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The Democratic Virtues of the Christian Right

The Democratic Virtues of the Christian Right

Jon A. Shields
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    The Democratic Virtues of the Christian Right
    Book Description:

    The Christian Right is frequently accused of threatening democratic values. But inThe Democratic Virtues of the Christian Right, Jon Shields argues that religious conservatives have in fact dramatically increased and improved democratic participation and that they are far more civil and reasonable than is commonly believed.

    Shields interviewed leaders of more than thirty Christian Right organizations, observed movement activists in six American cities, and analyzed a wide variety of survey data and movement media. His conclusions are surprising: the Christian Right has reinvigorated American politics and fulfilled New Left ideals by mobilizing a previously alienated group and by refocusing politics on the contentious ideological and moral questions that motivate citizens. Shields also finds that, largely for pragmatic reasons, the vast majority of Christian Right leaders encourage their followers to embrace deliberative norms in the public square, including civility and secular reasoning.

    At the same time, Shields highlights a tension between participatory and deliberative ideals since Christian Right leaders also nurture moral passions, prejudices, and dogmas to propel their movement. Nonetheless, the Christian Right's other democratic virtues help contain civic extremism, sharpen the thinking of activists, and raise the level and tenor of political debate for all Americans.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3010-7
    Subjects: Religion, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Tables and Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. 1-18)

    Republican victories in the 2004 elections unleashed yet another wave of reporting that pummeled the Christian Right for compromising democratic values. In an election postmortem, Thomas Friedman of theNew York Timesaccused the Right of violating the sacred line between church and state, so much so that it was in effect “rewriting the constitution.”¹ Following his lead, Robert Kuttner, editor of theAmerican Prospect, opined that Christians have become even more aggressive in their efforts to undermine the American Constitution, which was a “triumph of reason over absolutism.”² A more tempered and otherwise iconoclasticNew Republicsoon followed with...

  6. CHAPTER ONE Democratic Education in the Christian Right
    (pp. 19-45)

    Political observers have tended to see organized interests, especially those driven by religious convictions, as chronically failing schools of American democracy. For this reason, many scholars champion the creation of entirely new civic and political institutions to transform citizens into good deliberative democrats.¹ A central problem with this view, however, is that few social scientists have bothered to investigate the internal lives of political organizations.² Far less—and certainly no systematic—attention has been spared to study the central subject of this chapter, which is how Christian Right leaders try to shape the public behavior of their rank-and-file activists.


  7. CHAPTER TWO Christian Radicalism
    (pp. 46-67)

    As prevalent as democratic education has become in the Christian Right, there are important and enduring sources of radicalism. Indeed, strident radicalism can be found within the relatively moderate organizations discussed at length in the previous chapter. To survive, these groups need to mobilize the passions of uninvolved citizens and maintain the moral conviction of their rank-and-file activists. This reality exposes a clear dilemma for many Christian leaders: they must excite and sustain the moral convictions of citizens to build an activist base on the one hand; but, on the other, they must also discipline and educate the passions of...

  8. CHAPTER THREE The Varieties of Pro-Life Activism
    (pp. 68-99)

    For all the opprobrium cast on activists of all ideological stripes, remarkably little is known about how they behave in public forums. Certainly, Christian conservatives have never been systematically observed as they practice public activism. Even some of the most well-received works on contemporary moral conflict, such as James Hunter’sCulture Warsand Kristen Luker’sAbortion and the Politics of Motherhood, do not draw on participant observation or what Richard Fenno once called “soaking and poking.”¹

    This chapter sheds empirical light on how Christian activists conduct themselves in public forums largely by observing them in their own element—on city...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Deliberation and Abortion Politics
    (pp. 100-114)

    The single most surprising finding of the last chapter was the pro-choice movement’s opposition to carving out public spaces for civil and deliberative discussions. Yet if pro-life activists tend to be more civil and open to dialogue than their pro-choice opponents in many settings, they have also been far more belligerent in some quarters of the rescue movement. Pro-choice activists, therefore, are neither as deliberative as pro-life activists in Justice for All nor as militant as the stalkers in Operation Rescue West.

    These discrepancies can be partially explained by the fact that both movements confront a different set of political...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE Reviving Participatory Democracy
    (pp. 115-146)

    However one assesses the Right’s fidelity to deliberative ideals, there is no gainsaying its influence on participation. Among reports of rising apathy and withdrawal from American politics, Christian Right organizations have successfully mobilized one of the most politically alienated constituencies in twentieth-century America. In the space of just a few election cycles, conservative evangelicals went from being the least knowledgeable, partisan, and active citizens to among the most politically sophisticated. The mobilization of Christian conservatives is also one of the most surprising developments in the post–civil rights era because it was the New Left that emphasized the importance of...

  11. CHAPTER SIX Participation, Deliberation, and Values Voters
    (pp. 147-160)

    A careful evaluation of the Christian Right is important not just because we have misunderstood one of the most important political movements of the twentieth century. The movement also contains important lessons for democratic theory. In particular, we should reevaluate two major prescriptions to cure American democracy of contentious moral conflict. One group believes that American democracy will become more participatory and deliberative if we can somehow push moral passions and issues to the margins of American politics. The other camp wants to retain moral issues while elevating debate over them by weakening our dogmatic commitments to them.

    Both claims,...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 161-188)
  13. Index
    (pp. 189-198)