The secret network that threatens democracy

Published 6:45 pm Friday, February 7, 2020

In 1980, a 39-year-old firebrand Southern Baptist TV evangelist named James Robison called together a group of conservative pastors based in Dallas. Robison had earlier made a name for himself by calling “for God’s people to come out of the closet” and take back the nation.

Robison’s group named themselves the Religious Roundtable. The Roundtable sought to convince the nation that homosexuality was a grave, unforgivable sin which was rotting the nation from within.

In August, Robison persuaded his group to team up with like-minded Christian fundamentalists like Jerry Falwell and his Moral Majority and Republican political operative Paul Weyrich. The group initially came together to sponsor a rally in Reunion Arena, a new sports stadium in Dallas shaped like a flying saucer. It was a huge success, drawing more than 15,000 Christian lay and ordained pastors.

The only 1980 presidential candidate to speak at the event was Ronald Reagan. He received a standing ovation. Those applauding included men who would lead the movement for decades to come: Mike Huckabee, then Robison’s 26-year-old assistant; Rafael Cruz, who would become an influential Dominionist pastor and father of a U.S. Senator; Paul Pressler, who helped launch the Southern Baptist Convention’s Conservative Resurgence in the 1970s; Paige Patterson, president of the Southern Baptist Seminary in Fort Worth; Adrian Rogers, president of the Convention; Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council; Tim LaHaye of the famous Left Behind series; James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family; and Weyrich.

Weyrich was more of a political operative, but he quickly grasped the potential of joining fundamentalist Christianity to conservative political movements. Or, as Bill Moyers later put it: “In Dallas, the religious right and the political right formally wed.”

“We are talking about Christianizing America,” Weyrich explained. Democracy was not as important as victory. “I don’t want everybody to vote,” he explained. “Elections are not won by a majority of people … our leverage in the elections goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

Shortly after the 1980 rally, Weyrich began to construct the network that would become the Council on National Policy. At that time, it consisted of the Heritage Foundation, the Republican Study Committee, ALEC (a group of conservative legislatures originally called together by the Koch brothers), the Moral Majority and the Religious Roundtable.

Through the years, CNP operations have been funded by right-wing financiers like Joseph Coors, Richard Scaife, Richard DeVos and his children, Richard and Betsy, Edgar Prince and his son, Erick, Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah, and Charles and David Koch.

The Council’s membership through the years has included the NRA, the Tea Party Patriots, the Federalist Society (which now provides most of the President’s federal judges nominations); Americans for Posterity, founded by the Kochs; and the American Family Association headquartered in Tupelo, Mississippi.

Council members in the political sphere have included Ed Meese, Kellyanne Conway, Ralph Reed, the pollster George Barna and Mike Pence.

The CNP is not well known, because it likes to operate in the shadows. But its accomplishments are significant. The Council helped elect state and federal representatives who support the agendas of fundamentalist Christians and international corporations. The former want to see the nation governed according to the dictates of the Old and New Testaments. The latter want government to simply disappear and take its regulations and taxes with it.

To accomplish these ends, the CNP combines the power of uniquely effective political logarithms and other techniques to convince millions of conservative Christians to vote for right-wing candidates. Support for candidates selected by the Council is reinforced by the broadcasts of evangelical radio and TV stations.

Every middle school student knows that America was not designed as an oligarchy or a theocracy but a nation governed by a people free to worship the God of their choosing, or none at all. When Christian fundamentalists, right wing political operatives and ultra-conservative financiers come together to dominate the political and religious institutions of the nation, they must be stopped. Nothing less than the future of the country is at stake.

Polk Culpepper is a retired Episcopal priest and former lawyer who lives in Washington.