Books by Justin Watson

Released: Dec. 29, 1997

This meticulously documented study of the Christian Coalition illuminates for the general reader the goals and motives of one segment of the religious right. Watson (Religion/Florida State Univ.) finds a mixed message in the public pronouncements of the Christian Coalition leadership. Is their hope to restore to America the Christian character they believe it once had or merely to assure that, among the many movements competing for roles in the nation's public life, the Christian voice is recognized? After a brief opening chapter on the history of evangelicalism that helpfully recalls its 19th-century social activism, its conservative turn in the 1920s, and its public resurgence in the '70s, Watson narrows his focus to the coalition founded in 1989 by Pat Robertson and Ralph Reed. The study, based on the published writings of the two men, is an institutional biography, tracing the life of the coalition from its origins in ideals of a Christian nation through to its successful (and self-compromising) accommodation with political reality. Watson distinguishes the coalition's hope of overcoming the separation between private and public religious life from the aim of kindred religious-right movements legally to establish Christianity as the state religion. Part of the Christian Coalition's overt rejection of statist Christianity is, according to Watson, a cherished self-conception as outsider, even martyr, which serves to enhance its sense of moral purity. Watson shows intriguing parallels between this aspect of the organization's rhetoric and similar language among multiculturalists at the opposite end of the political spectrum. The drama of the movement lies in what Watson takes for an honest and unresolved tension within it between ideals of cultural dominance and of holy martyr. Though repetitive and overly detailed in parts, Watson offers both friend and foe of the Christian Coalition an impartial look at its institutional psychology. Read full book review >