Aging Empires

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Even as key Christian Right institutions are stabilizing and growing, some of these same institutions are also entering a transitional period as the founding generation of leaders prepares to pass the torch. Leaders who in the 1970s were in their 40s and 50s are now in their 70s and 80s. Some are in poor health. Bill Bright, 79, plans to turn the presidency of Campus Crusade for Christ over to executive vice president Stephen Douglass, while he continues to chair the Board of Directors. Similarly, Beverly LaHaye, founder of Concerned Women for America named Carmen Pate as her successor, while staying on as Board chair. Pate's quick departure and the lack of a replacement, suggests an era of instability at CWA. Don Wildmon, 62, has had several heart attacks, and has turned over many responsibilities to his son, Tim. R.J. Rushdoony, the founder and seminal thinker of the Christian Reconstructionist movement died recently. He had handed the reigns of his Chalcedon Foundation to Rev. Andrew Sandlin. Other aging leaders of major Christian Right organizations include Pat Robertson, 70; D. James Kennedy, 70; Phyllis Schlafly, 76; Robert L. Simonds, 75; Jerry Falwell, 67, Lou Sheldon, 66; and James Dobson, 62. Tim LaHaye, former Christian Right political leader and now best selling novelist, is 72.

Institutionalization notwithstanding, some of these organizations may decline just as they have risen-on the personality and vision of the founder. In the case of Pat Robertson's empire, his sons may take over. However Tim Robertson's stint as host of the 700 Club in the late 1980's when his father ran for president showed a fall-off in viewers and was financially disastrous. There is no heir apparent for the pugnacious Rev. Jerry Falwell, whose television ministry and Liberty University have suffered major financial difficulties for many years.56

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