Politics and Religion


The Christian Right: Engaged Citizens or Theocratic Crusaders?

Nathaniel J. Klempa1 c1

a1 Pepperdine University


This article offers a normative evaluation of the Christian Right's impact on American democracy. It argues that our response to the question of whether this movement enhances or diminishes democracy turns on our understanding of the ideal of democracy. When viewed as a participatory ideal, the Christian Right's mobilizing practices enhance democracy. When viewed as a deliberative ideal, the Christian Right's practices diminish the deliberative virtues of toleration and free and open debate. These conflicting assessments point to an important democratic paradox. They show that the very same practices that inspire the participatory virtues of active political engagement also incite the deliberative vices of intolerance and polarization. To address this paradox, I argue that we ought to strive for a balance between pure participation and pure deliberation. The primary problem with Christian Right organizations like Focus on the Family, I will argue, is that they tend to disrupt this balance. They inspire active participation at the expense of deliberation.


c1 Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Nathaniel J. Klemp, Department of Political Science, Pepperdine University, 24255 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, CA 90263-4372. E-Mail: nathaniel.klemp@pepperdine.edu

Nathaniel J. Klemp is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Pepperdine University, Malibu, California. His work has appeared in Polity and Outlines, and he co-authored a chapter (with Stephen Macedo) for Evangelicals and American Democracy, edited by Stephen Brint and Jean Schroedel.