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.
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Yet it's the most combative language that brings the crowd to its feet in applause: "Judicial activists are running rampant and a God-free country is their goal.... All means to turn the tide must be considered, including their removal," urges the Rev. Rick Scarborough, founder of Vision America, which mobilizes "patriot pastors" across the US.Skip to next paragraph
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SBC's Dr. Land, credited with helping to turn out evangelical voters in the 2004 election, says Kennedy's conferences have an impact: "No one has been more important in helping Christians of every denominational persuasion understand first, their evangelistic responsibility ... and then their responsibility to be salt and light in the world."
Others suggest that among evangelicals as a whole - whose numbers are estimated to represent at least 25 percent of the US population - the appeal and influence of such religio-political activism are limited.
This is "more right wing and religiously politicized than the majority of evangelicals," says Christian Smith, professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "Most would not make the kind of 'take back America' statements in such an overt way."
In an in-depth national study published in 2000 under the title, "Christian America? What Evangelicals Really Want," Dr. Smith explored the views of a remarkably diverse group, with many holding conflicted views on political involvement and the issues and methods of activists.
Still, the 2004 election confirmed a growing mobilization of conservative Christians. And in a recent Barna survey of American pastors about their choice for "the most trusted spokesperson for Christianity," Dr. Kennedy made the top 10, sharing the final spot with three others, including Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson and President Bush, each winning the vote of 4 percent of the clergy.
Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Barbara Collier has trodden the path from apolitical Christian to concerned citizen to avid activist, and she hopes to help many others do the same.
As national field director for the Center for Reclaiming America, she helps train Christian activists across the US. As a Republican, she also grooms candidates for local office. Last fall, she became Broward County cochair for the 2004 Bush-Cheney ticket.
"I'm an average person that 20 years ago had a Christian bookstore," she recalls. Concerned about what was happening in society, she and friends started an issue-awareness group in her home, writing letters and taking action on issues that concerned them.
The meetings soon moved to Coral Ridge church. Then friends suggested she get involved in politics, so she became a Republican precinct woman.
"The Lord keeps opening doors and I go through," she says. "I love what I do."
Mrs. Collier has a flair for organizing and excels at building church liaison committees. She helps members get started by winning the approval of their pastors. "Sometimes the pastor would say, 'I don't want to get political.' So we'd give him the IRS form that says what a church can do," she explains. "Then he'd say, 'Well I don't know.' So we pull out the biblical reasons for being involved, then the historical reasons - quotes from George Washington and John Jay about 'This is a Christian nation.' And that usually convinces them."
She emphasizes voter registration in the churches. In 2004 she gave out a quarter of a million voter guides.
At the Center, Collier talks to callers from every state. She offers them "Fast Facts" on key issues via the Web and a book on "101 Ways to Reclaim America." "I tell them that if they just do one thing a week, that's 52 things a year," she says. "If everybody did 50 things a year, think how we could turn America around!"