Photo: Evangelical prayer rally in Washington, D.C., in 2008. Credit: Creative Commons - Photo: 2020

America’s Christian Right, Republicans and Donald Trump – 4

Viewpoint by John Newsinger*

This is the fourth of a six-part article originally published in International Socialism under the title The Christian right, the Republican Party and Donald Trump. Click here for part three of the series. Any views or opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of IDN-InDepth News.

LONDON (IDN) – According to Craig Unger, the evangelical churches fill the “real or perceived needs of tens of millions of Americans”. They lived in “an elaborate, fully developed evangelical counterculture that utilised all the marketing tools of the modern world”.

Their children went to Christian schools or were home schooled, kept away from sex education and preached abstinence, taught creationism instead of evolution and warned that Christian America was under constant attack from demonically inspired “secular humanism”. America was in imminent danger of God’s wrath unless the tide was turned.

There were “Christian summer camps for the kids, and Christian comic books, movies and records … Instead of Disney World, evangelicals took the kids to Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s Heritage PTL (Praise the Lord), a 2,300-acre Christian theme park …that reportedly drew up to 6 million visitors a year in its heyday. Likewise, the Holy Land Experience in Orlando, Florida, features a replica of Herod’s Temple and a re-creation of the Jerusalem street where Jesus walked towards his crucifixion”.

More recently, in May 2007, the Creation Museum opened on a 47-acre site in Petersburg, Kentucky, providing an alternative to evolution, proving that God created the universe “in six consecutive 24-hour days less than 10 thousand years ago”. It had over 400,000 visitors in its first year and in April 2010 “welcomed its one millionth guest”.

As Susan and William Trollinger point out in their study of the museum, it might seem “inexplicable and bizarre”, indeed “wacky” to many people, but, in fact, “the Creation Museum lies squarely within the right side of the American cultural, political and religious mainstream…it represents and speaks to the religious and political commitments of a large swath of the American population”.

From school, evangelical Christians went “on to one of more than a hundred Christian colleges or universities”. And after that there are Christian gyms and golf courses, evangelical skateboarders, a Christian Wrestling Federation, Christian rock festivals, Christian Yellow Pages, Christian garages, Christian trailer parks, Christian diet plans (What Did Jesus Eat?, Ten Commandments for Health and Wellness), Christian lawyers, Christian furniture, Christian fast food outlets, Christian travel agents offering Christian holidays and Christian retailers of every kind from bookshops to grocers to chain stores such as Tyson Foods and Wal-Mart.

LifeWay Christian Stores, for example, sold, among other things, Christian pencils and “pro-life T-shirts (‘Mummy, Please Let Me Live’ and ‘Former Embryo’)”. Not forgetting the “Dial-A-Prayer” service that many evangelical ministries offer. There are even Christian sex manuals, a number of them written by leaders of the Christian right, Tim and Beverly LaHaye (The Act of MarriageThe Act of Marriage After 40 and others), and Christian sex toys. Or for the more out-door inclined there was duck hunting with Colonel Oliver North’s Godly Guys with Guns. And, of course, there are Christian radio and TV stations. There is even a Christian right alternative to the much-hated American Council for Civil Liberties (ACLU), the American Centre for Law and Justice (ACLJ).

The Christian right has also been sustained by a huge evangelical literary output, both fiction and non-fiction. Hal Lindsey’s book of apocalyptic prophecy The Late, Great Planet Earth, published in 1970 and in print ever since, was the best-selling book of the 1970s and had sold over 30 million copies by the end of the 20th century.

Most important, however, is the Left Behind series of 12 novels written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. The first volume was published in 1995 and the last in 2004, although the success was so great that a number of sequels and prequels followed. The Left Behind books chronicle the rapture, when the saved are taken up to heaven and war subsequently breaks out among those left behind, between the adherents of the Antichrist and those prepared to be “born again”.

The Antichrist is, of course, the secretary general of the United Nations, who is a test-tube baby fertilised inevitably by the sperm of two homosexual men. When Jesus finally returns after seven years, he comes as a merciless macho genocidal warrior, someone wholly without mercy, defeating the armies of the Antichrist at Megiddo and horrifically killing all those who are not ‘born again’ Christians. They are damned to an eternity of suffering in Hell.

Although Israel and support for Israel plays an important role in this Christian ­eschatology, it nevertheless reeks of antisemitism. As LaHaye himself has pointed out, the Jews “had rejected the Son of God, crying ‘Crucify Him! Crucify Him!’”. The only Jews who will be saved are those who convert to evangelical Christianity – 144,000 of them apparently. Everyone else is damned: liberals, socialists, gays and lesbians, secularists, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, atheists, and most Christians, especially Catholics.

These books are a major cultural phenomenon in the United States. According to Craig Unger, writing in 2007, they had sold “more than 63 million copies”. And there is also a massive spin-off industry around the series with a parallel series of 20 novels written for kids, a series of 40 graphic novels, a video game and a number of feature films, one starring Nicholas Cage. The series is virtually unknown outside the US.

The televangelists

One of the most important cornerstones of both contemporary US evangelism and of the Christian right is televangelism. Sara Diamond described televangelism as “the single most important ingredient in the rise of the Christian right”. By 1987, televangelism was “a two billion a year industry, and religious broadcasters controlled more than 1,000 full-time Christian radio stations and more than 200 full-time Christian TV stations”.

In the 1960s, the televangelists’ TV audience had been some 6 million viewers, but this “ballooned…to 25 million by the mid-1980s”, generating huge profits. By 1986, Jerry Falwell’s Sunday morning sermons “were heard weekly in one of every four homes in America”, broadcast by many “secular” TV and radio stations as well as by the Christian ones.

The staple of the preaching on these channels was the “prosperity gospel”, the doctrine that wealth was a blessing and a reward from God. The way that those either without wealth or with not enough could enrich themselves was through donations to the televangelists, thereby helping spread God’s word and, of course, enriching the televangelists in the process. There was nothing wrong with their pastors being extravagantly wealthy, indeed, it merely validated the “prosperity gospel”.

One of the most successful of the prosperity preachers, Jim Bakker, actually argued that “a pastor should live at least as good as the wealthiest member of the congregation. When you bless the man in the pulpit, you will be blessed”.

One of the architects and great popularisers of the “prosperity gospel” was Oral Roberts. He was a faith healer who claimed to have raised dozens from the dead, including a baby in the middle of a service, so that when he promised that donations to his ministry would be repaid sevenfold by God, he was believed by hundreds of thousands of people. His 1975 Thanksgiving TV Special was watched by an audience of 25 million.

Nevertheless, even by televangelist standards, Roberts was regarded by many as somewhat vulgar, as a huckster. He sold pieces of cloth “bearing the imprint of his healing hand” and plastic bags of holy water “advising the viewers to anoint their wallets with it for a quick return on their investment”. His most famous scam, however, was unveiled on 4 January 1987, when a tearful Roberts told his viewers that God was going to call him home to Heaven unless they raised eight million dollars before the end of March.

Donations poured in at the rate of 160,000 dollars a day at one point and just before the deadline there was a single donation of 1.3 million dollars that saved his life. As a sceptical James Randi subsequently pointed out, if his ministry was so desperately in need of money, then he could have sold “any one of his homes in Beverley Hills, Tulsa or Palm Springs”. [IDN-InDepthNews – 23 February 2020]

* John Newsinger is a member of Brighton Socialist Workers Party (SWP). His most recent book is Hope Lies in the Proles: George Orwell and the Left (Pluto, 2018).

Photo: Evangelical prayer rally in Washington, D.C., in 2008. Credit: Creative Commons

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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