Under The Revival Tent

Beyond the aging Billy Graham, some new faces on the Christian right

TED HAGGARD: Pastor of Colorado Springs's large New Life Church and head of the National Association of Evangelicals, with a membership of 45,000 churches, Haggard talks to the president or his advisers regularly. His is the most powerful religious lobby in the U.S. Pastor Ted believes in the military as a public service and backs preemptive war. "My fear," he tells Harper's, "is that my children will grow up in an Islamic state."

JAMES DOBSON: Founder and chair of Focus on the Family, also based in Colorado Springs, Dobson is at the cutting edge of conservative politics, attacking the Senate deal over judges as a "betrayal" by Bill Frist. Lately, Dobson has been best known for his attacks on SpongeBob SquarePants. Dobson says he was unfairly smeared for saying that SpongeBob has homosexual characteristics. What he really meant to say, he insists, is that SpongeBob is a sort of Trojan horse for gays, that the We Are Family Foundation was sneaking a message to schoolkids by having SpongeBob, Big Bird, Barney, and others singing "We Are Family." The message's words of "tolerance and diversity," according to Dobson, sound innocuous but in fact have been co-opted by gays to spread homosexuality among children.


Since Ronald Reagan first took office, the long-standing obsession of the Republican right has been to break up the traditional Democratic base, including the black vote. And as returns in battleground states showed last fall, Republican views on such issues as gay marriage and school vouchers did swing votes, in part because of issues such as gay marriage, but also because of quantities of cash from Bush's faith-based slush funds. The Los Angeles Times estimates that, in 2003, Bush awarded more than $1 billion to hundreds of faith-based groups that had not received federal funds before.

To be sure, the evangelicals' political reach stretches far beyond the black vote. Charles Strozier, author of Apocalypse: On the Psychology of Fundamentalism in America, a detailed 1994 study of evangelical thinking, notes that evangelicals in America have "gone mainstream" and "upscale." Not all evangelicals are conservative. Strozier estimates that perhaps 20 percent of the 100 million total are progressives.

Ralph Reed's candidacy is one of several efforts being made by the evangelical right to build wider political bases in key states. In the battleground state of Ohio, there is a move to mobilize 2,000 evangelical, Baptist, Pentecostal, and Roman Catholic leaders in a network of "Patriot Pastors" to help elect the conservative secretary of state J. Kenneth Blackwell governor next year. The scheme will reach its crescendo next spring, when Christian right leaders such as Robertson and Dobson arrive for a huge "Ohio for Jesus" rally.


Additional reporting: Natalie Wittlin and Halley Bondy

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