With a religious state in mind
GREENVILLE, S.C. — Frank and Tammy Janoski, the Pennsylvania pilgrims, have landed.
With their four children, they have settled into a little subdivision in the country, the first transplants of a movement that wants to bring legions of conservative Christians here to turn South Carolina’s government into a biblically inspired oasis.
In the South Carolina of their dreams, abortion would be illegal, the Ten Commandments would be proudly displayed, public schools would be a thing of the past, taxes would be severely limited, and property rights would be paramount.
And if the federal government tried to interfere, well, they’d secede.
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So far, the Christian Exodus movement has not been a mighty magnet for change. Only four other families have followed the Janoskis’ lead, a far cry from the ”thousands of Christians” touted on the group’s website. Even the founder of the group is still in his California home, promising to move in 2006 or 2007.
Their idea, however, is as old as America: a haven for like-minded people with a government run according to their particular religious lights.
And it touches a deep-seated tension within Christianity — how much to withdraw from the contaminating influences of the outside world, and how much to engage the world and try to transform it.
”Historically, evangelical Christianity has had a vacillating relationship with the culture,” said James L. Guth, a professor of political science at Furman University in Greenville, who has studied the influence of religion on politics. ”For much of the 19th century, evangelical Protestants were the culture. A lot of that changed for a while in the 20th century. . . . They tried to wall themselves off from the culture.”
That shift from engagement to withdrawal, known as the Great Reversal, formed the fundamentalist branch of evangelicals. Intent on protecting themselves from such worldly influences as the theory of evolution and the seductions of Hollywood, conservative Christians often cited a biblical injunction: ”Therefore come out from them, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch nothing unclean; then I will welcome you.”
The Reversal of the Great Reversal, as some scholars call it, is now in full swing. Politically active conservative Christians were crucial to President Bush’s election victories in 2000 and 2004, and they are vocal supporters of Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr.
To Cory Burnell, founder of Christian Exodus, that political activity isn’t enough. He wants something more radical — a kind of Christian free state. ”We believe that Christ’s admonition to go and make disciples of all nations does not exclude any facets of life,” Burnell, 29, said by telephone from his Valley Springs, Calif., home. ”We’re asking people to move and do something new. Our intent is to put men in office who will do what [ousted Alabama Supreme Court chief justice] Roy Moore did — defy the federal government.”
The group’s goal is to have 2,500 members in two upstate South Carolina counties by September 2006, and as many as 12,000 by 2008. That, Burnell said, would be enough to elect local candidates and snowball into a statewide force. Soon, enough right-thinking officials would be elected to force a confrontation with the federal government.
”We are proponents of federal conflict,” Burnell said. ”People ought to stand up, they ought to flirt with arrest.”
Many South Carolinians, including conservatives, are skeptical about the new group.
”It doesn’t seem to be the kind of thing that would have much impact,” said Bob Taylor, a Greenville County councilman who is also a dean at Bob Jones University, the fundamentalist Christian college also in Greenville. Active in Republican politics, Taylor said that ”even the conservative religious right is not where they want to go.”
And Taylor said of the notion of secession, ”That didn’t turn out so well the last time, did it?”
Brent Nelsen, a Christian who is a political science professor at Furman University, said, ”What kind of balance do they expect to tip? The balance is already strongly Republican and from the religious right. ”This is a conservative part of the state in a conservative part of the country. Many of the elected officials are seen as Christian men who bring Christian values to their decision-making.”
”I don’t think Christian Exodus is going to make a big dent here.”
The Janoskis, however, say they have gotten only supportive reactions from their new neighbors. ”At least to my face, no one has said anything negative,” said Frank Janoski, 38, an affable, self-employed computer engineer. ”I haven’t met anyone who said, ‘Y’all need to go home.’ “
The Janoskis learned about Christian Exodus from a church friend. Dissatisfied with Republican politicians, Frank Janoski said the Christian Exodus philosophy resonated with him.
”The Republicans control the government, yet things are getting worse. When I found Christian Exodus, I thought: Here’s a bunch of Christians like me,” he said.
”We want to take an area that is conservative to begin with and bring more conservatives in and have an influence. We want to return to a country where you can protect the life of the unborn, define marriage as a man and a woman, protect family values.”
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