If you think that the evangelical scandals and fiascoes
of the 1980s
have destroyed the born-again movement, you're wrong. Here's
their battle plan to make half the world Christian by the year 2000.
Swat Team for Jesus
by Skipp Porteous
author of Jesus Doesn't Live Here Anymore, Prometheus Books
from Penthouse Magazine, September, 1991
By the end of the 1980s, the failure of Pat Robertson's presidential bid, the collapse of Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority, and the downfall of several major televangelists caused most of us to breathe a collective sigh of relief. The radical religious right -- which had been gaining momentum -- finally seemed to be running out of steam. In the spring of 1990, religion writer Michael D'Antonio published a book called Fall From Grace: The Failed Crusade of the Christian Right. He concluded: "With the demise of [Pat] Robertson's [presidential] campaign came the death of the Christian right's political hopes. The born-again movement soon ceased to be a significant religious or social force as well."
But, in fact, the Christian right itself has been quietly born again. It has reorganized and is beginning to arise as a major religious and social force. These radicals have not -- and will not -- go away.
"By the end of the decade," exhorts Dallas evangelist Paul Cain, "the whole earth will view the church in a different light. The church will no longer be mocked and despised, but either loved or feared." Up-and-coming Minneapolis evangelist Roberts Liardon adds that during the 1990s, "The church will be more intense and militant.... We will be in an offensive position and no longer on the defense."
As we approach the year 2000, we can expect an unprecedented flurry of activity as Christian missionary and evangelistic groups pull out all the stops in an attempt to "bring in the harvest." These organizations have set an unusual goal for the year 2000: They aim to Christianize the "majority of the human race" by then -- as a birthday present for Jesus. Millennial madness has its monetary value as well: According to The New York Times, sales of Bibles, prophecy books, and books warning of Armageddon soared after the August 1990 invasion of Kuwait, and as we come closer to the year 2000, books purporting to predict what will happen in the coming century are selling at an increasingly brisk pace. All told, the Book Industry Study Group reports that total net sales of religious books have grown from $537 million in 1985 to an estimated $784.1 million in 1990, and will likely top the $1 billion mark in 1994 [Sept. 1991].
Militancy is the prevailing theme at many Christian conferences, keeping the troops in a state of alert. In August 1989 the Forceful Men organization held a "Take It by Force" conference in Phoenix, where they implored a crowd of 16,500 to "invade, conquer, and possess the land" through Christian activism; the organizers' call, "Prepare for war! Rouse the warriors!" stirred the huge crowd. One of the event's speakers, German evangelist Reinhard Bonnke, predicted that the nineties would be "the greatest soul-winning decade we've ever seen." At the "Militant Church Conference" in Tulsa two months later, believers were told to "be bold, full of authority -- militant!" The following month, at the Orlando Christian Center near Florida's Walt Disney World, several thousand attendees were exhorted to engage in "hand-to-hand combat with the enemy."
While some of this millennial activity may appear to be almost too far on the fringe to warrant serious concern, closer inspection reveals three significant and disturbing trends that have taken firm hold in the new religious right. First, a broad doctrinal consensus has been reached in order to provide much-needed unity. Second, a dramatic shift in political focus has moved the new religious right's target from politics on a national scale to that in towns, cities, counties, and states. Third, the "troops" are now being recruited and trained.
As the editor of The Freedom Writer, a newsletter that monitors the potential dangers of fundamentalist religion to our free society, I became aware of these trends as they developed. And while researching my new book, Jesus Doesn't Live Here Anymore (to be published this month by Prometheus Books), I grew to understand how they are being accomplished through carefully planned organizing and networking -- and carried out through a commitment to decisive action.
The goal of the radical religious right of the 1980s was to reconstruct American society according to the Bible. A term for this -- Christian Reconstructionism -- has surfaced as a leading, across-the-board philosophy for the new radical Christian right. While reconstructionists do not agree on everything, a consensus has been reached on many social and moral issues, and many Christians -- without their knowledge -- are greatly influenced by reconstructionist philosophy.
Tenets of reconstructionism include: God's law, as revealed in the Bible, should govern every area of life; local government should rule; prisons could virtually be closed if serious offenders were executed and less serious criminals worked to make restitution for their crimes; capital offenses requiring the death penalty should include unrepentant homosexuality, abortion, and adultery; pornography in any form should be eliminated; schools should be run by churches; property taxes should be abolished; and husbands should be the head of the household, with women and children subservient.
The Reverend Leonard Coppes is pastor of the Providence Church of Denver, and his 100-member church is part of the Orthodox Presbyterian sect, a group of 180 churches spread across the country. Coppes, a soft-spoken man, is an avowed reconstructionist. When asked if he agreed with the reconstructionist tenet that homosexuality and abortion should be punishable by death, he replied, "Both of those I would agree with. The question," he said, "is who is going to set the law system? I think God should set the law system, not man. Those laws that define the seriousness of a crime, and are rooted in the moral nature of God, are still binding on us. If they [homosexuals] don't repent, the Bible says that they ought to be put to death. It's just a matter of what God says.
"With reference to abortionists," he added, "if abortion is murder -- and I believe it is -- the penalty for murder from almost any evangelical theology is death.... Believers have to stand for what they believe is right. We're commanded in the Scriptures to pray that God's kingdom would come on earth as it is in heaven. And that's my prayer. What we pray for, surely, we're commanded to work for."
He added that Christians are "not to take up arms against the state, unless they get to the point of where it's like it was in Germany. We struggle with that, many of us, because if abortion is murder, there are more people being put to death by our society than there were by the German society. It's a difficult struggle to know just what to do.... To me, it's a horrendous crime."
Both a lack of unity and of organization have been cited as a cause for the born-again Christian right's failure to achieve what many believe to be its true political potential. But while many doctrinal disputes will never be resolved, a confederation of new religious-right leaders has taken an important step toward unification -- a step that's gone all but unnoticed.
Since 1986 the California-based Coalition on Revival (C.O.R.) has labored with little or no publicity. Its elusive founder and national director is Jay Grimstead. Grimstead, who is professorial in appearance, is an accomplished, dynamic networker. C.O.R. advances its purposes within a close-knit alliance of new religious-right leaders who direct geographical "regions" and "spheres" of influence.
Its steering committee of 112 well-known Christian leaders (including the American Family Association's Rev. Donald Wildmon) are a virtual Who's Who of the born-again movement. They represent millions of American Christians, and collectively wield more power than any single Christian organization in the country.
All C.O.R. members sign a pledge in which they vow to work toward Christianizing America -- and ultimately the world. Their covenant with God and with one another binds them "to live in obedience to the Bible until they die."
Grimstead recently explained what C.O.R. is all about, and as he spoke, a grim, frightening outlook unfolded.
The C.O.R. "philosophical foundation for action," he said, is based on "political involvement and educational involvement.... And [as] the Founding Fathers in our Constitution said, there are supposed to be well-regulated militias locally." But, he added, "We don't have any dreams or plans of organizing militias. That's for the county to do and the state to do."
However, Grimstead contended that Christians should be at the helm of these spheres. When asked if that means that Christians should have control over county governments, he stated that "God has given the Bible as a rule book for all society -- Christian and non-Christian alike. And Christians who believe the Bible ... are to influence government and get people elected and encourage people to vote the right way -- there being a right way and a wrong way, and there being right candidates and wrong candidates."
On the critical matter of reconstructionism, Grimstead said, "I concur with most of the reconstructionist matters, and am trying to help rebuild the society on the Word of God, and -- loosely -- that would be a reconstructionist orientation in anybody's book.
"[We're] trying to awaken the church to do the whole job, which includes not only saving souls and keeping people pure and getting them [to] mature personally, but to take our salt and light and be God's hands and feet; to effect with the biblical message of reality, justice, truth, law, government, economics, education, obedience, science, the arts, and general culture." (By salt and light Grimstead is referring to the biblical tenet that Christians are the "salt of the earth" and "the light of the world.")
It's been said that Grimstead has specifically targeted California's Orange and Santa Clara counties for reconstruction purification, and he speaks as though it will be a piece of cake.
"We think it's going to be pretty easy, actually," he said. "Here's the plan that's written out for many to see. Essentially, we're saying Christians must become good Americans after they become good Christians ... then start informing themselves, and then voting and running for office."
Grimstead continued detailing the strategy. "For example, in Santa Clara County there are about 14 cities, including San Jose, the big city. We think it's very possible by the year 2000 to have Christians -- mature and biblically literate -- gain the majority of seats in all the city councils in our county. Plus," he added, "the Board of County Supervisors. That's one step, the political scene. That'll be the easiest.
"It's just organization," he continued. "And the facts are that we have enough Christians to totally, politically, by vote, overpower any other groups of minorities -- if we would just do it. We have the majority vote. We are the largest minority. And most Christians, like me 12 years ago, didn't believe we should take the trouble to be the salt and light to anything other than individual hearts. We didn't know we were supposed to be salt and light to city government, and the law courts, and the educational institutions, and the San Jose Mercury, and Orange County, and so on. We didn't know we were supposed to do that. Now we know that. And now we're going to go and do something about it, by God's grace.
"In fact," Grimstead reflected, "it is the goal of a number of us to try to Christianize the state of California. That includes San Francisco."
Grimstead is told of a city in Northern California where a gay-rights ordinance was repealed and a pastor was elected to the city council -- all because the Christians organized.
"Yes," he shot in, "in Concord."
When asked where he stood on the reconstructionist theory that homosexuality and abortion warranted the death penalty, Grimstead responded that "the Bible had something like 11 reasons for capital punishment. And murder was one. And homosexuality, rape, and kidnapping were some others. Personally, where we are right now, all we can get consensus on among ourselves is the death penalty for murder.
"In general," said Grimstead, "we have great monolithic consensus on a list of them [offenses]. The actual punishments we don't have agreement on, but we think that homosexuality, abortion, and pornography should be outlawed. I noticed," he added with glee, "that in China, having pornography is now a capital offense."
When Grimstead was asked whether he believes in separation of church and state, he delivered a facile comeback that avoided the issue. "Well, here's the deal," he said. "The church is not supposed to try to take over the government of San Jose. The people who take over the government of San Jose are American citizens who happen to be informed by the Bible on what is justice and what is injustice. That's the difference. See what I mean?"
The Coalition on Revival is coordinating several Northern California groups to gear up for its grass-roots political efforts. "We're just building them now," said Grimstead. "We're building the Bay Area Council of Pastors and the different political networks in each of the ten counties of the Bay Area."
Last fall Grimstead's people backed candidate Sara Nelson for councilwoman in Gilroy, California. According to Grimstead, she won the seat by "doing it right." Moreover, Grimstead asserts that his organization is actively networking with other groups across the country "to come together to work on common goals."
Fred Clarkson, a Washington, D.C.-based journalist, has written extensively on the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, the Unification Church, and other aspects of the religious right. He feels that the C.O.R. represents a serious threat. They are "putting together a theological common ground that's reconstructionist in flavor, with acceptable rhetoric ... and detailing the areas where everybody agrees to disagree, and avoiding those areas -- mostly areas of eschatology [the doctrines of the Second Coming, the Last Judgment, or the resurrection of the dead]. It cuts across the Pentecostals and fundamentalists." (Clarkson was referring to the number of Falwell and Robertson associates who turn up at C.O.R. conferences and in C.O.R. literature.)
As Clarkson pointed out, "That lets everyone agree to say, 'Let's do something about sin,' so they can go out and fight pornography, elect candidates and do all that kind of stuff without having to worry about the specifics of exactly when or where Jesus is going to return. 'In the meantime, we can do battle with Satan,' they say."
Clarkson agreed that the C.O.R. is a reconstructionist front, a way of packaging theological-political ideas to do effective networking and political bridge building as well as creating a much more serious and permanent religious-right political movement.
"They're hot," he continued, "and absolutely serious, and I really believe they're going to be running a lot of candidates. There'll be a bunch of flakes -- but the extraordinary thing is they'll also have some serious contenders who will know how to package themselves to get some county council seats, local sheriffs, et cetera. I have no doubt about that. There are so few people who vote in those kinds of elections [that] you turn out a couple of churches full of people and away you go."
After the born-again industry scandals of the 1980s, there was a temporary dip in contributions. By and large, though, the money flow has remained remarkably steady -- Time magazine reported in late 1989 that Oral Roberts and Jimmy Swaggart, for example, were pulling in $2.7 million and $4 million, respectively, per month.
In 1985 the National Religious Broadcasters (N.R.B.) listed 96 Christian TV stations; at the end of 1989, it listed 336. From 1985 to 1989, the number of Christian radio stations rose from 1,043 to 1,485. According to the N.R.B., religious broadcasting is a $2 billion-a-year industry.
Beverly LaHaye is a member of the C.O.R. steering committee. She also heads the radical Concerned Women for America, a group that promotes the new religious-right agenda. Now ten years old, Concerned Women claims more than 600,000 members, making it the largest women's organization in America.
Like every group in the new religious right, Concerned Women has a detailed plan of action to achieve its agenda, and it, too, maintains that "this battle must be waged at the local level."
Concerned Women has developed its own "no sex without marriage-hands off your own body" sex-education program. In a joint venture with James Dobson's Focus on the Family, they will work to place this curriculum in public schools.
LaHaye's group has effective chapters in every state and additional
political-action groups in many metropolitan areas. Their political-training
seminars are sometimes referred to as "basic training and/
Local chapters conduct briefings on state issues and hold meetings and receptions with state legislators. According to a Concerned Women newsletter, Colorado State Representative Kathi Williams called the C.W.A. "a powerful force at the capitol." When asked about the remark, Williams responded, "I don't remember making that quote, but I agree with it."
Concerned Women has four full-time attorneys. Their hands are full as they argue cases that affect their agenda across the country. Concerned Women attorney Michael Farris also serves on the C.O.R. steering committee.
LaHaye's group is hardly the only organization of the new religious right with an active legal staff. In fact, R.J. Rushdoony, the "father of reconstructionism," is a cofounder and former board member of the Rutherford Institute, a Christian legal organization he helped found. Attorney John Whitehead is the group's national director -- and a C.O.R. steering committee member.
In 1989 the Rutherford Institute handled some 190 cases, with several dozen currently pending. The institute specializes in the defense of anti-abortionists, as well as in "religious liberty" cases -- that is, special privileges for Christians. Within the framework of the radical Christian right, "religious liberty" can include Sunday blue laws; prayers at public-school graduations and sporting events; the teaching of creationism in public-school science classes; placement of religious displays on public property; tax exemptions for churches and church-run businesses; and housing and employment discrimination against gay and unmarried couples who cohabit. The institute has prevailed in dozens of such cases.
Focus on the Family is another highly organized, radical ministry. Headed by Christian psychologist Dr. James Dobson, this California-based organization employs 750 workers and operates on a $60 million-a-year budget. With the aid of a $4 million private grant, Focus on the Family plans to relocate to Colorado Springs in the near future.
Dobson is also forming coalitions of radical Christian political-special-interest groups. Although not directly connected to the C.O.R., Focus on the Family networks with and endorses a number of the C.O.R. affiliates. "Once these coalitions are in place," Dobson said, "our state legislators will discover they can no longer write off the concerns of conservative Christian families."
At the present time, Focus on the Family has 20 state offices, and each state group has its own distinctive name. In Pennsylvania the group is called the Pennsylvania Family Institute. When asked about the notion that America's religious right had peaked in the 1980s and is now in decline, Pennsylvania Chapter President Michael Geer replied, "I don't think anybody thought that the time was up, that it was the end of an era or anything else. It is simply a logical progression."
He explained that the efforts of the religious right in the early 1980s helped elect Ronald Reagan and a Republican Senate, and that they thought their goals would be accomplished as a result. Then the religious right began to realize that that was not sufficient, for a lot of the policies that concerned them were not made at the federal level, but in the state and local legislatures.
The Pennsylvania Family Institute, according to Geer, helps Pennsylvanians understand the political process, presents the Christian right's agenda, and encourages citizens to take action.
Geer also said that most people are well-attuned to what goes on in Washington -- those events are reported on their evening news and in the newspapers -- but most people know very little about what goes on in their state capitol.
"What it basically comes down to,'' Geer explained, "is that there are issues, whether they deal with education, obscenity, [or] abortion. And -- by and large -- the laws are made at the state level. Our group is a service organization to other groups. We provide materials and do research on issues to try to raise public awareness. [We] then encourage people to get involved in groups that are local to them. We'll say, 'Get in touch with Pennsylvanians Against Pornography.' I steer people toward the groups that they can be locally involved with."
Tom Minnery, executive editor of Focus on the Family's Citizen magazine, boasted, "Some 30 cities are now virtually free of hard-core material, and five national organizations are carrying the fight onward community by community. Nearly half of the nation's 93 U.S. attorneys have obscenity investigations or prosecutions under way, up from just a handful several years ago."
Poised to help with these efforts is Alan Sears, a former federal prosecutor who also served as the Meese Commission's executive director. Sears now heads the National Family Legal Foundation, a nonprofit corporation dedicated solely to providing "legal assistance in the war against pornographers." The N.F.L.F. has pledged to provide guidance to like-minded individuals and organizations in areas such as law enforcement, attorney training, and legislation. Focus on the Family director and former Meese Commission member James Dobson has hailed Sears as "the most knowledgeable person in the United States on the problem of pornography."
Having failed in his venture into presidential politics, Pat Robertson is another national figure who's decided to switch his efforts to the local arena. In the spring of 1990, he created a new organization called the Christian Coalition. While Robertson is not personally a member of the C.O.R., some of his Regent University staff are. According to Ralph Reed, the Christian Coalition's executive director, "The Christian community got it backwards in the 1980s. We tried to charge Washington when we should have been focusing on the states. The real battles of concern to Christians are in neighborhoods, school boards, city councils, and state legislatures."
Jodie Robbins, assistant to Ralph Reed, added, "When Pat was running for president, and when Reagan was in [office], we saw that, even with Reagan and his very conservative views, the Christian community was still put on the back burner, so to speak." She said that the American Civil Liberties Union works on the local level -- that is where their strength is greatest -- and indicated that the Christian Coalition has learned from the A.C.L.U.'s savvy.
While they tried to make their voices heard in Washington, Robbins claimed, the representatives of the religious right were losing the battle back in their hometowns. They realized, Robbins said, that "back home" they could "really make an impact. We can decide who our school councils are going to be, who the board of education's going to be, who our city council's going to be, who the representatives are, et cetera, et cetera."
According to Robbins, the Christian Coalition is established in 20 states and is "represented strongly in about 27 states." Their Leadership School -- a two-day intensive political-training seminar -- was slated to have been presented in ten states by the end of 1990. She said that participants in the Leadership School use "a nuts-and-bolts manual on how to start a coalition; how to fund-raise for your candidate; how to back a candidate; how to groom a candidate; how to deal with the media for the candidate; how to be a candidate -- if you feel called to do so; and how to canvass your voters, that kind of stuff."
Could Robertson's coalition find itself in conflict with some of its already entrenched brethren?
"No," replied Robbins. "Pat Robertson is in constant contact with Beverly LaHaye, with Jim Dobson, with Don Wildmon, and a lot of the national abortion groups. So it's really hand in hand."
Robertson's daily "The 700 Club" TV broadcast is the primary vehicle used to promote the Christian Coalition. Since his return to the program -- after his failed presidential bid -- "The 700 Club" has reached an annual income of $140 million.
Now that the Supreme Court has blessed the establishment of Bible clubs in federally funded public high schools, the recruitment and training of the troops can begin in earnest. In other words, Christian missionary groups are set to invade our schools.
Pat Robertson declared the Court's June 1990 ruling on the Equal Access Act "a tremendous victory ... a major landmark decision." Robertson proclaimed that high school students can now "meet together as Christians. It's opened the door wide for students to express their faith, to let students give out tracts, to carry their Bibles, to read the Bible, and to talk about Jesus and faith. It's a fabulous decision!"
Stephen Strang, editor and publisher of the popular Charisma & Christian Life magazine, wrote in an editorial last summer, "We encourage Christian young people all over America to be bold when school begins this fall and to meet with their friends before and after school -- not only to take advantage of this freedom that has been upheld by the Supreme Court, but to pray for a revival to sweep high schools all over this nation."
Youth Alive, the high school ministry of the 18 million-member Assemblies of God, has developed a simulation game for teens called "Win Your Campus to Christ." Players are divided into groups of "Christian students and unbelieving students." The Christians are instructed to seek out the non-Christians of their school, and the rules specifically state that "non-Christians are not allowed to seek out anyone."
An integral part of Youth Alive's self-described "plan of attack" is a study guide called First-Hour Bible Studies. One section outlines "five ways to use your classroom for Christ." It suggests Christian themes for class speeches and term papers, lists radical Christian tomes for book reports, offers leading questions for class discussions (such as 'Jesus once said something very profound dealing with that subject ...), and boldly suggests that students ask their teachers to allow outside Christian speakers to talk to the class.
Another group, Youth Invasion Ministries, offers seminars on teen evangelism. The goal of these seminars is "to raise up Holy Ghost SWAT teams on every campus who will lead the campus to God."
Robert L. Simonds -- another member of the C.O.R. steering committee -- is president of the California-based Citizens for Excellence in Education (C.E.E.) and the National Association of Christian Educators (N.A.C.E.). He supports Christian Bible clubs in public schools. "Our job," said Simonds, "is to evangelize. Our schools are the battleground."
Simonds explained, "The National Association of Christian Educators is a group of professional educators in our public schools" He claimed that there are "over 500,000 born-again Christians working from 'inside' of the system to change it and return the Christian ethic of morality and excellence to education." Their goal is "to bring public education back under the control of the Christian community."
The 64-year-old Simonds continually rails against the teaching of sex education, international relations, humanism, evolution, values clarification, and sexual-gender orientation in the public schools.
As radical as the N.A.C.E.-C.E.E. may be, a high-ranking public official has endorsed the group. Thomas G. Tancredo, director of the U.S. Education Department's regional office in Denver, confirmed that "Bob Simonds's organization is the most valuable thing I have ever seen in all the current talk about educational reform. While everyone else talks, the N.A.C.E.-C.E.E. acts. They are certainly reflective of our own goals in the department in many ways."
A spokesperson for the National Educational Association (N.E.A.) in Washington, D.C., admitted that Simonds's groups are "effective. They do show up in a number of states," he said "They are in about 15 states that we know of and are involved in a number of school-board fights. They've won some and lost some. [By 1990] they gained influence of just about the whole school board in Bennett, Colorado [just outside of Denver]."
According to the N.E.A., the C.E.E.'s effectiveness has been helped by their U.S. Education Department ally, Thomas Tancredo. The N.E.A. spokesperson said, "The teachers in Bennett had a grant to attend the University of Denver to learn about 'global education.' The program had been in effect for about ten years. Tancredo went up and spoke against global education and the school board canceled the grant. About a third of the faculty left that year. Two principals and a superintendent left as well. He's done a lot of damage to public education."
The C.E.E. claims over 10,000 members with 500 well-established chapters and a strong influence in about 1,500 school districts -- out of 15,700 nationwide. Political-action training is conducted through seminars, tapes, and books. These tools are effective.
An incident in San Antonio provides a good example of prayer leading to action. It also shows how radical Christians have progressed in their political acumen.
In 1986 an outraged parent, Anne Newman, expressed concern over the use of the novel The Clan of the Cave Bear in classrooms. She organized like-minded individuals to pray about this, and then asked the Northside School Board to ban the book, but the board voted five to two to keep it.
According to her report in Simonds's Education Newsline, Newman decided to put prayer into action and ran for a seat on the board. She was defeated. Then she organized a local chapter of the C.E.E., and in 1987 the group ran its vice-president, Ron Johnson, as a candidate. He lost.
The C.E.E. chapter was determined to gain control, so as its next step, in 1988, it utilized Simonds's book How to Elect Christians to Public Office to train members in political activism. As a result, the fundamentalist group won two seats on the board It intends to continue its fight until they gain full control.
Americans who respect the Bill of Rights -- and the various groups who defend those rights -- will face frustration as the new religious right becomes more offensive. Instead of doing battle with a Jerry Falwell or a Pat Robertson, our fight will be on many fronts, against many groups of highly organized and dangerous religious zealots. The battle of the century looms ahead.
© 1991 Penthouse Magazine -- all rights reserved