What you are doing is to defend Satanism," wrote a woman from McLean to Senator Mark Hatfield (R-Ore.) recently. The stationery was imprinted with the letterhead "Citizens for God and Country," with a post-office box number as the address.
Hatfield was vilating his oath of office, she went on, attempting to destroy Christianity." . . .If you do not cease, you will rest eventually with regrets similar to those of loss of political career . . . " she warned. "Those who do not listen to the Right, do so with great risk to their careers!"
Hatfield's sin? He said on a television program that it was possible to be both a political liberal and a conservative, evangelical, born-again Christian, which is what he is.
That notion runs counter to what's being preached by the organizers of the current move to organize self-proclaimed Christians of the evangelical, charismatic, born-again or fundamentalist variety into a political force. Colorful preachers of the airwaves, who have guided the alliance of their flocks to the New Right, have proclaimed that biblical truths point inevitably to legislation prohibiting abortion, it increased spending on weapons for national defense, to the demise of the Equal Rights Admendment, against legislation enhancing the civil rights of homosexuals, and other points that are congenially reflected in the platform adopted at the Republican National Convention.
But not all evangelicals or fundamentalists agree. Although as the television preachers have dominated the media with their vision of the new "moral America," other committed Christians have been questioning their methods and motives. From the even-farther right voice of the Bob Joneses, father and son, who attack the movement for ocnsorting with Catholics, Jews and Mormons to the liberal Hatfield and even farther left to a growing band of radical evangelicals, it is clear that they are not all singing the same hymn.
The claims of the new conservative Christian political movement are impressive. One group, the Washington based Moral Majority, says it has registered between 2 and 3 million new voters in the 14 months of its existence, raised $1.5 million dollars, started a newspaper and bought time on 140 radio stations for a daily five-minult commentary by its main founder, Rev. Jerry Falwell of Lynchburg, Va. The original director of the Moral Majority, Rev. Bob Bllings, recently went to work coordinating church voters for Ronald Reagan's campaign.
A meeting expected to draw 7,5000 fundamentalist ministers for a briefing on political issues and tactics that ended yesterday in Dallas was covered by media from all over the country. Indeed, mass media have been brilliantly used by the conservatives Christians.
But even they admit that their power has not really been tested. Will the 340,000 members of the Moral Majority have as much impact on the election, for example, as the approximately 16 million labor union members who are registered to vote?
Will the supposedly vast viewing and listening audience for religious programs -- according to figures by the National Religious Broadcasters Association about 47 percent of the country's population listen or watches a program once a week -- translate into votes that elect Ronald Reagan and other approved candidates?
The men whose perspectives are presented below agree on one thing: America is going through a time of spiritual torment, as values are tested, as people react to the contemporary traumas of divorce, deteriorating public schools, and the lack of community. They disagree on the solutions:
Twenty-five years ago Jerry Falwell was a 22-year-old minister fresh out of baptist Bible College trying to start a church in an old soft-drink factory. His congregation grew and today Falwell is one of the most famous electronic evangelists. He is invited to meetings at the White House and with Republican candidate Ronald Reagan, and his congregation has grown from 35 to about 17,000 in Lynchburg, an individual city in central Virginia where he lives in a well-guarded $160,000 mansion that was given to the church. Invariably dressed in a dark three-piece suit, Falwell has the rhythmic speech of a southerner and the enthusisam of a cheerleader.
His political evolution has been gradual. Fifteen years ago he believed, like Bob Jones, that reforming society's morals was none of the church's business. Now he feels that the "pro-moral" viewpoint must be asserted in the political arena or the very future of the country is in doubt. He feels he has been "called" to this work.
Politicans blessed by Falwell are rewarded by having their pictures in one of his widely distributed publications, or by being introduced from the audience on his televised church service, "The Old Time Gospel Hour," which has between 6 million and 15 million viewers. Viginia politicans routinely visit his church on Sunday and he is "great friends" with the state's conservative stalwarts like Senator Harry Byrd and Governor John Dalton. Falwell is the only non-family member whose picture hangs in the Dalton family den at the governor's mansion.
Falwell maintains that he does not endorse candidates, but somehow the message gets across. For example, the last two issues of the Moral Majority Report featured in successvie weeks pictures of Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter on the cover -- but the picture of Reagan showed him conferring with Falwell, while Carter was pictured alone and in an unflattering pose.
But Jerry Falwell is worried. He's worried that the Moral Majority types have come on too strong, that the public sees them as "hard right" -- wingers rather than compassionate moralistas. He has been somewhat mellowed by public criticism and some of the things he is saying now might surprise longtime observers accustomed to his Right-Wrong rhetoric. He says he plans to take a lower profile in the months ahead before the election, becoming just "one leader among many leaders."
"I am not one of those who uses the phrase 'Christianizing America,' "says the man who last year spoke of wanting to "turn this into a Christian nation." t
"I feel that whereas Christianity has flourished in America, it is because America has been totally free and open to any and all religious faiths. I would literally fight to the death for the right of a Madalyn O'hair to say what she believes, for the Mormon church to preach what it preaches."
As he talks, leaning back in the swivel chair in his red-carpeted office, he fiddles with a desk-top American flag. Downstairs are the cinder-block hallways of his Lynchburg Christian Academy, at the moment being painted by a crew of older students. On a bulletin board in the primary school area is a display that reads: "If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?" Scrawled on the back of a blackboard in another room is a more typical schoolhouse riposte: "Pat is a Rat." Across the vast parking lot is the Thomas Road Baptist Church, where Falwell and his assistants conduct services for 4,000 at a time several times on Sundays.
At the small Lynchburg airport, clean-cut boys and girls are arriving to begin the school year at Liberty Baptist College, another Falwell enterprise. Several students "who would otherwise not be able to afford college" live with Falwell, his wife and three children in their homes.
It is not surprising that listeners might be confused about just how dogmatic Falwell is. A recent mailing by the Moral Majority, soliciting funds to combat a "gay rights bill" in Congress, was adorned with the phrase "Let's stop homosexuals once and for all!" across the top of one page, signed "Jerry." But, then he said in an interview last week:
"I think we can certainly be for the civil rights of homosexuals without condoning their life style . . . I have no objection to a homosexual teaching in the public classroom as long as that homosexual is not flaunting his life style or soliciting students. I would say the same about a promiscuous heterosexual . . . ."
The ecumenicism of the Moral Majority is based more on political sense than a theological embrace.
"There's no question about that," Falwell says. "The fact is we have to find common ground for everybody. There has to be room for compromise. Nobody gets everything they want."
The two most important issues for the Moral Majority are a constitutional amendment banning abortion and a stronger national defense. "We're talking about life and freedom," he says. "If I had to give ground on every other issue I would stay fast with those two."
The only requirements for membership in Moral Majority are "Number one, citizenship in the United States, and number two, that you adhere to, believe in, a pro-life, pro-traditional family, pro-moral position. Conceivably an atheist could belong."
National defense is needed to protect the country against godless communists, and thus becomes a religious, or moral issue.
"We all wish that no one had invented nuclear weapons, but the fact is that there are nuclear weapons," he explains. "The only sensible way to prevent the Soviet Union from using weapons on us, either to destroy us to blackmail us, is to be stronger than they."
He does not see meaterialism as a spiritual threat; rather material wealth in America "is God's way of blessing people who put him first."
"I don't think anybody in America is starving to death," he says. "If they are, it's because the nation is not informed about it, not because food isn't available . . . The scripture says the love of money is the root of all evil, it doesn't say money is . . . I don't think it's wrong for a man to drive a car while anolther man must walk, or for a man in America to eat a meal knowing that someone in Africa is starving. Jesus said the poor will always be with us. As much as we would like to eliminate poverty from the face of the earth, we're not going to get it done. That doesn't mean we don't work at it."
He is not of the brand of conservative who would eliminate all social programs from the federal budget, although he is aware that people have that impression, as well as the notion that those who do not subscribe to the views of the Moral Majority are by implication the "immoral minority."
"The real challenge the Moral Majority has in the years ahead is to prove to the American people that we've got a heart, because it looks like we're coming on like religious crusaders of the dark ages, rule or ruin. That is the last thing the people I work with have on their minds, but we've got to prove that by action . . . I think we have a p.r. job on our hands to prove that we are human beings who love people but who have convictions about what's right and what's wrong."
Senator Hatfield was once described as a Southern Baptist in a Brooks Brothers suit. That was in a time before the phrase "born-again" had become a familiar catch word, and before big-time preachers had public relations aides. Being described as a Southern Baptist was another way of saying someone didn't drink, didn't smoke, and didn't play cards.
Hatfield, now a gray-haired 58, does not want to attack any of the spokesmen for the conservative-Christian political movement personally, although he is distrubed at what he sees as the "politicization of religion."
"The real issue is whether or not we have been asked to Christianize the state. I reject that idea . . . The Gospel is a person. When you say 'these are the issues that the moral majority . . .'--that to me is apostasy.
"Look at the life of Christ--it was filled with compassion, love, healing. It wasn't divisive. When you superimpose on that magnificent gospel this kind of dogma --it reminds me that Christ's greatest problem during his lifetime was the religious establishment."
The religious might have a hard time classifying Hatfield on the issues. They would approve of his position on abortion -- he supports the idea of a constitutional amendment banning it. But he is a co-sponsor of the Equal Rights Amendment, and opposed to the nuclear arms race. His early opposition to the Vietnam war brought him such vehement personal attacks that he considered leaving the Senate after one term.
Hatfield, actually comes from a family of Anabaptists, a sect that strongly believes in the separation of church and state. He has been seriously involved with his church since his youth, and describes himself as a "conservative, evangelical, born-again Christian." It was reported during his two terms as governor of Oregon that he sometimes would stop his state car en route so that he could kneel at the roadside to pray when dealing with a difficult problem.
"I am a political liberal," Hatfield said during a recent interview in his Senate office, a quiet sanctum with an impeccably clean desk. He was wearing a navy blazer with brass buttons and gray slacks. The other rooms in his suite have been attacked by some kind of efficiency minded decorator, with work space divided by modernistic carrels and streamlined cabinets.
"It's a good word, liberal. It comes from the word that means to liberate.
I am conservatiave theologically. Many people can't understand how you can be both. The first error of that is to take the definition of one discipline and apply it to another.
"We on the evangelical side base our faith on the authority of the scripture. That which we cannot explain, we accept on faith. We accept the authority of God's word . . . . The conservative political person, characterized by issues and by an authoritarian kind of commitment--it's quantitative how much of your thinking is so encumbered by dogma that you cannot entertain opposing viewpoints."
The difficulty, as Hatfield sees it, is not just a position on a particular issue, but to what extent that position is proclaimed to be the only morally correct position.
"I don't view the political involvement of conservative Christians with alarm. The distinction comes in the employment or utilization of religious faith . . . When I spoke at antiwar rallies with William Sloane Coffin--who's a liberal--he at no time said you're a better Christian man for a position you've taken on a political issue. [Senator] Sam Nunn is a very sincere Christian man. We disagree on the issue of draft registration, which he supports, but we do not impugn each other's religious convictions . . . What I react against is the equating of a political issue with one's morality or one's ethics or one's relationship to God.
"I like to remember what John Wesley said," Hatfield continues. "He was a great evangelical who set up medical clinics for the poor in London and started the Methodist church. He said, 'If I was drowning, I would rather be seen by a burglar who can swim than a bishop who can't"
Bob Jones Jr. and Bob Jones IIIrefused to be interviewed because they find The Washington Post "too liberal."
However, their published criticism of Falwell provides another opinion of the Moral Majority movement. Both Joneses are based at the Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C., founded by the first Bob Jones in the early 1940s. There they have a lavish music department, art collection, radio stations and a set of strict standards for the students that prohibit off-campus dates and such things as lying on a blanket on campus.
Through its thousands of fundamentalish Christian graduates, the Joneses weild considerable influence, and their attack this June on Falwell, in the form of a letter from Jones Jr. addressed to "Dear BJU Preacher Boy," accompanied by a copy of an aritcle by Jones iii, was something Falwell felt he couldn't ignore.
"Bob Jones can't hurt you," explains Falwell, who published both Joneses' opuses and his rebuttal in an issue of the Moral Majority report. "But there are 110,000 fundamentalist churches in America, and if they hear only one side of the story they'll start to think Jerry is guilty."
The Joneses have a history of attacking fundamentalist leaders they feel have strayed, notably Rev. Billy Graham, whom they disparage for "cooperative evangelism."
One of the things they criticized Falwell for is associating with anti-ERA leader Phyllis Schiafly, because she is a Roman Catholic. But that was a small crime compared to the sin of Falwell's having allowed a certain movie star into his church:
"Any man who in the middle of a crusade for morality and the home will introduce the much-married Elizabeth Taylor to his congregation on Sunday morning and to his television audience raises serious doubts about how genuinely concerned he is about moral standards," wrote Bob James Jr. "Elizabeth Taylor is a perfect example of the thing he is supposed to be crusading against. He should have denounced her, not permoted her . . . . He is lacking in spiritual discernment and genuine moral conviction or, at least, any gift of the discerning of spirits."
(Taylor is married to Virginia Senator John W. Warner, who is often pictured or mentioned in Falwell newspapers. Falwell's rebuttal was that Jones' comment was "hardly worthy of an answer. Our doors are open to everyone. That is what the church is all about.")
The two traded insults over now-fallen evangelists who have spoken at their respective churches -- Jones criticized Falwell for having allowed Bob Harrington, "the preacher of Bourbon Street," to speak. Harrington subsequently divorced his wife. Falwell countered by noting that Jones had entertained Billy James Hargis, who later was found to have had sexual relations with both male and female students at his American Christian College.
Liberals are amused at this warfare, and point to it as an example that there are serious fissures in the apparently solid front of evangelical politics. "They're sowing the seeds of their own destruction," says one.
But in one area the unchurched who are worried about the Christian Right might agree with another Jones attack. "My own personal opinion is that Falwell thinks he can be president of the United State in 1984, and he is building himself a political party."
Falwell denies any political ambitions. "If Moral Majority got so strong it could elect a president or a Congress then I would disband it," he says.
Jim Wallis is 32, and lives in a house off 14th street in Washington's inner city with a group of community activists. At first glance, it looks like the proverbial hippie commune, complete with glass jars of grains in the kitchen and a shabby cast-off furniture in the living room.
But instead of the ubiquitous Indian bedspread tacked on the wall, there is a banner that reads "My Peace I Give Unto You, Not as the World Gives." Despite the blue jeans and beards, it becomes clear that this is not a commune, it is a community of (mostly) young evangelicals, still decked with the trappings of the counterculture and antiwar movements from which they came, but living a very different life style.
Groups like Moral Majority are trying to "capture the hearts and minds of people in the churches," Wallis says, but what the conservative right offers is "a rigidly controlled ideological agenda that reinforces the worst values and structures of the present system."
"Many seek to return to an era like the '50s," Wallis wrote recently, "when the United States had clear nuclear superiority, the poor were quiet, and women stayed at home . . . ."
It is not surprising that there is a desire to return to the past, he says, because "nothing works anymore. Nobody's excited, enthused or loyal to the way things are. Crisis now describes our whole way of life. The old structures are not working, but the new ones are not yet in place, so people turn to something that sounds familiar and has the ring of security . . . ."
This group -- one of a network of over 300 similarly minded groups across the country -- calls itself the "sojourners," a biblical metaphor for people who live as a "creative minority" because of their commitment to a "new order." The immediate community consists of about 45 people who live in the vicinity of Euclid Street NW, although twice that many come to Sunday services in the basement of the Clifton Terrace apartment building.
The Sojourners publish a monthly magazine of the same name, which they have built up to a respectable circulation of 45,000 since 1971 (Sen. Hatfield has contributed to the magazine). Other members of the community, including Wallis' sister, run a day-care center in their neighborhood, and have organized the Southern Colonial Heights Tenants Union to help renters "have some control over their housing."
"We've become a fixture in landlord-tenant court," Wallis says.
They live on an average of $200 a month and each person in the community gets $15 for "personal needs." ("These days if you see a movie and have a beer after, that about blows it," one community member says.) They operate on a communal basis, with income pooled and spent as needed.
"I would like our life style not to make people gasp," says Wallis. "We don't want people to think we're either crazy or admirable. We're not a commune; this is not a place where people sleep around. Nor do we live a monastic existense; we're not suffering. We're trying to show that you can establish a new way of life. We can live on less than we ever thought we could."
Wallis, a child of the middle class who grew up in Detroit and spent his college years as a radical opponent of the war in Vietnam, was converted over a period of years. "I was not on drugs or strung out," he says. "it was a spiritual process, a pilgrimmage. It was a political and intellectual conversion as well as personal."
He now spends half his time traveling around the country as "an itinerant evangelical preacher," an alternative to the television stars like Falwell who take in and spend millions of dollars on their ministries. Wallis agrees with Falwell that the country is in spiritual turmoil; but his prescription is for less Christian chauvinism and more "traditional biblical precepts."
"We think there are two fundamental questions facing us today," he says. "The first is the gulf between the rich and the poor. It's widening. It is become more volatile; and resources are diminishing. The division of the world into the halves and the have-nots sets the context for everything else. And on that question the Bible is emphatic; the most Christian way to view a society is from the point of view of those at the bottom, not those at the top.
"Half the world's population lives on $200 a year less; in this country 6 percent of the population has 40 percent of the wealth . . . . It's a grotesque sin. It's only our hardness of heart that allows us to accept a society that starves children.
"The second fundamental issue is the threat of nuclear war. The arms race grows out of a desire to protect ouor over-consumption and our control of resources all over the world . . . .
The reason we are in danger is not because of the Russians, but because of the position we have in the world. We are the most hated nation, the target of all the hostility of the people at the bottom."
The Sojourners work with other groups toward a moratorium on the development and testing of nuclear weapons, including protest demonstrations as well as lobbying. "Biblical wisdom suggests that true security is found less in stockpiling goods and arms than in pursuing justice and peace," he says.
He looks forward to a "revival of faith in the great tradition," such as the religious movements of the 19th centruy which gave birth to the abolitionist movement and efforts to help the poor.
"We're talking about returning to the old values of the Christian faith," he says. "The country is no longer governable on the old assumptions . . . .
The culture will wither take a decided turn in a new direction, or it will turn toward the repressive nationalism of the New Right. The church could be catalytic in that choice."