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Article

Kimberly H. Conger

The Christian Right has been an active force in Republican and American politics for over 40 years. Its focus on morality politics (abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriage, pornography, and sex and science education) has had an impact on the fortunes and expectations of conservative candidates, activists, and organizations all over the country. Its comprehensive activity demonstrates the multifaceted changes in society and religious engagement that brought the Christian Right as a political force into supporters’ consciousnesses, their churches, and the voting booth. Success in mobilization and the ballot box has not always created policy change, though the movement can claim policy victories in many states and localities. The largest impact the movement has had is in the Republican Party in all of its incarnations, altering the policies and strategies that are important and successful for the party. The incarnation of the movement shows signs of significant change, however, as the Republican Party is transformed by the populist messages and policies of the Trump administration. Scholars of the Christian Right movement and religion in American politics more generally should pay attention to the varying narratives, issues, sources of power, and social cohesion that the movement and its constituency, largely conservative Protestants, display. Like research on many social and political movements, the study of the Christian Right benefits from an interdisciplinary approach and a good grasp of the lived experience of the supporters, activists, and leaders within the movement.

Article

The Christian Right continues to oppose lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights, but the nature of this opposition has evolved over time—often in conjunction with changes in public opinion. From the formation of groups such as the Moral Majority and Concerned Women in America in the late 1970s through the late 2010s, Christian Right groups and LGBT rights groups have frequently responded to each other’s arguments, strategies, and tactics. The Christian Right of the 1980s used antigay themes and rhetoric to raise money and to motivate its members, but it was not effective in reaching individuals outside of its relatively narrow membership base. In the 1990s and 2000s, a number of more sophisticated Christian Right groups were active at the national level, and a number of state and local-level organizations formed to address LGBT issues specifically. Focus on the Family, for example, took a national approach. Its radio programs reached millions of listeners and its mailing list consisted of 2.5 million names. Focus on the Family’s efforts were aimed at converting sexual minorities and attacking both the “radical homosexual agenda” and the gay rights groups that promoted it. At the same time, Family Research Council (FRC) worked with state affiliates to distribute materials across the country. As public opinion shifted in support of same-sex marriage (SSM), and after the Supreme Court overturned state bans on SSM in Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015, the movement then worked to pass “religious freedom” laws. These laws would allow conservative Christians to refuse to provide services for SSMs, and in many cases allow far broader forms of discrimination. Although the Christian Right was successful in the realm of electoral politics (e.g., the Christian Coalition once claimed to control 35 state Republican Party committees), it has not been able to stop growing public acceptance of LGBT rights.

Article

Conservative Christianity’s alignment with the Republican Party at the end of the 20th century is one of the most consequential political developments, both for American religion and American party politics. In the proceeding four decades, what has been the nature of this relationship? The inclusion-moderation thesis suggests that once religious movements are integrated into political parties, their interests are often co-opted by broader party interests and their positions moderate. For the Christian right in the U.S. there is mixed evidence for the inclusion-moderation process. Considering all the evidence, the most apt description is that conservative Christianity has transformed the Republican Party, and the Republican Party has transformed conservative Christianity. With its inclusion in the Republican Party, the Christian right has moderated on some aspects. The movement has become more professional, more attuned to the more widely accepted, secular styles of democratic politics, and more engaged in the broader goals and positions of the party. Conservative Christianity has also failed to fully achieve some of its most important goals and has lost some of its distinctiveness. In these ways, the party has changed the Christian right. At the same time, the Christian right has altered Republican politics. National candidates have changed their positions on important social issues, including abortion, gay rights, and religious freedom. The party’s platforms and judicially strategies have been strongly affected by movement’s interests, and conservative Christian activists have come to be central to the Republican Party. It’s stability and strength within the party have given the movement power. In these areas, the Christian right has evangelized the Republican Party rather than moderated. A fair assessment is that for the Christian right there has been partial but quite incomplete adherence to the inclusion-moderation process.

Article

Benjamin R. Knoll and Cammie Jo Bolin

Religious communication affects political behavior through two primary channels: political messages coming from a religious source and religious messages coming from a political source. In terms of the first channel, political scientists have found that clergy do tend to get involved in politics, and church-goers often hear political messages over the pulpit, although not as frequently as might be expected. Sometimes these political messages are successful in swaying opinions, but not always; context matters a great deal. In terms of the second channel, politicians use religious rhetoric (“God talk”) in an attempt to increase their support and win votes. When this happens, some groups are more likely to respond than others, including political conservatives, more frequent church attenders, and racial/ethnic minorities. The scope and effectiveness of religious communication remains a field ripe for further research, especially in contexts outside of the United States.