--thus they embraced the idea that man was born in sin and thus needed punishment, shame, and discipline to correct sinful tendencies. Some who opposed what they saw as the liberal and progressive ideas of the mainstream and mainline Protestant churches decided not to go as far as the Fundamentalists, and so they retained the identification of being evangelicals (Ammerman; Marsden 1982, 1991; Martin). Fundamentalists, therefore, are evangelicals with a more doctrinaire and aggressive approach to battling secularists and religious liberals. As Marsden quips, "A fundamentalist is an evangelical who is mad about something," and yet both evangelicals and fundamentalists are "strikingly diverse" (1991: 1-2).

Protestant evangelicals and fundamentalists have historically connected apocalyptic prophecies in the Bible's book of Revelation to current political and social events (Boyer; Fuller). Robert C. Fuller notes that trying to match real life political figures with the evil Antichrist (prophesied as the sidekick of Satan in Revelation) became something of an "American obsession" in certain circles. This is especially true among those who embrace premillennial dispensationalism as their view of the End Times timetable. The rise of communism and anarchism during the post WWI period were easily viewed through the lens of a conspiratorial version of apocalyptic belief and was woven into the developing beliefs of premillennial fundamentalists. Liberalism and radicalism were not just heresies--they were part of a conspiracy against God.
According to Frank Donner:

"Bolshevism came to be identified over wide areas of the country by God-fearing Americans as the Antichrist come to do eschatological battle with the children of light," as prophesied in Revelation. Although based in Christianity, this apocalyptic anticommunist worldview developed a "slightly secularized version," explains Donner, and it was "widely-shared in rural and small-town America, postulated a doomsday conflict between decent upright folk and radicalism--alien, satanic, immorality incarnate (Donner: 47-48)"

One skirmish against this cosmic battle against alien and secular ideas was aimed against science--especially Darwin's theory of evolution--with "creationism" becoming a major cause for fundamentalists in the 1920s
(read more).
Evangelicals and fundamentalists, however, received such bad press during and after the 1925 Scopes "Monkey Trial" that many of them withdrew from direct political and social involvement, building a separate subculture that lasted until the Cold War.

Michael Cromartie explains:

"For several decades, from roughly 1925 until the end of World War Two, a large sector of conservative Protestant social thought was influenced by a pessimistic form of eschatology and a pietistic individualism that looked with disdain on efforts to improve social conditions and political structures. These conservative Protestants had originally believed that the process of secularization was simply irreversible; this pessimism was reinforced by their pre-millennial theology. Some simply suffered from over-heated eschatological [End Times] expectations (Cromartie).

Leo P. Ribuffo has studied "The Old Christian Right" that flourished between WWI and WWII. He pays special attention to the influence of apocalyptic Biblical prophecy on the leaders of the Protestant "Far Right" such as William Dudley Pelley, Gerald B. Winrod, and Gerald L. K. Smith (Ribuffo: 2-24, 58-72, 83-116, 175-177). While these men all ended up on the political fringe, some of their ideas gained a wide following. In the 1930s and 1940s, a significant number of conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists saw President Roosevelt and other "modernists" not only as moving inexorably toward collectivism, but also sliding down "a slippery slope from liberalism to atheism, nudism, and Communism" (Ribuffo: 110).

A large number of evangelicals and fundamentalists were highly critical and suspicious of the social reforms implemented during the administration of Franklin Roosevelt. Liberals were widely seen as paving the road to communism as part of a vast conspiracy. Government welfare programs could be pictured as similar to the collectivism of Godless and perhaps Satanic Soviet communism.

Although fundamentalists and evangelicals tended to withdraw from the political fray, devoting most of their energy to inwardly-directed religious observance, they challenged modern ideas using such modern tools as radio and later television to communicate their message. Fundamentalists and evangelicals never went away. They lived within their own subcultures, saving souls, and watching for the signs of the times by matching current events to Biblical prophecies. To them, the social safety net and the welfare state were just more evidence that America was going to Hell.


Ammerman, Nancy T. 1991. "North American Protestant Fundamentalism." In Fundamentalisms Observed, The Fundamentalism Project 1, eds., Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby, pp. 1-65. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Cromartie, Michael. 2000. "Religious Conservatives in American Politics 1980-2000: An Assessment."

Donner, Frank J. (1980). The Age of Surveillance: The Aims and Methods of America's Political Intelligence System. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Fuller, Robert C. (1995). Naming the Antichrist: The History of an American Obsession. New York: Oxford University Press.

Marsden, George M. (1982). Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth Century Evangelicalism, 1870-1925. New York: Oxford University Press.

Marsden, George M. (1991). Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Martin, William. 1996. With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America. New York: Broadway Books.

Ribuffo, Leo P. 1983. The Old Christian Right: The Protestant Far Right from the Great Depression to the Cold War. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

God, Calvin, and Social Welfare: A Series

Part One: Coalitions

Part Two: Calvinist Settlers

Part Three: Roots of the Social Welfare Debate

Part Four: Apocalypse and Social Welfare

Part Five: Fundamentals, Prophecies, and Conspiracies

Ported from Talk to Action
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Monday, June 05, 2006

Decoding The Da Vinci Code:
Causa Merdae Flabellum Incursandae

Last Supper

God help me, The Da Vinci Code movie wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. The book by Dan Brown was a moderately fun thriller, but I had heard so many negative reviews, I went to the screening with my Tripe Belch sense of dread.

I had been talking with my friend Denise Griebler, a minister with the United Church of Christ (UCC) about The Da Vinci Code, and how it combines longstanding debates about Christian theology (based in part on the Gnostic Gospels) with conspiracy theories old and new.

The UCC is the media-savvy Protestant denomination that has been producing television advertisements about welcoming people from all walks of life to their church. All the major networks have refused to run them. These are the same TV networks that helicopter in film crews to cover marginal self-appointed Christian Right demagogues while ignoring statements by mainstream church leaders such as Bob Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches USA.

That got me to thinking about how we can use the massive publicity around The Da Vinci Code movie, and the early attendance rush to the theaters, to talk with our neighbors, friends, and others about the real struggles within Christianity. We need to decode The Da Vinci Code. Codes are fun. We should always be ready to seize an opportunity ubi merda flabellum incursat.

There are several themes we can decode, and in doing so separate the facts in The Da Vinci Code from the fiction. I started doing this on the "Uprising" radio show hosted by Sonali Kolhatkar at KPFK-FM, Pacifica Radio in Los Angeles. There were a number of callers to this talk show, and we had a lively conversation. What follows are just sketches of ideas for starting conversations.


As many others have pointed out, Jesus of Nazareth was not followed around be someone with a tape recorder--not even a stenographer lugging around parchment and ink. The Bible is based on an oral tradition converted into text after the fact.

The Bible was pieced together from a collection of materials, and some written texts were excluded. We can discuss the process of assembling the Bible. What was included? What was excluded? Why? How does Biblical literalism function with a text that was assembled by a committee?


There was a struggle among the early followers of Jesus over the role of women. This grain of truth in the Da Vinci Code can be used to ask about how Peter and Paul introduced hierarchy and patriarchy into the Jesus movement.

Try exploring the very real writings on the sacred feminine especially in Gnosticism. Look for articles and books by Rosemary Radford Reuther, or for a really challenging set of texts: Mary Daly. Peter J. Gomes is the author of The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart. Gomes, a minister at Harvard, reminds us to read the Bible with an awareness that some passages represent contemporary prejudices and systems of oppression introduced into the text by the human authors.


The Gnostic Gospels are some of the texts excluded (and denounced as heresy) by those that assembled the Bible. Elaine Pagels explains the Gnostic Gospels and sets the table for a great dinner conversation about what was really going on at the Last Supper. If Mary Magdalene wasn't in the picture--why not?


The recitation of creeds has been used as litmus tests to "out" heretics in Christianity. Creeds play different roles in different churches. For example: "The UCC therefore receives the historic creeds and confessions of our ancestors as testimonies, but not tests of faith" according to the website at Denise Griebler's church in Illinois. Is there only one exact way to practice Christianity? Who says? Do people who pray to God pray to the same God? Do humans get to decide what prayers are heard?


Some members of the Catholic group Opus Dei serve as the enforcers of the most dogmatic, repressive, and authoritarian aspects of the Catholic Church. OK, the group probably never hired an masochistic albino hit man to track down and murder those who get in their way. But as author Penny Lernoux and others have pointed out, Opus Dei played a role in crushing Liberation Theology and siding with wealthy elites and right-wing dictators against poor peoples movements in Central and South America.

At Talk2Action Frank Cocozzelli provides details about Opus Dei in "The Catholic Right: A Series:Parts Two & Three."


The current Pope is intelligent and witty--but very reactionary and patriarchal--as Cardinal Ratzinger he encouraged the most right-wing elements within the church hierarchy and laity. We can criticize the Catholic Church for sexism and homophobia and authoritarian impulses. See the first part of Frank Cocozzelli's series on "The Catholic Right."


I enjoy conspiracy theories as entertainment: the X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I'm currently reading a novel about a contemporary investigation of historical events woven around conspiracy theories, lost statues, hidden passages in a castle, the Catholic Church. The novel by Elizabeth Peters is Borrower of the Night, and before the novel begins, Peters lays out what parts of the novel are based on historic facts, and which are not. Dan Brown wrote a similar statement in the beginning of The Da Vinci Code, but he fudged the facts. Much of The Da Vinci Code is borrowed from longstanding conspiracy theories about the Freemasons and their interaction with the secret Illuminati group. Promoting conspiracy theories as fact is playing with fire. Why are conspiracy theories so popular right now?


The Priory of Sion as the protectors of the Holy Grail are the good guys in the film. As such, the group does not exist. It appears to have been invented recently, and the hucksters even created faked papers they stashed in a library so they could be "found." For more details, see this, and this, and this. Was it appropriate for Dan Brown to imply that the Priory of Sion actually exists?


The movie the Da Vinci Code gives us a golden opportunity, so let's talk about some of these issues. Our cup runneth over--even if there is no chalice in the Last Supper painting by Da Vinci. There is a struggle over faith, religion, and God going on in our society right now.

The NCC's Bob Edgar puts it this way:
I think there are two Christian Churches. I think one Christian Church was fascinated with the Old Testament Messiah, who was going to come and lead a mighty army. They see that Old Testament Messiah through the eyes of the Armageddon theology. You hear them talking a lot about the second coming. I think there's another Christian Church who was surprised that God sent the Messiah in a humble birth and a person who was a conscientious objector talking about peace and cared about the poor. And this other Church think the second coming already happened. We call it Easter. God is in fact inviting us to help change the world in which we live. read more

Ruby Sales of Spirit House also puts matters in a clear perspective in her essay Empire v. Liberation Christianity:
The Empire religion espoused by George Bush and his white Christian conservative allies is headed by a God who appears to be white supremacist, patriarchal, and upper class, one who stood on the side of enslavement and the genocide of native peoples throughout the globe, including the Americas.

This is the message of conservative right wing Christians. They misuse scripture to justify their beliefs, and they hide their intentions behind self-centered and pious God talk that undergirds and propels exclusion and domination--whether it's about the inferiority of women, black people, or lesbians and gays.

Liberation Christianity begins with the assertion that God is on the side of the oppressed rather than the side of the Empire. This is the good news of the radical Jew Jesus who challenged the Roman Empire.

Right wing Protestant evangelicals and Catholics have raised a rucus about the movie The Da Vinci Code. We can join the fray. What are some other questions we can ask in public based on what we see in the book and movie? And after this, we can look around and see if anything is Left Behind.

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Monday, May 22, 2006

God, Calvin, and Social Welfare - Part Four: Apocalypse and Social Welfare

It's hard for many Americans to understand how theological disagreements and beliefs about the Second Coming of Christ and the apocalyptic End Times can play a significant role in how people vote for public policies and political candidates. For many influenced by the Christian Right, however, theological and apocalyptic beliefs shape their political participation in profound ways.

The word apocalypse refers to the idea that there is an approaching confrontation between good and evil that will reveal hidden truths and forever transform society.

For Christians the Apocalypse involves the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. This is tied to a Biblical prophecy of a vast Battle of Armageddon where God triumphs over Satan and then decides which Christian souls are saved and rewarded with everlasting life.

In England, the Calvinist Puritans developed an "apocalyptic tradition [that] envisioned the ultimate sacralization of England as God's chosen nation" (Zakai, 7). This "chosen" nation would play a special role in the End Times, and was seen as fulfilling in some important way the Biblical prophecies in the book of Revelation.

Puritan settlers from England transferred this notion of a chosen nation to the New World colonies, where apocalyptic fervor and millennial expectation was common. If you think that time is running out, salvation--the saving of souls--takes on a central importance. After the United States was founded, these ideas were transformed into an aggressive variety of evangelizing to save souls for Christ before the final apocalyptic judgment that would send the unsaved to a fiery sulfurous lake called Hell.

From the pre-Revolutionary colonial period and up through the Civil War in the 1860s, most Protestants in the United States understood the timetable of the apocalyptic End Times prophesied in the Bible in a specific way called "postmillennialism." This meant that they believed that Jesus Christ would return only after Christians had converted enough people to establish a Godly Christian society purified and prepared for his triumphant arrival. This period was generally thought to last one thousand years or a lengthy period of time, and the word millennium refers to a thousand year span of time. Since Jesus was expected to return at the end of the millennium, the belief is known as postmillennialism.

According to Michael Northcott, the postmillennial apocalyptic view in America "involves the claim that the American Republic, and in particular the free market combined with a form of marketised democracy, is the first appearance in history of a redeemed human society, a truly godly Kingdom" (Northcott, 42).

This could be interpreted in different ways. Social progress, especially in the framework of the Quakers and Unitarians, could be linked to the idea of preparing the kingdom on earth for the coming kingdom of God. In this progressive version of social welfare the focus is on changing social institutions. Another religious phenomenon, however, shifted the focus of social policies toward individual solutions as part of a theological split in Protestantism.

The Second Great Awakening, ran from the 1790s to the 1840s. Theologically, this involved "a vigorous emphasis on `sanctification,' often called `perfectionism'" (Martin, 4). Sin was seen as tied to selfishness. Good Christians should strive to behave in a way that benefited the public good. This in turn would transform and purify the society as a whole in anticipation of the coming Apocalypse. America was seen as a Christian Nation that would fulfill Biblical prophecy, but it was individuals--not society--that needed to seek perfection in the eyes of God.

According to Martin, the evangelical Protestants involved in the Second Great Awakening:

...were so convinced their efforts could ring in the millennium, a literal thousand years of peace and prosperity that would culminate in the glorious second advent of Christ, that they threw themselves into fervent campaigns to eradicate war, drunkenness, slavery, subjugation of women, poverty, prostitution, Sabbath-breaking, dueling, profanity, card-playing, and other impediments to a perfect society (Martin, 4).

These theological beliefs were widespread, and they influenced public policy. In the mid 1800s, Protestants seeking the abolition of slavery sang "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord," and that line in the Battle Hymn of the Republic was a direct reference to the apocalyptic End Times.

Some of the aspects of this second evangelical revival were institutionalized into existing Protestant churches such as the Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists; and these denominations grew even as they remained separate from the evangelical movement. Meanwhile, the Anglicans, Quakers, and Congregationalists who directly opposed the evangelicals began to fade in importance (Hutson).

By the late 1800s, most of the major Protestant denominations (called "Mainline" denominations) had found some accommodation with the discoveries of science and secular civic arrangements such as the separation of church and state favored by Enlightenment values (Ammerman). In addition, by the beginning of the 20th century there was "a growing interest by churches in social service, often called the Social Gospel, [which] undercut evangelicalism's traditional emphasis on personal salvation" (Martin, 6). So there was a growing split between Christian evangelicals and Christians in the mainline Protestant denominations.

This split took several forms, including a disagreement over the timetable of the apocalyptic End Times. Most mainline Protestants remained tied in some way to postmillennialism, with its emphasis on social and political activism and a script that pushes the expected return of Christ into the future, or otherwise de-emphasizes actual date-setting. Many evangelicals, however, had embraced a form of apocalyptic belief called "premillennial dispensationalism." In this view of the End Times, Jesus returns before the millennium of the perfect utopian society under the rule of God.

The "dispensations" are epochs believed to be prophesied in the Bible, and most premillennial dispensationalists think we are approaching the last epoch or "dispensation" and therefore the End Times are at hand. Evangelical premillennialists look at worldly events and then scan the Bible's book of Revelation for "signs of the times," by which they mean signs of what they think are the approaching End Times. This means the Bible has to be read as a literal script of past, present, and future events; and it increases the urge to convert people to a "born again" form of Christianity and thus save souls before time literally runs out (Martin, 7-8.). These ideas became central to several groups of Protestants, today represented by denominations such as the Southern Baptists and the Assemblies of God (Oldfield 1996, 14)

One way to read the book of Revelation is as a conspiracy theory in which Satan's agents attempt to build a collective one-world government and global religion in order to trick true Christians and prepare for the showdown between good and evil. Many evangelical and fundamentalist premillennialists concerned with the End Times looked at the burgeoning U.S. government apparatus under Roosevelt, the spread of Soviet and Chinese communism, and the United Nations as all part of the prophetic End Times Antichrist system (Oldfield 2004). In the same way, domestic social welfare policies that were built around collective institutional solutions rather than personal salvation not only promoted sin and sloth, but could also be framed as tied to Satan's End Times strategy.

Ammerman, Nancy T. 1991. "North American Protestant Fundamentalism." In Fundamentalisms Observed, The Fundamentalism Project 1, eds., Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby, pp. 1-65. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Hutson, James. 1998. "Faith of Our Forefathers: Religion and the Founding of the American Republic," Information Bulletin, The Library of Congress, Vol. 57, No. 5, May. Online at

Martin, William. 1996. With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America. New York: Broadway Books.

Northcott, Michael. 2004. An Angel Directs The Storm. Apocalyptic Religion & American Empire. London: I.B. Tauris.

Oldfield, Duane Murray. 1996. The Right and the Righteous: The Christian Right Confronts the Republican Party. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

___. 2004. "The Evangelical Roots of American Unilateralism: The Christian Right's Influence and How to Counter It," Foreign Policy in Focus, Silver City, NM: Interhemispheric Resource Center, March,

Zakai, Avihu. 1992. Exile and Kingdom: History and Apocalypse in the Puritan Migration to America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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God, Calvin, and Social Welfare: A Series
Part One: Coalitions
Part Two: Calvinist Settlers
Part Three: Roots of the Social Welfare Debate
Part Four: Apocalypse and Social Welfare

Based on the Public Eye article "Calvinism, Capitalism, Conversion, and Incarceration"
Chip Berlet, Senior Analyst, Political Research Associates
The Public Eye: Website of Political Research Associates

Saturday, May 13, 2006

God, Calvin, and Social Welfare - Part Three: Roots of the Social Welfare Debate

The debates over social welfare and other domestic social policies in America today are shaped by three religious currents within Protestantism.  These theological views are seldom discussed openly, yet they play a powerful role in determining federal and state public policies toward the impoverished, the ill and disabled, and those unable to find work at a living wage.

Liberal and Progressive policies for social reform and public welfare are legacies of ideas pioneered by the Quakers, the Unitarians, and other dissident religious reformers who rejected the notions of the early Calvinists and evangelicals.

From the 1730s through the 1770s there was a Protestant revival movement in the colonies dubbed the First Great Awakening. A line of Protestant preachers including Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and John Wesley shaped the theology of the First Great Awakening.

Edwards was a fiery preacher who still held to Calvinst orthodoxy: man was born bad, and God had predestined the Elect for Heaven. Alas, poor Edwards, he was a man mostly misunderstood. Those who heard and read his sermons (printing sermons in pamphlet form was a common practice) thought Edwards was saying people could change their fate by becoming more ardent Christians. Sometimes the theological fine points get lost in the oratory.

As the revival swept the colonies, many reported a highly emotional experience of conversion after hearing sermons at large public meetings. Unlike Edwards, Whitefield and other preachers broke with Calvinist orthodoxy and challenged the idea of predestination. They suggested that sinners who embraced Jesus in the conversion experience could find a place in Heaven.

Predestination of the Elect was too elitist and static a brand of Christianity for a new society that claimed to be a classless society and valued individuality and initiative in the quest to conquer the frontier. The ideas of spiritual growth, and equality before God, started a public discussion about the need for the government to provide for public schools. It also planted the seeds for the anti-slavery movement.

At the same time, this view could be adapted to tell alienated workers that by accepting Jesus as their savior, they could learn to live with their earthly stress and subjugated status by looking forward to the future day of salvation.

The new evangelists tended to be zealous, judgmental, and authoritarian. Not everyone was happy with the results of the First Great Awakening, and some rejected the trend and remained on the traditional orthodox Calvinist path. Others rejected both and developed what became Unitarianism as a response.

The three tendencies in colonial Protestantism during the early 1800s were:

1). Orthodoxy in the form of northern Calvinist Congregationalists and southern Anglicans;

2). Revivalist rationalism and evangelism that drew not only from the Congregationalists and Anglicans (later called Episcopalians), but also swept through the smaller Protestant denominations such as the Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians;

3.) Unitarianism, still relatively small but influential in the northeast.

(Unitarianism emerged as a theological tendency before the name itself was formalized).

Recall that Axel R. Schaefer identifies these religious traditions with three different ways that the proper policies for social reform and public welfare are viewed today:

  *  Calvinist/Free Market: based on changing individual social behavior through punishment.

  *  Evangelical/Revivalist: based on born again conversion to change individual behavior, but still linked to some Calvinist ideas of punishment.

  *  Liberal/Progressive: based on changing systems and institutions to change individual behavior on a collective basis over time.

Many ideas on social reform that are now supported by mainline Protestant denominations were initially promoted by religious dissidents such as the Quakers and later the Unitarians.

Quakers had been concerned with prison conditions since the late 1600s in both England and in colonial Pennsylvania, and they introduced the idea of prison as a means for reform rather than punishment.  They also promoted the "conception of the criminal as at least partially a victim of conditions created by society" which implied that society had some obligation to reforming the criminal (Jorns, p. 170). In the early 1800s Quaker activist Elizabeth Gurney Fry launched a major prison reform movement in England, and these ideas were carried to the United States.

The Unitarians rejected the Calvinist idea that man was born in sin and argued that sometimes people did bad things because they were trapped in poverty or lacked the education required to move up in society. In the early 1800s the dissident Unitarians split Calvinist Congregationalism and succeeded in taking over many religious institutions in New England such as churches and schools. Harvard (founded as a religious college in 1636 by the Puritans), came under control of the Unitarians in 1805 as the orthodox Calvinist Congregationalists lost religious and political power.

The Unitarians took the idea of transforming society and changing personal behavior popularized by the First Great Awakening and shifted it into a plan for weaving a social safety net under the auspices of the secular government.

This idea of a social safety net was expanded in federal public policy during the New Deal of Franklin D. Roosevelt. While criticisms of New Deal social welfare policies are often packaged in political or economic language, the underlying theological basis for some of these arguments is seldom examined.


Adams, David K. and Cornelis A. van Minnen, eds. 1999. Religious and Secular Reform in America: Ideas, Beliefs, and Social Change. New York: New York University Press.

Ammerman, Nancy T. 1991. "North American Protestant Fundamentalism." In Fundamentalisms Observed, The Fundamentalism Project 1, eds., Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1991).

Hatch, Nathan O. 1989. The Democratization of American Christianity. New Haven: Yale University Press

Jorns, Auguste. 1931. The Quakers as Pioneers in Social Work. Trans. Thomas Kite Brown. New York: MacMillan, pp. 162-171.

Marsden, George M. 1982. Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth Century Evangelicalism, 1870-1925. New York: Oxford University Press.

Marsden, George M. 1991. Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans.

Moore, R. Laurence. 1986. Religious Outsiders and the Making of Americans. New York: Oxford University Press.

Schaefer, Axel R. 1999. "Evangelicalism, Social Reform and the US Welfare State, 1970-1996," pp. 249-273, in David K. Adams and Cornelius A. van Minnem, eds., Religious and Secular Reform in America: Ideas, Beliefs, and Social Change. New York: New York University Press. (I have used slightly different language to describe the sectors identified by Schaefer).

Wallace, Anthony F. C. 1956 "Revitalization Movements," American Anthropologist, 58, no. 2 (April): 264-281.

Whitney, Janet. 1936. Elizabeth Fry: Quaker Heroine. Boston: Little, Brown, and Co.

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God, Calvin, and Social Welfare: A Series
Part One: Coalitions
Part Two: Calvinist Settlers
Part Three: Roots of the Social Welfare Debate

Based on the Public Eye article "Calvinism, Capitalism, Conversion, and Incarceration"
Chip Berlet, Senior Analyst, Political Research Associates

The Public Eye: Website of Political Research Associates

Chip's Blog

Thursday, April 06, 2006

God, Calvin, and Social Welfare - Part Two: Calvinist Settlers

While most mainline Protestant denominations and evangelical churches have jettisoned some of the core tenets of Calvinism, ideas about punishment and retribution brought to our shores by early Calvinist settlers are so rooted in the American cultural experience and social traditions that many people ranging from religious to secular view them as simply "common sense." What Lakoff calls the "Strict Father" model gains it power among conservatives because it dovetails with their ideas of what is a common sense approach to morality, public policy, and crime.

To understand where this "common sense" comes from, and why it is tied to the Strict Father model, requires that we trace the influence of Protestant Calvinism.

Martin Luther founded Protestantism in a schism with the Catholic Church in 1517, but it was John Calvin who literally put it on the map in the city of Geneva, which is now in Switzerland. In the mid 1500s, Calvin forged a theocracy--a society where only the leaders of a specific religion can be the leaders of the secular government.

Calvinists believed that Adam and Eve disobeyed God and tasted the apple from the tree of knowledge at the urging of an evil demon. As a result of this "original sin," the betrayal of God's command, all humans are born in sin. God must punish us for our sins; we must be ashamed of our wrongdoing; and we require the harsh yet loving discipline of our heavenly father to correct our failures.

Calvinists also believe that "God's divine providence [has] selected, elected, and predestined certain people to restore humanity and reconcile it with its Creator" (Zakai, 1992). These "Elect" were originally thought to be the only people going to Heaven. To the Calvinists, material success and wealth was a sign that you were one of the Elect, and thus were favored by God. Who better to shepherd a society populated by God's wayward children? The poor, the weak, the infirm? God was punishing them for their sins.

This theology was spreading at a time when the rise of industrial capitalism tore the fabric of European society, shifting the nature of work and the patterns family life of large numbers of people. There were manyof angry, alienated people who the new elites needed to keep in line to avoid labor unrest and to protect production and profits.

Max Weber, an early sociologist who saw culture as a powerful force that shaped both individuals and society, argued that Calvinism grew in a symbiotic relationship with the rise of industrial capitalism.

As Sara Diamond explains:

Calvinism arose in Europe centuries ago in part as a reaction to Roman Catholicism's heavy emphasis on priestly authority and on salvation through acts of penance. One of the classic works of sociology, Max Weber's Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, links the rise of Calvinism to the needs of budding capitalists to judge their own economic success as a sign of their preordained salvation.

The rising popularity of Calvinism coincided with the consolidation of the capitalist economic system. Calvinists justified their accumulation of wealth, even at the expense of others, on the grounds that they were somehow destined to prosper. It is no surprise that such notions still find resonance within the Christian Right which champions capitalism and all its attendant inequalities.

What Calvinism accomplished was to fulfill the psychic needs of both upwardly mobile middle class entrepreneurs and alienated workers. Middle class businessmen (and they were men) could ascribe their economic success to their spiritual superiority. These businessmen and others who were predestined to be the Elect of God could turn to alienated workers, and explain to them that their impoverished economic condition was the result of a spiritual failure ordained by God. Their place in the spiritual (and economic) system was predestined.

This refocused anger away from material demands in the here and now. Because of their evil and weak nature, those that sinned or committed crimes had to be taught how to change their behavior through punishment, shame, and discipline.

Sound familiar? The Republican "Contract with America" and other legislative "reform" measures involving social welfare are implicitly built around early Calvinist ideas.


Ammerman, Nancy T. 1991. "North American Protestant Fundamentalism." In Fundamentalisms Observed, The Fundamentalism Project 1, eds., Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1991).

Diamond, Sara."Dominion Theology," Z Magazine, February 1995, online archive.
Marsden, George M. 1991. Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans.

Moore, R. Laurence. 1986. Religious Outsiders and the Making of Americans. New York: Oxford University Press.

Weber, Max. [1905] 2000. The Protestant Ethic and the "Spirit" of Capitalism and Other Writings. Edited, translated, introduction, and notes by Peter Baehr and Gordon C. Wells. New York: Penguin Books/Putnam.

Zakai, Avihu. 1992. Exile and Kingdom: History and Apocalypse in the Puritan Migration to America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ported from Talk to Action
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God, Calvin, and Social Welfare: A Series
Part One: Coalitions
Part Two: Calvinist Settlers

Based on the Public Eye article "Calvinism, Capitalism, Conversion, and Incarceration"

Chip Berlet, Senior Analyst, Political Research Associates

The Public Eye: Website of Political Research Associates

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

God, Calvin, and Social Welfare - Part One: Coalitions

Today, many ideas, concepts, and frames of reference in modern American society are legacies of the history of Protestantism as it divided and morphed through Calvinism, revivalist evangelicalism, and fundamentalism.

Even people who see themselves as secular and not religious often unconsciously adopt many of these historic cultural legacies while thinking of their ideas as simply "common sense."

What is "common sense" for one group, however, is foolish belief for another. According to author George Lakoff, a linguist who studies the linkage between rhetoric and ideas, there is a tremendous gulf between what conservatives and liberals think of as common sense, especially when it comes to issues of moral values.

In his book Moral Politics, which has gained attention in both media and public debates, Lakoff argues that conservatives base their moral views of social policy on a "Strict Father" model, while liberals base their views on a "Nurturant Parent" model.

According to Axel R. Schaefer, there are three main ideological tendencies in U.S. social reform:

  •  Liberal/Progressive: based on changing systems and institutions to change individual behavior on a collective basis over time.

  •  Calvinist/Free Market: based on changing individual social behavior through punishment.

  •  Evangelical/Revivalist: based on born again conversion to change individual behavior, but still linked to some Calvinist ideas of punishment.

Republicans have forged a broad coalition of two of the three tendencies that involves moderately conservative Protestants who nonetheless hold some traditional Calvinist ideas:

Calvinist/Free Market advocates ranging from multinational executives to economic conservatives to libertarian ideologues; and

Evangelical/Revivalist conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists with a core mission of converting people to their particular brand of Christianity.

This is a coalition with many fracture points and disagreements.

The Calvinist/Free Market sector is already a coalition based on shared ideas about individual responsibility and successes in Free Market or Laissez Faire capitalism- sometimes called neoliberalism to trace it back to an earlier use of the term "liberal" by philosophers who opposed stringent government regulation of the economy. This is where the neoconservatives fit into the picture as sort of secular Calvinists.

Libertarians are against government economic regulations and believe in a Free Market, but libertarians generally also oppose government regulation of social matters such as gay marriage and abortion. These and other social issues, however, are central to the conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists in the Republican coalition.

This can get complicated. For example the evangelical idea that it is personal conversion and salvation that will make for a more perfect society, not government programs and policies, sometimes ends up supporting (in a complementary and parallel way) the goal of libertarians and economic conservatives to reduce the size of government.

As the Bush Administration has shifted government social welfare toward "Faith-Based" programs, it has diverted government funding into privatized religious organizations (which raises serious separation of Church and State issues), but the amount of funding applied to "Faith Based" projects is small compared to the large budget cuts in previously government-funded government-run social welfare programs.

Libertarians approve of the overall budget cuts, but would prefer cutting out the government funding of "Faith Based" projects.

It's all about compromise. Coalitions unite around shared agendas, while temporarily setting aside disagreements. So if several groups share a particular worldview, that helps bind the coalition together.

Although the Christian Right is coming from a very specific religious perspective, its theology and political ideas are rooted in a common cultural context with other components of the coalition being held together by the Bush administration. To appreciate how this has happened, we need to look at the version of Calvinism brought to our shores by early settlers.

Berlet, Chip and Matthew N. Lyons. 2000. Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort. New York: Guilford.

Frank, Thomas. 2004. What's the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America. New York: Metropolitan Books.

Lakoff, George. [1996] 2002. Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think. Chicago: University of Chicago.

Schaefer, Axel R. 1999. "Evangelicalism, Social Reform and the US Welfare State, 1970-1996," pp. 249-273, in David K. Adams and Cornelius A. van Minnem, eds., Religious and Secular Reform in America: Ideas, Beliefs, and Social Change. New York: New York University Press. (I have used slightly different language to describe the sectors identified by Schaefer).

Ported from Talk to Action
Post comments on this article at

God, Calvin, and Social Welfare: A Series
Part One: Coalitions

Based on the Public Eye article "Calvinism, Capitalism, Conversion, and Incarceration"
Chip Berlet, Senior Analyst, Political Research Associates
The Public Eye: Website of Political Research Associates