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The Democratic Virtues of the Christian Right
Princeton University Press, 2009
216 pp., $45.00
John G. Turner
Civility and Boldness
When I visited her university as a high school senior, my sister eschewed collegiate bacchanals and took me to an event that left an indelible impression. We went to a dark auditorium in which a pro-life organization showed films featuring graphic images of aborted fetuses. Among his many insights in The Democratic Virtues of the Christian Right, Jon Shields observes that many activists "became involved in the pro-life movement" after having "viewed a graphic depiction of aborted human life." I returned home from my sister's campus with horribly vivid memories of those pictures, though I did not become a pro-life activist and certainly misunderstood the nature of a typical college weekend.
It is always refreshing to encounter contrarian viewpoints, especially about topics that rarely receive more than superficial treatment in the media or academe. As Shields observes, for several decades scholars and journalists have accused conservative Christian activists of threatening American democracy by violating the boundary between church and state and using "moral" issues to distract voters from pressing economic matters which themselves have a moral dimension. Shields, by contrast, both praises the Christian Right for furthering the goal of "participatory democracy" articulated by the 1960s New Left and questions the vitriolic response of American liberalism to this development.
Shields approaches his subject from several angles, examining literature from a variety of Christian Right organizations (from the Christian Coalition to Stand to Reason), observing and interviewing pro-life activists, and analyzing data on political participation between 1972 and 2004. The latter is the least controversial section of the book. "However one assesses the Right's fidelity to deliberative ideals," Shields insists, "there is no gainsaying its influence on participation." In 1972, the "turnout gap between white non-evangelicals and conservative evangelicals" reached 19 percent, with only ...