Our Evangelical Age

The rise and fall and rise of the Christian Right. Terry Eastland reviews “The Evangelicals” by Frances Fitzgerald.

Ms. Fitzgerald dates the Christian right to 1979, when Jerry Falwell, the pastor of a Baptist church in Virginia, founded the Moral Majority, an organization that was designed, as she puts it, “to register conservative Christians and mobilize them into a political force against what he called ‘secular humanism’ and the moral decay of the country.”

Falwell vowed to fight a “holy war” and outspokenly condemned abortion, homosexuality and sex education.

.. high-profile sex scandals that undermined any sense of moral authority: think of the Bakkers, Jim and Tammy Faye, and of Jimmy Swaggart.

..It gained new leaders—among them Pat Robertson and James Dobson—and sought to elect like-minded politicians from the top of the ballot down.
..since the emergence of the Christian right, two-thirds to four-fifths of evangelical voters have voted for the Republican candidate.
..define religious liberty as the right “to carry religious objections from their private lives into their public roles as small business owners, service providers and even government officials.”
.. To her, it appears, religious liberty as the Christian right defines it is itself discriminatory.
.. the Great Awakenings of the 18th and 19th centuries, a series of revivals
.. introducing, as she puts it, “a new idea of conversion as a sudden, overwhelming experience.”
.. the teaching of the church became less important than the life of the individual believer.
.. Bible institutes like Dwight Moody’s in Chicago  .. centers of militant anti-modernism and the training grounds for the evangelists of fundamentalism.
.. called themselves evangelicals, she says, to escape “the associations of bigotry and narrowness” that were attached to militant separatists.
.. Billy Graham .. called himself an “evangelical.” By that he meant a conservative Protestant who had been “born again.”
.. Fundamentalists then became a subset of evangelicals, and most of them were separatists who had left their denominations.”
.. Graham, she also says, thought “that America had a moral and spiritual mission to redeem the world.”
.. Mr. Graham became “a pastor of the national civil religion.”
.. many prominent evangelicals began to distance themselves from the Christian right, including the megachurch pastor Rick Warren, best known for “The Purpose-Driven Life” (2002). The central concerns of the “new evangelicals” have been poverty and climate change, and their churches have paid less attention to politics than did the “old” Christian right
.. she is obviously aware of its persistence and the obstacle it still presents to an “enlightened” or liberal agenda