The Radical Center
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The Radical Center

American Jihad: The Religious Right’s War on America

One claim repeatedly made by more moderate evangelicals is Trump and the Republican Party corrupted evangelicalism. That is a very convenient way of ignoring the fact that evangelicals went after the GOP and corrupted it. Trump was the result of evangelical control of the GOP, not the cause of a GOP dominated evangelicalism. Evangelicals, particularly in the South, started flocking to Republican Party in the 1960s because they blamed Democrats for allowing blacks and whites in the same schools and they were fervent, god-fearing, Jesus-loving racists. (See the booklets by such evangelicals as John R. Rice or Bob Jones.)

In the 1980s Jerry Falwell and his fevered followers, on the recommendation of my high school principal—Robert Billings—started the Moral Majority and the Religious Right was born. It’s goal from that moment on was to take over the Republican Party, then use the GOP to take over America in order to impose authoritarian theocratic rule on the country. They were open about their goals and their strategies, and it was the opposite of what evangelical excuse-makers describe today.

That this was the goal was outlined in this article of mine that was published in September, 1981 in Libertarian Review magazine under the title “The New Theocracy: Moral Majority’s Grab for Power.” Below is that article. At the time it was current events, not it is a historical look at the movement attacking America today.

The New Theocracy: Moral Majority’s Grab for Power

Jerry Falwell begins his 1980 book, Listen America, by discussing the issue of liberty. He quotes Robert Ringer, author of Restoring the American Dream, who is concerned that the American dream of individual freedom will be lost. But, while praising Ringer for defending the free market, Falwell ignores the fact that the very principles of liberty Ringer uses to defend free enterprise are also used by him to support the legalization of homosexuality, prostitution, and drugs. Falwell and his organization, Moral Majority, seem to believe the only justifiable freedoms are economic.

In his book, Falwell emphasizes that without economic freedom all other liberties are in danger. He is right. However, if the theocratic state he envisions is established, then all liberties, including those, which are economic, will be lost. For in spite of all of his talk about liberty, Rev. Falwell is no libertarian: his liberty is arbitrary, and arbitrary liberty is not liberty at all.

“Protection of each and every individual’s right to acquire property is a necessity of freedom,” writes Falwell, “[t]o destroy or to control a man’s right to own or use property is to diminish him as an individual, for property rights are human rights. Freedom to own property is a basic tenet of this society.”

By contrast, he recently signed a fund-raising letter addressed to “Dear Friend of the Moral Majority,” asking the recipient to sign and return a ballot to him, voting against laws permitting homosexuality, abortion on demand, and pornography, which he calls “the three most vital moral issues affecting America today.”

When Jerry Falwell says, “vote,” of course, he is not just using a figure of speech. During the last election campaign he predicted the activist group, which he founded, Moral Majority, would have registered four million new Christian voters by last November’s election. Moral Majority” in just under two years has gained a national membership of 400,000, including 72,000 ministers and priests,” according to an article by Joan Kennedy Taylor in last December’s issue of The Libertarian Review, and Falwell’s TV evangelism and letter writing campaigns continue to keep his influence growing.

How is it Falwell can defend property rights and yet ignore the one property each of us own, our own bodies? Ownership implies the right to do with the property as one pleases as long as the rights of others are respected. Ownership of one’s body would then give one the right to engage in consensual sexual acts, heterosexual or homosexual. It also implies the right to ingest any substance, from laetrile to marijuana, and the right to carry a pregnancy to term or not. Falwell ignores the other side of his own statement. Human rights are property rights. To restrict the right to do with one’s own body as one pleases violates the principle of property rights and is antithetical to the logic of free enterprise. It was John Stuart Mill who wrote in the classic On Liberty:

The sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number is self-protection…. The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant…. The only part of the conduct of anyone, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part, which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.

But, say the thousands of fundamentalist ministers and members of their congregations who make up Moral Majority and its allied organizations such as Religious Roundtable, they are only speaking out on moral issues, as churches always have. However, what is being suggested is panoply of religious laws — the aim is to establish a Christian state in place of a secular state. When Gary Potter, the president of Catholics for Christian Political Action, was quoted in an article in the January 1981 Playboy on what “Christianizing America” would mean, he said,

When the Christian majority takes over this country, there will be no satanic churches, no more free distribution of pornography, no more abortion on demand and no more talk of rights for homosexuals. After the Christian majority takes control, pluralism will be seen as immoral and evil, and the state will not permit anybody the right to practice evil.

One of the key items on the agenda of Moral Majority is to stop any and all attempts to “promote” homosexuality! The New Right has emphasized this issue more than any other. Fund appeal letter after letter urges “decent” Americans to send in their cash to fight “militant” homosexuals.

Alan Crawford, in his 1980 book Thunder on the Right says:

The key to all of these appeals is anger and fear. As Terry Dolan of the National Conservative Political Action Committee told me, his organization’s fundraising letters try to “make them angry” and “stir up hostilities.” The “shriller you are,” he said, the easier it is to raise funds. “That’s the nature of the beast,” he explained. The fund-raising letters of the New Right groups depict a world gone haywire, with liberal villains poised to destroy the American Way of Life.

Falwell himself, according to Crawford, admitted, “We are very much trying to create emotional involvement in these issues.”

The key purpose of exploiting the issue of homosexuality is to motivate support from frightened fundamentalists. A minister who attended a Moral Majority meeting in Pennsylvania reported in the Fall 1980 issue of Record, published by Evangelicals Concerned, that Rev. Robert Billings, first executive director of Moral Majority, said, “I know what you and I feel about these queers, these fairies. We wish we could get in our cars and run them down while they march.” However, gay people clearly serve a useful purpose in the crusade to “Christianize” America. “We need an emotionally charged issue,” said Billings, “to stir up people and get them mad enough to get up from watching TV and do something. I believe that the homosexual issue is the issue we should use.”

Falwell, on the Tomorrow show with Tom Snyder, claimed Moral Majority is not trying to deny gays their civil rights. But once again the claim doesn’t correspond with the facts. Moral Majority National Secretary Greg Dixon, along with many other Moral Majority officials, has contradicted these claims. In a sermon he preached at the Indianapolis Baptist Temple on August 8, 1977, Dixon said, “When they say homosexuals should have their civil rights I ask one question: Do you give criminals rights like honest citizens? Absolutely not! Criminals do not have their civil rights.”

Greg Dixon putting on a holier-than-thou display for the media.

Dixon appears to view the jailing of gays as only a step in the right direction. In the 1977 Indianapolis sermon he said, concerning homosexuals, “I say either fry ’em or put them in the pen. Don’t unleash them on the human race.” Dixon made it quite clear that “fry ‘em” means execution. In the same sermon he said, “I don’t know how in the world you can get a society that won’t even put their murderers to death, I don’t know how you can ever get them to put these homosexuals to death but God’s word would uphold that. They which commit such things are worthy of death.”

Might Dixon only be representing his own personal views when speaking from the pulpit of his church and not his views as a national leader of Moral Majority? On WIND radio in Chicago, Dixon appeared as a spokesperson of the group, in March of 1981. and the following dialogue took place:

Q. Does the Moral Majority have a specific position on the matter of gay rights?
Dixon: Yes, the Moral Majority would be opposed to homosexual rights.
Q. To any kind of homosexual rights?
Dixon: Moral Majority, I feel, would take the position that homosexuality is a perversion and should be a felony…. From a practical standpoint you’re never going to get capital punishment for homosexuality but the Bible would certainly stand by a society that would be willing to do that.
Q. Would God’s Word allow a society to execute homosexuals?
Dixon: Absolutely correct.
Q. Do you think we should follow God’s Word?
Dixon: I said it would allow it if society was willing to do that, but I’ve got sense enough to know that we won’t even make homosexuality a felony. Let me give you an example. God’s Word would back up making adultery a felony but society isn’t going to make adultery a felony. There was a time when adultery was a felony but not now.
Q. If you had your way, would adultery be a felony?
Dixon: Yes, if I had my way but I can’t have my way.
Q. If you had your way would homosexuality be a capital crime?
Dixon: If I could have my way, yes. These are moot questions, they are stupid questions and they are silly questions.
Q. Why is it a silly question?
Dixon: I’ll be happy to tell you why it’s silly. Because I never called for the State of Indiana, the General Assembly, to pass a law to make homosexuality a capital crime. I have called for the General Assembly of the State of Indiana to make homosexuality a felony. That’s the reason the question is silly.
Q. Dr. Dixon, would you throw all gays in jail?
Dixon: In the first place, just because you have a law against a particular crime doesn’t mean that the penalty is always to throw everybody in jail.
Q. Felony is not something like a misdemeanor; you’re talking about jail.
Dixon: But in general terms, and by the way up to four years ago it was a crime in the State of Indiana.
Yes, I believe that homosexuals ought to be in jail, I certainly do.

Note this advertisement for Falwell’s Rally openly says as their first goal making it a felony to be gay, which comes with mandatory prison sentences.

Dixon and his supporters succeeded in getting Don Boys, the Administrator of the Indianapolis Baptist Temple’s school, elected to the Indiana House of Representatives. One of the first efforts undertaken by Boys was to introduce a “Right to Decency” bill to make it a felony to be homosexual. Boys wrote in a 1979 book Liberalism: A Rope of Sand, “We want homosexuality to once again be a crime. We want homosexuals to be pressured into seeking help and to stop living as if Christ never lived on the earth and never told men how to live. If they refuse to obey the law, they should be placed in jail after a fair trial for the good of society.”

The Boys bill had as its express purpose the jailing of homosexuals. His book explained, “I don’t hate perverts; I just want to see them in jail away from decent, innocent people. That’s what my bill to reinstate sodomy as a crime would have done.” According to the Indianapolis Star the bill called, “for an automatic 2-to-21-year prison sentence for those found guilty of committing homosexual acts.” Greg Dixon pushed hard for the Boys bill; he even rented a large arena and staged a “Rally for Decency” to show support for it. Two major fundamentalists were brought in from out of state to promote the bill at this rally; these two were Anita Bryant and Jerry Falwell.

Similar views concerning capital punishment are held by Dean Wycoff, a spokesperson for Moral Majority in the San Francisco area. Wycoff announced Moral Majority, along with a coalition of other fundamentalists, intended to spend $3 million on a media campaign to build anti-gay feeling in the community. Wycoff commented, “I agree with capital punishment, and I believe homosexuality is one of those crimes that could be coupled with murder and other sins.” According to Wycoff the campaign was begun in San Francisco because it is “the Sodom and Gomorrah of the United States and the armpit of this perverted movement.” These antics were enough to cause the Chicago Tribune to editorialize that “Falwell should worry less about what his what his associates are doing to make him look dangerous.”

In the area of other “moral” issues, most members of Moral Majority, if not all, favor the death penalty. Murder is a capital crime, they say, and they claim abortion is murder. The Moral Majority Report of Illinois published an article in its December-January 1980–81 issue, “The Bible and Abortion,” by S.M. Davis, which states, after calling abortion murder, that the Bible teaches “if a man purposely injures a women carrying a child, and the child… dies, ‘then thou shalt give life for life.’” It seems as if the article is saying the death penalty is an appropriate punishment for abortion. But the verses in question actually do not support the theory that abortion is murder.

What Exodus 21:22,23 does say is, “If two men are fighting, and in the process hurt a pregnant women so that she has a miscarriage, but she lives, then the man who injured her shall be fined whatever amount the woman’s husband shall demand, and as the judges approve. But if any harm comes to the women and she dies, he shall be executed.” This verse clearly says the death of a fetus is not a capital crime and therefore not worthy of capital punishment. This verse does not treat the fetus as being equal with the mother and it is not afforded equal protection.

The Rev. Dan Fore, head of the New York state chapter of Moral Majority, was questioned on the abortion issue when he appeared at a meeting of the National Coalition Against Censorship. Fore told conference participants, “If a woman kills a child, she’s a murderess.” A woman then asked him, “Then she would be executed?” Fore became very uncomfortable and told the audience that he wasn’t sure because abortion was now legal: “It’s an interesting question, I’ll have to study it.” Since Fore’s hesitation seemed to come from the present legality of abortion, one can only guess what his answer will be if a “Right to Life Amendment” passes Congress

Another issue of great concern to Moral Majority is pornography. A recent full-page article in the national Moral Majority Report reported on the activities of the Rev. Tom Williams who “is involved in a local battle against pornography.” Williams is not attacking the sale of explicit magazines in some adult bookstore. The “pornography” he is fighting is in the Washington County Library in Abingdon, Virginia. It isn’t even one or two books on the shelves that he wants banned for being “utterly vile and filthy” but “well over 100 books.”

In November, 1980, Rev. Williams demanded to be furnished with a list of all library patrons who had checked out books, which he declared “pornographic.” The librarian, Kathy Russell, courageously refused to hand over the names. According to Nat Hentoff, reporting in the February 2, 1981 issue of Inquiry, Williams claimed “the liberal crowd in Abingdon” is resisting the direction this country has taken. Russell and her supporters, says the Reverend, “must realize they can’t impede the change. All they can do is to be run over.”

Hentoff also records that Reverend George Zarris, chair of Moral Majority of Illinois, told the New York Times, “I would think moral-minded people might object to books that are philosophically alien to what they believe. If (their libraries) have the books and they feel like burning them, fine.” Another example of Moral Majority’s fight against pornography occurred in Annapolis, Maryland. Jim Wright, executive director of that state’s Moral Majority chapter filed a complaint with the office of the state’s attorney charging a local bakery with selling pornographic cookies. Wright says, “These are obscene cookies, and there’s no way you can get around that.” The offending bakery was selling gingerbread men (and women) that were anatomically correct. The charges were not pursued by the state since no law had been violated.

Moral Majority official Tim LaHaye is the author of a 1980 book, The Battle for the Mind, which is an attack on the ultimate enemy of fundamentalism, humanism. In the book he discusses one of the world’s greatest art treasures:

“The giant replica of Michelangelo’s magnificent David stands nude, overlooking that beautiful city. Quite naturally, this contradicts the wisdom of God, for early in Genesis, the Creator followed man’s folly by giving him animal skins to cover his nakedness…. The Renaissance obsession with nude ‘art form’ was the forerunner of the modern humanist’s demand for pornography in the name of freedom. Both resulted in the self-destructive lowering of moral standards.”

With such an attitude, it’s hardly surprising another endeavor of the Moral Majority is its recent campaign to “clean up” television and films. Television and the rest of the media are allegedly in the hands of a humanist conspiracy, to take over the United States and destroy the basic “profamily” values upon which it is built. (While using the word “humanist,” some Falwellians apparently mean “communist.” According to Moral Majority national board member Rev. Jim Kennedy, humanism is actually “communism waiting to be crowned with its political rights.”)

If Moral Majority is successful in taking over this country and proceeds to “Christianize” it, one wonders what will be left of our thriving movie industry. Falwell was once asked, “What is the justification for forbidding movies? Why does it apply to even Walt Disney-type films?” His reply was,

Any spiritually discerning person must acknowledge that the vast majority of Hollywood movies are anti-Christian in their philosophy, and immoral in their content…. Modern movies have done more to undermine the moral fibre of our nation than any single aspect of the media. That influence is now spilling over into television. Man cannot continually look upon sin and evil without either developing a taste for it, or lowering his standards in regard to it. We do not even condone the so-called “good” movies since they also contribute to the support of an industry which is basically corrupt. It is never right to accentuate the good in order to tolerate the evil.

Falwell, in a tirade against the networks before the City Club of Chicago, said, “The plan is to go down, down, down until all the networks are dumping cesspools in our living room. That’s the kind of pornography we’re talking about.” He told the audience, “We don’t need any bedroom scenes or four-letter words.” And, in a seeming reversal of his defense of private property, he claimed that television “is an invasion of our privacy and our civil rights” because “the airwaves belong to the people.”

Former Secretary of Health and Human Services Patricia Harris, in a speech at Princeton University, compared the actions of Moral Majority and its founder, Rev. Jerry Falwell, to those of the Ayatollah Khomeini. Her concern was centered around “the arrogance with which they propose a crusade to ‘rechristianize’ America.” Such a crusade, Harris believed, “is dangerous for our democracy.”

The religious “republic” of Khomeini is in fact a theocracy, defined in Webster’s New 20th Century Dictionary as “government by priests claiming to rule by divine authority.” Harsh and cruel punishments are the typical sentence for those who offend the strict morality of the fundamentalists who rule the nation of Iran. Homosexuals, adulterers, and prostitutes are publicly executed. Pornography, defined in the broadest sense possible, is illegal. Censorship is official policy. And strict penalties also await those found guilty of committing economic “crimes” in violation of Khomeini’s concept of providing goods and services.

Is it fair to compare the smiling Falwell to the grim Iranian dictator? Are the followers of Moral Majority as intolerant and dangerous as the followers of the Ayatollah? Is there a significant difference between the “Christianized” America envisioned by the religious Right and the horrors of the Islamic regime?

Hundreds of fundamentalist ministers and members of their congregations filled the auditorium of the Indianapolis Baptist Temple in early February, 1980, at the national convention of Moral Majority. Founder Jerry Falwell had called a conference of these “key pastors” and supporters. One of the best-received speakers was an aging minister, W. E. Dowell, who had been Falwell’s pastor many years ago and is now one of the leading lights of the Bible Baptist Fellowship and heads Moral Majority for the state of Missouri. Taking the pulpit, Dowell was direct and to the point:

Newspapers asking Brother Jerry Falwell today, several time they’ve asked him this, “Well, won’t it be something like it is over in Iran — you religious people taking over — become a religious system.” I said, I don’t know what he said, but if it had been me I’d said, well the other crowd’s had it long enough and they failed, and made such a terrible blot of it, it’s time somebody take over.

His remark was loudly cheered by his audience. If one is to believe Falwell’s statements that he is against establishing a theocracy, then one must assume he holds a minority view among the members of Moral Majority. And certainly Falwell has claimed to “have a divine mandate from God to go right into the halls of Congress and fight for laws that will save America.”

Worried as he is about omnipotent government, Falwell should be calling for less government involvement in morality, not more. Instead, the Moral Majority leaders and allies are seeking ever-increasing government influence. Rev. Robert Billings, besides being the first executive director of Moral Majority, is Vice Chairman of Paul Weyrich’s Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress. Weyrich, in turn, according to New Right direct mail king Richard Viguerie, “spent hours with electronic ministers Jerry Falwell, Jim Robinson and Pat Robertson, urging them to get involved in conservative politics,” and affiliates of Weyrich, together with Billings himself, are responsible for the drafting of the proposed Family Protection Act, which is the key piece of legislation being promoted by Moral Majority.

The Religious Roundtable revival meeting in Dallas last August was attended not only by evangelists but by such politicians as Senator Jesse Helms, Representative Phil Crane, and Ronald Reagan himself. No wonder a page one story in The Wall Street Journal last September was able to quote Richard Viguerie as saying, “We’ve already taken control of the conservative movement, and conservatives have taken control of the Republican Party. The remaining thing is to see if we can take control of the country.”

If they do, no one will be safe from the prying and probing of the ensuing monster state. How powerful a government would we need to police the morality of 220 million people? Will every bakery be policed to prevent the sale of obscene cookies? What bureaucracy will make sure that the libraries don’t have “vile” books on their shelves? How big will our government prisons become when we jail all homosexuals? Will the death penalty be enforced on women who “murder their babies” through abortion? The greatest irony of all is that even those economic freedoms in which the members of Moral Majority so fervently believe will fall victim to the moral state. A theocratic state requires a big, expensive government; when you add in the cost of the super-military the Moral Majority also wants, massive governmental expenditures can be expected — and the only way to pay for them will be to severely limit economic freedom by increasing the power of taxation.

Civil liberties and economic freedoms are two sides of the same coin. Destroy one, and the other will disappear with it. Under the Theocratic State, freedom and liberty will be memories of the past. This is something that the members of Moral Majority have not recognized.

An article in the liberal religious magazine Christian Century noted,

There is evidence that these new groups take an inconsistent view of the role of government. For the most part, they desire to limit its power. Yet on certain issues they call for more government involvement. For example, they seek a broad role for government in eliminating abortion, in restricting the rights of homosexuals, in taxing for new weapons systems whose need is unclear, and in mandating prayer and Bible reading in public schools. In short, they do not want government intervention when their own freedoms are at stake, but they are willing to use the power of government to force life-style changes on others. One does not have to be a proponent of abortion or homosexuality to see their inconsistency. If it is not right to use the government to force one group to tolerate the life style of others, then it is equally wrong to use the government to compel the second group to tolerate the lifestyle of the first. [Richard Smith and Robert Zwier, “Christian Politics and the New Right.”]

Such an attitude has grave implications for the future of liberty. For, as the great Ludwig von Mises wrote in Human Action,

No open attack upon the freedom of the individual [has] any prospect of success. Thus the advocates of totalitarianism choose other tactics. They reverse the meaning of words. They call true or general liberty the condition of the individuals under a system in which they have no right other than to obey orders… They call freedom of the press a state of affairs in which only the government is free to publish books and newspapers. They define liberty as the opportunity to do the “right” things, and, of course, they arrogate to themselves the determination of what is right and what is not. In their eyes, government omnipotence means full liberty. To free the police power from all restraints is the true meaning of their struggle for freedom.

The blatant threat from Falwell and his colleagues, Moral Majority and its allied organizations, lies not in the expression of their opinions, bigoted, intolerant, and inconsistent as they may be. Nor does it lie with their hypocrisy in the conduct of their affairs. Instead, the danger comes from their clearly and amply-documented eagerness to force their views upon the rest of society through the power of government at every level. The only moral policy is one of liberty.

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James Peron

James Peron

James Peron is the president of the Moorfield Storey Institute, was the founding editor of Esteem a LGBT publication in South Africa under apartheid.