In 1979, Jerry Falwell and his Moral Majority burst onto the political scene. After spending a few decades in the political wilderness, evangelical Christians had once again found their voice. They used their voice to argue that the culture had gone morally insane, and that it needed healing. The secular elite were terrified of these audacious Christians who dared to speak in the public square, and their terror only grew as Ronald Regan won two elections with "majoritarian" support. A flood of books sounded the alarm: "The theocrats are coming!" Under increasing scrutiny and criticism, the Moral Majority began to struggle, Falwell lost public support, and by the late 1980s the media, with a sigh of relief, reported that the Christian Right was dead.
Then it happened again. In the early 1990s Pat Robertson and Ralph Reed burst onto the scene with their Christian Coalition. Though Bill Clinton won in 1992, the Republicans, with the Coalition's support, came roaring back in 1994 to capture the House of Representatives. In 1998, outspoken Christians helped to impeach the President of the United States. The secular elite grew scared, books were published ("The theocrats are coming!"), and by the late 1990s Pat Robertson and his Christian Coalition lost support. The media reported the death of the Christian Right.
Nothing is new under the sun. Despite the Christian Coalition's decline, evangelicals have refused to be shut out of the political debate. In the early 2000s they once again mobilized to support George W. Bush, but this time they were less centralized (though there were prominent voices, such as James Dobson). In 2004 the evangelicals helped President Bush win a second term. Right on cue, the secular elite are terrified. You've seen the books they're publishing...it's the same as what they published in the '80s and '90s. The media, one notices, is now wondering whether the Christian right is dying.
It is true that many of the criticisms against the Christian political movement were accurate, both in the 1980s and now. I know I've had my share of critiques. Back in the 1980s I thought the Moral Majority left much to be desired. Their rhetoric was often over-the-top and they lacked political sophistication. I, like so many others, simply sat back and complained.
My attitude changed after reading Francis Schaeffer. In his book, A Christian Manifesto, Schaeffer reminds us that Christ calls upon his followers to bring light and redemption into all areas of life, including politics. It is wrong for us to sit back and bemoan political corruption; we should get involved and do what we can to improve the political system. Schaeffer pointed out that, though many people had criticisms of the Moral Majority, at least the majoritarians were trying their best to make a positive difference.
One line Schaeffer wrote has remained with me ever since I read it: "And if you personally do not like some of the details of what [the Moral Majority has] done, do it better." That line inspired me to get involved in politics and public policy.
As I said, my criticism of the Moral Majority was that they were, at times, painfully unsophisticated. The Christian conservative movement has learned from its mistakes! It is now fair to say that the Christian right is too sophisticated. We follow the Washington, DC playbook. We build coalitions. We've made a cozy home for ourselves in a political party. We refrain from criticizing "our party", and sometimes even allow ourselves to think of the "other party" as our true enemy! Strategically, perhaps, this has all been very wise; it has given us access to the corridors of power. However, we must never forget that our goal, from the start, was not power. As Schaeffer argued so well, our goal is to "make all things new," to serve our country by helping to draft moral and just laws and lead an honest and fair government.
Just like in the late 1980s and the late 1990s, we are in a period of criticism. Everyone is complaining about everything, especially now that we are on the eve of an election. Still, we should not allow ourselves to simply complain, nor should we allow ourselves to throw our hands up and say, "Forget it!" Clearly, there is still work to be done, and there are ways to improve on our predecessors.
Remember, "if you personally do not like some of the details of what [the Christian right has] done, do it better." Francis Schaeffer was right in the 1980s, and he is still right today.