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The Christian right, or the religious right, are Christian political factions characterized by their strong support of socially conservative and traditionalist policies. Christian conservatives seek to influence politics and public policy with their interpretation of the teachings of Christianity.
In the United States, the Christian right is an informal coalition formed around a core of largely white conservative Evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics. The Christian right draws additional support from politically conservative mainline Protestants and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The movement has its roots in American politics going back as far as the 1940s; it has been especially influential since the 1970s. Its influence draws from grassroots activism as well as from focus on social issues and the ability to motivate the electorate around those issues.
The Christian right is notable for advancing socially conservative positions on issues such as creationism in public education, school prayer, temperance, Christian nationalism, and Sunday Sabbatarianism, as well as opposition to biological evolution, embryonic stem cell research, LGBT rights, comprehensive sex education, abortion, and pornography. Although the term Christian right is most commonly associated with politics in the United States, similar Christian conservative groups can be found in the political cultures of other Christian-majority countries.
The Christian right is "also known as the New Christian Right (NCR) or the Religious Right", although some consider the religious right to be "a slightly broader category than Christian Right".
John C. Green of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life states that Jerry Falwell used the label religious right to describe himself. Gary Schneeberger, vice president of media and public relations for Focus on the Family, states that "[t]erms like 'religious right' have been traditionally used in a pejorative way to suggest extremism. The phrase 'socially conservative evangelicals' is not very exciting, but that's certainly the way to do it."
Evangelical leaders like Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council have called attention to the problem of equating the term Christian right with evangelicals. Although evangelicals constitute the core constituency of the Christian right, not all evangelicals fit the description, and a number of Roman Catholics are also members of the Christian right's core base. The problem of description is further complicated by the fact that the label religious conservative may apply to other religious groups as well. For instance, Anabaptist Christians (most notably Amish, Mennonites, Hutterites, the Bruderhof Communities, Schwarzenau Brethren, River Brethren and Apostolic Christians) are theologically, socially, and culturally conservative; however, there are no overtly political organizations associated with these Christian denominations, which are usually uninvolved, uninterested, apathetic, or indifferent towards politics.
In 1863, representatives from eleven Christian denominations in the United States organized the National Reform Association with the goal of adding a Christian amendment to the U.S. Constitution, in order to establish the country as a Christian state. The National Reform Association is seen as one of the first organizations of the Christian right, through which adherents from several Christian denominations worked together to try to enshrine Christianity in American politics.
Early organizations of the Christian right, such as the Christian Civic League of Maine founded in 1897, supported the aims of the temperance movement.
Patricia Miller states that the "alliance between evangelical leaders and the Catholic bishops has been a cornerstone of the Christian Right for nearly twenty years". Since the late 1970s, the Christian right has been a notable force in both the Republican Party and American politics when Baptist pastor Jerry Falwell and other Christian leaders began to urge conservative Christians to involve themselves in the political process. In response to the rise of the Christian right, the 1980 Republican Party platform assumed a number of its positions, including adding support for a restoration of school prayer. The past two decades have been an important time in the political debates and in the same time frame religious citizens became more politically active in a time period labeled the New Christian Right. While the platform also opposed abortion and leaned towards restricting taxpayer funding for abortions and passing a constitutional amendment which would restore protection of the right to life for unborn children, it also accepted the fact that many Americans, including fellow Republicans, were divided on the issue. Since about 1980, the Christian right has been associated with several institutions including the Moral Majority, the Christian Coalition, Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council.
While the influence of the Christian right is typically traced to the 1980 Presidential election, Daniel K. Williams argues in God's Own Party that it had actually been involved in politics for most of the twentieth century. He also notes that the Christian right had previously been in alliance with the Republican Party in the 1940s through 1960s on matters such as opposition to communism and defending "a Protestant-based moral order".
In light of the state atheism espoused by communist countries, secularization came to be seen by many Americans as the biggest threat to American and Christian values, and by the 1980s Catholic bishops and evangelicals had begun to work together on issues such as abortion.
The alienation of Southern Democrats from the Democratic Party contributed to the rise of the right, as the counterculture of the 1960s provoked fear of social disintegration. In addition, as the Democratic Party became identified with a pro-abortion rights position and with nontraditional societal values, social conservatives joined the Republican Party in increasing numbers.
In 1976, U.S. President Jimmy Carter received the support of the Christian right largely because of his much-acclaimed religious conversion. However, Carter's spiritual transformation did not compensate for his liberal policies in the minds of Christian conservatives, as reflected in Jerry Falwell's criticism that "Americans have literally stood by and watched as godless, spineless leaders have brought our nation floundering to the brink of death."
The Christian Right has engaged in battles over abortion, euthanasia, contraception, pornography, gambling, obscenity, Christian nationalism, Sunday Sabbatarianism (concerning Sunday blue laws), state sanctioned prayer in public schools, textbook contents (concerning creationism), homosexuality, and sexual education. The Supreme Court's decision to make abortion a constitutionally protected right in the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling was the driving force behind the rise of the Christian Right in the 1970s. Changing political context led to the Christian Right's advocacy for other issues, such as opposition to euthanasia and campaigning for abstinence-only sex education.
Ralph Reed, the chairman of the Christian Coalition, stated that the 1988 presidential campaign of Pat Robertson was the 'political crucible' that led to the proliferation of Christian Right groups in the United States.
Randall Balmer, on the other hand, has suggested that the New Christian Right Movement's rise was not centered around the issue of abortion, but rather Bob Jones University's refusal to comply with the Supreme Court's 1971 Green v. Connally ruling that permitted the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to collect penalty taxes from private religious schools that violated federal laws.
Much of the Christian right's power within the American political system is attributed to their extraordinary turnout rate at the polls. The voters that coexist in the Christian right are also highly motivated and driven to get out a viewpoint on issues they care about. As well as high voter turnout, they can be counted on to attend political events, knock on doors and distribute literature. Members of the Christian right are willing to do the electoral work needed to see their candidate elected. Because of their high level of devotion, the Christian right does not need to monetarily compensate these people for their work.[needs update?]
Led by Robert Grant advocacy group Christian Voice, Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority, Ed McAteer's Religious Roundtable Council, James Dobson's Focus on the Family, Paul Weyrich's Free Congress Foundation and The Heritage Foundation, and Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network, the new Religious Right combined conservative politics with evangelical and fundamentalist teachings. The birth of the New Christian right, however, is usually traced to a 1979 meeting where televangelist Jerry Falwell was urged to create a "Moral Majority" organization. In 1979, Weyrich was in a discussion with Falwell when he remarked that there was a "moral majority" of Americans ready to be called to political action. Weyrich later recalled in a 2007 interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that after he mentioned the term "moral majority", Falwell "turned to his people and said, 'That's the name of our organization.'"
Weyrich would then engineer a strong union between the Republican Party and many culturally conservative Christians. Soon, Moral Majority became a general term for the conservative political activism of evangelists and fundamentalists such as Pat Robertson, James Robison, and Jerry Falwell. Howard Schweber, Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, writes that "in the past two decades", "Catholic politicians have emerged as leading figures in the religious conservative movement."
One early attempt to bring the Christian right into American politics began in 1974 when Robert Grant, an early movement leader, founded American Christian Cause to advocate Christian ideological teachings in Southern California. Concerned that Christians overwhelmingly voted for President Jimmy Carter in 1976, Grant expanded his movement and founded Christian Voice to rally Christian voters behind socially conservative candidates. Prior to his alliance with Falwell, Weyrich sought an alliance with Grant. Grant and other Christian Voice staff soon set up their main office at the headquarters of Weyrich's Heritage Foundation. However, the alliance between Weyrich and Grant fell apart in 1978.
In the late 1980s, Pat Robertson founded the Christian Coalition of America, building from his 1988 presidential run, with Republican activist Ralph Reed, who became the spokesman for the Coalition. In 1992, the national Christian Coalition, Inc., headquartered in Virginia Beach, Virginia, began producing voter guides, which it distributed to conservative Christian churches, both Protestant and Catholic, with the blessing of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York. Under the leadership of Reed and Robertson, the Coalition quickly became the most prominent voice in the conservative Christian movement, its influence culminating with an effort to support the election of a conservative Christian to the presidency in 1996. In addition, they have encouraged the convergence of conservative Christian ideology with political issues, such as healthcare, the economy, education and crime.
Political activists lobbied within the Republican party locally and nationally to influence party platforms and nominations. More recently James Dobson's group Focus on the Family, based in Colorado Springs, and the Family Research Council in Washington D.C. have gained enormous respect from Republican lawmakers. While strongly advocating for these ideological matters, Dobson himself is warier of the political spectrum and much of the resources of his group are devoted to other aims such as media. However, as a private citizen, Dobson has stated his opinion on presidential elections; on February 5, 2008, Dobson issued a statement regarding the 2008 presidential election and his strong disappointment with the Republican party's candidates.
In an essay written in 1996, Ralph Reed argued against the moral absolutist tone of Christian right leaders, arguing for the Republican Party Platform to stress the moral dimension of abortion rather than placing emphasis on overturning Roe v. Wade. Reed believes that pragmatism is the best way to advocate for the Christian right.
Overtly partisan actions by churches could threaten their 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status due to the Johnson Amendment of the Internal Revenue Code. In one notable example, the former pastor of the East Waynesville Baptist Church in Waynesville, North Carolina "told the congregation that anyone who planned to vote for Democratic Sen. John Kerry should either leave the church or repent". The church later expelled nine members who had voted for Kerry and refused to repent, which led to criticism on the national level. The pastor resigned and the ousted church members were allowed to return.
The Alliance Defense Fund, a far-right group now known as the Alliance Defending Freedom, started the Pulpit Freedom Initiative in 2008. ADF states that "[t]he goal of Pulpit Freedom Sunday is simple: have the Johnson Amendment declared unconstitutional – and once and for all remove the ability of the IRS to censor what a pastor says from the pulpit."
Both Christian right and secular polling organizations sometimes conduct polls to determine which presidential candidates will receive the support of Christian right constituents. One such poll is taken at the Family Research Council's Values Voter Summit. George W. Bush's electoral success owed much to his overwhelming support from white evangelical voters, who comprise 23% of the vote. In 2000 he received 68% of the white evangelical vote; in 2004 that percentage rose to 78%. In 2016, Donald Trump received 81% of the white evangelical vote.
The Home School Legal Defense Association was co-founded in 1983 by Michael Farris, who would later establish Patrick Henry College, and Michael Smith. This organization attempts to challenge laws that serve as obstacles to allowing parents to home-school their children and to organize the disparate group of homeschooling families into a cohesive bloc. The number of homeschooling families has increased in the last twenty years, and around 80 percent of these families identify themselves as evangelicals.
The main universities associated with the Christian right in the United States are:
The media has played a major role in the rise of the Christian right since the 1920s and has continued to be a powerful force for political Christianity today. The role of the media for the Religious right has been influential in its ability to connect Christian audiences to the larger American culture while at the same time bringing and keeping religion into play as both a political and a cultural force. The political agenda of the Christian right has been disseminated to the public through a variety of media outlets including radio broadcasting, television, and literature.
Religious broadcasting began in the 1920s through the radio. Between the 1950s and 1980s, TV became a powerful way for the Christian right to influence the public through shows such as Pat Robertson's The 700 Club and The Family Channel (now Freeform). The Internet has also helped the Christian right reach a much larger audience. Organization's websites play a strong role in popularising the Christian right's stances on cultural and political issues, and informed interested viewers on how to get involved. The Christian Coalition, for example, has used the Internet to inform the public, as well as to sell merchandise and gather members.
The Christian right strongly advocates for a system of educational choice, using a system of school vouchers, instead of public education. Vouchers would be government funded and could be redeemed for "a specified maximum sum per child per years if spent on approved educational services". This method would allow parents to determine which school their child attends while relieving the economic burden associated with private schools. The concept is popular among constituents of church-related schools, including those affiliated with Roman Catholicism.
The Protestant members of the Christian right in the United States generally promote the teaching of creationism and intelligent design as opposed to, or alongside, biological evolution. Some supporters of the Christian right have opposed the teaching of evolution in the past, but they did not have the ability to stop it being taught in public schools as was done during the Scopes Trial in Dayton, Tennessee, in which a science teacher went on trial for teaching about the subject of evolution in a public school. Other "Christian right organizations supported the teaching of creationism, along with evolution, in public schools", specifically promoting theistic evolution (also known as evolutionary creationism) in which God is regarded as the originator of the process.
Members of and organizations associated with the Christian right, such as the Discovery Institute, created and popularized the modern concept of intelligent design, which became widely known only with the publication of the book Of Pandas and People in 1989. The Discovery Institute, through their intelligent design initiative called the Center for Science and Culture, has endorsed the teach the controversy approach. According to its proponents, such an approach would ensure that both the strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory were discussed in the curriculum. This tactic was criticized by Judge John E. Jones III in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, describing it as "at best disingenuous, and at worst a canard." The overwhelming majority of scientific research, both in the United States and elsewhere, has concluded that the theory of evolution, using the technical definition of the word theory, is the only viable explanation of the development of life, and an overwhelming majority of biologists strongly support its presentation in public school science classes. Outside the United States, as well as among American Catholics and Mainline Protestants, Christian conservatives have generally come to accept the theory of evolution.
Some Christian groups advocate for the removal of sex education literature from public schools, for parental opt-out of comprehensive sex education, or for abstinence-only sex education. Sam Harris has written that thirty percent of America's sexual-education programs are abstinence based, and they are ineffective.
The Christian right promotes homeschooling and private schooling as a valid alternative to public education for parents who object to the content being taught at school. In recent years, the percentage of children being homeschooled has risen from 1.7% of the student population in 1999 to 2.2% in 2003. Much of this increase has been attributed to the desire to incorporate Christian teachings into the curriculum. In 2003, 72% of parents who homeschooled their children cited the ability to provide religious or moral instruction as the reason for removing their children from public schools. The Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District case established that creationism cannot be taught in public schools, and in response officials have increasingly appropriated public funds for charter schools that teach curricula like Accelerated Christian Education.
The Christian right is in favour of legislation that maintains and promotes Sunday Sabbatarianism, such as Sunday blue laws that forbid shopping and restrict the sale of alcohol on Sundays, which is the Lord's Day in mainstream Christianity.
Supporters of the Christian right have no one unified stance on the role of government since the movement is primarily one that advocates social conservatism; in fact, "struggles [have] broken out in state party organizations" between supporters of the Christian right and other conservatives. It promotes conservative interpretations of the Bible as the basis for moral values and enforcing such values by legislation. Some members of the Christian right, especially Catholics, accept the Catholic Church's strong support for labor unions.
See also: Accommodationism
The Christian right believes that separation of church and state is not explicit in the American Constitution, believing instead that such separation is a creation of what it claims are activist judges in the judicial system. In the United States, the Christian right often supports their claims by asserting that the country was "founded by Christians as a Christian Nation." Members of the Christian right take the position that the Establishment Clause bars the federal government from establishing or sponsoring a state church (e.g., the Church of England), but does not prevent the government from acknowledging religion. The Christian right points out that the term "separation of church and state" is derived from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson, not from the Constitution itself. Furthermore, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) takes the view that the concept of "separation of church and state" has been used by the American Civil Liberties Union and its allies to inhibit public acknowledgment of Christianity and restrict the religious freedoms of Christians.
Thus, Christian right leaders have argued that the Establishment Clause does not prohibit the display of religion in the public sphere. Leaders, therefore, believe that public institutions should be allowed, or even required, to display the Ten Commandments. This interpretation has been repeatedly rejected by the courts, which have found that such displays violate the Establishment Clause. Public officials though are prohibited from using their authority in which the primary effect is "advancing or prohibiting religion", according to the Lemon Supreme Court test, and there cannot be an "excessive entanglement with religion" and the government. Some, such as Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association, argue that the First Amendment, which specifically restricts Congress, applies only to the Congress and not the states. This position rejects the incorporation of the Bill of Rights.
Generally, the Christian right supports the presence of religious institutions within government and the public sphere, and advocates for fewer restrictions on government funding for religious charities and schools. Both Catholics and Protestants, according to a 2005 Gallup study, have been supportive of school prayer in public schools.
Early American fundamentalists, such as John R. Rice often favored laissez-faire economics and were outspoken critics of the New Deal and later the Great Society. The contemporary Christian right supports economic conservative policies such as tax cuts and social conservative policies such as child tax credits.
See also: Christian Zionism
Many evangelical Protestant supporters of the religious right have strongly supported the state of Israel in recent decades, encouraging support for Israel within the United States government. Some of them have linked Israel to Biblical prophesies; for example, Ed McAteer, founder of the Moral Majority, said "I believe that we are seeing prophecy unfold so rapidly and dramatically and wonderfully and, without exaggerating, makes me breathless." This belief, an example of dispensationalism, arises from the idea that the establishment of Israel is a prerequisite for the Second Coming of Jesus, because it represents the Biblically prophesied Gathering of Israel. A 2017 poll indicates that this belief is held by 80% of evangelicals, and that half of evangelicals consider it an important cause of their support for the state of Israel.
During the Lebanese Civil War that started in 1975 and ended in 1990, many Christian parties endorsed the right's political viewpoints such as the Christian Lebanese phalanges which is known as the Kataeb Party, and later, the right's political viewpoints were also endorsed by the Lebanese Armed Forces because their power and influence were threatened by the growing power and influence of the more radical Islamist and left-wing movements, such as the Shiite Amal Movement, and the Progressive Socialist Party in the 1980s.
Historically, large percentages of American Catholics and Evangelical Protestants oppose and have opposed abortion, believing that life begins at conception and that abortion is murder. Therefore, those in the movement have worked toward the overturning of Roe v. Wade (1973), and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992). The Christian right has also supported incremental steps to make abortion less available. Such efforts include bans on late-term abortion (including intact dilation and extraction), prohibitions against Medicaid funding and other public funding for elective abortions, removal of taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood and other organizations that provide abortion services, legislation requiring parental consent or notification for abortions performed on minors, legal protections for unborn victims of violence, legal protections for infants born alive following failed abortions, and bans on abortifacient medications.
The Christian right element in the Reagan coalition strongly supported him in 1980, in the belief that he would appoint Supreme Court justices to overturn Roe v. Wade. They were astonished and dismayed when his first appointment was Sandra Day O'Connor, whom they feared would tolerate abortion. They worked hard to defeat her confirmation but failed.
The Christian right contends that morning-after pills such as Plan B and Ella are possible abortifacients, able to interfere with a fertilized egg's implantation in the uterine wall. The labeling mandated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for Plan B and Ella state that they may interfere with implantation, but according to a June 2012, The New York Times article, many scientists believe that they work only by interfering with ovulation and are arguing to have the implantation language removed from product labels. The Christian right maintains that the chemical properties of morning-after pills make them abortifacients and that the politics of abortion is influencing scientific judgments. Jonathan Imbody of the Christian Medical Association says he questions "whether ideological considerations are driving these decisions." Specifically, many Catholic members, as well as some conservative Protestant members, of the Christian right have campaigned against contraception altogether.
In May 2022, Politico published a leaked draft majority opinion by Justice Samuel Alito. It would overturn Roe and Casey by nullifying the specific privacy rights in question, eliminating federal involvement, and leaving the issue to be determined by the states. Through a statement made by the Chief Justice of the United States, John Roberts, the Court confirmed the document's authenticity but said that it was not a final decision or the Justice's final decision, which was expected by June or July.
The decision was issued on June 24, 2022, ruling 6–3 to reverse the lower court rulings; a more narrow 5–4 ruling overturned Roe and Casey. The majority opinion stated that abortion was not a constitutional right, and that states should have discretion in regulating abortion. The majority opinion, written by Alito, was substantially similar to the leaked draft. Chief Justice Roberts agreed with the judgment upholding the Mississippi law but did not join the majority in the opinion to overturn Roe and Casey.
Due to the Christian right's views regarding ethics and to an extent due to negative views of eugenics common to most ideologies in North America, it has worked for the regulation and restriction of certain applications of biotechnology. In particular, the Christian right opposes therapeutic and reproductive human cloning, championing a 2005 United Nations ban on the practice, and human embryonic stem cell research, which involves the extraction of one or more cells from a human embryo. The Christian right supports research with adult stem cells, amniotic stem cells, and induced pluripotent stem cells which do not use cells from human embryos, as they view the harvesting of biological material from an embryo lacking the ability to give permission as an assault on a living being.
The Christian right also opposes euthanasia, and, in one highly publicized case, took an active role in seeking governmental intervention to prevent Terri Schiavo from being deprived of nutrition and hydration.
The Christian right has historically supported the temperance movement, thus supporting causes such as maintaining Sunday blue laws, adding alcohol packaging warning messages to bottles and limiting alcohol advertising. It has advocated for the prohibition of drugs and has opposed efforts to legalize marijuana.
Further information: Discrimination in the United States, LGBT rights opposition, and Public opinion of same-sex marriage in the United States
The modern roots of the Christian right's views on sexual matters were evident in the years 1950s–1960s, a period in which many conservative Christians in the United States viewed sexual promiscuity as not only excessive, but in fact as a threat to their ideal vision of the country.: 30 Beginning in the 1970s, conservative Christian protests against promiscuity began to surface, largely as a reaction to the "permissive Sixties" and an emerging prominence of sexual rights arising from Roe v. Wade and the LGBT rights movement. The Christian right proceeded to make sexuality issues a priority political cause.: 28 Anita Bryant organized Save Our Children, a widespread campaign to oppose legislation prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in Miami-Dade County, Florida. The group argued that gay people were "recruiting" or "molesting children" in order to make them gay. Bryant infamously claimed that "As a mother, I know that homosexuals cannot biologically reproduce children; therefore, they must recruit our children," and also claimed that "If gays are granted rights, next we'll have to give rights to prostitutes and to people who sleep with St. Bernards and to nail biters." The Bryant campaign achieved success in repealing some city anti-discrimination laws, and proposed other citizen initiatives such as a failed California ballot question designed to ban gay people or those who supported LGBT rights from holding public teaching jobs. Bryant's campaign attracted widespread opposition and boycotts which put her out of business and destroyed her reputation.
From the late 1970s onwards, some conservative Christian organizations such as the Christian Broadcasting Network, Focus on the Family, Concerned Women for America, the American Family Association, and the Christian Coalition of America, along with right-wing Christian hate groups such as the Westboro Baptist Church, have been outspoken against LGBT rights. Late in 1979, a new religious revival among conservative Evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics ushered in the Republican coalition politically aligned with the Christian right that would reign in the United States between the years 1970s and 1980s, becoming another obstacle for the progress of the LGBTQ rights movement. During the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, LGBTQ communities were further stigmatized as they became the focus of mass hysteria, suffered isolation and marginalization, and were targeted with extreme acts of violence.
The Christian right champions itself as the "self-appointed conscience of American society". During the 1980s, the movement was largely dismissed by political pundits and mainstream religious leaders as "a collection of buffoonish has-beens". Later, it re-emerged, better organized and more focused, taking firm positions against abortion, pornography, sexual deviancy, and extreme feminism.: 4 Beginning around the presidency of Donald Trump, Christian conservatives have largely refrained from engaging in debates about sexual morality.
Influential Christian right organizations at the forefront of the anti-gay rights movement in the United States include Focus on the Family, Family Research Council, and the Family Research Institute.: 15–16 An important stratagem in Christian right anti-gay politics is in its rejection of "the edicts of a Big Brother" state, allowing it to profit from "a general feeling of discontent and demoralization with government". As a result, the Christian right has endorsed smaller government, restricting its ability to arbitrate in disputes regarding values and traditions. In this context, gay rights laws have come to symbolize the government's allegedly unconstitutional "[interference] with individual freedom".: 170–171
The central tenets of Focus on the Family and similar organizations, such as the Family Research Council, emphasise issues such as abortion and the necessity of gender roles. A number of organizations, including the New Christian Right, "have in various ways rejected liberal America in favor of the regulation of pornography, anti-abortion legislation, the criminalization of homosexuality, and the virtues of faithfulness and loyalty in sexual partnerships", according to sociologist Bryan Turner.
A large number of the Christian right view same-sex marriage as a central issue in the culture wars, more so than other gay rights issues and even more significantly than abortion.: 57 [dubious ] The legalization of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts in 2004 changed the Christian right, causing it to put its opposition to these marriages above most other issues. It also created previously unknown interracial and ecumenical coalitions, and stimulated new electoral activity in pastors and congregations.: 58
Criticisms of the Christian right often come from Christians who believe Jesus' message was centered on social responsibility and social justice. Theologian Michael Lerner has summarized: "The unholy alliance of the Political Right and the Religious Right threatens to destroy the America we love. It also threatens to generate a revulsion against God and religion by identifying them with militarism, ecological irresponsibility, fundamentalist antagonism to science and rational thought, and insensitivity to the needs of the poor and the powerless." Commentators from all sides of the aisle such as Rob Schenck, Randall Balmer, and Charles M. Blow criticized the Christian right for its tolerance and embrace of Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential election despite Trump's failure to adhere to any of the principles advocated by the Christian right groups for decades.
See also: Christian left
One argument which questions the legitimacy of the Christian right posits that Jesus Christ may be considered a leftist on the modern political spectrum. Jesus' concern with the poor and feeding the hungry, among other things, are argued, by proponents of Christian leftism, to be core attributes of modern-day socialism and social justice. However, others[who?] contend that while Jesus' concern for the poor and hungry is virtuous and that individuals have a moral obligation to help others, the relationship between charity and the state should not be construed in the same manner.
According to Frank Newport of Gallup, "there are fewer Americans today who are both highly religious and liberal than there are Americans who are both highly religious and conservative." Newport also noted that 52% of white conservatives identify as "highly religious" while only 16% of white liberals identify as the same. However, African-Americans, "the most religious of any major racial or ethnic group in the country", are "strongly oriented to voting Democratic". While observing that African-American Democrats are more religious than their white Democrat counterparts, Newport further noted, however, that African-American Democrats are "much more likely to be ideologically moderate or conservative."
Some criticize what they see as a politicization of Christianity because they say Jesus transcends political concepts.
Mikhail Gorbachev referred to Jesus as "the first Socialist".
The Christian right has tried to recruit social conservatives in the black church. Prior to the 2016 United States presidential election, African-American Republican Ben Carson emerged as a leader of the Christian right. Other Christian African-Americans who identify with conservatism are Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas, rapper Kanye West, Alveda King, and pastor Tony Evans.
Whilst the Christian right in the United States generally identifies with aspects of LGBT rights opposition, other Christian movements argue that the biblical texts only oppose specific types of divergent sexual behaviour, such as paederasty (i.e. sexual intercourse between boys and men). During the Trump administration, there was a growing push[who?] for religious liberty bills, aimed to exempt individuals and businesses from anti-discrimination laws intended to protect LGBT people, if they claimed that their actions were motivated by religious beliefs. Among the most powerful organizations that promoted anti-LGBT and anti-transgender legislation under the Trump administration is the Alliance Defending Freedom.
Some social scientists have used the word "dominionism" to refer to adherence of dominion theology as well as to the influence in the broader Christian Right of ideas inspired by Dominion Theology. Although such influence (particularly of Reconstructionism) has been described by many authors, full adherents to Reconstructionism are few and marginalized among conservative Christians. In the early 1990s, sociologist Sara Diamond defined dominionism in her PhD dissertation as a movement that, while it includes Dominion Theology and Reconstructionism as subsets, is much broader in scope, extending to much of the Christian Right. She was followed by journalists who included Frederick Clarkson and Chris Hedges and others who have stressed the influence of Dominionist ideas on the Christian right.
The terms "dominionist" and "dominionism" are rarely used for self-description, and their usage has been attacked from right-leaning quarters. Stanley Kurtz labeled it "conspiratorial nonsense", "political paranoia", and "guilt by association", and decried Hedges' "vague characterizations" that allow him to "paint a highly questionable picture of a virtually faceless and nameless 'Dominionist' Christian mass." Kurtz also complained about a perceived link between average Christian evangelicals and extremism such as Christian Reconstructionism:
The notion that conservative Christians want to reinstitute slavery and rule by genocide is not just crazy, it's downright dangerous. The most disturbing part of the Harper's cover story (the one by Chris Hedges) was the attempt to link Christian conservatives with Hitler and fascism. Once we acknowledge the similarity between conservative Christians and fascists, Hedges appears to suggest, we can confront Christian evil by setting aside "the old polite rules of democracy." So wild conspiracy theories and visions of genocide are really excuses for the Left to disregard the rules of democracy and defeat conservative Christians – by any means necessary.
Lisa Miller of Newsweek said that many warnings about "dominionism" are "paranoid" and she also said that "the word creates a siege mentality in which 'we' need to guard against 'them.'" Ross Douthat of The New York Times noted that "many of the people that writers like Diamond and others describe as 'dominionists' would disavow the label, many definitions of dominionism conflate several very different Christian political theologies, and there's a lively debate about whether the term is even useful at all." According to Joe Carter of First Things, "the term was coined in the 1980s by Diamond and is never used outside liberal blogs and websites. No reputable scholars use the term for it is a meaningless neologism that Diamond concocted for her dissertation", while Jeremy Pierce of First Things coined the word "dominionismist" to describe those who promote the idea that there is a dominionist conspiracy.
Another criticism has focused on the proper use of the term. Berlet wrote that "some critics of the Christian Right have stretched the term dominionism past its breaking point", and argued that, rather than labeling conservatives as extremists, it would be better to "talk to these people" and "engage them". Sara Diamond wrote that "[l]iberals' writing about the Christian Right's take-over plans has generally taken the form of conspiracy theory", and argued that instead one should "analyze the subtle ways" that ideas like Dominionism "take hold within movements and why."
Dan Olinger, a professor at the fundamentalist Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina, said, "We want to be good citizens and participants, but we're not really interested in using the iron fist of the law to compel people to do everything Christians should do." Bob Marcaurelle, interim pastor at Mountain Springs Baptist Church in Piedmont, said the Middle Ages were proof enough that Christian ruling groups are almost always corrupted by power. "When Christianity becomes the government, the question is whose Christianity?" Marcaurelle asked.
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While the Christian Right is a strong movement in the United States, it also has a presence in Canada. Alan Curtis suggests that the American Christian right "is a phenomenon that is very hard for Europeans to understand." Robin Pettitt, a professor at Kingston University London, states, however, that like the Christian right in the US, Christian Democratic movements in Europe and Latin America are "equally driven by the debate over the role of the state and the church in political, social and moral life."
Further information: Conservatism in Canada
See also: Abortion in Canada
Religion has been a key factor in Canadian politics since well before the Canadian Confederation was established in 1867, when the Conservatives were the party of traditionalist Catholics and Anglicans and the Liberals were the party of Protestant dissenters and anti-clerical Catholics. This pattern largely remained until the mid-twentieth century when a new division emerged between the Christian left (represented by the Social Gospel philosophy and ecumenicism) and the Christian right (represented by fundamentalism and biblical literalism). The Christian left (along with the secular and anti-religious left) became supporters of the New Democratic Party while the right moved to the Social Credit Party, especially in Western Canada, and to a lesser extent the Progressive Conservatives.
The Social Credit Party, founded in 1935, represented a major change in Canadian religious politics. Until that time, fundamentalists had shunned politics as "worldly", and a distraction from the proper practice of religion. However, the new party was founded by fundamentalist radio preacher and Bible school teacher William Aberhart or "Bible Bill". Aberhart mixed his own interpretation of scripture and prophecy with the monetary reform theories of social credit to create a movement that swept across Alberta, winning the provincial election of 1935 in a landslide. Aberhart and his disciple Ernest Manning then governed the province for the next forty years, several times trying to expand into the rest of Canada. In 1987 Manning's son, Preston Manning, founded the new Reform Party of Canada, which soon became the main party of the religious right. It won majorities of the seats in Western Canada in repeated elections, but was unable to break through in Eastern Canada, though it became the official opposition from 1997 to 2003 (Reform was renamed the Canadian Alliance in 2000). In 2003 the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives merged to create the Conservative Party of Canada, led by Stephen Harper, a member of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, who went on to become prime minister in 2006.
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, introduced by the patriation of the Canadian Constitution in 1982, has been controversial within the Christian right in Canada. Although this Charter entrenches rights and freedoms (such as the freedom of religion) that central in the belief systems of the Christian right, it has also been interpreted by the Supreme Court of Canada to strike down many laws supported by the Christian right. In 1982, the Supreme Court struck down Canada's Lords' Day Act, which required many stored to be closed on Sundays, as an infringement the freedom of conscience and religion. Abortion, partly decriminalized in 1969 by an act of Parliament, was completely decriminalized after the two R. v. Morgentaler cases (in 1988 and in 1993). Parliament attempted to pass a new law governing abortion in 1993, but this legislation failed after a tie vote in the Senate. A series of provincial superior court decisions which legalized same-sex marriage led the federal government to introduce legislation that legalized same-sex marriage in all of Canada. Before he took office, former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper stated that he would hold a free vote on the issue, and declared the issue closed after it was voted down in the House of Commons in 2006.
In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down Canada's prostitution law in Canada v Bedford, prompting the Stephen Harper government to introduce a new prostitution law fashioned after the Nordic Model. In 2015, the Supreme Court struck down Canada's prohibition on euthanasia in Carter v Canada, again leading Parliament to pass a new law governing euthanasia. The Christian right has been critical of all these judicial decisions and have generally been the greatest advocates for the stringent laws against abortion, same-sex marriage, prostitution, and euthanasia, though in differing degrees. For instance, the Christian right in Canada is strongly and vocally organized on the topic of abortion, but criticism of same-sex marriage is far more seldom.
Main article: Political influence of Evangelicalism in Latin America
Christian right politics in the Caribbean, Latin America, and Sub-Saharan Africa is strongly connected with the growing propagation of the Evangelical-Pentecostal movement in the Global South and Third World countries. Roman Catholics in the Caribbean, Latin America, and Sub-Saharan Africa, despite being normally socially conservative, tend to be more left-wing in economics due to the traditional teachings of the Catholic social doctrine. Evangelical-Pentecostal Christians, on the other hand, are mostly from the neo-Pentecostal movement, and thus believers in the Prosperity theology that justifies most of their neoliberal economic ideas. They are also strongly socially conservative, even for Latin American standards.
In the Netherlands, Calvinist Protestants have long had their own political parties, now called the Reformed Political Party (SGP) on the right, and the ChristianUnion (CU) in the center. For generations they operated their own newspapers and broadcasting association. The SGP has about 28,000 members, and three out of 150 members of the Dutch parliament's lower house. It has always been in opposition to the government.
The Christian right draws from both Catholics and Protestants in Australia. Historically, the first Christian right party was the Democratic Labor Party. The Democratic Labor Party was formed in 1955 as a split from the Australian Labor Party (ALP). In Victoria, and New South Wales, state executive members, parliamentarians and branch members associated with the Industrial Groups or B. A. Santamaria and "The Movement" (and therefore strongly identified with Roman Catholicism) were expelled from the party, and formed the Democratic Labor Party (DLP). Later in 1957, a similar split occurred in Queensland, with the resulting group subsequently joining the DLP. The party also had sitting members from Tasmania and New South Wales at various times, though it was much stronger in the former mentioned states. The goals of the party were anti communism, the decentralization of industry, population, administration and ownership. The party decided, in its view that the ALP was filled with communists, that it would preference the ruling conservative Liberal and Country parties over the ALP. However, it was more morally conservative, militantly anti-communist and socially compassionate than the Liberals. The DLP heavily lost ground in the federal election of 1974 that saw its primary vote cut by nearly two-thirds, and the election of an ALP government. The DLP never regained its previous support in subsequent elections and formally disbanded in 1978, but a small group within the party refused to accept this decision and created a small, reformed successor party (now the Democratic Labour Party). Though his party was effectively gone, Santamaria and his National Civic Council (NCC) took a strong diametrically opposed stance to dominant Third Way/neoliberal/New Right tendencies within both the ALP and Liberal parties throughout the eighties and early nineties.
The B. A Santamaria and the Democratic Labor party produced many alumni who became the base of the Christian right in Australia. In Liberal party, these were Tony Abbott and Kevin Andrews. Outside the Liberal party, conservative commentator's such as Greg Sheridan and Gerrard Henderson also had links to Santamaria. Within the Australian Labor Party (ALP), this alumni can be found in the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA), which de-affiliated from the ALP with the industrial Groups in the 1950s, and then re-affiliated in the 1980s. The SDA opposed gay marriage and abortion, which were some reasons for workers to form another competing union. Tony Burke, who opposed euthanasia, came from the SDA. Currently, the NCC functions as a minority organization within the Christian Right.
The more Protestant strands of the Christian Right have been far more diverse. Fundamentalist Christianity directly inspired Fred Nile and his parties. Nile in 1967–68 was assistant director of the Billy Graham Crusade in Sydney. The Christian Democratic Party (initially known as the "Call to Australia" party) is on the strongly religious conservative end of the Australian political spectrum, promoting social conservatism, opposing gay rights and abortion. It gained 9.1% of the vote in the New South Wales (NSW) state election of 1981, Its support base has generally been restricted to NSW and Western Australia, where it usually gains between 2–4% of votes, with its support being minuscule in other states. The party started to fall apart in 2019 when the moderate faction member, Paul Green, lost his seat, and when a faction of younger people attempted to dismiss the governing board. Whilst this failed, it opened up a rift between the traditional party factions that led to prolonged legal disputes and the party winding up in 2022. Fred Nile would quickly join a new party. The Family First Party is a former political party which was linked with Pentecostal Church and other smaller Christian denominations, and was also identified with the strongly religious conservative end of the Australian political spectrum. It has had one or two members in the SA parliament since 2002, and in 2004 also managed to elect a Victorian senator. Its electoral support is small, with the largest constituencies being South Australia (4–6%), and Victoria (around 4%). Family First generally receives lower support in national elections than in state elections. Family First was merged with the Australian Conservatives Party in 2017.
Outside of the Catholic links to B.A. Santamaria and the minor Protestant parties, some party members of the Liberal and National Party Coalition and the Australian Labor Party also support some of the values of the Christian right on abortion and gay rights. The Australian Christian Lobby argues for opposition to same-sex marriage in state and federal politics.
In Northern Ireland, Ian Paisley led a Protestant fundamentalist party, the Democratic Unionist Party, which had a considerable influence on the province's culture. For a time after the 2017 United Kingdom general election, the DUP provided confidence and supply to the governing Conservative Party, although this agreement provoked concern from socially liberal elements of the party about possible DUP influence on social policy. Although there is no evidence this occurred. Karen Armstrong has mentioned British evangelical leader Colin Urquhart as advocating positions similar to the Christian Right. Some members of the Conservative Party including Jacob Rees-Mogg, Nadine Dorries, Matthew Offord and Peter Bone also support some of the values of the Christian right.
In the Philippines, due to Spanish colonization, and the introduction of the Catholic Church, religious conservatism has a strong influence on national policies. Some have argued that the U.S. Christian right may have roots in the Philippines.
The Swiss Federal Democratic Union is a small conservative Protestant party with about 1% of the vote.
In Scandinavia, the Faroe Island's Centre Party is a bible-oriented fundamentalist party with about 4% of the vote. However, the Norwegian Christian People's Party, the Swedish Christian Democrats and Danish Christian Democrats are less religiously orthodox and are similar to mainstream European Christian Democracy.
In Fiji, Sodelpa is a conservative, nationalist party which seeks to make Christianity the state religion, while the constitution makes Fiji a secular republic. Following the 2014 general election, Sodelpa is the main opposition party in Parliament.
In Mexico, the interests of the Christian right are represented by different political organisations and civil associations. The most notable case is the National Action Party, a conservative party aligned with Christian Democratic ideas, notably influenced by the Social teaching of the Catholic Church, and which has held the presidency of Mexico twice. The party's platform states strong opposition to abortion, same-sex marriage and the legalisation of drugs, among many other conservative policies. In addition, prominent figures in the party have been linked to Catholic Church organisations. The evangelical caucus, albeit for a relatively short time, was represented by the Social Encounter Party and the Solidarity Encounter Party, the latter being the successor to the former. Both parties were founded by Hugo Eric Flores, who according to some sources was an evangelical minister before entering politics. Initially statewide for Baja California, Social Encounter came to govern that state in coalition with the National Action Party. The party would later be officialised as a political party at the federal level. Other organisations and associations adhering to the ideals of the Christian right include the Frente Nacional por la Familia, the Organización del Bien Común, colloquially known as El Yunque and with close ties to the PAN, and the Legionaries of Christ, a Roman Catholic clerical religious order of priests and candidates for the priesthood established in Mexico.
In Brazil, the evangelical caucus have a great influence at the parliament and in the society in general. The bloc promotes strong socially conservative positions, like opposition to abortion, LGBT rights, marijuana legalization, sexual and gender education at schools and support to decrease of age of defense of infancy. Except for left-wing and far-left parties with strong social progressive beliefs like Workers' Party or Socialism and Liberty Party, Christian conservatives can be found in all political parties of Brazil, but nevertheless they are more common associated with parties like Social Democratic Party, Democratas, PSL, Social Christian Party, Brazilian Republican Party, Patriota and in the Party of the Republic. In 2016, Marcelo Crivella, a licensed pentecostal pastor from the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, won in a runoff the election to mayor of Rio de Janeiro, the second biggest city in Brazil, with the Brazilian Republican Party, making for the first time an evangelical bloc member mayor of a big city in Brazil. In 2018, Jair Bolsonaro was elected president with massive support of conservative Catholics, Charismatics, Evangelicals and Pentecostals; Another candidate, Cabo Daciolo, from Patriota, attracted much attention from media and public in general, despite a lower votation. Both had a right-wing populist, Christian Nationalist program, but Bolsonaro was near to a national conservative and economic liberal one, contrasting with an Ultranationalist, theocratic and protectionist style of Daciolo.
In Poland, the Roman Catholic national-conservative party Law and Justice can be considered to be a party of the Christian right.
In Hungary, the ruling national-conservative party Fidesz can also be considered to be a party of the Christian right. Viktor Orbán is known for his use of conservative Christian values against immigration and the rise of Islam in Europe.
The Christian right has a strong position in several Conservative parties worldwide, although many members of these parties would also, paradoxically, strongly oppose such views.
Some minor political parties have formed as vehicles for Christian right activists:
More than half of all Christian right candidates attend evangelical Protestant churches, which are more theologically liberal. A relatively large number of Christian Right candidates (24 percent) are Catholics; however, when asked to describe themselves as either "progressive/liberal" or "traditional/conservative" Catholics, 88 percent of these Christian right candidates place themselves in the traditional category.
In the past two decades, the American religious Right has become increasingly Catholic. I mean that both literally and metaphorically. Literally, Catholic writers have emerged as intellectual leaders of the religious right in universities, the punditocracy, the press, and the courts, promoting an agenda that at its most theoretical involves a reclamation of the natural law tradition of Thomas Aquinas and at its most practical involves appeals to the kind of common-sense, 'everybody knows,' or 'it just is' arguments that have characterized opposition to same-sex marriage ... Meanwhile, in the realm of actual politics, Catholic politicians have emerged as leading figures in the religious conservative movement.
Indeed, such significant Christian Right leaders such as Pat Buchanan and Paul Weyrich are conservative Catholics.
The temperance movement is the clearly identifiable origin of the contemporary Christian Right in Maine. The Maine Christian Civic League (MCCL)—the principal Christian Right group in the state began as a temperance organization in
Those states — Georgia, Connecticut, Texas, Alabama and Minnesota — enjoy overwhelming voter support for an extra day of sales, but face opposition from members of the Christian right, who say that selling on Sunday undermines safety and tears apart families.
To summarize, in the Republican Party, many Catholic activists held conservative positions on key issues emphasized by Christian Right leaders, and they said that they supported the political activities of some Christian Right candidates.
Initially, the abortion issue dominated the agenda of conservative Christians. But as political context changed, more issues were included. Euthanasia, the rights of homosexuals, pornography, sex education in schools, charter and home schools, and gambling have become issues of concern to the "pro-family" movement.
Perhaps the most prominent example of this was when the Archdiocese of New York joined forces with the Christian Coalition during the New York City school board elections in 1993 and allowed the distribution of Christian Coalition voter guides in Catholic parishes.
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Some Christian Right leaders established their own institutions, such as Pat Robertson's Regents University and Jerry Falwell's Liberty University.
Throughout the twentieth century, many evangelicals accepted theistic evolution ... Some Christian right organizations supported the teaching of creationism, along with evolution, in public schools.
Among Catholics and Latinos who practice other religious traditions, more than seven in ten support having organized prayer in public schools. ... Catholics are much more likely to state that both evolution and creationism should be taught in the schools.
Struggles broke out in state party organizations between social conservatives - in general organized by the Christian Coalition - and party activists more interested in fiscal policy, foreign policy, or simply winning office.
Related to their support of school prayer, most Americans also believe that religion should have a greater 'presence' in public schools. ... Protestants are most likely to favor school prayer (82%), followed closely by Catholics (75%).
[Evans:] 'God would never have endorsed what the culture is allowing [regarding same-sex marriage].' [Interviewer:] 'Doesn't the combination of limited government and social conservatism just land you in the Republican party?' [Evans:] 'No, it doesn't, because I believe that we have conservative, blue-dog Democrats who would hold to non-abortion, who would hold to the definition of a family as a man and a woman, and who would at least hold to a smaller government than now exists.'
[Evans] makes clear he isn't endorsing anyone or any party, but he's clear in his criticism of President Obama's positions on abortion and the family. ... 'I will always [prioritize] the right to life.' ... 'Spending is totally out of control, because government's doing more than it was designed to do.' ... 'The Bible makes no provision for the redefinition of marriage and the family, other than the one that is prescribed in the Bible by God and Jesus to be between a man and a woman. It is an illegitimate issue to accept or promote from a Christian standpoint.'
Again, parties mobilised on religious grounds, most notable in the form of Christian Democratic parties found in, for example, Germany, but also, sometimes to a lesser extent, in much of the rest of Europe. Christian Democratic parties are also found in Chile and Mexico. It could be argued that the rise of the Christian right in the United States and its increased strength in the Republican Party is an example of this cleavage at work. The Christian right in the United States ... is equally driven by the debate over the role of the state and the church in political, social and moral life.
There is a growing movement of people who adhere to Catholic Social Teaching and, because of that, find that they cannot find a home with either of the two major political parties in the United States. Their answer has been to form a political party based on Christian democratic principles. The name they have chosen is American Solidarity Party. ... Kirk, you have an article that will go into the first issue of Christian Democracy along with this interview. Christian democracy has been described as conservative on social issues and liberal on economic issues.