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.