- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 16, 2005

I would agree it’s not so bad as when French Catholics massacred thousands of Protestant Huguenots in the 16th century, or when mainstream Protestants killed Mormons in both Missouri and Illinois in the 19th century, but the current hysteria about evangelical Christians is hardly something new.

Minus the violence, at least so far, the worried-to-death bleating about evangelicals is the same age-old story of virulent prejudice focused on a sectarian minority.

The blather about their malevolence-inculcating beliefs and how they will establish a theocracy in this land is about as informed as the ideas of the Know Nothings, those Protestants in Eastern cities who aimed to beat back the democratic ambitions of Roman Catholic immigrants 160 years ago. To them, the Catholics were a force that would wreck America.

Even in the mid-20th century, there were those who clung to such superstitions, as I discovered when some relatives of mine declaimed in a backyard debate about John F. Kennedy’s 1960 run for the presidency that the Catholic candidate would be a tool of the pope if elected. Catholics, they said, had many children because they wanted to subjugate the country, and then they moved on to the clincher.

You know what Catholics hide in the basements of their churches, I was asked. Guns, I was told. Guns to be used in the Takeover.

I was just 16 then, but knew this was twaddle, and now I am just 61, but again know it is twaddle when I hear even supposedly respectable voices ? Bill Moyers and John Danforth, for instance ? say evangelicals either have or soon will have a mighty grip on federal policy, to the detriment of all the rest of us.

A Moyers article in the New York Review of Books was headlined on the front page as “The evangelist menace.” How far is that from “The Catholic menace” or “The Jewish menace”? About zero, that’s how far.

Mr. Moyers who is the menace. The rant of this retired PBS journalist, and of so many like him, is that activist evangelicals threaten much that is dear to America through their extraordinary influence on a dependent Republican Party and theological conclusions at once absurd and destructive. Catch him on the subject of abortion, for instance, and you will find him nothing less than dogmatic. If you think the laws too liberal, you are an enemy of the rights of women, sanity, goodness and America itself.

Mr. Danforth, who opposes abortion and would therefore be a Moyers demon on at least one count, is not so wild-eyed as the former Lyndon Johnson aide. But Mr. Danforth, an Episcopal priest and former Republican senator and ambassador to the United Nations went over the top in a New York Times op-ed article worrying that the GOP has a sectarian agenda, apparently because of its opposition to the starvation of Terri Schiavo and to unlimited embryo stem-cell research.

There is deep prejudice at work, which would be evident if you switched some terms. Suppose the subject were blacks and how many Democrats would have a hard time getting elected without their backing and how they want to impose their values on the nation and how the Democrats have adopted large parts of it. If someone said we were imperiled by this “black agenda,” wouldn’t most of us rush to reply that it’s the absolute right of citizens of all races and creeds to support what they consider morally good? Wouldn’t we point out that the tyranny of the majority is far more to be feared than political competition by minority groups that should be politically involved?

Some facts about evangelicals:

• They are a minority. Professor Mark Noll, himself an evangelical and a Wheaton College scholar, said at an Ethics and Public Policy Center seminar they are somewhere between 16 percent and 30 percent of the adult population.

• As Mr. Noll and other researchers have said, the breakdown of how evangelicals view political issues is not that different from a breakdown of the general population, with a few exceptions, such as on abortion and same-sex “marriage.” Evangelicals, who were once mostly Democrats, were important in President Bush’s re-election, but Democrats such as Bill Clinton have done reasonably well winning evangelical voters, they have said.

• The evangelicals have not won the culture wars. The popular culture is mostly the opposite of what evangelicals believe in. The universities are secular and left-leaning. The mainstream media are secular and, if anything, very skeptical of evangelicals. The evangelicals have not changed the abortion laws or restored prayer in the schools.

But never mind the facts. Next, the Moyers crowd will tell us the evangelicals hide guns in their church basements. It has always been thus in the persecution of religious minorities.

Jay Ambrose is the former Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard News Service.

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