This year’s Values Voters Summit will be a shock to all who have claimed that the Christian Right is dead or about to breathe its last. Several thousand registrants are jamming into the Omni Shoreham hotel in Washington, D.C. this weekend for the annual political conference of the Christian Right hosted by, among others, the Family Research Council (FRC) Action, American Family Association (AFA) Action, and the Heritage Foundation. As the movement emerges from a period of transition following the passing, retirement, or semi-retirement of the founding generation of the Christian Right, I see a movement that is increasingly focused, vibrant and angry.
After registering yesterday evening before this morning’s official opening, I combed through the swag bag issued to conference participants, where I found several magazines brimming with the stuff of which theocratic movements are made. If you were up late last night and following me on Twitter, you would have noticed me tweeting some of the highlights as a conference “preview.” I think that even the most casual reader — maybe especially the most casual reader who is less accustomed to such rhetoric — would be startled and concerned about the surprising sense of urgency expressed and the aggressive political vision of the writers.
Here is some of what I found:
In the September 2012 issue of the AFA Journal in my swag bag, Ed Vitagliano, Director of Research for the American Family Association and a speaker at the VVS, argues that “Christians in the U.K. and U.S. are on the verge of seeing the triumph of a cultural totalitarianism that will drive believers to the fringes of a once free society.” And unnamed “secularists” are to blame. AFA also says it has reissued a DVD “exposing the secular left’s war against public expression of Christianity in America.”
Vitagliano quotes Catholic priest George W. Rutler: “The national election in 2012 will either give Christians one last chance to rally, or it will be the last free election in our nation,” he declared. “This can only sound like hyperbole to those who are unaware of what happened… to Western Europe in the 1930’s” as fascism rose to power. Rutler is however, not alone in his hyperbole or the views that underlie it.
The sample issue of Ministry Today (January/February 2012), another piece of swag, contained a hair-raising set of essays that focused considerably on political and cultural power and how to get it.
Longtime African American Christian Right activist Bishop Harry Jackson said that Christians with the right “worldview” must run for every office at all levels. “We can change the direction of the U.S. government in less than 20 years,” he declared.
Writing in the same issue, Rev. Joseph Mattera of Resurrection Church in New York City argues against grassroots revival as the means to conservative Christian cultural transformation. His preference: “Top-down tactics.”
“The truth is,” he writes, “that culture is transformed by a small percentage of the population who make up the cultural elite in a society. Thus the only way to effect cultural change is to convert the elite who formulate culture in every sphere.” He says he wants to “engage and shift the influencers toward biblical values at the highest levels.”
Veteran Christian Right leader and televangelist James Robison says to elect “the best” and that “It is our duty — actually our calling — to do so.” And the late Church Colson wrote that the Manhattan Declaration, the premier alliance of conservative Catholics and conservative evangelicals of which he was a prime mover, is “mobilizing silent-too-long-Christians to protect life, marriage and religious freedom.”
The theme of becoming unsilent and aggressively taking on those who are allegedly “silencing” conservative Christians is a major theme of a number of the articles in the magazines, and for that matter, the VVS.
For his part, actor Kirk Cameron says in an interview with the AFA Journal that Christians can’t push their worldview effectively “because we don’t own the microphones. But I am hoping for that to change.”