There is one fundamental belief that has sustained the Christian Right through long days of campaign speeches, phone banks, leafletting, poll-watching, and fund-raising: America has abandoned its historical religious foundations and needs to be restored to its proper status as a Christian nation. A highly profitable industry of Christian Right think tanks, lobbying organizations, law firms, lecturers, historians, writers, and websites has sprung up to defend America’s allegedly Christian origins and to push for legislation and policies on that would irrevocably save the nation for Jesus Christ.
Conservative author Ann Coulter offered a typically stark statement of the Christian Right’s ultimate goals. In an October 2007 interview with Donny Deutsch, host of CNBC’s The Big Idea, Coulter pointed to the 2004 Republican National Convention as her ideal vision of America:
Coulter: Well, OK, take the Republican National Convention. People were happy. They’re Christian. They’re tolerant. They defend America, they –
Deutsch: Christian — so we should be Christian? It would be better if we were all Christian?
Deutsch: We should all be Christian?
Coulter: Yes. Would you like to come to church with me, Donny?
Ann Coulter is to civil discourse what Cruella de Ville was to Dalmation puppies
Admittedly, Ann Coulter is to civil discourse what Cruella de Ville was to Dalmation puppies, and she certainly doesn’t speak for all Christians or even all evangelical Christians. But her belief that America would be better off if it were predominantly and avowedly Christian is not an isolated view.
One of the leading websites for the Christian Right is The Conservative Voice, a news and commentary site founded by Nathan Tabor, who holds a Masters in Public Policy from Pat Robertson’s Regent University. As the site proudly proclaims, Tabor was once described by the late Jerry Falwell as a “young Jesse Helms.” Tabor entered the Republican primary for Congress in North Carolina’s Fifth Congressional District, but despite support from some of the Christian Right’s most influential leaders — Pat Robertson, Bob Jones III, Rep. Jim Ryun (R-Kan.), Beverly and Tim LaHaye, Michael Farris, and others — Tabor finished a distant fifth out of eight candidates.
Tabor’s Conservative Voice website, however, has been a much more successful endeavor. Committed to promoting “Faith, Family, Freedom,” Tabor’s site features over 100 columnists, including a variety of conservative icons: Pat Buchanan, William F. Buckley, Robert D. Novak, Phyllis Schlafly, Paul M. Weyrich, to name just a few. One of the more strident “conservative voices” is Bill Gray, a former computer industry worker who runs an online Christian ministry called the Bill & Dory Gray Christian Ministeries. In an editorial published in 2007 on the Conservative Voice website, Gray emphatically summarized the fundamental fears of the Christian Right movement:
“America is in a fight for its very life — from the inside! Our American society, our American culture, is on the brink of implosion.
This may sound very dramatic; but, it is true. America is like a huge keg of dynamite, and the fuse — is the fallacy of “Separation of Church and State” perpetrated by Secular Humanism, comprised of the ACLU, the NEA, Liberal Politicians, Gay/Lesbian Activist groups, and other atheistic organizations.”
After recounting numerous references to God and the Creator in the history of the American colonies and the early days of the Republic, Gray concluded his essay with an unequivocal call to Glory:
“We must protect our nation, founded UNDER GOD and for the GLORY OF GOD.
The next time you hear some fanatic screaming “First Amendment Rights” or “Separation of Church and State” — tell him to go lock himself in a padded room and scream to himself. For we no longer want to hear it.
We are Americans, living in a Christian nation which was founded by Christian believers. You have a right to read your Qu’ran, your Torah, or any other sacred book you have; you have a right to worship rocks, stars, the sun, and the moon, or plaster statues, if you like. You have the right to live as you like, in any lifestyle you chose. Just do not try to force that lifestyle upon me, or upon my children or grandchildren.”
Gray also took the time to defend the comments that Coulter made on CNBC, although Coulter may wish that he had chosen a more felicitous metaphor. “What is my opinion of Ann Coulter?” Gray asked rhetorically. “Ann is like a beacon light — a lot of pigeons will leave their droppings on it — but, it raises awareness and guides people. Ann, like Jerry Falwell, often says things that, to some, are outrageous. But, you have to admit, it does make you think.” Gray said that even though it might not have been expressed well, Coulter’s fundamental argument was correct:
“Will Jews who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as their long awaited Messiah be saved? No. Neither will Germans, Africans, British, Polish, Latin Americans, Mexicans, etc., — no one, regardless of your nationality or ethnic culture, will be saved except through Jesus Christ. He makes this very clear in John 3:3, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, HE CANNOT SEE THE KINGDOM OF GOD.
So, when you think of Ann Coulter; do not think of her as a loudmouth — but, instead think of her as a beacon light covered with pigeon poop — but, still making her case for Conservative Christianity. God bless Ann Coulter!”
[The claim by Christian conservatives that America is a Christian nation] assaults the fundamental premise of this nation…
The claim by Christian conservatives that America is a Christian nation is disturbing enough when preached from the pulpit or proclaimed on national television. It assaults the fundamental premise of this nation, that it is a pluralistic society that draws its strength in large part from the varied contributions of numerous cultures and traditions. Moreover, the insistence that the United States is a Christian nation, a claim heard at increasingly high levels of government, unnecessarily antagonizes non-Christian nations and makes it more difficult for this country to play an effective role on the increasingly crowded and diverse global stage.
There may be one or two salutary aspects to the strident insistence that America is a Christian nation: the debate over what the Constitution’s drafters intended is generally healthy for democracy, and the dredging of historical documents for quotes allegedly affirming America’s Christian foundation provides much-needed work for liberal arts majors. But the insistence on a Christian identity for the nation is far more dangerous and divisive when the claim is made by state and federal legislators, and downright destructive when laws, public policies, and judicial decisions are explicitly based on that premise. In those circumstances, the assertion that America is a Christian nation threatens to erect a wall between the federal government and those of its citizens who are not devotees of Ann Coulter, Bill Gray, and other Christian Right demagogues.
Attempts to codify God in the nation’s laws have occurred throughout American history, with varying degrees of success. But over the last three decades, politicians at both the state and federal level have been increasingly aggressive in their efforts and increasingly narrow in their definition of God. In 2004, for instance, the platform for the Republican Party in Texas flatly stated “the United States of America is a Christian nation” and in 2006, expanded on that theme to urge the teaching of “school subjects with emphasis on the Judeo-Christian principles upon which America was founded and which form the basis of America’s legal and its political and economic systems.”
In Missouri, Representative David Sater proposed a resolution in the spring of 2006 that would have declared the United States a Christian nation and also recognized Christianity as the state’s “majority religion.” The resolution went on to state that the founding fathers “recognized a Christian God and used the principles afforded to us by Him as the founding principles of our nation.” The resolution caused a stir when it was sent to the full House for a vote, but it was ultimately dropped from the House calendar in late March.
At the federal level, various legislators — most notably Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.) — have given speeches on the floor of Congress declaring that the United States is a “Christian Nation,” and have even sponsored legislation to codify that belief in various ways in the nation’s laws. The Christian Right lost its two most fervent advocates — Rep. Tom Delay (R-Texas) and Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Penn.) — in 2006, but a number of others remain. In the heady days following the success of conservative politicians in 2004, Santorum was mentioned as a possible presidential candidate, but that prospect faded with his loss to former Pennsylvania governor Bob Casey. In Santorum’s absence, each of the remaining 2008 Republican presidential candidates trumpeted his religious values and slavish devotion to the Christian Right’s core issues — but the possibility that Rudy Giuliani, the thrice-married, semi-pro-choice, occasionally cross-dressing former Mayor of Sodom (New York), would win the nomination had evangelicals threatening a general-election boycott.
“My position remains the same,” the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins told The Los Angeles Times, “as I think it does for a number of pro-life conservatives — that we draw a line that we will not cross in supporting a pro-abortion-rights candidate.”
While the push to formally codify America as a “Christian nation” may play well on the political stage in some parts of the country, even the more moderate of the proposals would destroy the religious and social pluralism that has been at the core of this nation’s success for more than two hundred years. The most extreme proposals, made by individuals surprisingly and disturbingly influential in contemporary conservative political circles, would literally impose Old Testament law for criminal behavior, strip the voting rolls of all but the godly, and turn civil government into little more than a beadle for evangelical Christian churches.