New study claims Christian right leaders teach careful moral reasoning and civics





If you wanted a book title to speed the pulse of liberal academics, journalists and politicians, you couldn’t do much better than “The Democratic Virtues of the Christian Right.” For many people that’s a title akin to “The Winning Ways of Serial Killers.”

The two leading arguments of the book, written by Jon A. Shields and published last month by Princeton University Press, are no less provocative.

“Many Christian-right organizations,” Mr. Shields writes, “have helped create a more participatory democracy by successfully mobilizing conservative evangelicals, one of the most politically alienated constituencies in 20th-century America.”

Well, actually that thesis, which the book supports with all the requisite tables and data about party identification, voter turnout, and political knowledge and activity, might be accepted by many of Mr. Shields’s fellow political scientists.

It is his second argument that is sure to stir cries of “No, no, no; impossible.”

“The vast majority of Christian-right leaders,” he writes, “have long labored to inculcate deliberative norms in their rank-and-file activists — especially the practice of civility and respect; the cultivation of dialogue by listening and asking questions; the rejection of appeals to theology; and the practice of careful moral reasoning.”

Mr. Shields, a 34-year-old assistant professor of government at Claremont McKenna College in California, reached this conclusion after interviewing leaders of 30 Christian-right organizations, attending training seminars and surveying the materials used to instruct the rank and file.


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