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Religious Right Plots Next Move In Ongoing `Culture War'.

Some of tile Religious Right's most prominent leaders gathered at the Library of Congress on April 13 for a forum on the "next steps towards cultural renewal."

The event, sponsored by Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) and the Heritage Foundation, highlighted the growing division within the Religious Right about the role religious conservatives should play in politics. The session was apparently an effort by the Religious Right to reach a consensus on how to proceed in the coming years. II' this forum were any indication, however, agreement remains an elusive goal.

The debate comes in the wake of a controversial statement by Paul Weyrich, head of the Free Congress Foundation and godfather of the Religious Right movement. Last February Weyrich issued an open letter concluding that religious conservatives have lost the culture war and recommending they adopt a "strategy of separation" from the rest of American society.

At the forum, Weyrich reemphasized his desire to see Religious Right believers set up their own institutions and "drop out" of a culture he finds deplorable.

"When we looked at the political scene in the mid-1970s, we had a theory about how we were going to affect the culture." Weyrich said. "The theory was that there was a moral majority out there ... who agreed with traditional values. We needed to organize these people so they would elect the right people to the Congress, and Congress would advance the cultural agenda. This strategy failed; if there was a moral majority, it has ceased to exist.... "

Continued Weyrich, "What I'm saying is we can't rely on politics to advance the cultural agenda. We have to take back the culture by ourselves.... I am recommending that conservatives concentrate on parallel structures because the culture is so defective, unless we have parallel structures, we will in fact be sucked in to at least some part of the culture. This is not dropping out of a culture war, it is simply a change in strategy."

A similar message was delivered by Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson, authors of Blinded By Might, a recently published book that criticizes the Religious Right for failing to place evangelism over politics. Although both delivered brief remarks, Thomas and Dobson (who is unrelated to Focus on the Family firebrand James Dobson) chose to make their main points in a joint statement distributed, to attendees. In the essay, Thomas and Dobson supported an approach that separates religious faith and political goals altogether.

"Our future hope does not lie in politics, which in the final analysis is rather trivial," the authors wrote. "It lies in the gospel -- spoken and lived."

Thomas and Dobson were particularly critical of the Christian Coalition's tactics of mixing politics and religion for partisan ends.

"The church must never become a center for political activism," the statement read. "It is not the place for passing out voter guides, petitions or any other type of material that is primarily political.... (W)hen Christians forge coalitions in the political system, they should never call their coalitions `Christian.' Jesus is not a white, middle-class Republican."

Randy Tate, executive director of the Christian Coalition, was unconvinced by Thomas and Dobson.

"Changing the culture is a marathon, not a sprint" said Tate. "We are winning. The glass is more full than empty. This effort is long term.... If we don't walk off the field, if we stay engaged, I believe we can make a difference."

Ralph Reed, former head of the Christian Coalition and now president of a Republican consulting firm called Century Strategies, argued that Religious Right activists should operate on twin tracks, evangelizing for their faith while remaining active in politics.

"I just think it's kind of a false, Hobbesian choice," Reed said. "I mean, it's not an either or.... We don't have to be at 50 percent plus one to change the country."

Also joining the forum were Don Eberly, president of the Civil Society Project; Carmen Pate, president of Concerned Women for America; Adam Meyerson of the Heritage Foundation; Pat Nolan, president of Justice Fellowship, and Chuck Donavan from the Family Research Council.

Church-state separationists are following the Religious Right debate with great interest.

"I was pleased to see Ed Dobson and others recognize the corrosive effect that the partisan politics of the Religious Right is having on local churches," said the Rev. Ken Brooker Langston, Americans United's Field Director, who attended the event. "But Ralph Reed and Randy Tate made it obviously clear that the Religious Right's intoxication with political power is far from over."
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Publication:Church & State
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 1999
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