The Rise of the Religious Right

By Deanna Spingola

18 November 2006

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Billy Graham, head of Youth for Christ, was one of the original religious superstars. In 1949 there was a “national preoccupation” with the “Communist Menace” which coincided with the birth of Graham’s Youth for Christ organization. Media magnates, William Randolph Hearst and Henry Luce (Skull & Bones member) promoted Graham and his conservative message. Because of the media “puffing” of Graham, he managed to grace the cover of Time Magazine in October 1954. [1] Kinsey, on the opposite end of the moral spectrum, was concurrently being launched onto the media stage.


In July 1974 Paul Weyrich, an exceptional organizer, and Joseph Coors established a group called Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress currently known as The Free Congress Foundation. It was financed by Coors and assisted by the extraordinary skills of Richard Viguerie who specialized in direct-mail fundraising. “It was formed to meet a dual purpose: (1) to examine public policies in social and family areas and (2) to conduct studies of the electoral process.” (FCF Annual Report 1991) The Free Congress Foundation trains “elected officials and grassroots activists it engages in political activity through publishing, organizing forums on Capitol Hill and elsewhere, networking with other right-wing groups, lobbying, and through the Free Congress PAC. At the Christian Coalition Road to Victory II conference, September 11th and 12th, 1992, Weyrich announced plans for the FCF to work closely with the Christian Coalition.” [2]


In 1978 Robert Billings founded National Christian Action Coalition, a grassroots political lobby. Billings, along with Paul Weyrich, Richard Viguerie, Ed McAteer and Howard Phillips, advocates of the New Right, met with Jerry Falwell in May of 1979. Their objective was to set up multiple New Right organizations to shape issues, raise money and acquire political power in an effort to restructure America’s domestic and foreign policies. Later, Billings became a religious advisor to President Ronald Reagan. He was also a board member on Paul Weyrich's Free Congress Research and Education Foundation and a founder of Heritage Academy.  He was co-founder and former executive director of the Moral Majority.


The Moral Majority, the first of many such groups set up by Weyrich and his associates, was created in 1979. They helped Falwell set up a board of directors with Robert Billings, director of the Free Congress Foundation, as executive director of Moral Majority, a name suggested by Weyrich.


Conservative strategist “Paul Weyrich had also begun to build coalitions outside Washington. During a strategy meeting in 1979 with Jerry Falwell, a young evangelist eager to start a political group for conservative Christians, Weyrich coined the phrase “moral majority.”


At the 1979 meeting, Weyrich commented, “Out there, there is a moral majority, but it has been separated by denominational and historical differences. Weyrich recalled.


“Falwell said, 'Stop, what did you say was out there?' It hadn't even registered with me. 'You said that out there, there is something?' and I said, 'Oh, yeah, a moral majority.' He turned to his people and he said, 'That's it. That's the name of the group.' And so it was.” [3]


Paul Weyrich, who claims to be a conservative, stated: “We are no longer working to preserve the status quo. We are working to overturn the present power structure in this country.” Weyrich described his views as “Maoist.” [4] He said that you have to control the countryside and the capital will eventually fall. He advocated no-holds-barred tactics. [5] Their vision includes a government that would be charged with enforcing religious policy in order to prevent the ultimate dissolution of society caused by sin. Culture could be changed more effectively through politicizing and propagandizing religion than through any other method.


Hitler was also aware of this concept and said the following: “Ever since I have been scrutinizing political events, I have taken a tremendous interest in propagandist activity. I saw that the Socialist-Marxist organizations mastered and applied this instrument with astounding skill. And I soon realized that the correct use of propaganda is a true art which has remained practically unknown to the bourgeois parties. Only the Christian-Social movement, especially in Lueger's time, achieved a certain virtuosity on this instrument, to which it owed many of its successes.” [6]


A political tactics booklet published by the Weyrich organization suggested that lying for the right reason is permissible. The Reverend Moon, a crucial financier of many of the religious right groups, also teaches that lying is necessary, even under oath, when one is doing God’s work. [7]


The New Right Weyrich group, with its populist philosophy, is against abortion, homosexuality, and pornography – issues that most conscientious individuals have concerns about. “The Christian Right's political activities focused heavily on building support for anti-Communist guerrilla insurgencies around the globe. With godless Communism now vanquished, Weyrich's attention turned to mobilizing resentments for the domestic fight against the liberal culture, as defined by such things as abortion rights, gay rights, feminism, liberal judges, pornography, multiculturalism, affirmative action, and sex education in schools. Weyrich's Free Congress Foundation, for example, published a tract called The Homosexual Network, which warned direly of a widening homosexual power grab in our society.” [8] The Religious Right’s radical solutions are designed to ultimately destroy everyone’s religious rights as guaranteed by the First Amendment.


In addition the New Right cabal was also against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. This act would present a real challenge to faith-based charities and their receipt of the taxpayer’s money. Many so-called religious people believe in civil rights – but not for everyone. A series of Supreme Court decisions – on school prayer, on Bible reading in schools, on abortion and school integration angered religious conservatives and convinced them that they had to engage in the political process.


Weyrich recognized that Southern evangelical Christians and north-eastern ethnic Catholic Democrats were also upset over civil rights. The New right hoped to politicize all of these issues by including them on the 1980 Republican platform. Thereafter many individuals would be persuaded to cast their future ballots for Republicans. Politicizing abortion, a deliberate moral dilemma that would function perfectly in the dialectic drama of thesis versus antithesis, would polarize Catholics, most of whom were Democrats.


Funding for such groups comes from tax-exempt foundations created by families who have been financially blessed by the very country whose government they seek to eradicate. Additionally, their efforts include abolishing the God-given freedoms of citizens of other countries as well. The Coors family supported the violent RENAMO army in Mozambique and the Pretoria-supported UNITA forces in Angola. [9] In the United States they fund “pro-family” organizations dedicated to maintaining a particular social order designed to limit the liberties of certain sectors of the populace. Their specific goal is the establishment of a theocracy while dismantling our republic. 


Faith-based activism provides social benefits. The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., later assassinated, accomplished a great deal through his non-violent activism during the Civil Rights Movement. The taxpayers did not foot the bill. Black Americans courageously laid claim to the rights that white Americans took for granted.


The allegedly “pro-family” New Right agenda appeals to numerous groups, both religious and conservative, that naïvely embrace the schema without recognizing the liberty destroying elements that will ultimately affect every individual. Unfortunately, financial sponsorship is another area not entirely scrutinized. If one were to “follow the money,” support would wisely be withdrawn. The Reverend Sun Myung Moon, with his millions, supports the Christian Reconstructionists and their influential power grabbing, money-making fallacious programs. Many so-called religious individuals and organizations exist merely for profit and little else.


Dr. Ronald Godwin was Jerry Falwell’s right-hand man and served as the Chief Operating Officer for Liberty University. He also served as the Executive Vice President of the Moon owned Washington Times, Executive Vice President of the Moral Majority, President of Jerry Falwell Ministries, President of Liberty Broadcast network, President of Liberty University Foundation and more recently, Dean of the Helms School of Government and Senior Administrator of Residential Recruiting.


Interestingly enough, The Reverend Sun Myung Moon founded the politically conservative Washington Times in 1982 which became President Ronald Reagan's preferred newspaper. They always endorse Republican candidates. Paul Weyrich has called The Washington Times an “antidote” to its “liberal competitor” The Washington Post. [10] “Covertly, Moon helped bail out Liberty University through one of his front groups which funneled $3.5 million to the Reber-Thomas Christian Heritage Foundation, the non-profit that had purchased the school's debt.” [11]


“Jerry Falwell readily admits that he accepted 2.5 million dollars from Moon in 1994 in order to bail out his Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. This was funneled through a Moon organization known as the 'Women’s Federation for World Peace' which has been chaired by Beverly LaHaye, Wife of Reverend Timothy LaHaye, who is the popular co-author of the Left Behind, a Christian fictional book series and a well known evangelical Christian. The Women’s Federation for World Peace paid 3.5 million to the Christian Heritage Foundation, which in turn bought Falwell's $73 million debt, and then frankly wrote it off. The Heritage Foundation then seems to have paid themselves a fee of one million dollars for their trouble.” [15]


“Falwell is not the only evangelical reported to have accepted money from Rev. Moon. Other notable speakers for Moon's organizations and affairs receiving as much as $80,000 to $150,000 have included Ralph Reed, Beverly LaHaye, Gary Bauer, and Robert Schuller, well known for his "Crystal Cathedral" in Southern California and ‘Hour of Power’ ‘positive-thinking’ television ministry.” [16]


Falwell had some connections with the Unification Church of Rev. Sun Myung Moon. He endorsed The Washington Times, the Unification Church-owned paper begun in 1982 and served on the initial board of the Coalition for Religious Freedom (CRF) in 1984. Falwell resigned from the CRF in 1985 citing financial irregularities, but spoke on behalf of Moon, who was in prison for tax evasion, at a CRF conference in 1985.


What did the Moral Majority believe?

The group opposed: abortion, equal rights for homosexuals, sex education in the schools, pornography, and the Equal Rights Amendment.


It spoke in favor of a strong national defense, prayer in the schools, and was strongly pro-Israel, and stridently anticommunist. Another stated goal, which made the Moral Majority popular with conservative corporate America, was “to defend the free enterprise system, the family and Bible morality.”


Jerry Falwell, a Baptist Bible Fellowship pastor built the Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia which ultimately attracted 15,000 members. His program the Old Time Gospel Hour was carried on more than 300 stations. He appeared on television relatively soon after the 1980 elections claiming that the evangelicals had provided Reagan’s victory margin. [12] “They also managed to unseat a number of liberal Senators through a massive, well-financed campaign to brand their targets as un-Christian political sinners.” Attack politics, mastered by such individuals as Karl Rove, have been protocol since then.


Most of the pastors, county and state leaders and members that made up The Moral Majority came from the Baptist Bible Fellowship (BBF). Building on the strength of an existing organization enabled him to establish organizations in many states by 1981 when the media just happened to recognize the Christian Right. The BBF pastors were an interesting group: they were intolerant of Catholics, Pentecostals, charismatics, evangelicals, mainline Protestants and not particularly friendly towards other Baptist churches. However, most of the Moral Majority members were Baptists. [13]


For tax purposes, the Moral Majority established several different organizations:

·        The tax-exempt Moral Majority Foundation was set up as an educational group focusing on voter registration;

·        Moral Majority Political Action Committee was the branch that raised money for candidates;

·        Moral Majority Inc. was the lobbying group for influencing legislation at all levels;

·        Moral Majority Legal Defense Foundation was set up to counter the influence of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).


The Religious Right has contributed to many of the church-state court cases through several “legal aid” groups. They file lawsuits throughout the country which receive disproportional media attention. “Minor problems are blown out of proportion or exaggerated for fundraising purposes before being rushed into court.” These groups do not hesitate to file suits they know they cannot win. Of course these law suits eat up a lot of the taxpayer’s money in the process, especially since many of the cases are appealed. [14]


Although the national Moral Majority (headed by Falwell) was very visible and outspoken, it had a very loose and uncoordinated structure. It functioned primarily as an extensive mailing list of individuals and groups that shared similar fears and hostilities about the changes in our society. (2) It reached out to people who have often been thought of as “outsiders” or disenfranchised, and helped them to feel more a part of the system.


Independent chapters with their own agendas were established in every state. They often worked in concert with Right-To-Lifers and other conservative political action committees to defeat "liberal" candidates and address local issues of concern.


The Moral Majority claimed that it was not a religious group, but a political group with a broad focus. Although the basis for its initial appeal and strength lay in its diverse agenda, that same multiplicity of issues eventually led to its demise. Fundamentalists and conservatives with narrower interests became increasingly frustrated with the Moral Majority's diffuse platform and its numerous political outbursts and embarrassments  


The Moral Majority was primarily a direct mail organization. Falwell claimed that the organization mailed out 600,000 copies of The Moral Majority Report monthly to its supporters. Other groups, using the direct mail tactics learned from the Moral Majority to raise money and promote their causes, drained the membership and resources of Moral Majority until Jerry Falwell closed its doors in 1989. Funding: The Moral Majority was funded by contributions. The amounts of money reportedly raised by the Moral Majority vary widely. Some sources say at its peak the Moral Majority raised a million dollars a day, while others claim the organization brought in up to $500 million a year.


Falwell claimed that the Moral Majority sent out 500,000 letters a week to funding targets drawn from his pool of 4. 5 million names.

The Moral Majority, claiming a constituency of 50 million, was very active in the 1980 elections.  The Moral Majority, along with the Christian Voice, the National Conservative Political Action Committee, and others, targeted liberal incumbents for defeat, including Senators George McGovern (D-SD), Frank Church (D-ID), John Culver (D-IA), and Birch Bayh (D-IN)--all of whom lost their elections.


The Moral Majority packed the Republican caucus in Alaska and won all nineteen delegates to the national convention for Ronald Reagan. Similar victories were achieved in Iowa and Alabama. Falwell estimated that the Moral Majority efforts added 3 to 4 million registered voters to conservative efforts in 1980 and raised $11 million for lobbying efforts in 1984.


In 1979 fundamentalists in the U.S. became strong supporters of Israel, seeing the Jews as important in the fulfillment of their vision of Armageddon. Falwell and the Moral Majority became outspoken supporters of Israel. Falwell said “To stand against Israel is to stand against God.”


Prime Minister Begin of Israel called on Rev. Falwell in 1981 after the Israeli bombing of an Iraqi nuclear facility to rally a favorable response from the American public. Falwell gave a sermon on behalf of Israel and asked the most influential of the 80,000 preachers associated with the Moral Majority to do the same.


In 1982 Ron Godwin announced that the Moral Majority was going to lead tours to Israel "to transform as many concerned American citizens into well-informed, educated friends of Israel as possible."


In February of 1985 Falwell led a group of nearly 1,000 to Israel where, among other activities, they met with prominent Israeli leaders including General Ariel Sharon. Falwell and the Moral Majority also encouraged U.S. citizens to register for the 1984 elections and to vote for legislators who strongly supported Israel.


On the domestic front, the Moral Majority's “Top-Secret Battle Plan for 1982” outlined a campaign against homosexual influence in state and municipal government and on TV; a strategy for passage of a Human Life statute and/or a Human Life Amendment to the Constitution; a strategy to counter the influence of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU); a national conference on pornography for district attorneys, prosecutors, sheriffs, and police chiefs; an anti-ERA strategy coordinated with Phyllis Schlafly and Eagle Forum; and a major push for the Family Protection Act.


At a meeting set up by the White House, Falwell, Pat Robertson and Secretary of the Interior James Watt met in 1982 with Francisco Bianchi, chief adviser to President Efrain Rios Montt of Guatemala.


In 1984, the Moral Majority was among the groups of the New Right that presented a plaque expressing appreciation for “continuing efforts for freedom in the face of communist aggression” to the ultra-rightwing Salvadoran leader Roberto D'Aubuisson.


Throughout the mid-1980s the Moral Majority worked on anti-communist campaigns and policies and for a clear-cut victory for the Central American policies of the Reagan administration.


Ron Godwin, executive director of the Moral Majority, in 1983 served on the Citizen's Commission on the Crisis in the Americas, a 12-member conservative alternative to the Kissinger Commission. The Kissinger Commission (the National Bi-partisan Commission on Central America) was established by President Reagan to assist in establishing the administration's Central American policy.


In 1985 Falwell established the Liberty Federation which was to focus on “possible communistic takeovers” and other international issues. Some sources stated that the Liberty Federation was an umbrella group that included the Moral Majority, another stated it was the new name for the Moral Majority, and others listed it as a separate organization.


The Liberty Federation had a political and educational arm called the Liberty Alliance. In 1988 the Moral Majority tried to rally its ranks against the Civil Rights Restoration Act, warning that the act could force churches to hire “a practicing homosexual drug addict with AIDS to be a teacher or a youth pastor.” This distortion even drew a comment on the Senate floor from conservative Senator Alan Simpson (R-WY) who accused the Moral Majority of conducting a “massive misinformation campaign.”


In 1988, Falwell attempted to muster a rally of rightwing groups in Atlanta to remind those attending the Democratic Convention of the Moral Majority's values and power. The rally, “Focus on the Family,” was able to pre register only two dozen groups, and Falwell had to make personal appeals to pastors to gather enough people to hold the rally. Government Connections: Robert Billings was religious adviser to President Ronald Reagan.


Jerry Falwell is a fundamentalist who believes in the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy. He is the founder of the 21,000 member Thomas Road Baptist Church and the “The Old Time Gospel Hour” TV show (a taping of the 11 o'clock Sunday service at the Thomas Road Baptist Church) which at its peak was broadcast to hundreds of TV and radio markets around the country and reached audiences of millions--estimates range from 7-10 million up to 115-130 million.  


Falwell never reached the national popularity of the evangelical electronic ministers like Pat Robertson or Jimmy Swaggart, but his show reportedly brought in millions (reports on income range from $30 million to $300 million annually) in the mid-1970s. In 1987, the reported income of Falwell's TV hour was $91 million. Falwell also started and runs the Lynchburg Christian Academy, a K-12 Christian day school, and the Liberty Baptist College, which now has some 8,000 students. All of his educational institutions maintain strictly fundamentalist curricula.


Falwell also owns and operates a home for alcoholics, a children's summer camp, and a Bible institute and correspondence course. All of his operations are located in Lynchburg, Virginia. Falwell was on the initial board of the Religious Roundtable, a group headed by Ed McAteer, that brought together ultraconservative "moral Americans" from business, church, evangelical organizations, synagogues, and civic leadership committed to moral change in the U.S.  


Falwell participated in the Religious Roundtable's 1980 political action seminar and rally in Dallas, Texas. Speakers at this seminar included presidential candidate Ronald Reagan, Senators Jesse Helms (RNC) and William Armstrong (R-CO), former Texas governor John Connally, Phyllis Schlafly, and evangelists James Robison and Pat Robertson. In 1987, Falwell took over the beleaguered PTL television ministry of Jim and Tammy Bakker. This move compromised him with his religious base of fundamentalism, which considers itself quite apart from the Pentecostal evangelicalism of groups like the PTL. Falwell stepped down from PTL leadership in 1988, saying he wanted to devote more time to his Lynchburg church.


“Falwell served on the board of the Council for National Policy, an elitist rightwing policy formation group which served as a link between the Christian Right and other rightwing groups. Falwell was the driving force behind a 1988 campaign to collect 2 million signatures for a pardon for Oliver North. He requested assistance from 32,000 Baptist pastors from around the country. Ron Godwin left the Moral Majority in 1986 to become the business manager for Rev. Moon's Insight magazine.” [17]


“Tim LaHaye was the founder and leader of the American Coalition for Traditional Values. Robert J. Billings headed the rightwing National Christian Action Coalition before becoming executive director of the Moral Majority. Billings was the legislative director of the American Conservative Union in 1988.” [18]


"Author John Saloma wrote in Ominous Politics that the New Right, including the Moral Majority, ‘have become the enemy for Democratic liberals, organized labor, blacks, the women's movement, gay activists, teachers' unions, environmentalists, and the political left in general. Many liberals, he continues, fail to perceive the interconnections among the New Right, the old right, and Republican Party organizations... More important, they fail to see the mutually supportive roles of the conservative political action groups, think tanks, and other sectors like the corporate community." [19]


“Haynes Johnson of The Washington Post concluded after a 1980 national survey that Falwell's followers ‘have great organization, commitment, desire, hunger, and the absolutely unshakable faith that they are correct. And they want to impose it on the majority.’ [20] "On more than one occasion the organization's loose structure led to embarrassments for the national chapter. In New York the Moral Majority director made an anti-Semitic comment about the 'almost supernatural ability' of Jews to make money and another chapter made headlines by picketing a bakery that sold sexually explicit cookies." [21]


“Falwell created a political uproar when after a 1986 trip to South Africa he called South African bishop Desmond Tutu 'a phony.' These, among many other unsophisticated and divisive actions by Falwell and local chapters, prevented the Moral Majority from achieving what Falwell wanted--an institutional place in the higher ranks of the Republican Party. Falwell built a vast empire. It is difficult to determine which activities he conducted as the head of the Moral Majority and which as the electronic minister and head of a Christian empire in Lynchburg, Virginia.” [22]


"Falwell stepped seemingly at will across the line between religion and politics, addressing moral issues as a preacher, advancing his political platform as a lobbyist and endorsing candidates as a private citizen." However, without the contacts and the publicity he received from his position in the Moral Majority, it is unlikely that Falwell would have stayed on top of the conservative Christian movement for as long as he did. His ministry suffered from massive debts--he went to court over back taxes in 1981, floated an illegal bond issue, and was forced to borrow $6.5 million to stay afloat. [23]


“The original board of directors of the Moral Majority included Charles Stanley of the First Baptist Church of Atlanta; Greg Dixon of Indianapolis' Baptist Temple; Tim LaHaye from San Diego, California; and James Kennedy from Coral Gables, Florida. Falwell was the president; Ronald Godwin was the initial vice president; and Robert Billings was the first executive director. Roy Jones was the legislative director of the Moral Majority. Cal Thomas was the vice president for communications in 1981. Ron Godwin was the executive director of the Moral Majority in 1983.” [24]     


[1] Spiritual Warfare, the Politics of the Christian Right by Sara Diamond, p. 10

[4] The Coors Connection, How Coors Family Philanthropy Undermines Democratic Pluralism by Bellant, p. 17-18 See also Blinded by the Right by David Brock, p. 59

[5] Blinded by the Right by David Brock, p. 59

[7] Blinded by the Right by David Brock, p. 59

[8] Ibid, p. 58

[12] Onward Christian Soldiers? The Religious Right in American Politics by Clyde Wilcox and Carin Larson p. 41

[13] Ibid

[14] Why the Religious right is Wrong About Separation of Church & State by Robert Boston, p. 26-27

[16] Ibid

[17] Moral Majority Check the impeccable sources on this site

[24] Ibid


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