on August 10, 2005
A Catholic Look at Society, Culture and Politics
Deal W. Hudson
You still see Paul Weyrich's name now and then. He has been active in conservative politics for over thirty years. More importantly, Weyrich had the original vision of bringing people of faith into the political process. The involvement of religiously-active Catholics and Evangelicals - a decisive factor in recent elections - can be traced back to Weyrich's initiative in the early '70s.
Today Weyrich entered Georgetown Hospital in Washington, D.C., to have both of his legs amputated. He has been battling against a painful back condition for many years, but today he is in special need of our prayers. I wanted to pay tribute to him because he deserves our appreciation.
Paul Weyrich may be best known as co-founder in 1973, along with Ed Feulner, of the influential conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation. Moving on from there, in 1974 he created the Survival of a Free Congress, now the Free Congress Foundation, where he presides as Chairman and CEO to this day.
Less well known is the role he played at the beginning of the influx of Christians into politics, through such organizations as the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition.
As Weyrich tells it, the attempt by the IRS during the Carter administration to strip Evangelical schools of their non-profit status created a moment that "galvanized the Christian community."
As both a major player and witness to the beginning of political involvement by Evangelicals, Weyrich remembers it "was not abortion, school prayer, or the ERA, [it was] Jimmy Carter's intervention against the Christian schools."
This led to a meeting between Weyrich and Jerry Falwell at a Holiday Inn in Lynchburg, VA in May, 1979. Falwell was not sure what he wanted to do, but Weyrich shared his vision: "Out there is what one might call a moral majority. . . . The key to any kind of political impact is to get these people united in some way."
Thus Falwell took the name and concept of his organization from a Catholic political strategist, Paul Weyrich.
In fact ten years later when Pat Robertson asked Ralph Reed to start the Christian Coalition, Reed sought Weyrich's advice in the viability of the project. Just as he had encouraged Falwell, Weyrich told Reed he should do it. "I probably would not have started the Coalition without Weyrich's encouragement," Reed told me recently.
Weyrich is a member and Deacon of the Melkite Greek Catholic Eparchy of Newton, an Eastern Orthodox Church in communion with Rome. Married in 1963, he and his wife Joyce have five children and 10 grandchildren, with another on the way. Ten years later he was ordained a Proto Deacon of his Church.
His contribution to American politics did not end with the groundbreaking work he accomplished helping Evangelical Christians enter politics. His mission at Free Congress has been to supply all the resources necessary to elect conservative political candidates: from the recruitment of candidates to training and mobilizing of conservative activists. In 1980 he was influential in getting an anti-abortion plank in the Republican platform.
Weyrich's rightly characterized himself as a radical: "We are different from previous generations of conservatives ... We are no longer working to preserve the status quo. We are radicals, working to overturn the present power structure of this country." He was one of the earliest commentators to recognize and advance the idea that our country was engaged in a "cultural civil war."
And his strategy succeeded: By the mid-1980's it was clear to the mainstream media that Paul is, as The Economist describes him in early 1988, "one of the conservative movement's more vigorous thinkers." In 1986, the National Journal recognized his achievements, placing him on their list of 150 Americans, "Who made a real difference."
His list of accomplishments is long.
During the 1980's and '90's Paul played an instrumental role in launching a number of organizations to help bring together disparate conservative groups. He founded the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization of state legislators; he co-founded the Council for National Policy, a place for social conservatives to discuss and share ideas; with Richard Viguerie he became co-publisher of Conservative Digest magazine; and he served as national chairman of Coalitions for America, an association of conservative activist organizations.
His attempt to create a national conservative television network, called NET, did not succeed but testified to Weyrich's determination to fight the culture war where it really counted.
Since 1996 Paul has persevered with an increasingly disabling back injury. Now he faces recovery from a double amputation.
In his August 9, 2005 commentary, posted on the Free Congress web site, Weyrich begins to lay out his vision and the challenges for "the next conservatism."
Let's hope this old radical finds the strength and health to continue his historic work.
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