After writing this, her fourth book on the Christian right, Sara Diamond donated fourteen years’ worth of research–right-wing pamphlets, fliers and position papers–to the University of California at Berkeley’s Bancroft Library and called it a day. It was time to write about something new. In some ways that is a pity. She completed Not By Politics Alone before the Monica scandal played itself out, and there is no mention of the M-word within its pages.
Yet the world she writes about–evangelical Christian circles that are beyond the line of sight of those who don’t listen to Christian radio or watch Pat Robertson’s 700 Club on Christian television–was a central backdrop in sustaining the sense of crisis about Clinton’s sex life and his ethical shortfalls during the scandal. Just as during Joe McCarthy’s first years, when a Republican Congress hounded a Democratic President with its investigatory powers, the grassroots movement supporting the extreme partisanship in Washington was at first discounted as nutty by liberals and mainstream elites, when it was noticed at all.
Far from discounting this subculture, Diamond treats it more respectfully than most analysts on the left (the Promise Keepers, for example, to her reflect a sincere desire among white evangelicals to create a nonracist brotherhood; its financial base does not represent a conspiracy of big right-wing foundations but primarily the many small donations of regular church folk). Diamond also exposes its enormous size. Evangelical churches–those believing that Christians must be born again and enter into a direct relationship with God–had 6 million more adherents in 1990 than in 1971. Its members support a $1 billion Christian-music industry–10 percent of all music sales–and 2,500 Christian bookstores. This growing world of evangelical Christianity is neither left nor right, she tells us, yet it provides the vast ocean within which the much smaller numbers of the Christian right “swim and spawn.” The evangelical subculture is the healing bath within which the right can soak after a setback. It accounts for the Christian right’s longevity, now two decades old.
With its missionary mindset instilled liturgically, the Christian right sees itself as fighting “an eternal struggle between the forces of good and evil,” ever the political outsiders to the forces of Satan and the unbelievers who have not yet been saved. They see themselves as outsiders, Diamond points out, “even as they wield political strength disproportionate to their numbers.” Conservative white evangelicals made up 24 percent of registered voters in 1996, up from 19 percent in 1987. Fifteen percent of those polled in 1996 said they were supporters of the Christian Coalition.
The Christian right’s growing electoral strength developed as its political focus shifted. Its antiabortion and “pro-family” politics have been a constant since the seventies. Now faded is the support it shared in the eighties with the more secular New Right–a support for reactionary regimes abroad in the name of fighting godless communism. Even its “pro-family” politics have changed since 1979, when Concerned Women for America formed to oppose the campaign for the Equal Rights Amendment. Then, the Christian right could attack the ERA by attacking gender equality, raising the specter of women in combat and rampant abortions. That’s not so easy now, Diamond reports. In the broader evangelical movement, fathers remain the God-given heads of families, but evangelicals often hedge by saying that, like Jesus, men must be servants of their wives as well. Now “pro-family” is more likely to mean a defense of “parental rights” against a government run amok. While one wing of the Christian right supports an autocratic, even theocratic, government enforcing “family values” against gays, premarital sex and the like, the parental-rights framework appeals to a broader crowd, including, for example, some of those who are home-schooling their children.