For evangelicals, a bid to 'reclaim America'
For the faithful who gathered in Florida last month, the goal is not just to convert individuals - but to reshape US society.
FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA.
For the Reback daughters, the big attraction was the famous Ten Commandments monument, brought to Florida on tour after being removed from the Alabama judicial building as unconstitutional. The youngsters - dressed in red, white, and blue - clustered proudly around the display.Skip to next paragraph
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For more than 900 other Christians from across the US, the draw at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church last month was a national conference aimed at "reclaiming America for Christ." The monument stood as a potent symbol of their hopes for changing the course of the nation.
"We have God-sized problems in our country, and only God can solve them," Richard Land, a prominent leader of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), told the group.
Their mission is not simply to save souls. The goal is to mobilize evangelical Christians for political action to return society to what they call "the biblical worldview of the Founding Fathers." Some speak of "restoring a Christian nation." Others shy from that phrase, but agree that the Bible calls them not only to evangelize, but also to transform the culture.
In material given to conference attendees, the Rev. D. James Kennedy, Coral Ridge pastor wrote: "As the vice-regents of God, we are to bring His truth and His will to bear on every sphere of our world and our society. We are to exercise godly dominion and influence over our neighborhoods, our schools, our government ... our entertainment media, our news media, our scientific endeavors - in short, over every aspect and institution of human society."
This is the 10th conference to spread this "cultural mandate" among Christians, and although the church's pastor couldn't speak due to illness, others presented the message intended to rouse the conservative faithful, eager to capitalize on gains won during the November election.
This melding of religion and politics, Christianity and patriotism, makes many uneasy, particularly those on the other side of the so-called culture war, who see a threat to the healthy discourse of a pluralistic society.
"This is an effort to impose a particular far-right religious view, and political and social policies that result from that, on others," says Elliot Mincberg of People for the American Way, a group that advocates for a diverse society. "There's nothing wrong with trying to convince others to adopt their views, but [Dr. Kennedy's] effort is also to use the levers of government to force changes."
An energetic pastor who built Coral Ridge into a 10,000-member megachurch with far-reaching radio and TV audiences, the Rev. Dr. Kennedy regularly calls the US a Christian nation that should be governed by Christians. He has created a Center for Christian Statesmanship in Washington that seeks to evangelize members of Congress and their staffs, and to counsel conservative Christian officeholders.
Some critics suggest these views reflect far-right Presbyterian thinking, some of which extends to the realm of theocracy, the belief that God - or His representatives - should govern the state.
Frederick Carlson, author of "Eternal Hostility: the Struggle between Theocracy and Democracy," says that if Kennedy is not a theocrat, "he is certainly a dominionist," one who supports taking over and dominating the political process.
Kennedy is not in the theocratic camp, says John Aman, Coral Ridge spokesman. He does believe that "Christians should not sequester themselves inside their stained-glass ghettoes, but seek to be 'salt and light' - apply biblical moral truth and the Gospel - to every area of society."
It's apparent that those who've traveled here from 40 states are eager to do just that. Many of them say they are most motivated by signs of moral decline in America, concern for their children's future, and what they see as an effort to keep God and religious speech out of public life.
"The country is getting further away from Christian values, and we're being stifled," says Debbie Mochle-Young, of Santa Monica, Calif. "Other nationalities are coming to live here and say, 'We want our beliefs,' but they don't let you have yours." Nathan Lepper, an Air Force retiree active in politics in Florida, says he has "a personal passion to help America turn back to its moral and ethical bases."