Today’s culture clash is creating a wake of anger, violence, and political strife. Where will it stop?

Like a George Lucas science-fiction film, America’s “culture wars” have become a fantastic, fractious, and frightening voyage into uncharted space. Whether in schools, courtrooms, or city council meetings, skirmishes in these wars—struggles over ideas and values, rights and responsibilities—are reaching new levels of violence and intensity.

At the popular level, the nation’s cultural divisions typically are described in militaristic—even apocalyptic—terms. “There is a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America,” conservative Patrick Buchanan said at last year’s GOP convention, bringing the culture wars concept to the forefront.

Since Buchanan’s comment, the sharp rhetoric has given way to physical confrontation, property damage, and bloodshed. Frustrated Americans, weary of Washington gridlock, have taken the culture wars home to their school boards, town meetings, state legislatures, and courts. (See “Move Over, ACLU,” p. 20.)

Political trends

In a way perhaps not experienced since the Civil War, Americans find themselves deeply divided over issues that defy resolution by simple majority vote. The ensuing struggle over how to resolve these concerns has greatly taxed the country’s political structures. The net effect of the culture wars has been not only to create a vast cultural divide nationally, but also on Main Street.

“Evangelical activist groups are sometimes shrill because they feel like somebody’s standing on both their feet,” says Michael Cromartie of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. “They feel overwhelmed by their opposition.”

George Bush’s loss in last year’s presidential election ...

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