Mr. Lanting, a member of South Holland Protestant Reformed Church, is a practicing attorney.
For several decades, cultural conservatives’ strategy has been to elect conservatives to government offices and then rely on their help to retake society’s institutions. I was an architect of that strategy….
In terms of the culture war, this strategy has failed. In truth, I think we are caught up in a cultural collapse of historic proportions, a collapse so great it simply overwhelms politics. That’s why I am in the process of rethinking what it is that we, who still believe in our traditional, Western, Judeo-Christian culture, can and should do under the circumstances.
The United States is becoming an ideological state. The ideology of Political Correctness, which openly calls for the destruction of our traditional culture, has so gripped the body politic, has so gripped our institutions, that it is even affecting the Church. It has completely taken over the academic community. It threatens to control literally every aspect of our lives.
I believe that we probably have lost the culture war. That doesn’t mean the war is not going to continue, and that it isn’t going to be fought on other fronts. But in terms of society in general, we have lost. That is why, even when we win in politics, our victories fail to translate into the kind of politics we believe are important.
Therefore, what seems to me a legitimate strategy for us to follow is to look at ways to separate ourselves from the institutions that have been captured by the ideology of Political Correctness, or by other enemies of our traditional culture.
President of the Free Congress
Research and Education
Foundation, February 16, 1999.
A Historic Change
A momentous and historic paradigm shift is rapidly occurring within the camp of Christian political activists as we approach the end of the twentieth century. In the past few months, several evangelical political leaders and prominent organizers of the “religious right” in American politics have shocked their followers (and detractors) by admitting that their conservative political activism of the past two decades has resulted in a dismal failure. They are now advising their supporters to abandon the political fray and “separate” themselves, “bypassing the institutions that are controlled by the enemy.”
Paul Weyrich, the primary architect of Rev. Gerry Falwell’s Moral Majority in the 1980s, recently stunned supporters of his conservative think-tank Free Congress Foundation, by declaring in an open letter, published partially in the Washington Post, that the religious right must now acknowledge defeat in the cultural war, and rethink its strategy in the future (see quote above).
Two other leading figures in Falwell’s Moral Majority are likewise now recommending that conservative Christians abandon politics, which they claim is usually a temptation that diverts Christians from a higher calling. Syndicated columnist Cal Thomas, a prominent spokesman for the religious right, and Rev. Ed Dobson, a former Falwell aid and now a Michigan pastor, in their newly released book Blinded By Might, declare that the political activism of the Moral Majority was a misguided idea. “Religious conservatives,” they write, “no matter how well organized, can’t save America.” Dobson and Thomas also echo Weyrich’s dismal conclusion that religious conservatives are an impotent minority. They contend that last November’s elections “demonstrated the problematic, even declining power of the religious right.”
Weyrich similarly writes in his open letter to supporters: “I no longer believe that there is a moral majority; if there were, Bill Clinton would have been driven out of office months ago.” Weyrich attributes the loss of the culture war not only to the “lack of political will on the part of Republicans,” but because the “United States is becoming a state totally dominated by an alien ideology, an ideology bitterly hostile to Western culture.”
The Demise of the Religious Right
The recent appeal to conservative Christians by Weyrich, Thomas, and Dobson for a complete disengagement from the political arena is astonishing. Although the Moral Majority was dissolved by design several years ago, Christian conservatives, now led by Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition, had accomplished some significant political victories in recent years, particularly the ostensible “takeover” of the Republican party in 1994, and the election of many Christians to local government posts, including public school boards. For the last twenty years, these Christian political leaders have encouraged churches and para-church organizations to organize voter registration drives, distribute voter guides, and contribute money to specific political causes and campaigns.
But if the religious right in recent years enjoyed some remarkable election victories on the national and local levels, why are Weyrich and others conceding defeat? Weyrich writes: “… we got our people elected; but that did not result in the adoption of our agenda.” Essentially Weyrich declares that conservatives won some political battles but lost the war — the cultural war raging in all the institutions of society which have fallen to the ideological enemy, whom he identifies as Political Correctness or “Cultural Marxism.” For Thomas and Dobson the signal for the demise of the religious right was the dismal results of last November’s elections; for Weyrich the telling blow was Congress’ failure to impeach Clinton.
The Victorious Ideological Enemy
Weyrich identifies the victorious enemy as the ideology of Political Correctness or “Cultural Marsixm,” an “alien ideology bitterly hostile to Western culture.” The proponents of abortion, radical feminism, homosexuality, and pornography have seemingly gained control of our society’s institutions. Even worse, writes Weyrich, if conservatives attempt to talk about the “truth” regarding these subjects, they are branded as ” ‘sexist,’ ‘homophobic,’ ‘insensitive,’ or ‘judgmental.'” Weyrich opines that what Americans would have found “absolutely intolerable” only a few years ago, a majority now embraces and celebrates. This frightening ideology, contends Weyrich, is now ruling the schools and universities, and is “pumped daily into every living room in America with a television set.” It is rapidly becoming the “official ideology of the state.”
The New Strategy of Disengagement
But if organized political action by the religious right over the past two decades has been essentially ineffective in combating the demise of our culture, what should be the new strategy? Weyrich writes:
So what is to be done? Continuing with a strategy that has failed is folly and guarantees defeat. Instead of attempting to use politics to retake existing institutions, my proposal is that we cultural conservatives build new institutions for ourselves: schools, universities, media, entertainment, everything — a complete separate parallel structure. In every respect but politics, we should, in effect, build a new nation among the ruins of the old.
Weyrich implores his followers to “tune out” and “drop out” of America’s culture so that “we and our children are not infected.” What we need, says Weyrich, is “some sort of quarantine,” so that we can live “godly, righteous, and sober lives.”
In their book Blinded By Might, Cal Thomas and Rev. Ed Dobson also advocate the withdrawal of American churches and people of faith from the fray of politics and the cultural conflict. The book targets Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition, the successor to the Moral Majority, and also is critical of Dr. James Dobson — no relation to Ed — of Focus on the Family, for his increasing activism in the right wing of the Republican Party. The authors praise James Dobson for his contributions to strengthening the American family, but fear that his politics will “derail and dilute the good he is doing.”
These recent publications by Weyrich, Thomas, and Ed Dobson are causing substantial confusion and diverse reactions in the evangelical church community. Because these developments in the area of church and state are significant, in a following article this writer will continue to review the controversy and offer some comments from our Reformed perspective.