Weyrich inspired Christian activism
On Dec. 18, 2008, the U.S. conservative movement lost one of its giants when Paul Weyrich died at the age of 66. He had suffered from diabetes and required a wheelchair following a 1996 spinal injury, but the cause of his death was not released.
Born and raised a Catholic in Wisconsin, Weyrich would convert later in life to the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, eventually becoming an ordained deacon. He is survived by Joyce, his wife of 45 years, and five children - Andrew, Dawn, Diana, Peter and Stephen.
As a child, he loved trains and was active in politics as a teenager. He never relinquished his love of trains, sitting on the board of Amtrak and departing from free market orthodoxy by promoting light rail in his adult years. Nor did he lose his interest in politics. He worked as a political reporter in Milwaukee before eventually becoming an aide to a Republican senator. He would later start numerous think tanks and activist groups to become a conservative leader for more than three decades.
In 1973, he founded the Heritage Foundation, today one of the largest policy think tanks in the world. The Heritage Foundation champions free markets, a strong military, religious freedom and the traditional family. In 1974, he would organize the Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress, which raised money for and trained conservative political candidates. The committee eventually became the Free Congress Foundation, an organization he would head until his death. In its 1987 mission statement, the FCF's core principle was "the belief that there is a necessary, unbreakable and causal relationship between traditional Western, Judeo-Christian values, definitions of right and wrong, ways of thinking and ways of living - the parameters of Western culture - and the secular success of Western societies."
He initially tried to get evangelical Christians active in politics by founding Christian Voice in 1977, but it ultimately failed.
Weyrich coined the term moral majority to describe cultural and social conservatives, and in 1979 co-founded the grassroots organization that adopted that name. The Moral Majority, led by Rev. Jerry Falwell, activated Christians to bring issues such as abortion, prayer in school, sex education and other traditional family values into the political arena.
In the 1980s and 1990s, he also helped found the Council for National Policy, a strategy-formulating organization for social conservatives, and he co-published Conservative Digest. He wrote regularly on policy and politics and in the late 1990s, began a weekly meeting of conservative activists and academics in Washington so they could co-operate and co-ordinate strategy.
It would be hard to imagine the U.S. conservative movement being where it is today were it not for Weyrich. The New York Times called him "one of the far right's most unbending ideologues," which the partisan Weyrich would no doubt have enjoyed. But the Times also recognized Weyrich as an "architect of the conservative movement of the last part of the 20th century."
James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, said, "Had there been no Paul Weyrich, there would be no conservative movement as we know it."
Dobson singled out his work on behalf of moral issues for special recognition "He fought tirelessly for three decades to protect the preborn, preserve traditional marriage and ensure that people of faith had a voice in shaping the public policy that affected their lives."
Another conservative activist, Richard Viguerie, said there are few conservatives like Weyrich today: "He was a throwback to an earlier age of people in politics, people who prized free-market economics, old-fashioned, traditional values," adding: "The world has changed, but Paul didn't change."
Weyrich, a principled conservative on fiscal, social and foreign policy, was known to be wrong occasionally. In the aftermath of the public's indifference to the Lewinsky scandal, in 1999 he declared the culture wars lost and urged social conservatives to disengage from the culture. He said conservatives should "separate ourselves from the institutions that have been captured by the ideology of political correctness or by other enemies of our traditional culture." He urged social conservatives to homeschool their children and generally ignore the broader culture, while creating new institutions for themselves. "I think that we have to look at a whole series of possibilities for bypassing the institutions that are controlled by the enemy. If we expend our energies on fighting on the 'turf' they already control, we will probably not accomplish what we hope." He would later recant and renew his political activism.
Campaign Life Coalition national president Jim Hughes told The Interim that after Stephen Harper was elected in January 2006, he saw Weyrich in Washington and he was happy that Canadians finally elected a George Bush-like pro-life conservative. Hughes kindly corrected him, but Weyrich generally promoted the idea that Canada was becoming more like the U.S., while giving a nod to the fact that some Canadian pro-lifers had their doubts about the Conservative leader.
But regardless, Hughes had high praise for Weyrich's activism - and his efforts to get his fellow social conservatives involved in the political process.
Although he was occasionally wrong, Weyrich was right in at least one vitally important regard: seeing a need for conservatives to organize, raise money and become politically involved to implement an agenda that restored traditional values and genuine freedom.
And were it not for Weyrich's near ceaseless efforts, millions of U.S. Christians might not have become politically active - or at least in the way that they have championing the cause of pro-life and traditional morality.
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