Randall Terry
Randall Terry; drawing by David Levine

Overnight fame can unsteady a twenty-nine-year-old, especially when the fame stirs as much resentment as admiration. Randall Terry is becoming famous for leading attacks on abortion clinics throughout the US. “Why do you think I don’t read most of the things written about me?” Terry asks after I have just watched him read and reread with ferocious attentiveness an unfavorable article about him in a California paper. The question, he shows by waiting for an answer, is not rhetorical but almost inquisitorial. “I don’t know,” I answer. “Perhaps to preserve your equanimity.” He looks blank. “What’s equanimity?” He does not go into the storm of publicity ballasted by much knowledge.

We have been talking on a plane about to land in Long Beach, California, where Terry and his associates will lead what they call “rescues” at several abortion clinics, sealing all entrances with layer upon layer of their bodies. A member of the crew comes from the flight deck to tell Terry there are demonstrators against him massed outside the airport; the airport security will meet him at the plane, take his luggage off, and spirit him out a side fence. He nods agreement to this, then worries that the demonstrators will think him and his associates “wimps,” and discusses the idea of returning to the demonstrators from the outside. He does not flee from attention, even of the most hostile sort.

There are no casual encounters with Randall Terry. He turns them all into contests of some sort—clashes of moral standards, games, probings. Buying a ticket in an airport, he asks the airline employee to remove a travel poster showing (from the back) a woman in Hawaii wearing nothing but a hula skirt. “It is demeaning to women.” The man takes it down. On the plane, he lets a flight attendant know that he is going to be on television and asks if there is a brush to remove the lint from his suit. She ends up removing the lint herself, by dabbing Scotch tape at it. With another flight attendant he banters over getting extra food. He asks a third if she is wearing tinted contact lenses (she is). None of them will forget Randall Terry was on her plane. In a deposition being taken by a woman lawyer for the National Organization for Women, when questioned about his wife’s name, Terry asked the lawyer if her last name is her husband’s (as it ought to be).

He interviews his interviewers. Asked what I do when I am not writing articles about him, I tell him I teach American history. “Do you think the American Revolution was influenced more by the Renaissance or by the Reformation?” I am not aware it was the product of either. “Do you believe in providence in history?” Not, I reply, in a manifest providence. “What does that mean?” Adopting terms I thought would make sense in his world, I point out that Saint Augustine denied that God’s intent could be read in historical developments. “Oh, well, Saint Augustine was a forerunner of the Renaissance.” His tone tells me that this is a bad thing to be, a point soon confirmed: “I despise the Renaissance.”

Only later, after reading the works of the American evangelical writer Francis Schaeffer, did I realize that Terry was confusing Augustine with Aquinas. Aquinas as a harbinger of the Renaissance is one of Schaeffer’s trademark notions. (The twin to that concept is that Kierkegaard is the fulfillment of the Renaissance in all its evil.)

“You have to read Schaeffer’s Christian Manifesto if you want to understand Operation Rescue [Terry’s anti-abortion organization].” It seems odd that a man like Schaeffer, who before he died in 1984 lived obscurely in Switzerland writing what he fondly hoped was a philosophy of culture, could produce so many volunteers blockading the doors of abortion clinics; but one does not need to be a profound thinker in order to have an impact on society. Schaeffer, toward the end of his life, emerged as a prophetic voice for young evangelicals just when Terry and his contemporaries entered Bible school in the late Seventies. Their America was quite different from the one Schaeffer had encountered forty years earlier during evangelicism’s darkest period in modern America.

Evangelical Protestantism—the “born again” belief fed, ecumenically, from revivals in all the pietistic (“low church”) denominations—was the reigning religious force in nineteenth-century America. Its scholarly base was largely Presbyterian, because of the eminence of the Princeton Theological Seminary, which upheld the orthodox “Princeton Theology” for over a century (1812-1921).1 But the rising tides of theological liberalism, and especially of biblical criticism, defeated the Princetonians on their own ground at the beginning of the 1920s, a decade that saw the more populist forms of evangelical belief put to flight by Mencken’s assaults, the Scopes trial, and the death of William Jennings Bryan.


Presbyterianism, “splintery” in the best of cases, bred competitively purist reactions to the defeat at Princeton, forming new enclaves of resistance, each with a new name to signify the true old faith. Schaeffer was a Presbyterian trained in the bitter Thirties, and he followed the “separatist” Carl McIntire, later famous for his savage anticommunism during the 1950s. By the late Fifties, however, Schaeffer had broken with McIntire (breaking with whom, and with each other, became his followers’ favorite activity).2 Schaeffer, reversing the direction of other missionaries, wanted to go back to Europe and re-Christianize that place—which involved studying the culture of the “natives” in the way that evangelicals approached South Sea islanders.

He arrived in Europe in 1947, when postwar demoralization convinced him of the godlessness of modern civilization. But unlike other evangelicals, who had withdrawn from worldly culture in the wake of their setbacks in the 1920s, Schaeffer thought European culture should be studied, if only to attack it. He treated modern art and philosophy as a search for God or a confession of emptiness without God. Living among Catholics in Switzerland, and clashing with them, he nonetheless tried an approach resembling that of Jacques Maritain or Etienne Gilson, who were fashioning a Christian existentialism that would address postwar problems. No forms of existentialism were welcomed by Schaeffer, who made Kierkegaard the demon figure behind modern despair, but Schaeffer set up a Christian retreat and study house called L’Abri, where he talked with visiting adolescents at their own level about modern movies and spiritual fads. He developed a glib outline of the whole of Western culture’s history, one he would later offer to Americans in a film series called How Should We Then Live? (1977). Leftover “Jesus people” thought this represented the solid wisdom of a man who was still “with it.” In the brief (seven-page) chronology of major cultural events that accompanies the written version of the film, 1970 is marked as the year Jimi Hendrix died.

The year that film came out was the year of Randall Terry’s conversion (at age seventeen). The son of schoolteachers perfunctory in their religion, Terry grew up in Rochester, New York, and ran away from home when he was sixteen to live on the road, a Kerouac from the wrong decade seeking druggy beatitude. He was back home within three months, after a superficial acquaintance with Oriental and other mystical writings, having talked a great deal and read a little about competing spiritualities. He went through the Bible with the awe of someone discovering the obvious and was “born again.” He joined a charismatic church, one that believes in apostolic “gifts” (charismata) like faith healing, and was devout enough for his pastor to assure Elim Bible Institute on the school’s most important entry requirement, that Terry had been “born again” at least a year before his enrollment in 1978.

Elim (the word comes from an “oasis” Moses stopped at in the desert) stands on a height above the crossroads township of Lima, New York. Handsome classical buildings on campus housed, in the nineteenth century, the Genesee Wesleyan Seminary, which spawned Genesee College, which later moved to become part of Syracuse University. The college had for its women’s preceptress the famous nineteenth-century reformer Frances Willard, and its graduates include Henry Raymond, founder of The New York Times, and Senator Kenneth Keating, Lima’s most famous son. The abandonment of the great seminary in this century is emblematic of the fall of evangelicals from their days of influence. The campus became a home in 1951 for the modest missionary-training school that had been moving from place to place since 1924, when I. Q. Spencer started training people to go to the Orient.

About a quarter of the graduates of Elim’s three-year program still go to foreign missions, and Randall Terry had planned to go to Mexico, improving his Spanish while he concentrated on the one major offered at the school, Bible. Fulltime students of the three-year course are required to live on campus, to take part in the prayer life that goes on all day, in and out of class. I asked a student to direct me to the library, and he took me there, whispering occasionally under his breath, “Jesus.” So it is not merely a private quirk that Terry will, in the midst of conversation on a plane or elsewhere, interject a groaned “Help us, Jesus” into even the most bantering conversation.

Terry graduated fourth in his class of thirty-nine seniors, but more emphasis is placed on spiritual development than on academic proficiency at Elim. A recent president of the school told a Christian magazine: “This is not to disparage academic achievement, but if a student is earning As and we detect a weakness morally or spiritually; that student will not graduate until that weakness is dealt with…. And there have been times when Elim has been obliged to be merciful to those who were disqualified elsewhere because the students desperately needed someone.”


This undemanding approach to things of the mind helps explain the gaps in Terry’s knowledge. (He told me he was reading a life of Lincoln “written by someone at the turn of the century” whose name was “Sand-something.” When I suggested the author might be Carl Sandburg, he agreed that was probably it, but the name meant nothing to him.) Terry has a quick mind for puns and quips and debaters’ replies; he dropped out of high school in his junior year, with enough credits to have graduated a year ahead of time. (He took his equivalency degree that summer, after his conversion.) Thus unballasted, at Elim he found his sails suddenly filling with the bluster of Francis Schaeffer. A homiletics teacher assigned three of Schaeffer’s books, and “The film made a great impact on me.”

It was a heady experience, to be dealing with the world’s great thinkers in a confident and urbane way, giving grades to Aristotle and Picasso in terms of their biblical acceptability. Better students than Terry have testified to the liberating effect Schaeffer had on the cramped curriculum of disputes over the exact schedule of the biblical “end times.” At last American evangelicals had their own C. S. Lewis, an author Schaeffer admired and whose popularity with evangelicals grew along with his. An entire book of essays has been composed by evangelicals who were inspired by Schaeffer but have come, with better training, to see how empty were his claims of familiarity with the authors whose names he tossed around.3 Schaeffer, they maintain, was a healthy influence on evangelicals, but one that should be quickly outgrown. That seems to have happened even at Elim. The school’s bookstore still has most of Schaeffer’s works for sale, but faculty members tell me he is not much taught in classes anymore.

Yet Terry continues to think Schaeffer “the greatest modern Christian philosopher,” and not only for the grandiose intellectual history offered him on the cheap. After making his movie series on the history of Western thought, Schaeffer teamed up with an evangelical doctor named C. Everett Koop to make another film series called Whatever Happened to the Human Race? (1979). This work takes as the symbol of modern culture’s godless hedonism the aborting of babies. Schaeffer, in his last years, had fastened on abortion as the most important symptom of the age, the thing that might prompt Christians to the exercise of civil disobedience. He had resurrected an obscure seventeenth-century Scottish theologian, Samuel Rutherford, and made quite unsustainable claims about his importance to the American Revolution. (John Witherspoon had somehow secreted Rutherford’s teaching into his works, and spread it surreptitiously to other founders.) Rutherford, a Covenanter who defied the Stuart monarchs, had written a treatise justifying resistance to civil authority, Lex Rex, which Terry and his followers cite without having read the rare book.4

Schaeffer had toyed with the idea of promoting widespread civil disobedience over the issue of removing God from American schools; but that would have undercut the steady growth of private Christian schools (and “home schools” with Christian curricula). In A Christian Manifesto, published three years before his death, Schaeffer made abortion the subject on which evangelicals could challenge the entire legitimacy of the secular modern state, withholding allegiance until the nation returns to its religious roots in matters like public prayer and religious education. This is the book Terry takes as charter for his Operation Rescue (though even Terry tames down some claims to an exclusively Christian basis for the state—he prefers the term “Judeo-Christian”).

When he graduated from Elim in 1981, Terry married a born-again ex-bartender whom he had met at church. Cindy, as devout as “Randy,” planned to go to the missions with him and was returning to her high-school Spanish. But just as Schaeffer had decided that Europe needed Christianizing more than did the Orient, Terry believed there was a more urgent mission at home than abroad, especially in the matter of abortion. He drifted about in the evangelical circuit of pastoral workers near Binghamton, New York, attached to one church or another, doing odd jobs, often for members of the church he was serving (as youth counselor or singing director). For five years he worked as a fast-food distributor, a traveling tire salesman, a Sears clerk, a car salesman at various lots (he is invariably called “a used car salesman” in summary treatment of these years).

In 1983 he and his wife began picketing, together and separately, an abortion clinic in Binghamton. In time some members of their church joined them. They opened a “Crisis Pregnancy Center” to counsel against abortion and help find people to take unwanted children. (The Terrys, besides one child of their own, have three foster children from a woman they persuaded not to abort her last child.) Other people around the nation, mainly Catholics, were already demonstrating at some clinics, using the tactics of sit-in and symbolic protest that the Berrigan brothers and other activists had used against the Vietnam War. (I quoted Philip Berrigan to Terry and he could not, at first, place the name.) The Terrys took part in their first sit-in in 1984. Randall taped an audio sermon and song condemning abortion. He was acquiring some local fame, debating proponents of abortion at the SUNY campus in Binghamton.

The Catholic leftists who used non-violent protests against abortion worked from the “seamless garment” argument of Chicago’s Cardinal Bernardin, who says that protection for life should extend from abortion to such matters as opposition to capital punishment, nuclear weapons, and neglect of children once they are born. These “peace Catholics” would show up at Nellie Gray’s annual Washington march against abortion with signs like “Keep Babies, Not Bombs.” Juli Loesch Wiley, an activist who began her life of protest working for Cesar Chavez, says, “It would get some puzzled stares and questions like, ‘What are you doing here?’ But we got real hostility when we took the same signs to peace demonstrations. We really blew their minds.”

These left activists are a minority among Catholics, where those militantly opposed to abortion tend to be reactionary. The major lobbying body, the National Right to Life Committee, is opposed to street protest or civil disobedience. Right-wing activists were leery of Bernardin’s “seamless garment” approach. Joseph Scheidler, an ex-Benedictine monk now married and the father of seven children, a man with the blustery manner of a monsignor at whose jokes the nuns always laughed, says, “I don’t have time, when saving babies, to find out if everyone who will help me is opposed to capital punishment. That is just a way of doing nothing.” Scheidler harassed women going into clinics with a bullhorn and hired a private detective to track down a black teen-ager who was trying to arrange for an abortion. He has published a book listing ninety-nine ways to close abortion clinics—e.g., by jamming all the doors’ locks with glue.

When some crazed opponents of abortion started bombing clinics, the non-violent demonstrators called for the formation of a general meeting to coordinate their activities and adopt standards of behavior. Randall Terry showed up at one such meeting in 1986; memories of him at that gathering are vague, but he was obviously observing the range of problems and opportunities open for a national effort against abortion. When he went to the 1987 meeting, it was with an ambitious plan for drawing on larger groups of activists than local church organizers had been able to turn out at their neighboring clinics. He even wanted to mount a demonstration “rescue,” as he was now calling his actions, at the Democratic National Convention. He had begun to collect a group of dedicated organizers from evangelical circles—people who had been involved in campus ministry or other semipastoral work like his own, most of them with some Bible training but without congregations to tie them down.

In February of 1988, he ran a series of trial actions in New York City that helped train his first cadres in the non-violent approach that Catholics had pioneered. His own contribution to the effort was not only his organizing on a large scale but his disciplining of the movement by adoption of common tactics for all the demonstrations, which had been improvised and unpredictable (in the Scheidler manner) up to this point. Terry formed Operation Rescue as a profit-reporting activity, but its staff was largely volunteer and those who worked for the promise of pay were not yet receiving their checks regularly.

Sit-down demonstrations in Atlanta during last year’s Democratic National Convention changed all that. Monthly income for the group was about $5,000 in the summer leading up to the convention. After the mass arrests and prolonged jail stays in Atlanta, staff was added, donations flowed in, and the monthly income by the end of the year was $60,000.5 Terry now had nine fellow organizers, all in their thirties, seven men and two women, eight evangelicals and one Catholic, two ordained ministers, the rest laypersons. Some of them are better educated than Terry, but most of them are broadly Schaefferites—and some hold the even odder views of Rousal John Rushdoony, who has long maintained that America’s “Christian Reconstruction” would involve a partial return to Mosaic Law.6 Though “OR” leaders avoid title and official positions—in part to thwart legal attempts to enjoin their activities and seize their property, in part because of evangelical dislike of hierarchies—they are extraordinarily disciplined and committed. They hold days of prayer and fasting at their Binghamton headquarters and schedule conferences with what pass for scholars in their circle. (I was in Binghamton while they held a series of seminars with George Grant, the author of a denunciatory history of Planned Parenthood—Grant’s works include A Christian Response to Dungeons and Dragons.)

All these leaders are married, and most have young children; yet they are ready to risk long prison sentences and the loss of all their property in the work they have set for themselves. They treat Terry affectionately but with little deference. He is frequently kidded for getting the spotlight, and reminded that he is taking risks along with the applause.

Terry’s “enemies,” the term he applies with relish to all his critics, tend to treat him as a troublemaker who has single-handedly escalated the abortion issue to new levels of acrimony. At the “rescue” conducted by his group in Los Angeles, many placards were directed at him (“Why Didn’t Terry’s Mother Have an Abortion?”) and the sign wavers flocked about him whenever he moved from one seated group of “rescuers” to another. Gloria Allred, the local feminist lawyer, used her bullhorn to taunt Terry, likening his features to those of the fetuses shown on the signs of Rescue supporters. He was frequently addressed as “Ayatollah.” A chant, repeated at intervals, went: “Randy Terry go away. We don’t want you in L.A.”

Though his critics bridle when his followers compare Terry to Dr. King, their own concentration on him as an “outside agitator” recalls the attacks made on civil rights leaders as not really interested in the cause of blacks, but promoting themselves or something darker—communism in King’s case. At Terry’s rescue, a journalist asked, “What does he really want?” She was unable to credit the protesters with sincerity. But it is hard to look at normally conformist churchgoers cringing inside a ring of shouting counterdemonstrators, then dragged past the shuffling hoofs of mounted police, and doubt that they believe they are in this to save lives. It is true that Schaeffer and his followers settled on abortion as a rallying symbol for all the things evangelicals despise in a godless society. But they chose the symbol because it was the most convincing one, at least to them.

For those who read their Bible ahistorically, like the evangelicals, scripture seems full of evidence that a human being exists from the moment of conception.7 Catholics used to argue from a notion of “natural law” that forbade tampering with the procreative process—a concept that was discredited by its application to contraception and sterilization, even to coitus interruptus and masturbation: all sex had to be functionally procreative. The evangelicals think they have simpler arguments to use. They do not reflect that a patrilinear society like that depicted in Jewish scripture was bound to celebrate the patriarch’s seed. When Onan spills his seed on the ground, his crime (for which God kills him) is not masturbation, as the English word “onanism” rather simplemindedly suggests. It was Onan’s duty to keep alive his dead brother’s seed (zera‘), not to spill that seed (zera‘) on the ground but to give it to his brother’s wife as offspring (zera‘). The same word is used three times in two verses to emphasize the family duty of conception (Genesis 38:8–9).8

It is Abraham’s seed that will be blessed, passing on the promise. This cult of the patriarchal seed leads to celebration of the moment when it is lodged in the carrier of another family’s hopes. Persons in the Bible date their being from the moment of conception (Psalms 51:7) or from their life in the womb (Jeremiah 1:5, Psalms 22:11, 58:4). The evangelicals’ favorite verses, recited at almost all their rallies, are Psalms 139:13–16, a difficult passage rendered this way in the New English Bible:

13. Thou it was who didst fashion my inward parts; thou didst knit me together in my mother’s womb.

14. I will praise thee, for thou dost fill me with awe; wonderful thou art, and wonderful thy works. Thou knowest me through and through:

15. my body is no mystery to thee, how I was secretly kneaded into shape and patterned in the depths of the earth.

16. Thou didst see my limbs unformed in the womb, and in thy book they are all recorded; day by day they were fashioned, not one of them was late in growing.

Those who use this text do not seem to notice that it proves more than is convenient for them. Verse 15 suggests God’s superintendence of the primordial elements out of which mankind is shaped—the clay, as it were, of Adam’s forming.9 Are all life’s components—not only the seed and egg not yet engaged with each other, but every cell of possible parents’ bodies—to be treated as separate human lives? The same problem arises with Jeremiah 1:5, the second half of whose distich serves the anti-abortionists’ purpose (“Before you were born I consecrated you”), while the first half goes, again, too far: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you for my own.”

This biblical concentration on God’s foreknowledge of his own people led Saint Augustine to a psychological fascination with his own earlier self, not known to him but known to God, in childhood as well as in the womb. He took from this his need for God as an intermediary in coming to know even himself, since God is “more immediate to me than I am to myself” (“intimior intimomeo,” Confessions 3.6). The Protestant Reformers used the same passages to build their case for predestination. The evangelicals are dealing with theologically rich but explosive material when they shuffle these texts. To those who read the Bible critically, such passages raise as many questions as they answer. But it is easy to see why those who take a simpler approach to scripture would find in them a clear teaching that the lodged seed is a human person. “David” could date his personal tendency to evil from that moment. Jesus became a human being at his mother’s accepting word, and Elizabeth conceived after the angel’s command to Zachariah. Evangelicals like to say that the first public acknowledgement of Jesus came from one fetus to another, when John the Baptist kicked in his mother’s womb (Luke 1:40).

So convinced are evangelicals of the rightness of their cause that they tend to see nothing but evil intent in opposition to them. They repeat moral appeals instead of making persuasive arguments. And like all militant movements, the anti-abortion cause has developed a terminology of its own. Its members refer to themselves as pro-life; but they consider pro-choice a euphemism, and refer to their opposite numbers as “pro-aborts.” Their “rescues” take place at “killing centers” or “abortuaries,” which are contrasted with their own “crisis pregnancy centers” set up for counseling “mothers.” Doctors performing abortions are called “killers”; and, though the leaders discourage calling the doctors “butchers,” some in the movement keep using that term. Some of the language is simply military—“hits,” for the occupation of abortion sites; “decapitation,” for the arrest of leaders before followers; “strike forces,” for advance teams sent out from secret launching areas to reach doorways before “pro-aborts” can secure them. The language dehumanizes opponents—as earlier demonstrators used the terms “pig,” or “whitey,” or “war criminal.”

Though Julian Bond and others have denounced any comparison of Operation Rescue to the civil rights demonstrators, the dynamics of demonstration are remarkably similar. Anyone who was at desegregation or antiwar rallies recognizes the feel in the air, the tension of competing bullhorns, police squads maneuvering closer, with helicopters overhead to see into the crush of opposing crowds. One woman with a prochoice placard said, “This is the first time I was ever at a demonstration when the cops were not coming for us.” Here, too, the experience of being arrested is radicalizing. People who, for the first time, see the police as possible oppressors begin to feel some kinship with others who might be mistreated by the police. The evangelicals now invoking civil rights precedents are the sons and daughters of people who denounced “rioting” blacks in the Sixties and called for law and order.

If these thirty-year-old demonstrators did not exemplify a new kind of evangelical movement when they went into such activities, they are emerging from them with drastically new attitudes. While paying their respect to elders who helped evangelicals get engaged in politics—to Jerry Falwell, for instance, and Pat Robertson—the “OR” leaders are also gently dismissive of them as armchair warriors, people resting on their laurels, not taking the heat of today’s battle. This was the attitude, once upon a time, of SNCC leaders to the NAACP. Terry’s people talk of the televangelists as tied down to their assets, like bishops in their dioceses. They see themselves as roving carriers of a burning message, like Wesley on horseback, with the Bible in his saddlebag. And the ties they form with other opponents of abortion speed the process, already noticed by sociologists, whereby evangelism has been losing its hostility to Jews, Catholics, blacks, and Hispanics.10 Terry’s three foster children are black.

It would be a mistake, moreover, to think of this as a one-person movement. On the day I visited Elim Bible Institute, some of the faculty and students were off on a local rescue. That was natural enough, I said to the dean of students, since this was Terry’s school. “I think they would be there even if there had never been a Randy Terry,” he answered. It is true that many others responded to Francis Schaeffer’s vision of a crusade organized around the issue of abortion, including Schaeffer’s son “Franky,” who tried to put himself at the head of such a movement. And there were local sit-ins going on long before Terry arrived on the scene. In fact, the movement’s most admired “martyr” is the Catholic Joan Andrews, who served two and a half years of a five-year term for trying to dismantle a suction machine used in abortion. All that occurred long before Terry set up Operation Rescue. Terry’s importance is that he caught the wave of evangelical involvement just as it began to crest.

The evangelicals were, for most of American history, the major religious force in this country. Their central rite, the revival, was the characteristic American contribution to spiritual life. Their energy fueled many reforms throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, from abolitionism to prohibition. After the setbacks of the 1920s, most of them slunk off to nurture various scenarios for Christ’s second coming, but Terry’s generation denounces those eschatological disputes about the sequence of “rapture” and “tribulation” as “playing church games” when the Lord’s business is to be done in the real world of struggle.

Even evangelicals less militant than Terry have been encouraged by recent events. There have been a string of “born-again” Christians in the White House—not only Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan; even Gerald Ford and George Bush have claimed to be born again to the proper audiences. Bush, listening to his vote counters, courted Jerry Falwell and Jim Bakker (before the crash of the latter’s empire)—Barbara Bush had Tammy Faye Bakker up to lunch in the vice-president’s mansion. Dan and Marilyn Quayle have given a sympathetic hearing to one of the fiercer evangelists on the fringe of Texas bellicosity, Robert Thieme. Ronald Reagan listened to “premillennial” prophecies of the sort Randall Terry now makes fun of in his speeches. Seen against the backdrop of this White House, the groaning, singing, praying clusters of Operation Rescue look almost moderate.

When the logic of separation between Church and state was carried through in recent decisions against prayer in schools, religious symbols in public places, and religious concepts in textbooks, the “mainline” religions acquiesced in this development, in effect abandoning their old “de facto” establishment of a national religious style. The evangelists were not so accommodating, and they have promoted their “low church” replacement of the old “high church” civil religion to the point where an Andover product like Bush talks about being “born again” the way he affects pork rinds and Stetsons.

Since abortion does not lend itself to compromise, like most political issues, it threatens to increase the militancy on both sides. But evangelical militancy is not a single-issue matter. The Terry who asked an airline employee to remove the poster “demeaning to women” regularly denounces “child pornography” in his talks at pro-life rallies. He praises those defying the law to educate their children at home, and advocates a voucher system for religious schools. His teetotaling crew of associates is harshly critical of the drug culture. As Michael Dukakis learned to his cost, these people speak to an America that thinks of the Pledge of Allegiance as the last prayer allowed in schools. They have an audience on many issues that go beyond abortion. Terry knows that, and so do the people around him.

On the plane to Long Beach, Terry candidly told me how he gets the attention of flight attendants from the beginning of a trip. When the announcement is made that, in case of descent over water, one’s seat cushion is a flotation device, he picks his cushion up and waves it in the air. At moments like this, the child in him almost diverts one from the zealot. But the zealot is there. On the same trip, he told me: “Our time of withdrawal is over. We’ve joined the battle, and are prepared to make serious sacrifices before it’s too late. This is a winner-take-all battle for the very soul of the country.”

This Issue

June 15, 1989