The Christian Right (known as the Religious Right in the United States) is the name for right-wing Christian political and social movements. Though they exist in several Christian countries, such as Canada and Britain, it is most commonly used to talk about the United States. These groups are characterised by their strong support of conservative social and political values. Usually, this comes from a belief that the United States was founded on a strong belief in God, and that American laws and policies should be based on what is in the Bible. Though members of the Christian Right can be from any branch of Christianity, including Catholicism, the Religious Right is most often used with Evangelical Christians, Fundamentalists (such as Born-agains) and Mormons.
Polls indicate that about 40 percent of the American public agree that the Bible should be taken literally, and that almost a third of all Americans believe in the rapture, which is the doctrine that those who have accepted Jesus will be raised up to into heaven and those who have not will be left to suffer on earth. There are 80 to 100 million evangelical Christians in the United States attending more than 200,000 evangelical churches.
More than anyone else, it was Sara Diamond who popularised the use of the term “dominionism” to describe a growing political tendency in the Christian Right. Dominionism, born out of Christian Reconstructionism, is the belief that American Christians have been mandated by God to make America a Christian state. This radical Christian movement, which promotes the Christian faith and patriotism as a means to gaining more political power, is small in numbers but influential, and has a global “kingdom” agenda.
People who have been conservative due to their religion have been in the United States for hundreds of years. For example, the people who put John Scopes on trial in 1925 for teaching evolution would be called as members of the Religious Right. However, the term first came into use in the 1970s by Jerry Falwell, largely in response to the 1973 Roe v Wade US Supreme Court decision legalising abortion. He and others felt that the country and its institutions (such as schools and colleges) were run by left-wing intellectuals who did not believe in God, and that in reality most people believed in God and didn’t care for left-wing intellectuals.
The fight between left-wing intellectuals and the Religious Right became known as the “culture wars”. Led by Robert Grant’s Christian Voice, Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, and Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition, the new Religious Right strengthened its influence through grassroots activists, intellectual think tanks (such as American Enterprise Institute, Heritage Foundation, Hoover Foundation, etc), and a wide range of media institutions and key media figures (ie National Review, Rupert Murdoch, and Rush Limbaugh).
Positions labelled Christian Right, but sometimes held by only a minority of those in the United States who are commonly considered Christian Right include:
Many in the Christian Right refer to apocalyptic and other Biblical prophecy in their support of Israel, and support of Israel is often seen as a matter of biblical doctrine. Israel figures prominently in the school of interpretation of Biblical prophecy called premillennial dispensationalism, an end-times theology which with regard to its political implications contributes significantly to the movement sometimes called Christian Zionism.
Though Presidents Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush were elected in part due to support from the Christian Right, the only President who was a member of the Christian Right was George W Bush.
One of the most important and least noticed ways that George W Bush rewarded his Christian Right base was by giving them positions of power at the United Nations. The religious conservatives who represented the United States on the national stage made alliances with the Holy See and some of the world’s most repressive regimes, including Iran, the Sudan and Libya, to fight agreements expanding recognition of women’s and children’s rights. This strange kind of ecumenical cooperation, especially at a time of such bitter antagonism between Muslims and Christians in other realms, can still be seen today. Journalist Michelle Goldberg identifies the World Congress of Families, which happens every two years in various cities in the world. It brings together representatives of various religions and traditionalist movements to join hands against what they see as the real enemy, which, according to Goldberg, is secularism, feminism and liberalism.
The election of Barak Obama in 2008 as the nation’s first African American president suggests that the Christian Right in America – at least as defined and shaped by leaders like Jerry Falwell, Pat Roberston, D James Kennedy, Paul Weyrich and James Dobson – was falling away. It seems clear, however, that following Obama’s election, the Christian Right still exerts power by supporting and merging with other explicitly Christian organisations like Values Voters USA or with the less explicitly Christian organisations like the Tea Party. People like Sarah Palin, a devout fundamentalist Christian, and Glenn Beck, a Mormon, now give the marching orders to the great army of the faithful that would still identify with the concerns of the Christian Right.
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