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The Rise of the Moral Majority

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Numerous currents were coming to a head in the late seventies that few people could have foreseen, the catalyst being the 1973 pro-abortion decision.[1] Jerry Falwell became the point man for an already growing number of Christian activists and organizations. His visibility allowed the numerous and less prominent groups to gain a constituency without the attendant publicity and hassle. No one predicted the development of this burgeoning Christian coalition, a coalition with no formal denominational ties. Neither was it specifically “fundamentalistic.”

It should be kept in mind that prior to the Carter presidency, fundamentalist activism was seem simply as “Red hysteria.” Fundamentalism was synonymous with anti-communism, anti-National Council of Churches bravado,[2] and not a little anti-Catholic rhetoric.[3] A shrill accounting of this older brand of fundamentalism, especially on anti-communism and conspiracy theories, can be found in Brooks R. Walker’s The Christian Fright Peddlers: The Radical Right and the Churches (1964). There is a similar diatribe in The Politics of Doomsday (1970). The author, in his “consistently objective chronicle” of fundamentalist history, writes:

These leaders were “the fundamentalists of the far right,” or “ultrafundamentalists.” Their bill of particulars was very long and precise. The changes in church-state relations, the ecumenical movements, and the increasing social outreach of the churches were nothing more than the Devil fornicating with the Whore of Babylon (Rev. 17). An insidious conspiracy was at work uniting Washington, Rome, Moscow, and Geneva (the World Council of Churches) into the kingdom of Lucifer. Every social reform, from civil rights to fluoridation, from the income tax to social security, was the creation of the Communists who took orders from Satan.[4]

While the Moral Majority espoused an anti-communist plank, the agenda was more comprehensive than the older fundamentalism. This scared the daylights out of the liberals. What especially frightened them was the threat that these “extremists”—extremists if you were a liberal—might actually vote. Prior to the Carter presidency, fundamentalists of every stripe more often than not ignored the ballot box. Politics was “dirty.”

Christian activism had been energized since 1973, and with a political outsider (so we thought) and self-avowed “born-again Christian” running for President in 1976, the Christian community was hopeful. Jimmy Carter went to church every Sunday and even taught Sunday school. His favorite “Christian” authors were Karl Barth, Paul Tillich, and Reinhold Niebuhr, certainly not authors that fundamentalists would be reading. For Christians, the Carter presidency was a disaster. Jeffrey St. John, a non-Christian libertarian columnist, wrote these prophetic words prior to the November election in 1976:

A Carter victory in 1976 would usher in an administration led by various liberal-to-left activist groups who have long pleaded for vast government powers over the private sector of industry and over middle-class Americans. In short, Carter appears to be leading a coalition of political and economic radicals who would go far beyond the massive expansion of the powers of the federal government Franklin Roosevelt instituted in 1933.[5]

The fundamentalist Christian community felt it had been sucker punched. Then enters Jerry Falwell. He was mad at hell, and he wasn’t going to take it anymore.

Footnotes:
[1]
. Other evangelicals entered the political arena for additional reasons. For example, Ronald Nash explains “that one of the reasons he got involved in the political process was his own growing anger at what he saw as the unfairness of the ‘evangelical left’s’ attacks on conservatism.” See Richard John Neuhaus, gen. ed., The Bible, Politics, and Democracy (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 120–121.
[2]
. Carl McIntire, Twentieth Century Reformation, 2nd rev. ed. (Collingswood, NJ: Christian Beacon Press, 1945).
[3]. George Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth Century Evangelicalism, 1870–1925 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), 57, 66–67, 110–11, 126, 190, 191, 208, 210, 223.
[4]
. Erling Jorstad, The Politics of Doomsday: Fundamentalists of the Far Right (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1970), 13.
[5]. Jeffrey St. John, Jimmy Carter’s Betrayal of the South (Ottawa, IL: Green Hill, 1976), 3. Quoted in Gary North, “Intellectual Schizophrenia,” Christianity and Civilization: The Failure of the American Baptist Culture, ed. James B. Jordan (Tyler, TX: Geneva Divinity School, 1982), 7.
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