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Four— The Rise of the New Religious Right
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Four—
The Rise of the New Religious Right

The triumph of conservatism in the late 1970s and early 1980s was closely tied to three phenomena: the rise of the New Religious Right, the conservative mobilization of big business, and the revival of the Republican party. Each of these, in turn, was part of a set of broader changes in American society: respectively, the emergence of social issues and the reassertion of evangelical Christianity, the changing nature of American capitalism (at least as perceived by capitalists themselves), and the complicated interplay of economic voting, realignment, and dealignment in electoral politics. These do not exhaust the factors that account for the rise of the Right, but from any perspective they are the most important.

The term New Religious Right refers to a set of organizations that emerged in the late 1970s, the Moral Majority (later renamed the Liberty Federation), the Religious Roundtable, and the Christian Voice; their leaders, including Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and Ed McAteer; and the movement that these leaders and organizations fostered. Though this movement made a broad, religiously based conservative appeal, its deepest roots and most lasting impact were among white evangelical and fundamentalist Christians.

The New Religious Right took typically conservative stands on all issues, but its distinctive emphasis was a moral traditionalism characteristic of evangelicals and fundamentalists since the early twentieth century. Its leaders decried American weakness in the face of the Soviet Union and the decline of free enterprise, but underlying


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this they saw America afflicted by what Jerry Falwell has called a "tide of permissiveness and decay" brought about by a denial of God. Once man replaces God at the center of life, they argued, all moral absolutes disappear, existence loses all meaning, and human life all respect. Human beings become preoccupied with self-gratification in the present, and society breaks down in a chaos of "divorce, broken homes, abortion, juvenile delinquency, promiscuity, and drug addiction." Moreover, once human beings no longer believe that God controls their affairs, they turn to the "superstate" instead. The New Religious Right especially blamed this drift into amorality and godlessness on an "ungodly minority" of "secular humanists" who run government, education, and the media.[1]

Why did the New Religious Right emerge? Sociological theories explain why groups mobilize in numerous ways, but usually they rely on some combination of three causes: an increase in a group's grievances; an increase in a group's resources, organization, and opportunities for collective action; and heightened mobilizing efforts by social-movement professionals or entrepreneurs outside the group.[2] Sociologists have usually applied these factors to understanding social movements to the left of the political spectrum, but they can be applied as well to the right. Indeed, each helps to explain the rise of the New Religious Right.

I have already noted in Chapter 3 the role of movement entrepreneurs in the crystallization of the New Religious Right. New Right leaders Howard Phillips and Paul Weyrich played a pivotal role in founding the major organizations of the New Religious Right and in recruiting and training its leaders. The New Religious Right, however, was not simply a creature of the conservative movement. It grew as well from the dense organizational infrastructure of an evangelical and fundamentalist subculture that had been growing for several decades. The electronic ministries, the superchurches, and the network of independent fundamentalist churches provided the means through which the movement could mobilize leaders, followers, and their resources around long-standing evangelical and fundamentalist discontents with a secularized, hedonistic, and permissive society.

At the same time, these discontents, if they did not actually increase, at least became more politically salient because of the emergence of the so-called social issues in the 1970s and early 1980s—issues like abortion, the Equal Rights Amendment, drug use, sexual-


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ity, the nature of the family, and the content of public education. These issues became more important for a variety of reasons: the partial transformation of America into a postindustrial society and the emergence of postmaterialist values; complicated and contradictory changes in gender roles; and growing polarization of Americans between the religiously devout and the irreligious.

Whatever led to the rise of the social issues, it is important to get an accurate gauge of their impact. In the early 1970s it was common to regard the social issues as harbingers of "a broad new sociopolitical period in American history" and "a basic redrawing of the political agenda," as the authors of one influential book put it.[3] With the benefit of hindsight we can see that they were no such thing. They did, however, have a more modest impact: they gave certain general themes of the Right's moral traditionalism concrete political application and thus helped stimulate a new wave of conservative political activism in general and the rise of the New Religious Right in particular. The combination of the emergence of the social issues and the growth of the evangelical/fundamentalist world produced the New Religious Right.

The Social Issues

The 1960s first made America aware of the so-called social issues and introduced the argument that these issues would become the new basis for political alliances and conflicts. The term has embraced quite a range of issues having to do with social order, civil liberty, morality, sexuality, race, gender roles, family, education, and quality of life. The emphasis shifted substantially from the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the important social issues focused on blacks (racial inequality, civil unrest, civil rights, busing, affirmative action) and youth (premarital sex, marijuana use, political dissent), to the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the issues of gender, the family, education, and the relationship between church and state rose to prominence. Of the latter, those having to do with women's rights, especially abortion and the Equals Rights Amendment (ERA), were most important.

Why the Social Issues Emerged

Many theories can help to explain the emergence of the social issues, but two have been especially prominent—one emphasizing the transition of America from an in-


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dustrial to a postindustrial society, the other stressing uneven changes in gender roles. To these I will here add a third, which focuses on changing patterns of religious affiliation.

The first approach examines how postindustrialism has transformed American politics.[4] According to this theory, the central features of a postindustrial society include growing affluence, greater education, and an expanding tertiary sector embracing government, universities, communications, and other service and information functions. Increasing affluence mutes the economic issues that once divided a conservative upper middle class from a liberal working class, and a broad consensus develops on an expanded role for government in economic life. With economic issues put aside, noneconomic issues, on which the lower socioeconomic strata have traditionally been more conservative than the higher strata, become prominent.

Postindustrialism reinforces this division on social issues by partially transforming both classes. The growth of education and the expansion of the tertiary sector create a so-called New Class of college-educated professionals, whose work emphasizes trained intelligence and creativity and thus changes the upper middle class from primarily business and managerial to professional. This New Class is concerned with postmaterialist values like self-fulfillment, quality of life, and personal freedom and is open to cultural change. Hence its members are likely to be especially liberal on social issues. At the same time, growing affluence gives large segments of the working class a foothold on economic security and intensifies their opposition to further social change, thus making its members even more conservative on social issues. In this way Postindustrialism, according to this theory, creates a new kind of class struggle—what pollster Louis Harris once called "Karl Marx upside down"—in which the upper middle class becomes the proponent of change and the working class the defender of the status quo.[5]

A second and very different kind of argument roots the rise of the social issues in the partial and often contradictory transformation of gender roles in America.[6] This transformation, some feminists argue, has been due partly to various long-term trends: the increasing percentage of women in the paid work force; skyrocketing divorce rates and sharp increases in the number of female-headed households; later marriage age and smaller families; and changing sexual mores


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along with an enhanced capacity to control reproduction. It has also been due to the emergence in the 1970s of a women's movement that criticized the traditional role of wife and mother as oppressive and asserted women's needs for economic independence from men, for control over their own bodies, and for equal rights generally.

The net effect of these changes has been to weaken the traditional place of women without fully establishing a new one. On the one hand, for example, increasing marital instability reduces the security of the housewife role, and the growing tendency of middle-class women in particular to choose paid work outside the home diminishes its status. On the other hand, women in the paid labor force still face barriers to equal status with men—occupational segregation and income inequality, a workplace geared to the needs of traditional families, and a persistence of the gender division of labor at home.

Both the magnitude of the changes and their unevenness provoke political conflict and make a series of family- and gender-related issues important in American politics. Specific issues like abortion rights and the Equal Rights Amendment often take on broader meaning, symbolizing the woman emancipated from her traditional roles, focused more on education and work than on marriage and childbearing, sexually active without being married, and financially independent of men.

These issues, the argument continues, often pit against each other groups of women with different visions of women's ideal place. If women with college educations, good professional jobs, and independent incomes (or prospects of acquiring them) flock to the women's movement and embrace abortion rights and the ERA as ways of furthering their independence, housewives with less education, few good employment prospects, and little personal income resist abortion and the ERA as destructive of women's protected place in the family and provide an attentive audience for antifeminist movements and their appeal to reinforce the traditional role of women.

In one view, then, social issues pit the middle class against the working class; in the other, they pit professional women against housewives. Both images of the social divisions in which the social issues are rooted contain some truth, but they do not complete the picture. In fact, different social issues are class-linked to varying degrees, and each of the measures of socioeconomic position (income,


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education, occupation, relationship to the production process) bears a unique relationship to the social issues. The professional/housewife division may fit contending groups of activists on issues like abortion and the ERA, but that line of conflict is much less visible on these same issues among the general population.[7]

Indeed, the factor that most strikingly distinguishes the opposing sides on the social issues is neither of these but rather religiosity or religious involvement. The more often people attend religious services, the more importance they give to religion, and the more involved they are in church-based activities, the more likely they are to take conservative stands on abortion, ERA, or the other social issues. A national study of abortion activists in 1980, for example, found that 86 percent of pro-life activists attended church at least once a week, whereas only 9 percent of pro-choice activists did. Similarly, a California study found that 80 percent of pro-choice activists never attended church, whereas only 2 percent of pro-life activists never did so.[8]

Similar results emerge from surveys of the general population. To be sure, other factors ostensibly distinguish conservatives and liberals polled on the social issues. The social conservatives generally tend to be less educated, less affluent, of lower occupational status, older, rural, and from the South and Midwest. These differences, however, do not show up consistently from study to study; they are often quite small; and, most important, they are often reduced significantly or wiped out in multivariate analysis. By contrast, the effects of religiosity (typically measured by church attendance) are found in virtually every study, are usually quite large, and are rarely wiped out in multivariate analysis. When the variable of religiosity is controlled, the effects of most other variables usually are reduced significantly, but controlling for these other variables does not diminish the impact of religiosity as much.[9]

Religiosity has an impact even within specific denominations. Opposition to abortion, for example, increases with religiosity for Catholics and for liberal, moderate, conservative, and fundamentalist Protestants alike. The differences are more marked for Catholics than for Protestants, and for the more conservative Protestants than the less conservative ones, but they are present across the board.

Thus the influence of religiosity on attitudes toward ERA and abortion cannot be understood purely or primarily in terms of differ-


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ences in church doctrines. If doctrine were the major factor, one would expect a socialization effect: in liberal churches the more religious would be more accepting of abortion and ERA than the less religious; in conservative churches the opposite would happen. This, however, is not the case: religiosity has a conservative effect no matter what the denomination or its doctrines (though the magnitude of the effect varies). Clearly religiosity itself is important.

This finding suggests a third explanation of the rise of the social issues, one centered on the growing polarization of the United States between the more religious and the less religious, the traditional and the secular, the churched and the unchurched. This polarization, in turn, reflects several related changes in America's religious landscape.[10]

Since at least the 1950s boundary lines between the various religious denominations, particularly within Protestantism, have become more fluid because rising levels of education and higher rates of geographical mobility along with declining generational continuity in denominational affiliation have helped to erode the distinctive class, ethnic, and regional identities that previously unified specific denominations. At the same time, the religious world has become increasingly polarized as the ranks of the religiously unaffiliated, at one end, and those of the more theologically conservative churches, at the other, have swelled while those of the moderate and liberal "mainline" Protestant churches have declined. The once low-status conservative churches have flourished because of a growing ability to hold onto their more affluent members as well because of relatively high birth rates. The higher status liberal and moderate churches have declined because of relatively low birth rates, less influx of the upwardly mobile from the conservative churches, and, above all, a loss of higher-status members to the ranks of the religiously unaffiliated. Finally, the growth of religious nonaffiliation reflects the development of so-called religious individualism, the tendency to treat religion as largely a matter of personal choice and belief independent of any institutional or community commitment.

The fluidity of the religious world has reduced the relative importance of denominational differences while its polarization has diminished the religious center and the spiritual consensus for which it was the base. These factors have led to the increased importance of traditionalist/secularist cleavages (i.e., differences in religiosity) within


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denominations and in society at large and have made religiosity a major axis of conflict. It is not surprising, then, that issues on which public opinion divides along this axis should become more politically salient.

What the Social Issues Have and Have Not Done

However one explains the rise of the social issues, one needs to have a clear sense of how much they have risen, that is, how politically important they have become. In fact, the social issues, despite predictions and claims to the contrary, have never become the dominant focus of American politics; they have not played a central role in shaping the voting behavior and political allegiance of the electorate at large, nor were they crucial in moving American politics to the right in the early 1980s. Their influence must be seen as more limited: the social issues gave immediate political currency to certain basic issues of values addressed by the traditionalist element of conservatism. As a result, they played a big role in the mobilization of cadres of conservative activists and contributors, and they provided the terrain for the politicization of evangelical Christians and the rise of the New Religious Right.

Rather than becoming increasingly important for Americans over the course of the 1970s, the social issues receded in importance in the public mind. At one point in 1970 more than half of the American public identified one or another social issue as the most important problem facing the United States whereas only 10 percent identified economic issues. By 1979, however, the figures were reversed: nearly 70 percent identified economic issues as important whereas less than 10 percent chose social issues. In addition, public opinion on such issues as abortion and women's rights, despite the influence of powerful, contending social movements, did not become firmer or more polarized in the 1970s, nor did these issues consistently have a large or growing impact on whether Americans called themselves liberal or conservative, or Democratic or Republican, or on how they voted. Moreover, to the extent that social issues influenced political behavior and allegiances in the 1970s and early 1980s, it is unlikely that they did so in a conservative direction. Public opinion on many social issues remained relatively liberal, and one study of single-issue voting found that issues like abortion, affirmative action, the environment,


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and gun control moved more persons to vote in a liberal direction than in a conservative one.[11]

Conservatism on social issues certainly was not central to electing Ronald Reagan to the presidency in 1980. Reagan's campaigns in the primary and general elections did not stress them, and voters did not often mention them in exit polls as a reason they voted for Reagan. More important, voters who switched to Reagan in 1980 (after voting Democratic or not at all in 1976) were not consistently more conservative than traditional Republicans on social issues like ERA and abortion or more liberal on economic issues like government domestic spending. They were more conservative on social issues than those who did not switch to Reagan, but they differed even more on economic issues and more strikingly still in their opinions of President Carter and his administration. Ultimately the 1980 election was a plebiscite on an unpopular incumbent, not an ideological contest.[12] (I shall return to the character of the 1980 election in Chapter 6).

The social issues, in short, are not the key to American politics and the successes of conservatism in the 1970s and 1980s, but they did play a significant narrower role. Issues like abortion and the ERA evoked broader themes that fit nicely with the traditionalism of the Right. Consider two examples. First, surveys of the general population suggest that the abortion issue involves basic beliefs about freedom and constraint. Those who oppose abortion are also very likely to disapprove of premarital, extramarital, and homosexual sex and to oppose looser divorce laws, provision of birth control information to teenagers without parental consent, sex education classes in public schools, voluntary sterilization, and the legalization of marijuana, euthanasia, and suicide. This seems like quite a disparate list, but there is a clear common theme here—opposition to too much freedom from constraints imposed by traditional roles and norms, too much emphasis on individual self-determination and self-fulfillment, and too much play for personal drives and whims. This opposition implies a worldview in which individual freedom on a range of personal matters is perceived negatively as mere license and in which constraint and order are inherently valued. The antiabortion position thus invokes a worldview that resonates with the traditionalism of the conservative movement, preoccupied as it is with the decay of the social bond.[13]


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Second, studies of pro- and anti-ERA women activists suggest that underlying their angry political conflict in the 1970s and early 1980s are very different assumptions about the conditions under which women can survive and prosper in a male-dominated world and about the role of the family. Pro-ERA activists implicitly assumed that what women need is equal access to education, jobs, and other resources that would allow them to be economically independent of men. Traditional family roles, which limit such access, appear from this perspective as inimical to the interests of women. Anti-ERA activists, however, saw things differently. They believed that the only effective safeguards for women in a male world are the privileges and protections that they can claim from men within the family. From this perspective the family, when it works, requires men to support women and thus protects women from having to compete in a working world dominated by men and male values. Consequently, as a survey of ERA activists in Massachusetts showed, pro- and anti-ERA activists differed most sharply precisely on the value to women of those things that most directly attacked traditional family roles—abortion, government-funded day care, paternity leave, and increased sexual freedom. Anti-ERA activists interviewed in North Carolina were quick to accuse pro-ERA activists and feminists of being traitors to the female sex for wanting to require women to give up their family-based privileges and to compete on equal terms in the male-dominated world of work. The anti-ERA position thus tended to invoke a worldview in which the protection of the family from attack and the affirmation of traditional gender roles is central. This perspective, too, resonates with the broader defense of traditional institutions that is central to conservative traditionalism.[14]

One result of the resonance of the social issues with the traditionalist element of conservatism was that these issues helped to mobilize a new cohort of conservative leaders, activists, and contributors. Evidence of this is abundant. Certainly the opposition to abortion and the ERA constituted two of the largest, most active countermovements of the 1970s and early 1980s. To some extent they mobilized persons already active in the conservative movement or in some conservative causes, but they also attracted some with no such background. Antiabortion activists typically were new to conservative politics. A study of committed antiabortion activists in California found that they had virtually no prior political experience. "They


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were not members of the League of Women voters, they had no ties with professional associations or labor unions, they were not active in local party politics, and many of them had not even voted in previous elections," writes sociologist Kristin Luker of this group. Many of the antiabortion activists in a North Dakota study had had previous political experience, but in local Democratic party politics or on liberal causes. Anti-ERA activists often had prior experience in conservative Republican politics, the John Birch Society, or other right-wing groups, but the movement attracted political novices as well, especially in its later years.[15]

Similarly, social issues seem to have played an important role in the dramatic movement of ministers of the Southern Baptist Convention into the Republican party, about which I shall have more to say shortly. Over half of those ministers who switched political affiliation from Democratic to Republican in the early 1980s cited a social issue as the most important problem facing America whereas only a third of those who still called themselves Democrats did.[16]

Finally, social issues have been of special interest to the more religiously active contributors to right-wing political action committees and to supporters of Pat Robertson. In a survey of religious and secular contributors to a range of political action committees in the early 1980s, religious right-wing contributors were more likely than others to cite the social issues as the most important set of problems facing the country. Thirty percent named social issues—far from a majority, but as many as mentioned any other set of issues—in comparison to 5 percent of secular conservative contributors, 11 percent of religious liberal contributors, and 7 percent of secular liberal contributors. The religious conservatives also proved more conservative on social issues than on others and differed from other groups on these issues more than on any others. Similar findings emerge from a study of contributors to Pat Robertson's presidential campaign in late 1986 and early 1987. In comparison to other Republican contributors, Robertson supporters were more likely to be new to politics and the GOP. They were also more likely to cite a social issue (especially abortion, pornography, and school prayer) as the most important national problem or as the most important influence on their vote and to take conservative stands on these issues.[17]

The great importance of social issues like abortion to a cohort of conservative leaders, activists, and contributors helps explain why


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social issues seem so important in America's move to the right while actually having little impact on how most Americans vote and think about politics. Because social issues have special significance for many of those most active in the conservative movement, they are disproportionately visible and contentious; thus they get disproportionate attention from politicians and the media. But even if they do not have a direct impact on the general public, they may have an indirect one: without influencing how the average person votes, they may help mobilize the activists who get people out to vote and help shape who they vote for.

The second effect of the broader moral resonances of the social issues was to provide fertile political terrain for the rise of the New Religious Right. Several of its founding fathers gave them great importance. Recounting the issues that led him to work with the Conservative Caucus and later to found the Religious Roundtable, Ed McAteer stressed busing, issues having to do with public-school curricula, and the 1973 Supreme Court decision on abortion. Among the many issues that Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell listed as having drawn him into politics were abortion, pornography, the rights of Christian schools, and school prayer. Among the general population, as well, opposition to abortion and the ERA and support for school prayer increased markedly with religious fundamentalism while conservatism on other issues did not. Social conservatism, moreover, had the greatest impact on presidential voting among the most fundamentalist segment of the population.[18]

Yet if the conservative position on the social issues was strong among the more religious, why did these issues lead to the rise of a religious Right that was rooted primarily in evangelicalism and fundamentalism? The answer to this question and the key to the interface between the social issues and the New Religious Right lie in the transformation of the evangelical and fundamentalist world.

The Rebirth of Evangelicalism

Who are the evangelicals? Historian George Marsden defines evangelical Christians as "people professing complete confidence in the Bible and preoccupied with the message of God's salvation of sinners through the death of Jesus Christ." As evangelicals stirred politically in the late 1970s, survey researchers eager to examine them and their


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beliefs hastened to adopt some variant of this definition. The Gallup Poll settled on three criteria: evangelicals are those who (1) claim a born-again experience, "a turning point in your life when you committed yourself to Christ"; (2) have encouraged others to believe in Christ or accept him as a personal savior; and (3) believe that the Bible is not merely divinely inspired but the actual word of God and to be understood literally. By this operational definition 19 percent of Americans were evangelicals at the beginning of the 1980s. Other studies using somewhat different criteria (or different ways of measuring the same criteria) categorize from 15 percent to 25 percent of Americans as evangelical.[19]

Evangelicals are overwhelmingly Protestant—indeed some definitions restrict the term to Protestants—and Protestant evangelicals are overwhelmingly Baptist. Evangelicals are also disproportionately from the South and are more likely to be women. They tend to be slightly older than nonevangelicals and to score slightly lower on measures of income, occupational status, and education. The more successful evangelicals often hold business or managerial posts rather than professional ones. Surveys disagree over whether they are more likely to be black. My concern here, however, is with white evangelicals.[20]

Not surprisingly, evangelicals tend to be more involved with religious matters than other Americans: they are more likely to belong to a church, to do religious volunteer work, to tithe, and to regard their church involvement as meaningful. They also attend church and read the Bible more often. Beyond this, the term evangelical denotes a diversity of religious traditions, not one unified denomination, with differing degrees of emphasis on born-again experience and differing political traditions.[21]

This basic profile of evangelicals—relatively low in socioeconomic status, rural, southern, older, religious, and, among the more affluent, holding business and managerial positions—with an adjustment here or there also characterizes the audience for religious media programs and, superficially at least, those who take conservative positions on specific social issues or on some combination of them. Take away low socioeconomic status, and the profile fits as well contributors to conservative political action committees.[22]

The political emergence of evangelicals in the late 1970s and early 1980s—or, more properly, their reemergence—must be put in histor-


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ical context. What was originally known as evangelical Christianity in America began to develop with the first Great Awakening in the mid-eighteenth century and came into its own with the second Great Awakening in the early nineteenth century. In finished form it emphasized religious experience and feeling, rather than formal teaching and intellect, and relatively unstructured religious relationships, rather than a formal church organization. More important, it offered a relatively democratic, optimistic notion of salvation. Orthodox Calvinism had portrayed a stern God who predestined only the elect for salvation while consigning all others to hell. Evangelical Christianity, in contrast, offered a loving God eager to offer salvation to all who chose to repent their sins and open themselves to him. It thus stimulated large-scale revivalism, its lasting trademark. It also put great faith in the power of free will and was optimistic about triumphing over humanity's sinful nature. It viewed the United States as God's chosen nation with a special destiny to renew the world. Finally, evangelicalism linked the cultural and material progress of humanity to its spiritual perfection rather than seeing them as antithetical. It considered biblical and scientific views of the world, supernatural and natural explanations of events, as complementary rather than mutually exclusive.[23]

Nineteenth-century evangelicalism was rooted in the less formal, less established Baptist and Methodist churches, the two largest Protestant denominations of that era, but it had a strong presence in most other denominations as well. Just as America in the first three quarters of the 1800s was a solidly Protestant country, so American Protestantism was solidly evangelical. This easy domination reinforced evangelical confidence and optimism. As Marsden put it: "In 1870 almost all American Protestants thought of America as a Christian nation. . . . Protestant evangelicals considered their faith to be the normative American creed. Viewed from their dominant perspective, the nineteenth century had been marked by successive advances of evangelicalism, the American nation, and the kingdom of God."[24]

The evangelical emphasis on revivalism and individual salvation did not preclude an equally strong emphasis on social reform. Indeed, the two were seen to go hand in hand. The quest for individual salvation led inevitably to the effort to transform society in accordance with Christian values. Evangelical churches were at the forefront of both the abolition and the temperance movements, and evan-


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gelical women began America's first women's rights movement. Politically, the more heavily evangelical churches, in common with all less established, lower-status churches, tended to support Jeffersonianism and Jacksonianism. Their concern with moral and social reform, along with some anti-Catholic nativism, led northern Baptists and Methodists from the 1840s on first into the Whig party and then into the Republican party, a shift completed by the Civil War.[25]

The sweeping social change of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries transformed evangelicalism. By the end of the 1920s, when the transformation was complete, it had largely given way to something called fundamentalism, at once its continuation and its negation. Industrialization and urbanization radically changed the way a majority of Americans lived and created a new, more imposing set of social problems that called into question existing social institutions and more and more urgently demanded social action. Mass immigration from eastern and southern Europe increased the non-Protestant minority and Americans' consciousness of religious diversity. The continuing advance of science popularized ideas like the Darwinian theory of evolution that seemed incompatible with traditional religious beliefs.[26]

These changes, which some observers call collectively modernity , led to a series of debates within Protestantism as some sought to adjust to the changes and others to resist. Where once evangelicals had uniformly taken an optimistic view of the world, now they split more and more between postmillennialists and premillennialists . The former foresaw continuing spiritual and cultural progress through human effort leading to the millennium, at the end of which Christ would reappear on earth. The latter predicted increasing sin, strife, and cataclysm interrupted only by the return of Christ, who himself would cleanse the world and establish the millennium. Where once evangelicals had supported both individual salvation and social reform, now they divided between those who stressed the social sources of human ills and hence the centrality of social reform and those who emphasized personal sinfulness and personal salvation as the exclusive way to help humanity. Where once evangelicals had assumed the naturalistic explanations of science to be compatible with the supernatural explanations of the Bible, they increasingly split between those who argued that interpretations of the Bible had to be adjusted


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in the light of modern scholarship, science, and historical conditions and those who argued all the more adamantly in reaction that the Bible was not simply the guide for everyday life but that its every word was divinely inspired and hence it was infallible.

Initially, these differences were but several distinct bases for debate and disagreement within the major Protestant denominations. In the first two decades of the twentieth century, however, they became the mutually reinforcing bases for major theological polarization focused on the issue of how to interpret the Bible. The optimistic, postmillennial spirit of evangelicalism found its way into an increasingly secular modernist camp that stressed the social gospel and social reform, a more flexible, ecumenical approach to religious belief, and, above all, reinterpretation of the Bible in the light of science and current events especially by downplaying its supernatural elements. The religious fervor of evangelicalism was expressed in the fundamentalist camp that emerged in reaction to the modernists. It emphasized individual salvation, doctrinal purity, and a traditional reading of the Bible. With important exceptions, it tended to a premillennial worldview in which the world was headed ineluctably downhill. The growth of the modernist camp was exemplified in the founding of the Federal Council of Churches in 1908; the emergence of a fundamentalist coalition was signaled by the publication of The Fundamentals (from whence the name) in twelve volumes from 1910 to 1915 and the founding of the World's Christian Fundamentals Association in 1919.

Until the late 1910s this growing schism remained largely theological and within the confines of the major Protestant denominations. After World War I, however, it became more and more politicized, and theological fundamentalism and modernism became more closely aligned respectively with political conservatism and liberalism. In fundamentalist eyes the rise of a secular modernism ceased to be merely a theological issue. It came to be seen as integral to a broader cultural crisis in which the survival of civilization itself was in question, a crisis exemplified in World War I, the Bolshevik revolution, rising crime rates, and the rampant hedonism of an increasingly consumer-oriented society. The battle for the Bible rapidly became a battle for civilization from the fundamentalist perspective. The war in particular made important elements of the once apolitical fundamentalist coalition superpatriotic, anticommunist, and ultra-conservative.

Fundamentalists and modernists battled in the 1920s on two


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fronts, within various denominations and in the broader society. The latter struggle focused on the teaching of the theory of evolution in public schools and climaxed in the Scopes trial in 1925 in Dayton, Tennessee. On both fronts fundamentalism suffered defeats, losing its hold on a substantial segment of the educated urban public. As the 1920s ended, fundamentalism, and with it much of the once dominant evangelical tradition, had become a beleaguered minority culture.

The two phrases most often used to describe the broad transformation of American evangelicalism from the last decades of the 1880s through the 1920s are the Great Reversal and the Second Disestablishment . The Great Reversal refers to the separation of evangelicalism. and social reform. Evangelical beliefs, religious fervor, and the quest for individual salvation, once the source of reform movements, became more and more indifferent or even hostile to them. The reform tradition, in turn, became more and more secular. The Second Disestablishment refers to the transformation of evangelical Protestantism from the dominant religious outlook in America to a marginal status, from a set of beliefs and practices that once had appealed to broad strata of the population to one relegated to a distinctly lower-class to lower middle-class, rural, aged, and southern constituency.

After its defeat the fundamentalist impulse expressed itself in two distinct ways. One, which retained the name fundamentalist, involved the formation of independent churches split off from the modernist-dominated major Protestant denominations. These churches stressed an ultraconservative approach to the Bible and religious doctrine and the necessity of radical separation from a sinful world. Many of them joined to form the American Council of Christian Churches (ACCC) in 1941.[27] From the independent church movement as well ultimately came a series of ultraconservative political groups, which formed in effect a fundamentalist adjunct to the ongoing conservative reaction to the New Deal. A precursor was Gerald B. Winrod's Defenders of the Christian Faith, founded in 1925. Winrod initially focused his preaching on the evils of evolution and the virtues of Prohibition, but in the 1930s, the New Deal became his main target as his rhetoric became more blatantly anti-Semitic and profascist.

Of much greater importance were Carl McIntire and the array of churches and political organizations associated with him. McIntire joined with the conservative faction that broke off from the Presby-


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terian Church in the U.S.A. in the 1920s and later formed the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He subsequently split with this group and formed his own Bible Presbyterian Church in 1937. He was a seminal figure in the ACCC and later founded the International Council of Christian Churches and the Twentieth-Century Reformation. After World War II McIntire preached ardently against communism, even supporting the use of nuclear weapons against the Soviet Union; and the ACCC worked together with a number of congressional committees investigating domestic communist subversion. McIntire's special targets were the National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches, successors to the Federal Council of Churches. He identified them with the whore of Babylon envisioned in the Book of Revelation and argued that they were central to the communist apparatus in America. The other organizations of the fundamentalist Right in the 1950s and 1960s were allied with McIntire and either the ACCC or ICCC: Billy James Hargis and The Christian Crusade, Edgar C. Bundy and the Church League of America, and Verne P. Kaub and the American Council of Christian Laymen. (McIntire also recruited Dr. Fred C. Schwarz, who founded the Christian Anti-Communism Crusade, but that organization often went its own way.)

The important fact about this old religious Right, in comparison to the New Religious Right, was that it consisted of narrowly sectarian groups with limited political appeal. Whatever their support among the hard line fundamentalists of the ACCC, they did not speak for the second, and larger, manifestation of the fundamentalist impulse, the more moderate group that began to call itself neoevangelical or simply evangelical. This group, represented by the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), founded in 1941, while sharing much of the worldview of the more ardent fundamentalists, did not stress the need for absolute separation or doctrinal purity. The NAE sought to speak for and to supporters within the major denominations as well as those outside. Although it was politically very conservative, it rejected the activism and the extremism of the ACCC and hence caught some of the broad criticism that the ACCC leveled at America's churches. The distance of the ACCC from the NAE is measured by the difference between the conspiracy-mongering, strident, sectarian McIntire and the more nationalistic, appealing, and ecumenical Billy Graham, who rose to prominence in the late 1940s and for several decades was America's leading evangelist.


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Both evangelicals and fundamentalists evangelized widely and worked at building an infrastructure of cultural organizations in the decades after World War II. Evangelical radio and television programs and youth organizations proliferated and met with great success. Billy Graham's mass crusades brought evangelical ideas back into the public light. Evangelical Bible institutes, colleges, seminaries, journals, and publishing houses flourished.

Meanwhile the evangelical and fundamentalist Protestant churches were growing, and they continued to do so even as the mainline churches started losing their members in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Between 1970 and 1980 the United Presbyterian Church lost 21 percent of its members; the Episcopal Church, 15 percent; the United Church of Christ, 11 percent; and the United Methodist Church, 10 percent. At the same time the Southern Baptist Convention grew by 16 percent and the Assemblies of God by 70 percent. The membership of the more conservative evangelical churches was becoming more middle-class as they began to hold their more affluent members and attract new ones. By the mid-1970s evangelicalism and fundamentalism were no longer a marginal religious force in retreat. They were growing in organization, followers, and resources.[28]

Two developments especially emblematic of this growth were the superchurch and the electronic ministry , especially important since they are the most direct links between the growth of the evangelical subculture and the rise of the New Religious Right. By 1980 the two dozen largest churches in America were nearly all evangelical. The unpretentious, low-ceilinged evangelical or fundamentalist meeting hall had begun to give way to the superchurch with thousands of members, multiple buildings covering many acres, and a world of activities that constituted an entire Christian community. Carol Flake's description of W. A. Criswell's First Baptist Church of Dallas, whose twenty three thousand members in 1983 made it the largest Southern Baptist congregation in America, conveys a sense of the enormity of a superchurch:

The church itself was well equipped for fitness-building, with its own Nautilus machines, sauna, twin gymnasiums, skating rink, bowling alleys, and racquetball courts. . . . The multitudinous ministries of the church included "21 choirs, a mission center, an academy with a kindergarten-through-twelfth-grade enrollment of over six hundred, the Criswell Center for Biblical


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Studies with over 275 students pursuing two degrees of religious certitude, an FM radio station, and a Fellowship of Christian Truckers. . . .' The annual budget of the church is $8 million.[29]

Or consider the relatively small (six thousand members) Northside Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. In 1984, thirty years after its founding, it could boast of having moved from a small frame building to a two-acre site with a 105,000-square-foot main complex (topped by a seventy-five foot spire), a sports center, a youth center, and a child-care center. In addition to religious services and Sunday school, the church offered a Christian academy from kindergarten through twelfth grade, an array of youth activities, a full sports program, day care, and a program for senior citizens. Pastor Jack Hudson preached not only to his flock but also to a wider audience on twenty-six radio stations throughout the Carolinas and beyond.[30]

More spectacular still was the growth of the so-called electronic church. Part of the defeat of fundamentalism in the 1920s was a series of agreements between the major broadcasting networks and the Federal Council of Churches to give free time only to the mainline churches for nondenominational programming. Shut out of radio, the evangelicals ultimately regrouped, forming the National Religious Broadcasters in 1944. They remained marginal in broadcasting, however, until the 1970s, when television evangelism burst into prominence. The growth was due partly to a ruling by the Federal Communications Commission that paid religious broadcasts could fulfill a station's public-service requirement, partly to the new cable technology that made airtime more available and cheaper, and partly to the development of computerized mailing that allowed for large-scale fund-raising. The result was a new kind of religious broadcasting stressing evangelical themes (personal salvation through Jesus Christ, biblical inerrancy, the evils of the dominant secular-humanist culture) and sustaining itself through on-the-air fund-raising.[31]

By the 1980s evangelicals virtually monopolized religious airtime. The audience for religious broadcasting, estimated at about ten million in 1970, was several times that by 1984. One study estimated that about sixty-one million Americans had at least some exposure to it. The highest ratings went to Pat Robertson, whose "700 Club" reached 16.3 million viewers per month and whose Christian Broadcasting Network was the fifth largest cable network of any kind, with


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thirty million subscribers. In all some two hundred local television stations and more than eleven hundred radio stations had a religious format. Religious broadcasters spent between $1 billion and $2 billion for airtime, up from about $50 million in the early 1970s.[32]

When New Right operatives Howard Phillips and Paul Weyrich set out in the mid-1970s to mobilize evangelical Christians for the conservative movement, they naturally turned to the television evangelists and the ministers of the superchurches. Each of the major organizations of the New Religious Right was initially associated with a major television preacher: the Moral Majority with Jerry Falwell; Christian Voice with Pat Robertson; and the Religious Roundtable with James Robison. The Moral Majority's first board of directors included the ministers of five of America's largest churches: Falwell of the Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia; Greg Dixon of the Indianapolis Baptist Temple, Charles Stanley of the First Baptist Church in Atlanta; D. James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; and Tim LaHaye of the Scott Memorial Baptist Church in San Diego.[33]

As the evangelical subculture prospered, its growing societal presence did not translate immediately into political clout. Its values stressed individual salvation and the futility of attempting to improve the world through social action. Surveys from the 1950s to the early 1970s found that evangelicals typically participated less in politics and were less likely to condone the participation of their churches. Across all religious denominations and tendencies, theologically and politically liberal clergy were more politically active (and more likely to approve of political activity) than conservative clergy.[34]

Sometime in the mid-1970s this situation changed dramatically. From then on, surveys consistently showed evangelicals to be more politically active and supportive of church involvement in politics than nonevangelicals. They were more likely to be registered and to vote, to write to an elected representative, or to work on a political campaign. They were also more likely to approve of a religious organization's making public statements on political issues, lobbying for legislation, or supporting candidates for public office. The shift occurred among the clergy as well as the laity. Evangelical clergy became more likely to preach on controversial political issues than their nonevangelical counterparts. By the early 1980s Southern Baptist ministers had matched or surpassed ministers from more liberal de-


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nominations in their approval of taking public stances on issues and candidates, and among them supporters of the Moral Majority were more active than its opponents.[35]

What happened was that one time-honored evangelical attitude toward politics had given way to another of even older lineage. For most of the twentieth century evangelicals had stressed separating the church from a corrupt political order. In the 1970s they reverted to the nineteenth-century view that the church should infuse the political order with Christian values, though in a way quite different from that of much nineteenth-century evangelical politics.[36]

Consider the case of Jerry Falwell, for example. In 1965 Falwell preached a classic separationist sermon, entitled "Ministers and Marchers," in which he declared:

We have a message of redeeming grace through a crucified and risen Lord. Nowhere are we told to reform the externals. We are not told to wage war against bootleggers, liquor stores, gamblers, murderers, prostitutes, racketeers, prejudiced persons or institutions, or any other existing evil as such. The gospel does not clean up the outside but rather regenerates the inside.

"Preachers," he added, "are not called to be politicians, but soul-winners."[37] Falwell, of course, was aiming his remarks primarily at Martin Luther King and other ministers, black and white, who marched in the civil rights movement, but he unmistakably meant his point more broadly as well.

Falwell's strictures against politics seemed categorical, but as issues changed, so did his position. As abortion and other social issues surfaced, Falwell was politicized. He preached against abortion, homosexuality, pornography, and the ERA. In 1976 he began a series of "I Love America" rallies at state capitols around the country. In 1977 and 1978 he associated himself with Anita Bryant's antigay campaign in Florida and with Stop ERA. Finally, in 1979 he founded the Moral Majority.[38]

Falwell's political course is emblematic of that of the evangelical Right, moving from specific issues to broad political organization. Conflicts over the ERA, gay-rights initiatives, the content of school textbooks, and the tax status and rights of private Christian schools abounded in the 1970s. At the end of the decade three major organi-


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zations emerged to attempt to build a broad political movement out of the ferment. Early in 1979 several antigay, antipornography, pro-family groups in California banded together as the Christian Voice. It attracted several well-known evangelicals to its policy board and received crucial support from television evangelist Pat Robertson, who featured it on "The 700 Club." Although drawing clerical and lay membership from a range of Protestant denominations as well as the Roman Catholic church, its core leadership came from a number of independent fundamentalist churches. Falwell's Moral Majority (renamed Liberty Federation in the mid-1980s) drew its leadership from conservative clergy of many denominations but had its roots in the independent Baptist churches. It kicked off its fund-raising by using the computer mailing lists of Falwell's "Old Time Gospel Hour" television show. The Religious Roundtable (later known simply as the Roundtable), the last of the three to emerge, intentionally recruited not just from the independent churches but from evangelicals and theologically conservative congregations within the mainline denominations as well. Its board of directors constituted a who's who of secular and religious conservative leaders and drew representation from major evangelical organizations, such as the National Association of Evangelicals and the National Religious Broadcasters.[39]

The first political efforts of these organizations involved lobbying on a range of specific issues, through both mass mail campaigns ("grass roots" lobbying) and direct contact with members of Congress. The Christian Voice focused its efforts on opposing the SALT II nuclear-weapons treaty and protesting the efforts of the Internal Revenue Service to challenge the tax-exempt status of Christian schools that it accused of racial segregation. It also began to publish a "morality rating" of members of Congress based on their stands on a variety of economic, social, and national-security issues. The Moral Majority supported school prayer legislation and the Family Protection Act while opposing legislation on domestic violence.

The 1980s dawned with a large Washington for Jesus rally in April, a strong Moral Majority presence at the Republican convention in July; and the Roundtable's "National Affairs Briefing" in Dallas in August, at which evangelicals enthusiastically cheered Ronald Reagan. New Religious Right organizations used their strong base in local churches to register evangelical voters and get them to the polls on


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election day. Working with the secular New Right, they threw their support behind Reagan and other conservative candidates and targeted a number of liberal senators and congressmen.

Reagan's surprisingly easy victory in November simply confirmed what the activism of the previous year had shown: the New Religious Right had come into its own in American politics. It was widely touted as the new decisive political force, and its leaders were media celebrities. Falwell graced the cover of the September 15 issue of Newsweek , whose lead story trumpeted "A Tide of Born-Again Politics." Tens of millions of born-again Christians, it seemed, were marching lockstep to the right with the Moral Majority, the Christian Voice, and the Roundtable at their head.[40]

But how big was this tide really? How influential was the New Religious Right in the evangelical world and in American politics? Caught by surprise after years of ignoring evangelical Christians, the media initially saw it as massive: Falwell had twenty-five million to fifty million television viewers in his thrall and was leading them straight into the arms of the conservative movement. Social scientists, more detached and reflective, were less sure, at first playing down the importance of the New Religious Right but later giving it more credence.

Analysis by sociologists and political scientists in the early 1980s ridiculed the role of Falwell and company as a matter of the evangelical tail wagging the Republican dog. Public-opinion polls showed that relatively few Americans had even heard of the Moral Majority and that of those who had, a plurality was hostile. Even in white middle-class neighborhoods in Dallas—the heart of the Bible Belt and home of the Southern Baptist Convention, the Roundtable, and the James Robison Evangelistic Association—only 16 percent of those who had heard of the organization were favorable toward it, whereas 31 percent were unfavorable and the rest neutral. National polls showed similar results. In addition, a closer look at the electronic church in the early 1980s revealed much smaller audiences than the movement claimed, especially for the most political of the so-called televangelists; no single religious program had anywhere near tens of millions of viewers. Arbitron ratings in 1980 showed about twenty million viewers for all the syndicated religious programs (no higher than five years earlier), with the highest ratings going to relatively apolitical preachers like Oral Roberts (2.7 million weekly viewers)


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and Rex Humbard (2.4 million). Falwell ranked sixth with a mere 1.5 million.[41]

Studies of the political beliefs of evangelicals themselves had similar implications. The 1980 Gallup Poll found that the 19 percent of Americans defined as evangelical by its criteria were not markedly more conservative on most issues than other Americans. Evangelicals and nonevangelicals were about equally likely to favor a tax cut (63 percent and 62 percent), an increase in defense spending (65 percent, 61 percent), and a decrease in welfare spending (56 percent and 62 percent). Evangelicals were more likely to favor a ban on all abortions (43 percent and 31 percent) and to oppose the ERA (44 percent and 30 percent), but even here the majority seemed to take relatively liberal stances. Only on issues like school prayer did large differences emerge, with 84 percent of evangelicals favoring the idea and 56 percent of nonevangelicals. Furthermore, although more aware and active politically in the late 1970s, evangelicals were still deeply split about their relationship to politics. Some of the sharpest criticism of Falwell and the Moral Majority came from fellow fundamentalists who insisted on strict separation from the secular world and noninvolvement in politics. Bob Jones II, of the fundamentalist Bob Jones University in South Carolina, condemned Falwell as "the most dangerous man in America" and described his political activities as "spiritual fornication." Others rejected involvement in politics as "a mere cosmetic treatment of the deeper problem of sin." From a different direction, many politically moderate or even radical evangelicals criticized the stridency and conservative direction of the New Religious Right.[42]

A survey of Southern Baptist Ministers in 1980–1981 seemed not only to confirm the limits of the New Religious Right's political base but also to suggest a degree of social marginality. The ministers of America's largest and most conservative major Protestant denomination split down the middle on their attitude toward the Moral Majority, with 46 percent approving and 47 percent disapproving. Support fell along established theological lines, with 64 percent of self-described fundamentalists approving, 46 percent of conservatives, and only 16 percent of moderates. These data seemed to corroborate the claim that even in a relatively conservative denomination the New Religious Right could not gain general assent. Further analysis by political scientist James Guth showed that supporters of the Moral


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Majority tended to be less educated than its opponents, from less affluent churches, and less active in the life of the Southern Baptist Convention. They were, it seemed, a marginal group unlikely to have much long-term influence, even though the fundamentalist conservative wing had won the presidency of the SBC in the late 1970s after years of moderate control.[43]

A closer look at the role of the New Religious Right in the 1980 and 1982 elections called into question its independent impact. Certainly, many candidates targeted by the New Religious Right (and the New Right) lost in 1980, but the year was bad for incumbents in general as Americans expressed their dissatisfaction with economic conditions and their disaffection with the Democratic party. Studies in several states where incumbents met unexpected defeat concluded that the efforts of the New Religious Right had little unique effect. Analysis of postelection surveys, moreover, showed that Jimmy Carter lost no more of the evangelical white Protestant vote than of the nonevangelical white Protestant vote and that voters switching to Reagan were not disproportionately born-again, religious, or favorable to the Moral Majority. Those evangelicals who did switch their votes, moreover, were simply returning to their long-standing Republican voting pattern in presidential elections after being lured away in 1976 by Jimmy Carter. In the 1982 elections the result was even clearer: the New Religious Right, like its ally the New Right, failed broadly in its electoral efforts.[44]

The combination of a limited, or even marginal, base of support among evangelicals themselves and no clear evidence of independent political impact seemed to justify dismissing the New Religious Right. But in the mid-1980s equally persuasive, if not more persuasive, evidence emerged to support the very opposite conclusion. For one thing, evangelicals continued to flock to the Republican party. The figure of 63 percent of white born-again Christians that the CBS News/New York Times exit poll reported voting for Reagan in 1980 may not have been out of the ordinary, but in 1984 Reagan got 80 percent of that vote. The seventeen-point shift was the largest for any identified social category and twice the shift for the electorate as a whole. Analysis of the National Election Studies, the postelection surveys carried out by the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, showed that whereas Reagan had not done significantly


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better among white evangelicals than white nonevangelicals in 1980, he did so in 1984. Evangelical support for Republican congressional candidates also increased between 1982 and 1986 at a rate substantially greater than for the general electorate. The same polls showed that evangelicals were shifting party identification in similar numbers: in 1980 Democrats held a 40-37 percent edge over Republicans in party allegiance of born-again Christians, but by 1984 the Republicans enjoyed a 45-29 percent margin. The shift again was one of the largest for any social category and much greater than for nonevangelicals, culminating what appears to be a longer-term shift in evangelical political loyalties.[45]

At the same time, assessments of the electronic church in the mid-1980s showed its viewership to be larger and more skewed to political preachers than previously believed. In 1985 the biggest audience (more than sixteen million monthly viewers) went to Pat Robertson, who had joined Jerry Falwell as a major luminary of the New Religious Right and was already conspicuously testing the political waters for a run for the presidency in 1988. Falwell still ranked sixth, but the latest figures gave him 5.6 million viewers. In between were at least two other highly political preachers, Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker. (Oral Roberts and Robert Schuller rounded out the top six.) The major television evangelicals, including Roberts, Swaggart, Bakker, and Rex Humbard united in support of Robertson's potential candidacy; and even his major rival Falwell seemed restive about his early endorsement of Vice President George Bush.[46]

In addition, Ronald Reagan endeared himself deeply to the evangelical subculture in a way that no politician had done for decades. His writings on abortion became prominently displayed staples in Christian bookstores, and his speeches to enthusiastic audiences from central evangelical organizations like the National Religious Broadcasters became a yearly event.[47]

Perhaps the most striking evidence of the strength of the New Religious Right, however, was the continuing shift to the right within the Southern Baptist Convention. By 1984 the fundamentalist/conservative faction had maintained its control of the SBC for six years, and at the 1984 meetings it elected as SBC president Charles Stanley, a founder of the Moral Majority and member of the Roundtable. The SBC voted against ordination of women, the right to an abortion


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(even in the case of rape or incest), and what it called "secular humanism" (the tendency to "dilute biblical principle in public life"). At the same time, a second survey of SBC ministers showed a broad-based move into the Republican party. In 1980, 41 percent had called themselves Democrats, 29 percent Republicans, and 31 percent independents, roughly mirroring the South and the nation as a whole. In 1984 only 26 percent were Democrats and 8 percent independents whereas 66 percent were Republicans, a much greater shift than among the general public in the region or the nation. The shift in part reflected conversions among older clergy, but it also resulted from the emergence of a newer generation of SBC ministers, more conservative and politically active and less reluctant to call themselves Republicans than their elders. By 1986 conservative fundamentalists had maintained their control of the SBC long enough to begin to assert control over the independent boards that run some of the more liberal seminaries and organizations, including the Baptist Press Service and the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs. In short, by the mid-1980s within the Southern Baptist Convention the rise of the New Religious Right no longer seemed a transitory rearguard action by marginal elements. It was broadly based and well ensconced.[48]

It seems clear that even if evangelicals had remained diverse in their opinions on the issues and split on their stance toward political involvement itself, and even if the organizations of the New Religious Right on closer scrutiny had failed to have an independent impact on elections and to get substantial public support and affection, a big change nonetheless had occurred. Evangelical religious leaders, churches, cultural organizations, and many evangelicals themselves had developed strong ties to the conservative movement and the Republican party.

What explains the rise of the New Religious Right is not only long-standing evangelical discontents newly crystallized in the social issues but an increased capacity to mobilize around those discontents. This argument presumes a theory of resource mobilization, which focuses on how social conditions make building a social movement more or less easy. As sociologist Robert Liebman put it, "Social movement organizations do not appear spontaneously. They are nurtured by shifts in the cultural environment which provoke changes in the mood of potential participants and by alterations in the political environment which provide opportunities for collective action. They


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develop through deliberate efforts to organize participants and accumulate resources." Above all, social-movement mobilization is most likely in groups with "extensive internal organization and high participation." Recruitment into a movement is "facilitated by an existing structure of ties."[49]

In other words, the rise of the New Religious Right was due to conditions that made evangelical Christians, long a discontented group, more open to mobilization. The civil rights movement, Vietnam, and Watergate progressively blurred the line between morality and politics in the late 1960s and early 1970s and legitimated raising moral issues in a political context. In the 1976 presidential campaign Jimmy Carter, himself a born-again Christian, stressed the need to return morality to government and appealed in particular to evangelicals, who voted for him in substantial numbers. In the wake of Carter's victory there was increasing talk of an imminent religious revival in American life. All of these changes gave evangelicals greater sense of political legitimacy and entitlement, of having the right and the obligation to express their moral concerns politically. Carter, however, did not give their concerns high priority, nor did he appoint a significant number of evangelicals to public office. As evangelical discontent with Carter increased in the late 1970s, evangelical leadership became more open to the organizing efforts of New Right leaders.[50]

At the same time, the growing membership, affluence, and organizational infrastructure of the evangelical world gave evangelicals more resources and an expanded network of churches and schools through which movement leadership could mobilize support. The New Religious Right flourished, above all because it had deep roots in this infrastructure. These roots are most apparent in the Moral Majority, the most successful of the original New Religious Right organizations in terms of recruiting members, raising money, and obtaining public recognition. As I have shown, its original board members were all ministers of major evangelical churches, and it used the computerized mailing list of Falwell's "Old-Time Gospel Hour" to raise funds. More important, it drew heavily on a network of independent Baptist churches, especially the aggressively expansionist Baptist Bible Fellowship (BBF). Nearly all the original chairmen of the Moral Majority's state affiliates were independent Baptist pastors, most of them with the BBF. The Moral Majority succeeded in recruit-


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ing members from the ranks of the BBF through national pastors' conferences and the Christian schools movement and by supporting the growth of new churches.[51]

The Explosive Combination

The rise of the social issues and the long-term proliferation of evangelical and fundamentalist religious institutions together provided fertile soil for the growth of the New Religious Right. Neither factor alone was sufficient. The reconstruction of the evangelical and fundamentalist worlds had proceeded from the 1940s through the 1960s without producing any but the most marginal of political movements. The social issues raised broader moral questions of interest to the more traditionally religious, but they stimulated widely focused conservative political movements and a political realignment among evangelicals only. A politically undermobilized group with the infrastructure necessary for mobilization together with new political issues of special importance to them created an explosive combination ignited by the organizing efforts of conservative movement entrepreneurs, the leaders of the New Right.

As a result, the New Religious Right never fully expanded its political influence beyond its evangelical and fundamentalist base despite the wide appeal of the social issues on which it played. Between 1980 and 1984 evangelicals were more likely than nonevangelicals to transfer political loyalties to the Republican party. According to the National Election Studies, among evangelicals a positive image of the Moral Majority was associated with a greater likelihood of party shift. The correlation, however, did not hold for nonevangelicals. Similarly, the presidential candidacy of Pat Robertson in 1988 ignited little support outside his evangelical base: in the so-called Super Tuesday Republican primaries in southern and border states, according to the CBS News/New York Times poll, Robertson won a plurality (45 percent) of the "white fundamentalist or evangelical Christian" vote but only about 6 percent of the vote among the rest of the Republican electorate.[52]

A further result was that the full political impact of the social issues was felt not among religious persons in general, as sociological evidence would lead one to expect, but more narrowly among evangelicals and fundamentalists. The opposition to the ERA and abortion


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rights certainly mobilized activists from a variety of religious backgrounds, but the anti-ERA movement mobilized fundamentalist women more fully than others, especially after the mid-1970s. Phyllis Schlafly may have begun the movement after the early 1970s with her cadre of already committed conservative Republican activists, and she may indeed have successfully reached out to housewives, who wrote letters and made phone calls to state legislators in their spare time. But in the late 1970s and early 1980s women from fundamentalist churches predominated in anti-ERA demonstrations at the capitals of states that had not ratified the amendment. Social scientist Jane J. Mansbridge suggests the following explanation:

Many of these fundamentalist women were full-time homemakers. But unlike most homemakers, their church activities had given them experience speaking in public and approaching strangers. . . . These skills and the evangelical enthusiasm that gave them life made it relatively easy for such women to enter the political arena. Moreover, the churches were already organized. They had preexisting meeting places, buses, and claims on their members' time and money.[53]

Similarly, given the strong relationship between social conservatism and religiosity, one might expect that religious persons would have been especially likely to shift their political loyalties to the Republican party in the early 1980s. In fact, however, according to the National Election Studies of 1980 and 1984, church attendance had a major impact on political realignment only among evangelicals, not among nonevangelicals. Evangelicals who frequently attended church moved sharply toward the Republican party (from a 39-34 percent Democratic edge in party identification in 1980 to a 31-46 percent Republican lead in 1984) whereas those who attended infrequently actually drifted slightly away from the GOP (their 41-25 percent Democratic plurality in 1980 increased to 42-21 percent in 1984). In contrast, among nonevangelicals frequency of church attendance made little difference as both frequent and infrequent attenders moved slightly toward the GOP (among the former, from a 32-31 percent Democratic edge to a 34–38 percent Republican edge; among the latter from a wide 39-24 percent Democratic lead to a narrower 40-32 percent.)[54]

In short, only among evangelicals, where conservative political or-


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ganizations could draw on previously untapped religious and cultural networks, did religiously based conservatism have significant political consequences. If the social issues created a new political terrain, only the evangelical-based New Religious Right managed to make a stand there. It thus became the primary conduit through which social issues had a palpable impact on American politics. Together the social issues and the New Religious Right embody one set of trends important to the triumph of conservatism in America.


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