American Fundamentalism in the 70s – The Rise of the Moral Majority

Aug 15 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I left off last time with the formation of the “New Right” which linked the political right to the Religious Right. In 1973, Paul Weyrich , who was instrumental in the formation of the New Right, founded the  Heritage Foundation (with aid from money from Joseph Coors), a right-wing think tank. Remember that next time you sit down to have a beer. Sure, the Rockies are beautiful, but what that beer represents is pure Colorado ugly.

Weyrich also founded ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council to coordinate the work of Religious Right state legislators. William Martin Chavanne author of With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America offers a quote from Weyrich: “This alliance between religion and politics didn’t just happen. I have been working on this for years.”

Important point there. Yes, as we have seen, Christianity had been growing more conservative in nature since the 20s but the marriage between religious and political conservatism was no accident. When people tell you (as they will) that the Religious Right is a myth, remind them of this. It’s rather ironic that fundamentalist Christians will tell you that denying the devil is doing his work when in reality, denying the existence of the Religious Right is doing its work.

The 70s were an unhealthy decade for American democracy. The year 1973 also saw the Publication of R. J. Rushdoony’s, Institutes of Biblical Law which stimulated the rapid expanse of Christian Reconstructionism. Think for a minute about Christian Reconstructionism: it advocates replacing the Constitution with the Bible by legislating Old Testament (Mosaic) law. It demands the death penalty for such things as “homosexuality” and abortion.

Bryan Fischer’s call for blasphemy to be outlawed is moderate compared to the demands of Christian Reconstructionism, which demands the death penalty for apostasy (all this death is to be caused by stoning and burning at the stake). That’s right, if you were a Christian at one point, and are no longer, you are an apostate, and dead as far as Christian Reconstructionism is concerned. Rushdoony also advocates Biblical slavery – yes, if you do it according to the Bible, slavery is just fine as an institution.

David Barton is a Rushdoony follower. Think about all the people (Glenn Beck, Michele Bachmann, Mike Huckabee, Rick Perry and others) who support David Barton. Think about that before you vote for Rick Perry and his Reconstructionist allies.

I looked last time too at the rise of creationism. This movement benefited from Ronald Reagan’s work as Governor of California (1967-1975). As Chris Mooney writes, “Reagan’s self-appointed board of education had pushed to weaken the teaching of evolution and endorsed creationism.”[1] The Republican war on science did not begin with George W. Bush.

In 1976 evangelical Christianity moved into the White House when Evangelical when Southern Baptist Jimmy Carter won the presidential election, demonstrating the potential of the conservative Christian vote to people like Weyrich.[2] Of course, today’s fundamentalists despise Jimmy Carter. That itself is representative of how further out into the fringe conservative Christianity has been driven since the 70s.

By 1976, mainstream Christians were less a dominating force in the Republican Party – twenty-six percent of White Evangelical Protestants were calling themselves Republicans. William Martin Chavanne writes:

“Beginning in 1976, Weyrich, [Howard] Phillips [a Reconstructionist] and Morton Blackwell, who organizes young men and teaches them how to be political activists — Ralph Reed is one of his graduates — launched a concentrated effort to involve conservative churches in their cause.”

Remember when I commented that the South Carolina Republican Party in the 50s and 60s “was dominated religiously by traditional upper- and middle-status mainline Protestants such as Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and Methodists, with a leavening of better off Southern Baptists”?[3] This was no longer true in the 70s:

“In 1976…a network of Fundamentalist activists centered at Bob Jones University moved into the party in force, hoping to turn the state GOP away from Gerald Ford and toward Ronald Reagan.”[4]

It’s perhaps unsurprising that as Dolce and Maio report, “Depictions of religiously conservative Christians by American social scientists [become] less stark and uniform, and more nuanced.”[5] Crazy was becoming midstream.

The year 1978 saw the organization of the Christian Voice (CV) by Robert Grant, Gary Jarmin and Colonel Donor. “The CV grew out of the movement opposing civil rights for gays and lesbians in California…”[6]

This increasing trend toward conservative Christian values culminated in 1979 with the established by Jerry Falwell of the “Moral Majority” an organization made up of conservative Christian political action committees which campaigned on issues its personnel believed were important to maintaining its Christian conception of moral law. Of course, this conception of moral law was to be imposed on American society whether we wanted it or not.

In the same year, Beverly and Tim LaHaye founded Concerned Women for America (CWA).

“The organization conducts educational programs that emphasize the theme of traditional American values and lobbies the national and state legislatures on issues of concern to members. The organization has backed a number of religious right positions, including support for religious freedom, antiabortion legislation, required AIDS testing for marriage license applicants, and a strong national defense.”[7]

You can easily see how much had changed between 1964 and 1979 – the American political landscape was a completely different place. It is no surprise that Barry Goldwater denounced this trend in 1981 in a speech I quoted in my last article. America had changed, and not for the better, and it was only going to get worse.


The Antecedents of American Fundamentalism 1606-1925
The Rising Tide of American Fundamentalism in the 1940s and 50s
The Cresting Tide of American Fundamentalism in the 1960s

[1] Mooney, 2005:36

[2] Green 1996:15

[3] James L. Guth, “South Carolina: The Christian Right Wins One” PS: Political Science and Politics
Vol. 28, No. 1 (Mar., 1995), pp. 5-8.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Dolce and Maio 1999:41.

[6] Glenn H. Utter, John Woodrow Storey, The Religious Right: A Reference Handbook” (ABC-CLIO, 2001:169

[7] Utter and Storey, 2001:170


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