Die Georgetown University ist als private Hochschule in Washington, D.C. vor allem aufgrund ihrer rechts- und politikwissenschaftlichen Fakultäten bekannt. Clyde Wilcox ist hier als Professor of Government tätig und beschäftigt sich in seiner Arbeit vorwiegend mit den Themen öffentliche Meinung und Wählerverhalten sowie dem Verhältnis von Religion und Politik. Mehrere seiner Publikationen widmen sich insbesondere den Aktivitäten der religiösen Rechten.
Has the influence of the religious right increased significantly under the Bush administration?
CW: Often times it looks like George Bush is the ultimate dream of the Christian Right. And yet if you look at him six years into his presidency and think about what he has done. He has given amazing benefits to economic conservatives and to Neo- Cons who want tough foreign policy. Every year he passes a new tax cut even though our deficits are growing, 400 billion $ and yet he is pushing to make other tax cuts permanent and so forth for the wealthy. Deregulation of business and environment and so forth big pushed by Bush. When he wants something he keeps fighting for it, he keeps fighting to draw for oil in and on war. He almost got it this time. So does not give up when he really wants something. He has given the Neo-Cons the war in Afghanistan and Iraq and what has he given the Christian Conservatives? Well, he signed two abortion bills the congress passed but he did not ask for them. And he didn’t ask for anything else. He mentioned to the same sex marriage amendment in his campaign and then has not mentioned it since. In fact he made 275 speeches in the three first month of last year on privatizing social security, he made zero speeches in the last 15 month on same sex marriage amendment. He says it is difficult to pass it now, but he has worked 6 years solely for draw for oil in and on war, he does not give up when he really cares. I asked my students who pay attention to this issue: “Can you tell me exactly what conditions he would favour allowing abortion to happen if Rowe was overturned?” They can’t, because he is not talking about abortion. He talks about we should welcome children into the world and we should have a culture of life but these vague phrases are really all he has done in six years he is not used the symbolic pulpit to try to change the dynamics of that issue.
So what would it be about a movement like this that obviously is very successful in mobilising voters successful in symbolic politics why are they not so successful as a social movement?
CW: In my take on it is that all others social movements have had one basic claim on society that you need to treat us fairly. Think about labour at the time the labour unions were forming workers were living in company camps and not being paid money they being paid script that they had to buy things at the company store, if they got injured in the job they were fired. They just said we are producing the things you need to treat us fairly. African Americans said we can not life in the neighbourhoods, we you can not go to the schools, you need to treat us fairly. And women said this. And gays and lesbians said it. And this is not mostly the claim of the Christian Right. It is not mostly about treating us fairly although it sometimes is. But it is mostly about living by our rules. We have a really deeply religious culture, all the churches that you see are mostly full on Sundays. Probably 35% of Americans go to church every week. That’s a pretty high number by European standards. In the same time we are also a very libertarian culture and we do not like the government telling us what to do. And those two things are in conflict here. And the Christian Right are running up against the libertarian side.
Do you thing that these older and iconic figures maybe even hindering this new generation?
CW: Yes, absolutely! No one among this younger generation pays attention to Robertson or Farwll. Particular Robertson. You do not see him showing up at these meetings, It is a whole new generation of people coming along and they are much more skilled politically much better able to mainstream their massage and much better able to form coalitions. So, yes I think the older generation succeeded as much in mobilizing their opponents as they did in mobilizing their base.
Is there a strong connection between the Neo-Cons and the Religious Right?
CW: I think it is a kind of a political allies kind of thing but they are not the same people at all. The Christian Right tends to be nationalistic, they tend to think that America is the new chosen people of god and so maybe we need to defend ourselves and maybe we need to spread democracy but it is not as high on their agenda as for the Neo-Cons. And their idea would be a much broader, the Christian Right is more concerned with Darfur right now than they are with Israel and Palestine or Iraq or so. They are interested in AIDS in Africa. There is a very good book by Allen Hertzke called “ Freeing Gods children”, I think, which talks about how that concern with Darfur and so forth begin just bubbling up spontaneously in the evangelical churches as missionaries came back from Africa and northern Africa in particularly and said that is what we saw, isn’t it terrible? And than someone told a friend in a prayer group and than another church hears and so forth. But at the end of the day they are very nationalistic people who were willing to back the war in Iraq but they were not pushing for it. Sometimes I hear people say: “Well you know what they are thinking by the end of time so that they had to be in there.” The Left Behind books to the contrary, that is not what the Evangelicals are doing in their churches.
Regarding the”Left Behind” series: what accounts for its success?
CW: A lot of people who are buying them are not necessarily Christian Right types but they are reading them for a sort of science fiction speculative stuff. There is a lot of interesting Steven King stuff, ghouls and monsters and whatever. So this is a kind of a action pact science fiction deal to some people. But for the evangelical community it is really hardcore. They do not read many books, it is not that they are not intelligent but they do not find books that are good for them, because they all have sex or they all have cursing or what ever. So they do not go to many movies. So when they can find something that they think is maybe godly they buy a lot of them and they give them to their friends. My cousin has bought six copies to give to her friends of the left behind series. Every time one comes out she buys six of them and passes them around. And I do not know if they get read or not. That would not mean that there are that many people believing in that particular eschatological vision. But they are just thinking that this is an interesting story. La Haye teaches a course in the end time theology though at Farwells University. And I think they have 50 to 60 students a semester taking that. There are some people who are really, really into that but that is a tiny portion of the population.
Is the religious right movement finding universities a good place to organize? Or is it finding it still a liberal bastion?
CW: They are not finding it a very good place to organize. There are evangelical colleges, lots of them, and there are some that are Christian Right orientated. And there are a lot of evangelical schools that would be more like the Richard Cizik version of evangelicalism, so it is a kind of an eclectic moderate kind of conservatism. And there are a lot of schools like that. Celvin College, Hope College and lots of little schools like that. But at the major university levels you won´t find any Christian Right supporters. You will find people who think that they deserve a place at the table, including me who thinks that, even though I do not want them to win. You find some people who like some people of the movement as I do but the style of knowledge does not fit with American university style. Our style is that we debate ideas and throw evidence around and compare it and so forth. And the evangelical style of knowledge is more: the bible tells us this and therefore it is true. There is no reason to investigate. So it just does not fit.
Do you think that there is a “fourth great awakening” occurring cuurently in the United States?
CW: No, I think that the religious right movement has more to do with parties and politics than with religious favour. If you really graph church attendance it is actually down a little bit, not a lot, but we really stand way up from Europe and Australia and most other western democracies but we are not going up. There are actually more seculars in America today that there would have been when the Christian Right started. But what is really happened is that the Christian Right has become a swing group of voters for the republicans: if they turn out in large numbers the Republicans win the election. So our politics often hinge on the ability of the Republicans to appeal to them into time of the election. The ability to make symbolic appeals and talk about the faith like Bush did Reagan actually did that very well even though he did not go to church much. And than some people like Bush’s dad did not do it very well and lost his re-election campaign pretty handily. But, the Republicans have made this basic religious pitches part of their party much more and so it become more politicised. But we are not really having a religious great awakening. We are not really becoming much more secular either, but we are becoming a tiny bit more secular but no huge shift. This is just a deeply religious culture. But a lot of people, who are deeply religious, are not necessarily by the Christian right stuff.
Has the religious right expanded its membership in recent years?
CW: One of the really interesting things in the last election is the Christian Right has been always very white. They never succeeded in reaching out to Pentecostals in our Latino community for example or African American community. But in the last election the marriage issue in Ohio and Oregon and Michigan managed to enlist an awful lot of Black Churches. What we think from our survey data is these people went to the polls and voted in favour of this amendment to the state constitution to ban same sex marriage, and than voted for John Kerry and the Democrats. But that was the first time that they actually joined in a coalition with the Christian Right and begun to enter those times of conversations. Civil rights leaders really objected to making comparison between civil rights for blacks and civil rights for gays and lesbians. Ministers in their community just really hated that analogy. They really got mobilized in Ohio there were probably 10.000 African American pastors involved in the movement to amendment states constitution. And Cizik is interested in forming coalitions on any issues he can find whatever the issue is. He is a very practical politician. He brings the Muslims in on this issue, brings the African American in on this.
What do you think the potential is for future coalitions?
CW: Well I think, like all social movements, there is a lot of diversity and so the question is what is the core agenda for the movement and there is competition among the leaders to define that core. For Example there are a lot of people who are just so focused on abortion that they think: “Why do I care when a gay couple marries, they have nothing to do with abortion.” There is another set for whom gay marriage is the end of America. It will be Sodom and Gomorrah. And abortion is terrible but this other thing is going to be the tidal wave. So there is that kind of difference. There is the difference of religious philosophy between the Catholics and the Protestants, which really shows itself often. Catholics for example oppose the death penalty, and they are in favor of compassion programs to help poor families and so forth. Protestants are really opposing those. So when they work together, they work together on very narrow sets of issues. And sometimes on elections. So they are pretty pragmatic people, they are able to put together a coalition on this issue or that issue only. But what you do not have right now is any broader umbrella group like the Christian Coalition used to be but as you probably saw when you went there, the Christian Coalition is just a bankrupt show right now. And so there is nothing to bring it all together. And that was true for all social movements. That was true for the civil rights movement. You had the Black Panthers who were arming themselves. Than you had the NAACP which has been a kind of moderate and you had very conservative African American groups that have been moving slow. True for the feminist movement, as well. So that is true for all kinds of movements. But I think that the younger activists today are much more interested in putting that stuff aside and figure out who goes to heaven when you get there. And one of the things some of the younger Evangelicals in Washington are doing, what I find very surprising and I do not think it’s wide spread, but they are really listening to Catholic teachings on things like natural family planning and a series of other issues mostly relating to sexuality. Whereas 20 years ago fundamentalists and evangelicals really, really thought that Catholics would not go to heaven, the pope was really the Anti-Christ and so this is a big change. Suddenly they’re saying the Pope is teaching on this and it makes a lot of sense.
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