The Power of Fear Politics

An acquaintance of mine does not believe that people can be swayed or influenced by outside opinions but that each individual makes up her or his mind based on presuppositions. Though I understand his point regarding presuppositions, I have watched the presuppositions of certain people shift, as they then changed their opinions, biases, and preferences. This happens politically, socially, theologically, psychologically and emotionally. Some people do, in fact, change their minds, their opinions, their hermeneutical grid.

Of course I disagree with my acquaintance suggesting that people cannot be influenced by opinions because I have witnessed this first-hand from corrupt conservative evangelicals. For example, Franklin Graham, during his 2016 Religious/Political Right "Decision America" tour, insisted to his listeners that the enemies of America are "godless [secularists]," i.e., all non-Christians, and those who "call themselves progressives," which includes progressive Christians. (link) Franklin Graham is guilty of spiritually manipulating gullible believers in Christ to vote Republican by creating a narrative (a story, a framework) of fear politics; and many evangelicals are deceived by his fear-mongering.

But the Religious Right, represented today by men like Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, Jr., James Dobson, Robert Jeffress, Ralph Reed, Richard Land, Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, Mike Pence, Eric Metaxes, Gary Bauer (and too many others to name), have been navigating Republican waters for decades via fear politics in order to persuade, influence, and manipulate evangelicals for a vote. When those on the Right suggest that Democrats cater to minorities merely to win their vote, and I disagree with that notion as it is framed by the Right, the Right fails to inform evangelicals that they are guilty of the exact same agenda by appealing to "the Christian vote" for the Republican ticket. Men like Franklin Graham stand on the precipice of the Evangelical platform creating a politic of fear in order to manipulate evangelicals to vote Republican. That is as corrupt an agenda and a practice as is required to frame corruption proper.

Allow two former Religious Right advocates to explain. Largely, and generally, the "evangelical vote" that was persuaded to vote for Donald J. Trump belonged to older people. (link) These individuals want an America of the 1950s, when white people ruled, and time seemed more pure and innocent. Sure, bullying existed in school and chewing gum in class was a problem, and that seems harmless when compared to the state in which we exist today; but we also experienced female suppression, wife spousal abuse, objectification of women, overt segregation, racism, publicly shaming unmarried pregnant girls and women, disdain for and fear of minorities and demeaning and even killing LGBTQ persons.

Nevertheless, an older people of an older generation wanted an idealized The Andy Griffith Show "America" to return, and Trump catered to that mindset. He created suspicion and fear of immigrants, Mexicans, Muslims and even our own democratic voting system (and he is still using that same fear-mongering rhetoric regarding voting fraud). He and his ilk want you to distrust our democracy. Why? So that he can control your thinking, your opinions, and your future actions.

The Political and Religious Right must manipulate you into fear, suspicion, and conspiracies in order to control you. Former Religious Right advocates Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson warn people against this manipulation of the likes of the late Jerry Falwell, his son Jerry Falwell, Jr., and Franklin Graham: "Registering people to vote and persuading them to vote a certain way on issues and for certain candidates is one way power can be used to manipulate."1 Thus, men like Franklin Graham and the Falwells are corrupt spiritual, political manipulators.

Sadly, conservative evangelicalism has become the seedbed for the Republican vote, and Religious Right "ministers" use fear to manipulate evangelicals. Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson expose this unfortunate truth:
If you were to do a content analysis of the fund-raising letters of the Religious Right, you would discover that they are all basically the same, regardless of the organization. First, they identify an enemy: homosexuals, abortionists, Democrats, or "liberals" in general. Second, the enemies are accused of being out to "get us" or impose their morality on the rest of us or destroy the country. Third, the letter assures the reader that something will be done: We will oppose these enemies and ensure that they do not take over America. Fourth, to get this job done, please send money (and the letter often suggests a specific amount).2
Fear: evangelicals (and other Church leaders) have been using fear to manipulate Christians for decades, if not centuries, and fear works! Why fear? Because positive messages do not excite and motivate the Political or Religious Right: "You can't raise money on a positive," admits Jerry Huntsinger, a Religious Right partner in Virginia. "Fund-raising letters too often focus on people's fears; they identify the enemy. . . . But one must constantly have enemies, conspiracies, and opponents as well as play the role of righteous victim in order to get people to send in money."3 Let us camp here, at the victim mentality, for a moment.

No one, and I do mean absolutely no one, perpetuates the victim or persecuted narrative like political conservatives and conservative evangelicals. As long as they can perceive of themselves as victims or as persecuted then they can attempt to gain sympathy from others, no matter how atrocious some of their own views are, no matter how they often "persecute" those with whom they disagree. But the victim and persecuted mentality only fuels the fires of fear. For if religious persons are claiming to being persecuted, and their religious rights are imagined as being threatened, then an enemy exists that must be vanquished for the sake of righteousness. Never mind that the persecution is imagined. Never mind that their right to worship is not threatened (which is what religious freedom actually is both in theory and in practice). What matters to such fear-based persons is that their battle for power and control be maintained.

There is a truth that, to this day, the Religious Right still does not understand: you cannot legislate morality and think that such will reform the heart of people in a nation. Have you not read the Old Testament? Have you not read the New? Only a heart-change will effect the morality of a people. "Whenever the church cozies up to political power," and the likes of Franklin Graham need to read this, "it loses sight of its all-important mission to change the world from the inside out."4 Still, evangelicals blindly follow their blind leaders, and nothing actually changes in this country. In fact, Thomas and Dobson have noted that life got worse under Republicans and the Religious Right, not better.5

Nearly forty years after the commencement of the Religious Right and evangelicals have learned absolutely nothing. They still use fear to manipulate and control people. They still think of this nation as God's Christian nation. (What of the religious freedoms of people of other faiths or no faith at all?) Evangelicals still imagine themselves as marginalized, victimized, and persecuted when they in no sense whatsoever fit in either of those categories. They have forgotten their spiritual mandate to make disciples, not converts. (Matt. 28:19) Most frightening, by promoting Republicanism, they betray the spiritual Kingdom of God -- a Kingdom not of this world, certainly not of this country, and one that welcomes all to the table of Christ. Perhaps evangelicals have forgotten the scriptures: "Perfect love casts out fear." (1 John 4:18)


1 Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson, Blinded By Might: Can the Religious Right Save America? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 53. The answer to the subtitle is a loud and resounding no.

2 Ibid., 54.

3 Ibid., 54-55.

4 Ibid., 59.

5 Ibid., 42.