On January 20, 1981 a new era in politics was sworn in. Although Ronald Reagan would not be America’s first “cowboy president”, he would turn out to be America’s most influential president in decades; leaving behind a dark legacy upon the world that would last nearly thirty years.
“I am told that tens of thousands of prayer meetings are being held on this day…” Reagan said during his Inauguration speech. “For that I am deeply grateful. We are a nation under God, and I believe God intended for us to be free. It would be fitting and good, I think, if on each inaugural day in future years it should be declared a day of prayer.”
President Ronald Reagan changed the face of Republicanism in America on that day in January, 1981 by taking the first leaps, not steps, towards becoming a religious party. “Morality’s foundation is religion, religion and politics are necessarily related,” he would later say at a prayer breakfast in Dallas. “We need religion as a guide.”
Having been boosted at the polls in large part by a burgeoning coalition who called themselves the Moral Majority, the message was clear: Reagan believed the majority of Americans were Evangelical Christians who wanted a new kind of government; and he believed the rest of Americans simply needed it whether they wanted it or not.
Reagan spent the next eight years making good on the promise that he made at the Religious Roundtable National Convention in 1980 to “endorse” Evangelicals. He started by trying to pass a constitutional amendment to allow government-sanctioned prayers in public schools and to influence school boards to teach creationism as a science of fact. Next, he tried for years to over turn Roe vs. Wade, as well as exerting some political energy into opposing homosexuality and pretending AIDS was a myth. Although Reagan did not win all of these battles during his presidency, regarding these issues, he nearly did win the war; which the next twenty years would prove.
Reagan is not to be measured by his failures, however; as he did succeed in creating a new religious jargon into politics. In 1984, after a marching band played Onward Christian Soldier, Reagan became famous for referring to the Soviet Union as “an evil empire” at an address to the National Association of Evangelicals. Right before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Regan told televangelist Jim Baker, “For the first time ever, everything is in place for the battle of Armageddon and the second coming of Christ. We may be the generation that sees Armageddon.”
In 2002, after Reagan had passed peacefully in sleep and years after he had handed the GOP to the Christian Right, Jerry Falwell praised Reagan on his website; stating, “I will remember Mr. Reagan primarily for his relationship with the evangelical Christian community in our nation. We had long been shut out of the White House when Mr. Reagan took office.”
For the next twenty years the Christian Right was increasingly emboldened, and they became much more transparent regarding their political ambitions. Between the years 1989 to 2008 a string of far right conservative Christian presidents took office, (with only one notable exception) appointing far right judges to the appeals courts and Supreme Court; all the while the house and senate filled to the brims with Republicans clamoring to appease “the base” and oppose any directives any non-Republican president, senator, judge or member of congress tried to pursue.
In 1992, Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Coalition, told the Denver Post, “We want…to see the Republican Party in the hands of pro-family Christians by 1996.” At an address to a chanting crowd at the Washington for Jesus rally, he stated “We have enough votes to run the country. And when the people say ’we’ve had enough,’ we are going to take over!” Later he told students at his American center for Law and Justice, “There is no such thing as separation of church and state in the constitution. It is a lie of the left and we are not going to take it anymore!”
Unfortunately, the Reagan appointed Chief Justice to the Supreme Court agreed with him. In the Wallace vs. Jaffrey case Rehnquist wrote, “The wall of separation is a myth based on bad history, a metaphor which has proved useless as a guide to judging. It should be frankly and explicitly abandoned.” Fortunately, the other judges of the court were more intent on protecting the constitution regarding this time honored amendment, and the Christian Right was in some small way held off for a little while longer.
Nonetheless, a much broader movement had already gained momentum in our country. A movement that would eventually lead to a divisive separation of families, work places, media networks, students; it would leave no man, woman or child unaffected by its tentacles. It would herald in a string of holy wars across the globe, and a subtle form of holy war here within our own borders perpetrated by one group of Americans upon another group of Americans. It would give conservative leaders the power and faith of the house and senate to push through reforms which would lead to a global economic crisis. It would lead to the worst and most corrupt president and cabinet ever to fail in America’s history.
In 2006, a Rick Warren affiliated media group, then known as Bonanza Gold Inc., gave one million free copies of a video game to mega-churches all across the U.S. The video game was called Left Behind: Eternal Forces. Based upon the popular end times novels read by over 500,000,000 fans, the new computer game was laced with violent battles and spiritual messages stressing the urgent need to convert non-believers. Players battling non-believing citizens in the streets of New York may choose to pray to increase their strength, recruit converts to the cause, perform exorcisms, or shoot to kill those who refuse to be born again. The game is set in a post-apocalyptic Manhattan, where only an Evangelical Army can create the peace promised by the second coming of Christ. Both good and evil are ironically animated in a rather expressionless, almost maniacal way as they roam aimlessly about the ruins. In fact, if it wasn’t for color coated halos it could be difficult to tell them apart. I can’t help but think of zombies, run amok; the stuff of modern horror films.
“What a fitting metaphor,” I think to myself. “Our country in ruins, monsters in the image of men unleashed, stalking and hunting non-believers. The country is completely out of control.”
On January 20, 2009 a new kind of leader was sworn into office. Just as in 1981, there too was a precedent and history was made. It seems, for now, the pendulum is finally swinging the other way. Nevertheless, I just cannot shake this feeling that this could be the quiet before the storm. For, like fascism, Christianity will never be done until it fulfills its destiny of complete dominion, or until it is proven to be false and forgotten into obscurity. Our new leader preaches “change”. Indeed, things do change. Bonanza Gold Inc. has a new board of directors and a new name: Inspired Media Entertainment. It also has struck a new deal with Tyndale House Publishers to distribute millions of more copies.
However, as the old saying goes, the more things change the more they stay the same. Barack Obama chose Pastor Rick Warren to open the inauguration with a prayer; a not so subtle acknowledgement that they still walk among us.