In evaluating recent developments in the New Christian Right (NCR), this paper uses the social movement theory approach of framing. Social movement organizations try to gain advantages with authorities and the public by framing their demands in ways intended to persuade people that their cause is valid. The most effective way of doing this is to align their specific issues rhetorically with larger cultural themes and values, which makes the frame accessible to larger audiences. After debating as to whether a conservative religious crusade can be considered a social movement, this paper examines the NCR as a collective movement whose influence on society and capacity to mobilize are heightened by resorting to the ‘discriminated minority’ framing strategy. I argue that viewing the NCR as a social movement allows us to deepen our understanding of both religious conservatism and of the culture wars.
On April 6th, 1917, one Reed Owen Smoot prayed for aid in troubled times. That is hardly original in itself. The scene would thus be unworthy of note if it were not for further specifics. April 6th, 1917, was the day on which the United States declared war on Germany and entered the conflict now known as World War I. The prayer was offered in the US Senate in response to that decision. But just as significant as the setting is the praying subject. Smoot was a Senator from Utah, a Republican, and an Apostle of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), that is a Mormon. To which the average reader likely responds, “of course.” If Smoot was from Utah, he was of course Mormon, of course Republican, and of course willing to perform religiosity in public. This essay does not aim to cut through that chain of assumptions. Rather, my discussion offers an account of how these links have been forged: a development that would have surprised the majority of nineteenth-century Mormons as much as their non-Mormon contemporaries. What could be conservative about open scriptural canon, communitarian utopianism, and non-monogamous marriage? Ultimately, however, Mormon conservatism is grounded in particulars of that theology. It has further been shaped, gradually but thereby durably, through shifting principles of LDS political engagement. Consideration of this process offers a case study in how an initially radical formation can fashion itself into conservatism.