Your book displays the earmarks of a dispassionate observer—but at the same time you seem to understand the lingo and the thought processes of fundamentalists and evangelicals. How did you come by that understanding?
Well, I didn't hold any revivals myself until I was 14. I was a boy preacher and preached in the Churches of Christ from the time I was 14 until I was about 31, though not full-time. Most of that time I was in college or graduate school.

Unlike many academics who grew up in such a setting and have become very angry at it, I didn't regard it as a liability. I've appreciated its strengths and have felt that I could be a sympathetic explainer to people who don't understand this world, and I could also speak to that movement so as to be heard and appreciated for my criticism.

What would you say about the theologically conservative Christians on the moderate Left politically who are trying to put together a counterpart to the Christian Coalition?
I think they have a chance for success. A group like that could serve as a corrective, even if it does not mobilize the same number of troops. By offering an alternative view from within the same general camp, it has a better chance of giving judicious criticism that can be heard than do critical voices from outside.

On the other hand, I think a great many evangelicals already feel more comfortable with the kind of views expressed by Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo than they do with a harder Right position. Wallis's and Campolo's appeal to moderation in politics is likely to be received more enthusiastically than their plea for economic and personal simplicity.

You wrote about the independence of the leaders of the Religious Right. Why can't Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, James Dobson, and Randall Terry coordinate their efforts for greater effectiveness?

An enduring characteristic of fundamentalism is its vulnerability to a sectarian spirit. Sectarianism is almost by definition fissiparous.

In addition to ideological conviction, other things enter in: personal ambition, a desire to be the leader of one's movement or the leader of a large movement. Those quite human and understandable characteristics exist in any kind of organization. But they are exacerbated in organizations which have people of great zeal and conviction.

Many of the leaders of the Religious Right are broadcasters. Does that contribute to the lack of cooperative effort?
One of the things we've learned over the last 15 years is that while the audience for religious broadcasting is quite substantial, it's also finite. People are going after the same audience. That can foster a tendency to want to be distinctive—and, more negatively, to want to portray oneself positively and to portray others negatively.

Catholics and evangelicals have gotten to know each other in pro-life and profamily politics. How has this changed the dynamics between the two groups?
Working together on issues helped to break down some of the barriers and stereotypes that many evangelicals and fundamentalists felt about Catholics. Basically it came to be a matter of being happy to have anybody who shares most of your views on your side if you know you can't possibly win without them.

But evangelicals still say things like, You know, I think Christians and Catholics can get together. Or they will draw in apocalyptic language that is going to put Catholics on their guard.

Now, the Catholic Alliance of the Christian Coalition seems to be having limited success. Catholic social teaching on economics, capital punishment, immigration policies—a variety of things—is pretty different from that of the Religious Right. And while the Catholic Alliance may appeal to many laypeople, it's not going to get much support from the priesthood and the hierarchy—which will put a brake on the level of participation by Catholics.

The thought leaders are completely missing from your book: For example, Richard John Neuhaus, editor of First Things; Marvin Olasky, whose The Tragedy of American Compassion informed Newt Gingrich's notions of welfare reform; and George Weigel of the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Why?
I'm not through with this topic. The book came in about 50 percent longer than it was supposed to. There were a number of things we didn't get to cover. Though not bound precisely to the television series, I was naturally expected to track it closely.

I'm working now on a book that will concentrate on the Religious Right and education.

Presidential politics has been a disappointment for the Religious Right. As the movement works for cultural transformation, where is the biggest payback for their efforts?
School boards, city councils, and state legislatures. One of the reasons I'm writing my next book about the range of issues associated with education is that under that umbrella you'll find a major aggregation of cultural institutions that I think the Religious Right intends to influence as fully as possible.

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