Still More on Shields

John G. Turner

Thanks to Paul, we've already discussed Jon Shields's The Democratic Virtues of the Christian Right.

At the risk of some redundancy, merited by the book's significance, here are my reflections, recently posted at Books & Culture:

Why, then, does the media portray the Christian Right as a threat to American democracy when pro-life activists behave civilly, promote dialogue and debate on meaningful issues, and boost democratic participation? If anything, according to Shields, it is pro-choice activists who disproportionately act boorishly and refuse to participate in meaningful dialogue on the issue—though he acknowledges that, since pro-choice organizations seek to maintain the status quo, they have much less to gain from debating the issues. Why does the media still write about Operation Rescue-type organizations even though pregnancy counseling centers have vastly more support among pro-life activists? ... Most of the activists who appear in Shields' book are anything but incipient theocrats. They are good citizens by any objective measure.

I don't have enough experience among either pro-life or pro-choice activists to intelligently assess Shields's contrast between the respective attitudes of pro-life and pro-choice activists. Any thoughts?

I tried incorporating Shields's book into my teaching this past semester. I imagine most students not already friendly toward the Christian Right were unconvinced of its democratic virtues, but I thought it was important for students to at least encounter an academically iconoclastic view of the subject.

Ultimately, my own sense, contrary to current conventional wisdom, is that the Religious Right has been a great but not unalloyed blessing for the Republican Party. Certainly, the negative image of the Religious Right hurts the Party with moderates and independents, but it is hard for me to conceive of the quasi-ascendancy of the GOP from 1968-2004 without giving substantial credit to diffuse Christian Right movements. At the same time, as I write in Books & Culture, the Religious Right is an "albatross for American evangelicalism" and "a public relations disaster" for American Christianity more generally.


Jonathan said…
I wrote a paper a few years ago as an undergraduate in which I came to a similar conclusion as Shields. I compared the religiopolitical rhetoric of leading figures in the New Religious Right and recent Mormon presidents. Although I disagreed with the Religious Right's political views and its notion that America was once a "Christian nation," I deeply admired its attempts to get people involved in the democratic process and to give people a basic civic education--something seriously lacking in American public schools. I ended the paper with this quote from the late D. James Kennedy: “Get registered, get informed, and vote. I hope you will become active in our society – not only involved in voting, but that you will become involved in our libraries, in our schools, in our parental associations, and in all phases of the culture in which we live.” Finally, how are we to think of the support of torture within the ranks of the Religious Right and white evangelical Christians as a whole in light of the "democratic virtues" of the Religious Right? Torture, while not only the antithesis of the example of Christ, is a violation of the rule of law. How is that a democratic people can support such a gross violation of the law? This question may be irrelevant. I don't know. It is just something I have been thinking about in the past few weeks.
rjc said…
I wonder if the same "democratic virtues" would be found in a study of the Christian Right and the controversy over marriage? Maybe so, I don't know, but it seems to me that scare tactics and whatnot have been a big part of this movement that has actually been more successful, from the perspective of changing laws and constitutions, than the anti-abortion movement. I guess I'm struck by the sense that, despite the purported "democratic virtues" of anti-abortion activists, abortion still remains legal in the US. Yet many states have now passed laws and constitutional amendments defining marriage as heterosexual, and the public discourse coming from the Christian Right on this topic seems to me (though I may be wrong) to be full of fear mongering. But maybe fear mongering is a legitimate democratic strategy?
Kara Tyson said…
What seems to be missing is any discussion of Religious Left. I have rarely heard the term used...and never used in a negative sense.

The role of linguistics is undervalued. For example, gives a definition of "narrow minded" as extremely conservative and morally self-righteous.

Can a liberal not be narrow minded? Can a non-religious person be narrow minded? has received a lot of flack over the last week (from "narrow minded" people) over this definition. I think unfairly.

Whether or not the definition is logical is beside the point of the phrase being used the way it is being used.

On a side note...I think that a Christian living in Turkey (a Republic) would have a very differant view of what constitutes torture.
Kara Tyson said…
So far as how the Religious Right is viewed by outsiders, I think that the recent book by Kevin Roose is a winner.

Roose, a Brown student, enrolled in Liberty University to investigate the Religious Right for a school project. What he found out is that his impressions of this group were not accurate.

His book, The Unlikely Disciple, has been published and the C-span website (Book TV) includes a lecture by Roose.