For decades now, shocked lefty journalists have gingerly ventured into the dark American interior, emerging with terrifying tales of “Christianist” plots to hijack American democracy and install theocratic rule. There’s an endless appetite for these stories on the secular left, and the fact that none of these Christianists dictatorships ever appear doesn’t seem to diminish the credulity with which each new “revelation” is greeted by the easily spooked.Focus on the Family was very recently one of the most feared organizations of the allegedly all powerful Christian Right, but as the cash-strapped organization makes more staff cutbacks and donations fall, the paranoia once invested in this group looks pretty dumb. The Christian Post reports:
Focus on the Family’s budget for fiscal year 2008-2009 was $160 million, which came down to $138 million in 2009-2010. For the fiscal year 2010-2011 ending Sept. 30, it further shrunk to $105 million, and now officials project it will receive donations of only $90 million to $95 million.The layoffs in the organization founded by influential Christian right leader James Dobson in 1977 resulted from decreased donations due to the economic downturn. “Long ago I suppose there was a time when we had fat to trim, but we’ve moved through that to muscle, sinew, bone – and now we’re scraping out marrow,” [Vice President Gary] Schneeberger said.
The rise and fall of Focus on the Family is not surprising. Ralph Reed’s Christian Coalition and Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority followed similar paths. The long history of evangelical America is full of organizations and individual leaders who rise quickly to prominence and then quickly fade. These trees do not grow to the sky.In any case, if anybody in America ever establishes a theocracy, it is unlikely to be evangelicals. Almost all American evangelicals come out of religious traditions that were persecuted in either Europe or the US or both by “established” churches tied to the government. It became an article of faith for the persecuted evangelicals that church and state should be kept at arms length. Even in apocalyptic fiction like the Left Behind series, the merger of church and state is one of the signs of the approach of Antichrist and signals the start of a great persecution. For the most part, American evangelicals viscerally loathe the idea that church and state should act together to enforce religious orthodoxy.That is still the overwhelmingly dominant position among the roughly one fourth of Americans who consider themselves evangelicals (and their cousins the Pentecostals). That hasn’t changed in 200 years and is very unlikely to change in the next 25.But if an evangelical tidal wave isn’t about to engulf the United States, evangelical religion isn’t going to fade away, and it is going to continue to influence American politics. It is the same old same old, I am afraid. Evangelicals will not hijack the country, burn the biology textbooks, turn the dinosaur museums into Noah’s Ark dioramas, torch the genetics labs and re-enact the tales of misogynist oppression from the The Handmaid’s Tale; neither will they fade as a major social and political force in American civic life.