Charge: Manipulating Audiences

Hand-wringing over the rise of the Religious Right consumed a major chunk of the program at this year’s annual meeting of Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU). About 100 members attended the two-day meeting, held in suburban Washington, D.C.

Evangelists of the New Right are out to manipulate their audiences for political purposes, charged keynote speaker G. Welton Gaddy, pastor of Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. Accusing them of authoritarianism and “Messianism,” he complained they are spreading confusion, suspicion, and isolationism among the American people, and are a threat to religious freedom.

The alliance of many religious fundamentalists with “reactionary political movements” has resulted in “a type of neo-fascism that threatens the very foundations of American life,” warned Paul D. Simmons, an ethics professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

In another speech, Simmons, who has testified in Congress against antiabortion measures, lamented the involvement of fundamentalists and evangelicals with Roman Catholics in the antiabortion movement. He declared: “The Helms-Hyde efforts to have Congress define life as existing from the moment of conception is an exercise in moralistic muddling and legislative bungling that may result in a Constitutional crisis.”

Religious conservatives have been asking why they are being criticized for their interest in politics when liberals have been politically active for years. Faced with that dilemma, Simmons granted them a concession that is music to fundamentalist ears. He said:

“We cannot fault them on efforts to be politically involved. They are right in saying that separation of church and ...

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