Thursday, April 19, 2007

I. The Roots of Christian Right Unilateralism

This is a continuation of the paper started yesterday, The Evangelical Roots of American Unilateralism: The Christian Right's Influence and How to Counter It, by Duane Oldfield.

Part I examines the rise of the Christian political movement in America and the motivations behind ideology that has inspired the movement.

I. The Roots of Christian Right Unilateralism

Although the unilateral inclinations of the present administration stand in at least partial contrast to those of its predecessors, unilateralism is nothing new for the Christian right. Decades ago, movement precursors aimed their fire at internationalists and the UN. The John Birch Society launched its drive to “Get US out of the UN!” in 1959. In 1962, Billy James Hargis, leader of the anticommunist organization Christian Crusade, declared that “the primary threat to the United States is internationalism” (Redekop 66). Several older Christian right figures such as Phyllis Schlafly and Tim LaHaye trace their political origins back to the nationalist right of this era (see McGirr). Opposition to internationalist institutions, which are seen as a threat to American sovereignty and the country's role as a “redeemer nation,” continues to this day in Christian right circles (see Lienesch, chap. 5).

During the cold war era, the primary foreign policy concern of the Christian right and its precursors was the anticommunist struggle. Support for unilateralism was part of a larger mission of throwing off internationalist constraints and unleashing U.S. power to conduct a more vigorous crusade against “Godless” communism. With the fall of the Soviet Union, unilateralist anticommunism lost much of it relevance. 2 In the 1990s, a new set of concerns about international institutions came to the fore and led the Christian right to increase its attention to global affairs. 3 These concerns are rooted in a fear that the United Nations is being used to advance a liberal social agenda. High-profile UN conferences on the rights of women and population policy were among the developments that set off alarm bells for Christian right leaders. 4 Laurel MacLeod, former Director of Legislation and Public Policy at Concerned Women for America, described her group's deepening involvement with international issues by saying: “We got involved, from my perspective, in international issues in late '94, when we prepared for the fourth world conference on the status of women in Beijing, and I like to say that with UN issues and international issues, it was like we stuck our toe in a pond and fell in up to our neck and realized that it was the Pacific Ocean.” 5

The Christian right's activism on UN issues has lured it into tricky territory. Led by the organizers of the World Congress of Families, elements of the Christian right have developed seemingly unlikely alliances, working with social conservatives around the world--including the Vatican and some Islamic groups--to defend the “natural family” in the international arena. 6 Furthermore, as Concerned Women for America, Eagle Forum, and the Family Research Council have obtained official nongovernmental organization (NGO) status and participated in UN forums, they have potentially helped legitimate an institution many of their members see as profoundly illegitimate. Yet even as the Christian right grapples with the dilemmas of working within the UN, it remains quite hostile to the institution in its present form and opposes U.S. cooperation with it. From the Christian right perspective, the UN is an institution dominated by radical feminists bent on using international institutions to impose their agenda on both the U.S. and a socially conservative third world.

Another major foreign policy concern for the Christian right over the last decade has been the issue of religious persecution, especially the persecution of Christians in China, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan. Christian right activism played a significant role in the passage of the International Religious Freedom Act in 1998 (see Hertzke). The religious persecution issue is not as closely linked to unilateralism as the issues discussed above, but it is worth noting that remedies pursued by the Christian right--such as the International Religious Freedom Act, sanctions against Sudan, and the denial of U.S. trade benefits to China--all involve unilateral U.S. action against violators of religious rights rather than reliance on international organizations to define and defend those rights.

Finally, the Christian right's unilateralist inclinations are rooted in its reading of biblical prophecy. From the 1970s, when Hal Lindsey's The Late Great Planet Earth was the decade's best-selling nonfiction book to the current success of Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins's Left Behind series, works of biblical prophecy have enjoyed enormous popularity among the Christian right's supporters and beyond. 7 Details vary, but most accounts feature the rapture of believers, a period of war and natural disaster marked by the emergence of the Antichrist, and finally the second coming of the true Christ. Critically important for the purposes of this paper is a theme common to many such accounts, the creation of a one-world government, a "New World Order" led by none other than the Antichrist himself. The Antichrist's reign is said to feature attempts to impose a single world currency and a single world religion. The UN does not fare well in these accounts.

The role of the UN varies over the course of Hal Lindsey's many books on biblical prophecy. In some of his accounts, the European Union is the confederation headed by the Antichrist (Buss and Herman 26). The UN, however, is the more common villain in recent evangelical end-time writings. In the Left Behind series, the Antichrist, Nicolae Carpathia, is head of the UN. In Pat Robertson's The End of the Age, Antichrist Mark Beaulieu supplants the UN with a new and even more powerful world body, the Union for Peace. 8 In all these writings the basic message is clear: multilateral governmental bodies will be the instruments used by the Antichrist to attain world domination. These end-time accounts fuel resistance to perceived attempts to submit the United States to the authority of any regional or international governing body. The exact impact of end-time prophecies is difficult to measure. Not surprisingly, Washington representatives of Christian right organizations are hesitant to acknowledge prophetic motivations behind their groups' actions. However, given the popularity of end-time publications, including those produced by major Christian right figures such as Pat Robertson and Tim LaHaye, it is hard to believe that they do not have a significant impact. 9

The inherited unilateralism of the anticommunist right, opposition to the UN's perceived social agenda, and biblical prophecy combine to create a movement resolutely opposed to multilateralism. The exact nature of that opposition varies from group to group. Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum and the Concerned Women for America are hostile to virtually any form of multilateral authority, while the Family Research Council and the World Congress of Families are somewhat more open to compromise. All of these groups, however, endeavor to steer U.S. foreign policy in a more unilateral direction.


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