We Were Warned about American Religious Extremists

Barry Goldwater - Preachers

It is ironic that back in the late 1970s and early 1980s that most of us were blind to the motivation and goals of the religious right. I can say that back then as a politically conservative Republican and evangelical Christian while I was all for the God and country stuff I really was not impressed by either Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority or Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition.

In fact back then it was laughable to think that the leaders of the movement whose words and actions seemed almost ludicrous. But times have changed and they are now a major force in the Tea Party and Republican Party. However, back then I think I can safely say that most people did not take these men too seriously, much less the lesser knowns of the Christian Dominion or Reconstruction movements, the New Apostolic movement, or Global Apostolic Network which is now such a force in the Tea Party and the Republican Party.

Since these people practically own that party today and honestly believe that they should use it as a political means to achieve their theocratic ideal, it is important not to forget that they were not always so powerful and that most of us misjudged them and their movement in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.

Back in the late 1970s such people were considered a fringe movement and not taken seriously by most mainline Republicans or liberal Democrats. They were simply a conservative special interest group.

However back then and until 2010 I belonged to churches whose leaders and members took the message of such people quite seriously, and while I might have had reservations about the legitimacy of their message in therms of scripture, reason or tradition, I said nothing. Sadly, I can empathize with Martin Niemoller who countenanced the rise of Hitler only to realize his mistake too late.

But there were those who warned us about this movement. Chief among them was not a liberal or progressive, but a man who epitomized conservative orthodoxy in the Republican Party for decades, the late Senator Barry Goldwater.

Goldwater was certainly a conservative, but he was in favor of many things scorned by his successors in the GOP including a woman’s right to choose, women’s rights, gay rights, and other progressive ideas as he matured from right wing Presidential candidate to the voice of reason and moderation in the Republican Party as he ended his Senate career.

Goldwater may have had his flaws and many progressives rightly criticize his stance on the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but unlike so many politicians Goldwater was able to grow in his beliefs and change as he grew older. Today Goldwater would not be welcome in the GOP or the Tea Party movement, and though an Episcopalian would be labeled as something less than a Christian by many so called conservative Christians.

Goldwater was perhaps the last true “conservative.” He was consistent and rational and had no problem taking on religious extremists in his own party, who he realized were growing in both influence and power. He said in the Senate in 1981:

“There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God’s name on one’s behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both. I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in ‘A,’ ‘B,’ ‘C,’ and ‘D.’ Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of ‘conservatism.’ ” Barry Goldwater 
(1909-1998) US Senator (R-Arizona) Source: Congressional Record, September 16, 1981

Sadly there are no leaders, elected or appointed, in the Republican Party today or the Tea Party movement willing to confront the American Christian equivalent of the Taliban.

After he left the Senate he continued to battle people that he labeled “extremists.” Responding to claims that the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition were the “new conservatism” Goldwater said:

“Well, I’ve spent quite a number of years carrying the flag of the ‘Old Conservatism.’  And I can say with conviction that the religious issues of these groups have little or nothing to do with conservative or liberal politics.  The uncompromising position of these groups is a divisive element that could tear apart the very spirit of our representative system, if they gain sufficient strength.” 

Goldwater also noted something that most of us missed back in 1981, he said in the same address:

“Being a conservative in America traditionally has meant that one holds a deep, abiding respect for the Constitution.  We conservatives believe sincerely in the integrity of the Constitution.  We treasure the freedoms that document protects. . .  “By maintaining the separation of church and state,” he explained, “the United States has avoided the intolerance which has so divided the rest of the world with religious wars . . .  Can any of us refute the wisdom of Madison and the other framers?  Can anyone look at the carnage in Iran, the bloodshed in Northern Ireland, or the bombs bursting in Lebanon and yet question the dangers of injecting religious issues into the affairs of state?” 

Of course Goldwater was right. Most politicians, regardless of their party are tempted to court religious groups assuming that they are basically benign. Unfortunately that is not always the case. The radical leaders who I have written about the past few nights do not care about the Constitution, nor do they even care about the integrity of Scripture, the Creeds or the Councils, and to whom reason is considered an abomination, but very few people understand this, assuming that religious people are basically good. Philosopher Eric Hoffer, a contemporary of Goldwater wrote:

“The impression somehow prevails that the true believer, particularly the religious individual, is a humble person. The truth is the surrendering and humbling of the self breed pride and arrogance. The true believer is apt to see himself as one of the chosen, the salt of the earth, the light of the world, a prince disguised in meekness, who is destined to inherit the earth and the kingdom of heaven too. He who is not of his faith is evil; he who will not listen will perish.”

Goldwater understood this and warned:

“The religious factions will go on imposing their will on others, unless the decent people connected to them recognize that religion has no place in public policy.  They must learn to make their views known without trying to make their views the only alternatives. . .  We have succeeded for 205 years in keeping the affairs of state separate from the uncompromising idealism of religious groups and we mustn’t stop now. To retreat from that separation would violate the principles of conservatism and the values upon which the framers built this democratic republic.”

Like Goldwater I have grown in my appreciation for basic civil liberties and the rights of others. Despite the fact that I am a Christian, I cannot countenance the evil machinations of those leading the politically motivated preachers, pundits and politicians who seek to run roughshod over the intent of those who authored the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and even the Gettysburg Address. Those that follow them thinking that they are being taught ideas that are either Christian or part of the American political ideal have been deceived and hopefully will realize it before these leaders drive them and the country over the cliff of religious intolerance and ultimately oppression.

In 1994 Goldwater wrote:

“I am a conservative Republican, but I believe in democracy and the separation of church and state.  The conservative movement is founded on the simple tenet that people have the right to live life as they please as long as they don’t hurt anyone else in the process.”

One does not have to agree with Goldwater on all that he believed.  His economic policies were much akin to Social Darwinism and his 1964 campaign and opposition to the civil rights movement were heavily tainted by racism, so much that baseball great and civil rights pioneer, Jackie Robinson, a longstanding Republican was threatened at the GOP 1964 National Convention where Goldwater was nominated as the GOP Presidential nominee. Those things being said Goldwater did change over time on a number of important civil rights issues and was absolutely correct about the nature and purpose of the leadership of the Religious Right, they seek as Gary North, one of their most eloquent ideologues noted: “The long-term goal of Christians in politics should be to gain exclusive control over the franchise…” 

I spent over 30 years of my life as a Republican before leaving the party in disgust following my return from Iraq in 2008, largely due to the influence of the political preachers that now seem to own the GOP. Pat robertson knew the opportunity the Religious Right had in the early 1990s and his words are still gospel to many religious conservatives. Robertson noted: “With the apathy that exists today, a well organized minority can influence the selection of candidates to an astonishing degree.”

Goldwater spoke of Robertson and others late in life noting: “When you say ‘radical right’ today, I think of these moneymaking ventures by fellows like Pat Robertson and others who are trying to take the Republican Party away from the Republican Party, and make a religious organization out of it. If that ever happens, kiss politics goodbye.”

In that respect Barry Goldwater was a prophet. Goldwater realized the danger and was not hesitant to speak up against men that he knew would destroy the fabric of the country. Since Goldwater is dead, I will say it. These people are dangerous, extremely un-Christian and downright un-American in their approach to government. Their Orwellian doublespeak about “their” religious rights is a facade that they want to use to enforce their own brand of religious intolerance is well documented. 

Well that is all for tonight and until people wake up you can kiss it goodbye.


Padre Steve+




Filed under christian life, civil rights, faith, Political Commentary

9 responses to “We Were Warned about American Religious Extremists

  1. I am not fan or Barry Goldwater but he was correct. I am disgusted by the lack of real leadership in the nation. Thank you for being a leader and yes you can have my vote when you run for office. In fact, I think I will start a write in campaign in hopes of getting you elected.

  2. Wow! My perception of Goldwater was basically that of an ultra conservative firebreather, but reading this entry of your blog (redirected from Quora) I can see that he was spot on about the religious right. I assumed, out of ignorance, that he was also a rabid bible-thumper. Thank you for educating me in this aspect of his thinking. That was a good read.

    • padresteve

      Goldwater remains a fascinating character. He was pro-LGBTQ as well.

      • Miguel Dominguez

        Get out of here! Really? Where can I read about that?

      • padresteve

        John Dean’s Conscience Of a Conservative. He was also interview a number of times before he died where he said that sexual preference didn’t matter, including in the military.

      • Miguel Dominguez

        I’ll have to flex my google-fu a little to read about him and get the whole picture. Not that I think I’ll like what I read, but your entry makes me want to give it a fair try.

      • padresteve

        There are many things in his life and positions not to like.

  3. Miguel Dominguez

    Unrelated: The first line of the second paragraph seems to be missing something: “In fact back then it was laughable to think that the leaders of the movement whose words and actions seemed almost ludicrous. “

    • padresteve

      Probably does, I’ll check it later tonight. Sometimes my brain puts stuff in leaving the fingers behind.

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