Testimonial Politics: The Christian Right's Faith-Based Approach to Marriage and Imprisonment
Abstract

This article examines how Christian Right organizations such as Prison Fellowship Ministry, the ex-gay movement, and Focus on the Family utilize evangelical testimonies of conversion to argue against same-sex marriage and for a mode of prisoner rehabilitation based on transformation as a born-again Christian. The premise is that belief in Jesus will transform a person: from homosexual to married ex-gay Christian, from prisoner to upstanding Christian citizen. Advocates for heterosexual-only marriages and the evangelical prison programs consider their mandate as the imposition of Christian laws and values onto laws and policies about same-sex marriage, crime and rehabilitation.

Testimonial politics emphasize how the experience of becoming a born-again Christian transforms individuals, eliminating the need for social programs focused on structural economic issues. Testimonial politics bolster a vision of social welfare in which social services are privatized rather than funded by the federal government. The rationale behind the federal office of faith-based initiatives created by President Bush is that faith-based organizations can provide services more efficiently than social service organizations. Testimonial politics support the faith-based policies of economic privatization that place the onus for solving social problems on the individual and on Christian faith in the power of God to transform lives. The testimonies of individuals provide an explanation or cause for both homosexuality and criminality. Through testifying, individuals express remorse and an explanation for who they were before they became born-again as Christians. Their answer to imprisonment, homosexuality, drug addiction, and poverty is conversion to evangelical Christianity.

Christian Right activism against gay rights, same-sex marriage and for evangelical prison programs stress that their movements are local and grassroots. However, they are part of a larger network and tied to major organizations of the Christian Right. Testimonial politics enable issues to appear to be about individual transformation, even if they are highly coordinated national political campaigns in which Christian Right organizations dictate policy stances and provide political resources.