DATE May 18, 2005 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: D. James Kennedy discusses his goal to reclaim
America for Christ
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
My guest, Dr. D. James Kennedy, wants to reclaim America for Christ. That's
the goal of his group, the Center for Reclaiming America. According to
Kennedy, it's a myth that our country was founded on the principle of
separation of church and state. He says America was founded upon Christ and
his Word. And he despairs that this foundation is crumbling in our time.
Kennedy's Center for Christian Statesmanship ministers to people serving on
Capitol Hill to encourage the link between personal faith and public life.
The centers that Kennedy founded are part of his Coral Ridge Ministries,
which was described by Frederick Clarkson as being in the forefront of the
Christian right's drive for political power. Clarkson is the author of
"Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy." We'll
hear from him later in the show.
D. James Kennedy preaches from the pulpit of the Coral Ridge Presbyterian
Church in Ft. Lauderdale. His radio and TV programs are carried in
approximately 200 countries and have won awards from the National Religious
Broadcasters in 2003 and 2004. His latest book is called "Why the Ten
Dr. Kennedy, welcome to FRESH AIR. Since your new book is about the Ten
Commandments, let's start there. You contributed to the defense of former
Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who was expelled from the Alabama Supreme
Court when he refused to remove a 5,000-pound granite model of the Ten
Commandments in his court. The Supreme Court is considering two similar
cases--one in Texas, one in Kentucky. Now, am I fair, am I right in saying
that you think the Ten Commandments belong in the courts? And I believe you
also would like to see them displayed in Congress. Why do you think that the
Ten Commandments belong in the courts? And if you think they belong in
Congress, why there as well?
Dr. D. JAMES KENNEDY (Author, "Why the Ten Commandments Matter"): I might
begin, Terry, by mentioning that they're found, I believe, three times in the
Supreme Court building, so they felt that they were important. John Adams,
the president of the United States, one of the founders, said that without God
and the Ten Commandments that we could not exist as a nation. This is the law
of our Creator, and it was felt by the founders of this country that this
nation was a nation under God and, therefore, what he had to say about the
conduct of his preachers was important for us to know.
GROSS: You've called the separation of church and state `a grievous
deception.' What do you mean by that?
Dr. KENNEDY: Well, somebody put it this way: `The wall of separation between
church and state is bad history and worse law. It has made a positive chaos
out of rulings and should be frankly and explicitly abandoned.' Do you know
who said that?
GROSS: Go ahead.
Dr. KENNEDY: Chief Justice William Rehnquist. And it's no part of our
Constitution. It was, of course, entered in through Hugo Black and an ACLU
lawyer, Leo Pfeffer, in 1947, but prior to that, it had nothing to do with
our own sort of jurisprudence.
GROSS: You run the Center for Reclaiming America, and you also run an
annual conference called Reclaiming America for Christ.
Dr. KENNEDY: Yes, that's right.
GROSS: And you've described your goal as reclaiming America for Christ. What
does that mean?
Dr. KENNEDY: Well, John Jay, whom as you know was the first chief justice of
the first Supreme Court and, of course, one of the three men that wrote "The
Federalist Papers" that sold the Constitution to America and one of the chief
of the Founding Fathers--he put it this way. He said, `That God in his
providence has given to us a Christian nation, and it behooves us as
Christians to prefer and select Christians to rule over us.' Well, that was
the Christian perspective of most of the founders in the beginning of this
country. And, therefore, we believe that the Christian view of morality and
life is the one that should prevail in America.
GROSS: Well, in terms of how--what you would like to see--if you want to
reclaim America for Christ, does that mean that the people who sit on our
courts, the judges, our politicians, the people in Congress, our
president--should they be Christians, and should they be Christians as opposed
to Jews or Buddhists or Muslims or people who are secular?
Dr. KENNEDY: Well, let's be, you know, open about this. We have people who
are secular and humanists and unbelievers who are constantly supporting, in
every way possible, other people who share those views. And I don't object to
that; that's their privilege. And I think that Christians should be allowed
the same privilege to vote for people whom they believe share their views
about life and government, and that's all that I'm talking about.
GROSS: Have you thought about how the expression `reclaiming America for
Christ' sounds to Jews, to Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, Hindus, people who are
secular, not to mention to Christians who interpret the Bible differently than
Dr. KENNEDY: Well, I can't get into all of their heads, know exactly what
they think, but you know, unfortunately, historically, the Christian
foundation of America has been expurgated from all of our textbooks in our
schools, and so the average American today, having come through our public
schools, knows nothing about it. And, therefore, even the statement of Chief
Justice John Jay, `that God in his providence has given us a Christian
nation,' would, to them, be totally non-understandable, because as far as they
know, Christians just arrived from Mars a few months ago, perhaps a day before
the election, so they don't understand that.
And--but I would say that certainly it seems to me that when I talk to people
who are secularists or skeptics or atheists and they are supporting people who
have those views, I don't say to them, you know, `How dare you support someone
that agrees with you?' I mean, that's what all Americans do.
GROSS: In your book "Lord of All: Developing the Christian World-and-Life
View" you write, `Government comes from God and is instituted for our good
but, of course, can be abused. His principle should be applied to
government.' What does it mean to you when you say, `Government comes from
Dr. KENNEDY: Well, the Bible clearly teaches that God created this world and
that God has given us the privilege of having the authority to run the world.
But ultimately, all authority is from God, and those that rule over us rule,
not by the divine right of kings or even by the people. It is only God that
gives people the right to do anything. I don't believe that any man, without
the consent of God, which we have in the Scripture, has the right to take away
another person's liberty or to take away their life. And therefore, that is
what is meant by that, that we should govern in the light of the teachings of
God, which have--was done in this country, you know, from the time of the
pilgrims on for about 300 years, so it's not some new and alien kind of view.
This is historic America.
GROSS: Are you advocating theocracy?
Dr. KENNEDY: I am most definitely opposed to theocracy. I've said that many,
many, many times. The only true theocracy that ever existed was in Old
Testament Israel. There was only one lawgiver in Zion, and that was God.
And the laws of the state of Israel in the Old Testament were given by God, so
he was the theocratic ruler of that nation.
GROSS: You run something, a conference every year, that's called Reclaiming
America for Christ. What is the goal of the conference? How many people
come? What are its political goals and its spiritual goals?
Dr. KENNEDY: The purpose of the conference Reclaiming America for Christ is
the same as for the center, and that is to try to help Christians realize that
they have a responsibility to their culture. If you go back 20 years ago, a
study showed that half the Christians in this country were not even registered
to vote, and that of those that were registered, half of them didn't vote.
And trying to show them that as Christians, we have a responsibility to try to
bring to light in a community the teachings of God. God has things to say,
not only about church and family and individual lives, but he has things to
say about education and about government and about arts and about everything
else. So therefore, we should, as Christ said, `Go into all the world and
preach the gospel to every creature, teaching them to observe all things
whatsoever I've commanded you.' So Christ would like to bring to bear his
Now when we have turned our back on those teachings, we have had court rulings
for pornography and obscenity and abortion and partial-birth abortion and
sodomy and gay marriage, and on and on and on it goes, that have brought, in
the minds of the majority of Americans, a great deal of suffering and woe to
GROSS: According to your Web site, the Center for Reclaiming America has five
priorities, and they are "religious liberty, the sanctity of life, the
homosexual agenda," I'm quoting here, "pornography and promoting creationism."
Dr. KENNEDY: All right.
GROSS: Now I know you're opposed to the teaching of evolution.
Dr. KENNEDY: Yes.
GROSS: And you say in your book, "Lord of All: Developing a Christian
World-and-Life View," `Evolution unleased the Kinsey Report, the sexual
revolution, feminism, divorce, homosexuality and all the rest of those ills.
Hitler was a devout evolutionist. He was determined to create a superrace by
getting rid of the inferior races.' What is the connection between evolution
and the Kinsey Report, the sexual revolution, feminism, divorce, homosexuality
Dr. KENNEDY: Well, you have two options today in modern world and modern
America and elsewhere concerning the nature of man. And in a Christian--in a
world and life view, a Weltanschauung, whether it's Christian--everybody has
one whether it's Christian or something else, atheistic, secularistic, and it
begins with, first of all, `Where did the world come from?' and, secondly,
`Where did we, as human beings come from?' And there's a great deal of
difference. If we believe that we were created by a loving and Almighty God
for eternal purposes and placed upon this world, then we're going to have a
different view of life than if we believe that we simply emerged accidently
out of the primeval slime and gradually developed into monkeys, apes and human
When you have that view, then it's very easy to go from that to the kind of
views that Hitler held and where he killed millions of people. It's easy to
go--by the way, Naziism is based upon evolution. Communism, which is an
atheistic system--if you have an atheistic system, then the question arises,
`Where did man come from?' The only other answer is evolution. And so
whether it's Naziism or fascism or communism or the views of Mao in China,
Khmer Rouge, these are the views of men that have resulted in millions and
millions of people dying.
GROSS: So to sum up, you see a direct connection between the scientific view
of evolution and just about every instance of genocide in the 20th century?
Dr. KENNEDY: There--I believe that there is--by the way, I've spent 40 years
studying that, and I believe there is no doubt scientifically that that is
true. The leading scientist in France said that evolution is a fairy tale for
adults. And over and over again, notable scientists have abandoned evolution
as not having any scientific evidence to prove it.
GROSS: My guest is Dr. D. James Kennedy, founder of the Coral Ridge
Ministries which runs the Center for Reclaiming America, whose goal is to
reclaim America for Christ. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is D. James Kennedy, Dr. D. James
Kennedy, and he runs the Coral Ridge Ministry, which is a church of about
40,000 people in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. He runs the Center for Reclaiming
America, and also the Center for Christian Statesmanship.
I want to ask you about the Center for Christian Statesmanship. This is--you
founded this. It's a program for Christians to give--and I'll give--I'll
quote the Web site here--for Christians to give, quote, "the tools to
integrate biblical principles with your calling to public service, to
re-establish the principles and practices of Christian statesmanship so
prevalent at the birth of our nation."
On a message from you on the institute's Web site, you say, `The fact is that
government cannot be secular, because government's purpose is to secure rights
and blessings that come from God. And if government cannot be secular, why
should we expect our elected officials to be secular?' What do you mean, that
government cannot be secular and that we shouldn't expect our elected
officials to be secular? Why can't government be secular?
Dr. KENNEDY: Well, it comes down to the whole question of rights. Who is it
that determines what our rights are? Now the founders of this country believe
that our rights came from God, and therefore, they could not be taken away.
They were inalienable or, as they said, `unalienable rights' that had been
given to us from God. That's what the Declaration of Independence says, as
you well know.
And therefore--but if you take God away, then what you have is rights that are
given to people by man, by governments. And the government that can give you
rights can take them away just as easily. I mean, that has been seen in the
Soviet Union. It's seen in Nazi Germany. It was seen in China. And over and
over again, wherever you have an atheistic kind of government, secularistic
kind of government, there are no rights from God; therefore, there are no
inalienable rights. That's what--let me say, they can be secular, but if they
are, it is a very dangerous situation to be in. And don't claim you have some
rights, because they are the givers and takers of rights.
Dr. KENNEDY: There's nobody over them.
GROSS: OK. So this is the belief and the advice behind the Center for
Christian Statesmanship that you established. What are some of the typical
dilemmas that you think Christian politicians face in terms of following their
faith and doing their job in public office? Let me give you, like, the
classic example that is often asked about in this context. If you are a
Christian judge and a case comes before you about, for instance, abortion, and
abortion is legal in our country and legal in the state that the judge is in,
does the judge follow his conscience as a Christian--if he is a Christian that
subscribes to your interpretation of Christianity--or does he uphold the law?
Dr. KENNEDY: Well, let me give you an analogy, if I may. In Nazi Germany, it
was legal, according to the high court of Germany, that Jews were not persons,
and they had no rights. And therefore, it was perfectly legal to kill them.
Now if you, I'm sure, believe that human beings have rights and that Jews have
rights, if you were a judge in that situation and you--they're bringing some
people that they want to take and kill and that's that law, which side would
you come down on that dilemma? A politician would say, `It's the law. Kill
them.' A statesman would say, `It's not right, and therefore, I will not
approve of it.'
And in Nuremberg, in the trials after the Second World War, the Nazi attorneys
were very smart, and they threw the allied attorneys for about a 90-yard loss
when they began to condemn the Nazis for all of these people, the Jews and so
on, that they had killed and all the other things that they had done, and they
said to them, `All of these things that we have done were legal according to
the laws of Germany, Nazi Germany. And here you come here, strangers and
aliens from outside our country, trying to impose your views upon our nation.
And since we have taught in our own colleges over here that morals and mores
and laws are relativistic and change with the society'--we've been teaching
that for 40, 50 years in America. Longer than that, actually--`How can you do
that?' And our lawyers didn't know what to do, because the Nazi lawyers were
right. That's what we had been teaching, and we were violating our own
principles, which principles, I believe, were wrong.
And so now you apply that same thing in a situation you described, and I think
you'll get the answer.
GROSS: So you would like to see Christian judges sitting on the bench and
dealing with their conscience as opposed to the law, and therefore doing their
best to interpret the law--to outlaw abortion.
Dr. KENNEDY: Wait, wait.
GROSS: And did the same go through...
Dr. KENNEDY: You...
GROSS: Would the same be true for evolution, for--you were very opposed to
what you describe as the homosexual agenda. Would you like to see judges use
their, quote, "Christian conscience" to take matters into their own hands and
disobey the laws, to rule against homosexuals, to rule against the teaching of
Dr. KENNEDY: Terry, you took one thing I said, which is a part of the truth,
and you made it the whole thing. I believe that the conscience is important,
but I believe that the Constitution of the United States is also important.
And all that I would want judges or legislators or presidents or anybody to do
is to follow the Constitution. And I believe--and I think millions of
Americans believe--that in recent decades, the courts have been legislating,
have been discovering rights that are nowhere to be found in the Constitution
and imposing them upon the American people. I want them to go by the
Constitution and to interpret the Constitution and not simply legislate what
they would like to see done.
And, you know, as one of our Supreme Court justices said recently, that in
recent years, judges are legislating so many foreign things, foreign to the
Constitution, into our country today that, he said, `I am seeing a nation
arising that I don't even recognize as America.' And I would agree with that
Thank you, ma'am.
GROSS: All right.
Dr. KENNEDY: It was a pleasure to talk to you.
GROSS: Thank you very much for your time.
Dr. D. James Kennedy is the founder of Coral Ridge Ministries in Ft.
Lauderdale, which runs the Center for Reclaiming America. His latest book is
"Why The Ten Commandments Matter." We'll talk about the movement to turn
America into a Christian nation in the second half of the show. I'm Terry
Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Coming up, journalist Frederick Clarkson discusses the movement to
turn American into a Christian state. He's been following the radical right
for years, and is the author of the book "Eternal Hostility: The Struggle
Between Theocracy and Democracy."
And linguist Geoff Nunberg considers how the political meaning of the word
`red' has gone from Communist to conservative Republican.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Frederick Clarkson discusses the Christian right
movement in US politics
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
We just heard from Dr. D. James Kennedy, whose goal is to reclaim America
for Christ. My guest Frederick Clarkson has been following the movement to
turn America into a Christian nation. He's the author of the 1997 book
"Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy." Clarkson
has been writing about politics and religion for about 20 years.
Dr. D. James Kennedy, who we heard from earlier, is one of the many people who
have pointed out that the Constitution never actually uses the words
`separation between church and state.' And many of the people who argue that,
as James Kennedy does, that they want to reclaim America for Christ, say that
the Founding Fathers never intended to erect a barrier between politics and
religion. The goal was to protect religion from the government, not to
protect government from religion. How does that compare with your
interpretation of what the Founding Fathers and the Constitution have to say
about church and state?
Mr. FREDERICK CLARKSON (Author, "Eternal Hostility"): Well, it's true that
the Constitution does not have the words `church and state' in it, and in
fact, it doesn't have the word `God' or `Christianity' in it, either. In
fact, the framers of the Constitution did a very revolutionary things that
belies what D. James Kennedy says, and that is that they were very
specifically overthrowing 150 years of Colonial theocracy and that, for the
first time in the history of the world, they were creating a culture of
religious equality where your religious orientation would be irrelevant to
your status as a citizen.
And where we see that--in fact, the only mention of religion in the
Constitution is in Article 6, which says there'll be no religious tests for
public office anywhere in the United States. And what they were specifically
referring to were the various oaths, usually explicitly Christian oaths, that
public officials had to take in the Colonies in the previous 150 years,
because you had to be a member of the correct sect, by and large, to vote and
hold public office.
What Article 6 did was say, `OK, well, you can be of any religion to be a
public official. You could also be of any religion to be a citizen.' Well,
that was a very radical thing, and it set in motion the disestablishment of
the what were then called established churches. So, for example, in
Massachusetts, we had the Congregational Church, the descendant of the
original Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. And naturally, the powers
that be in the various Colonies didn't like this; they didn't want to be
disempowered in that way and to have religious equality.
GROSS: When you say that there was a Colonial theocracy, you're referring to
the fact that many of the Colonies had an established church?
Mr. CLARKSON: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: And what did it mean to have an established church?
Mr. CLARKSON: Well, it meant a little bit different things in different
places, but it basically meant that you had an official church that was
recognized by the state and in some cases supported by the state. And what
that meant was that some religions were just illegal. In the Massachusetts
Bay Colony, as we know, we had the witch trials and the executions there. But
what people often forget is that 40, 50 years before the Salem witch trials,
which were held in the late 1600s, there were Quakers hung on Boston Common
just for being Quakers, and it was illegal not only to be a Quaker, but it was
even illegal to have a Quaker in your home.
So the state enforcement of religious doctrines and the state enforcement, in
some cases, of church membership was profound. One of the formative
experiences of a young James Madison in Virginia was that he was an Anglican
and his father was actually an Anglican elder, and he was horrified to see the
beating and jailing of a Baptist minister merely for preaching the Gospel as
he understood it. And it was that experience that sent the young James
Madison to what became Princeton University to study the meaning of religious
liberty. It was illegal to be a Baptist in Virginia, which, of course, would
have been a problem for our modern Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, who are
GROSS: How do you interpret it when the Constitution says that the government
will have no established religion?
Mr. CLARKSON: Well, it means exactly what it says. There won't be any
established churches, either federally or at the state level. The First
Amendment sought to clarify the matter of religion and government, but the
foundational idea is still in Article 6. And this is the stumbling block that
the Christian right and the Christian nationalists can't get around, so they
don't really like to talk about it. And that's the idea that religious
freedom resides with the individual, and there's no mention of Christianity,
so you could be a Christian or a Jew or an atheist, and you have equal
standing in the Constitution and in the law in terms of citizenship. Where
religion resides is with the individual and the individual conscience, and
it's not up to government or established churches, which are illegal, to
determine what you and I will believe or how our beliefs might evolve over
GROSS: Those people who want to see religion play a stronger role in politics
and specifically to have Christians play a stronger role in politics and have
our government more strongly reflect what they would describe as Christian
values, they sometimes point to the Declaration of Independence, which doesn't
talk about Christianity, but it does mention the word `God.' `When in the
course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the
political bands which have connected them with another and to assume, among
the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of
nature and of nature's God entitle them a decent respect to the opinions of
mankind requires'--etc. And then it says, `We hold these truths to be
self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their
creator with certain inalienable rights.'
So, I mean, you could really argue, as many people do, that the Declaration of
Independence acknowledges God; it acknowledges religion and accepts religion
as part of the basic principle upon which the United States is being created.
Mr. CLARKSON: The Christian right's invocation of the Declaration of
Independence is an act of political desperation. The difficulty that they
have is, again, the Constitution. And the clear, unambiguous intentions of
the framers of the Constitution was to disestablish the churches and to
establish the culture and the law of religious equality. The Declaration of
Independence, written some 20, 25 years before the Constitution, was a
political document, and it was intended to rally people to rise up against the
king for a variety of reasons. And the invocation of God was a unifying
rallying point, but it's of no legal or constitutional significance in terms
of our legal structure. Many of the same people who wrote, drafted and signed
the Declaration of Independence were also people who drafted and signed the
Constitution, and they made a clear choice. They used God in a political
document to revolt against the king, and they left God of the document that
founded the new nation.
GROSS: My guest is Frederick Clarkson, author of "Eternal Hostility: The
Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy." More after a break. This is FRESH
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is Frederick Clarkson. He's been writing about religion and
politics for about 20 years. His writings include the 1997 book "Eternal
Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy."
We just heard from Dr. D. James Kennedy, and he says his goal is to reclaim
America for Christ. Where do you see him fitting into the larger movement to
bring Christian values into the government?
Mr. CLARKSON: Well, D. James Kennedy's been an important leader of the
Christian right from fairly early on, since the 1970s. But he represents a
Presbyterian Reformed tradition of evangelical Christianity, unlike Jerry
Falwell and Pat Robertson, who are Southern Baptists and fundamentalists. And
his approach has been longer-term and more methodical, arguably a bit more
intellectual than the others.
And bringing along his constituency has been a much slower arc. The
Reclaiming America conference that he began with in 1994 was a very
significant shift for him and for his constituency in beginning to engage the
people of his denomination and a wider swath of conservative Presbyterianism
into a more explicitly Christian political mode. They had not really been
engaged as a major constituency.
So Kennedy systematically moving his empire of his congregation and his
national and international television and radio ministry and his seminary and
his schools more explicitly into a proactive, conservative Christian stance
was a major development, and it's been coming along slowly but gaining
momentum and standing as he's established Washington offices and increased his
public profile considerably.
GROSS: There are several groups and several different points of view that are
represented within the movement that would like to see America become a more
Christian nation and to see the government become more Christian-influenced.
And I'm wondering if you would first describe what you think the far end of
it, the most extreme end of it, is.
Mr. CLARKSON: Well, sure. There is a movement that I've written quite a bit
about called Christian Reconstructionism, and the leading thinker of which,
the late R.J. Rushdoony, his classic work is called the "Institutes of
Biblical Law." And what he sought to do in that work was to say, `OK, if one
were to have a government that was biblical, what does that look like? What
does God require for us in the way of biblical laws?' And the effect of this,
the analogy that I use, is if you took the US Constitution and the entire
history of US federal case law and compared that to the Ten Commandments and
all of the stories of judicial applications of the Ten Commandments as found
in the Bible, you would have the "Institutes of Biblical Law."
So that's really the first effort to codify what biblical law would be, and it
would be an extreme form of Christian theocracy in which, for example, there's
a long list of capital offenses, mostly for sexual and religious crimes that
include homosexuality and adultery, but also blasphemy and heresy and, of
course, witchcraft. So we've seen elements of that here in our own history in
the early Colonies. And these ideas, these thinkers, many of their works are
in wide distribution in Christian home schools, Christian schools, seminaries,
even law schools. Reconstructionists are small in number, but the influence
of their ideas and their published works is vast.
GROSS: You say this movement is small. Are any of the members of the
leadership names that are often in the news?
Mr. CLARKSON: No. The Christian Reconstructionist movement, as they've
named themselves, are a relatively small group of thinkers and scholars.
Their books and their ideas are well-known in conservative Christian circles,
but you hardly ever see them in the news media. For example, one very popular
author and speaker is a man named George Grant, who was, for quite a number of
years, the number-two at James Kennedy's Coral Ridge Ministries. He's a
Christian Reconstructionist author, and his books explicitly call for the
death penalty for homosexuality, for example.
Another popular author is a man named Gary DeMar, who heads a little
publishing house called American Vision in Atlanta. And his books are in wide
use in Christian home schools all over the United States. I would imagine
that the numbers of people reading his versions of American history that say
that America was founded as a Christian nation number in the hundreds of
But most importantly of all is R.J. Rushdoony, the seminal thinker of the
movement. His book, the "Institutes of Biblical Law," was used and may still
be used at Pat Robertson's Regent University law school in courses on
constitutional law, because if you're going to be a Christian lawyer, then
you'd certainly first need to be able to pass the bar; you'd also need to have
some grounding in the idea of what Christian law is supposed to be all about.
GROSS: You've said the significance of this Reconstructionist movement is not
in the number of people who are members of it, but in the power of its ideas
and in the surprising acceptance of those ideas. Can you talk about how you
think this movement, although not a well-known movement and not a particularly
popular movement, has inspired political activity?
Mr. CLARKSON: There's been a sea change in American evangelicalism in the
latter part of the 20th century. And there were a lot of reasons for it. We
see a lot in the news lately about Tim LaHaye and the "Left Behind" series and
apocalypticism. That's been an emphasis in evangelical theology that's
actually been in decline for quite a while. In the '70s and the '80s, we saw
people like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell constantly on their television
shows predicting Armageddon and showing maps of the Middle East and
predicting--trying to interpret current events in terms of what's supposed to
happen in biblical prophecy. And somewhere in the early '80s, they stopped
doing that. Both Falwell and Robertson and many others had come under the
influence of the Christian Reconstructionist writers.
And a great theological compromise had taken place, because if you believed
that the world could only change after Jesus returned and the world as it is
now, being in the end times, was pretty much run by Satan, politics was kind
of a waste of time. You couldn't really expect to accomplish very much, and
while it was your duty as a Christian to do good things, changing the
government wasn't really seen as a particularly effective thing to do.
But there was another school of thought that extends beyond the Christian
Reconstructionists--they're generally referred to as Postmillennialists--and
that's generally the idea that the world becomes more perfectly Christianized,
more perfectly Christian, until Jesus can return. So it's a tremendously
politically powerful idea, because it means that all the things you do in your
life can make the world a more perfectly Christian place. And if you believe,
as they do, that it's your job to Christianize the government, that's a
tremendously transcendent idea and takes the grunt work of politics out of the
idea that you're actually building a kingdom of God.
GROSS: One of the priorities of Dr. Kennedy's Center for Reclaiming America
is to promote creationism. From your studies of the religious right, why do
you think opposing the teaching of evolution has become so important?
Mr. CLARKSON: The idea of creationism is--it's a whole worldview. It can be
synonymous with what could be called a biblical worldview from their point of
view. But if you adhere to the idea of creationism, not just in terms of the
beginning of the world or the biblical account of Genesis, but as an entire
worldview, then what happens is that you look at the public schools that don't
teach that worldview and, certainly through science, present a different idea
of the beginnings of the world, there's a conflict. And many of the leaders
of the Christian right will say that the public schools, if you send your
children to them, you might as well be sending them to be taught by Satan or
Satan's agents, and they mean it. So the fight over the teaching of evolution
vs. creationism in the public schools goes fundamentally to what their
worldview is about.
GROSS: Is there a growing homeschool movement in the Christian right?
Mr. CLARKSON: Yes, very much. The homeschooling movement has been going on
quite a while now, several decades, and it's actually quite an industry.
Since at least the '80s, the right to homeschool has been a part of the
Republican Party platform under the influence of the Christian right, and
there are many organization that are involved in the legal support. Various
kind of curriculums are out there that you can purchase. A huge textbook
industry has built up around it. And there was just recently a statewide
Christian homeschooling conference here in Massachusetts, involved hundreds
and hundreds of people.
So taking one's children out of the public schools and teaching them at home
is a trend and it's a movement, and it's even advanced so far as there's
actually a college in Virginia, Patrick Henry College, headed by Michael
Farris, who founded the Home School Legal Defense Fund, and it's a college
that's intended primarily for children who've been homeschooled through all or
most of their education. And it's very interesting, because that college,
being located so close to Washington on purpose, seeks to place its students
in internships in Washington. And I'm told that there are more interns in the
White House from Patrick Henry College than any other.
GROSS: Frederick Clarkson, thank you very much for talking with us.
Mr. CLARKSON: You're very welcome. It's a pleasure to be here.
GROSS: Frederick Clarkson writes about religion and politics. He's the
author of the book "Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and
Coming up, linguist Geoff Nunberg considers how the colors red and blue took
on political meaning. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Commentary: Origins and connotations of the terms `red state' and
TERRY GROSS, host:
Political analysts have been dividing the country into red states and blue
states for several years now, but it's only in the last year or two that the
decision has really caught on with the media and the public. As our linguist
Geoff Nunberg points out, the odd thing is that the new usage seems to reverse
the traditional political meanings of red and blue.
Color names are the most elemental labels you can give to opposing sides.
They suggest irreconcilable divisions that go deeper than merely political
differences. You think of the whites and reds of the War of the Roses or the
Russian Revolution, or of the blues and greens of Constantinople who began as
the supporters of different chariot racing teams at the circus and grew into
warring factions that pervaded the life of the Byzantine Empire.
By those historical standards, America's decision to divide itself into blue
and red cultures is a pretty genteel affair, more on the order of a summer
camp color war. But it's odd the way this has come on us so suddenly. The
terms themselves go back a few election cycles. According to Grant Barrett's
recent political dictionary, "Hatchet Jobs and Hardball," they first appeared
during the 1992 presidential election. That was when the networks decided to
coordinate their electoral graphics using blue for the Democrats and red for
But words are like fashions; they can lie around on the shelf for a long time
before somebody suddenly decides to make a statement with them. Until
recently, `blue state' and `red state' were rarely used. As late as 2000, the
terms only appear about a dozen times in major newspapers, and always in
stories about the presidential election itself. Over the last year, by
contrast, they've appeared over 2,500 times, and they show no signs of tailing
off even as people put the 2004 election behind them.
The terms aren't exclusively political anymore, either. There's no aspect of
American life that hasn't been given a place on the national color wheel. A
recent article in Brandweek reports that Scotts is introducing a new
fertilizer that's aimed at the blue-state market. The Cincinnati Reds pitcher
Joe Valentine, who was raised by lesbian parents, describes himself as `a
blue-state guy playing in a red-state sport.' And The New York Times quotes
the program director of a Los Angeles radio station disparaging some
competitors who play what he calls `red-state rock.' That phrase pretty much
sums up the sociopolitical theory behind the blue-red distinction. If you
like Lynyrd Skynyrd, you'll love George Bush.
That may explain why the phrases `red state' and `blue state' reversed the
traditional political associations of those colors. Until recently, red
connoted revolutionary left--the Red Army, the little red book, a bunch of
Reds. That connection was first made in the 1830s from the color of either a
flag or a party badge; there are different stories about this. But it caught
on because red evokes passion, violence and the forbidden. If those flags or
badges had been colored yellowish-brown, nobody would have been tempted to
describe John Reed, Emma Goldman and the rest as `a bunch of oakers.'
And once red was in place for the left, it led to the spin-offs `pink' and
`pinko' as derisive labels for bourgeois radical wanna-bes, a color that
suggests both pallid conviction and effeminacy at the same time.
Blue, on the other hand, evokes fixity, coolness and reserve, which is why
it's historically associated with conservatism and propriety. You think of
blue bloods and bluenoses for prudes, not to mention blue chips, blue laws and
the blue book that lists the names of socially prominent families. Blue is
the traditional color of the Conservative Party in the UK, and in Canada the
blue Tories are the conservative wing of the party. It's no wonder foreigners
sometimes feel that we Americans have gotten our chromatic wires crossed.
But even if the red-blue reversal began as the arbitrary decision of a network
graphic artist, it makes a certain sense. After the fall of communism and the
eclipse of the far left, a color that connotes wild-eyed radicals doesn't have
much relevance to the media stereotype of urban liberals from Boston or San
Francisco, those effete, intellectual, bloodless--well, bluestockings is what
we used to call it.
And red has other associations that make it appropriate to stand in for
heartland American culture. You could start with the idea of the heartland
itself and add red-blooded and red meat, with redneck hovering unspoken in the
But then the whole idea of a blue-red cultural dichotomy doesn't bear close
examination in the first place. It evaporates as soon as you look at a
county-by-county election map or at a list of Starbucks locations. True, that
won't necessarily deter people from making the blue-red distinction a
permanent part of the American political lexicon, as a cultural counterpart of
left and right. The media thrive on facile oversimplifications, particularly
when they come with good visuals.
But the faster the media pick up on a fashion, the more quickly they tend to
drop it when it gets tired. If I had to bet, I'd guess that the appeal of
dividing American into color-coded cultures will fade as soon as another
presidential election rearranges the electoral quilt into something a little
less tidy, or as soon as "The Simple Life" goes into reruns, whichever comes
GROSS: Linguist Geoff Nunberg is the author of "Going Nucular: Language,
Politics and Culture in Confrontational Times." The paperback edition will be
published in June.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
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