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date: 17 June 2024

The Religious Right in Americafree

The Religious Right in Americafree

  • Michael J. McVicarMichael J. McVicarFlorida State University


The phrase Religious Right refers to a loose network of political actors, religious organizations, and political pressure groups that formed in the United States in the late 1970s. Also referred to as the Christian Right, representative organizations associated with the movement included Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, Tim LaHaye’s Council for National Policy, Beverly LaHaye’s Concerned Women for America, and Ed McAteer’s Religious Roundtable. Leaders and organizations associated with the Religious Right made a broad-based religious appeal to Americans that emphasized traditional family values, championed free-market economics, and advocated a hardline foreign policy approach to the Soviet Union. They also criticized secular and materialistic trends in American culture that many in the Religious Right associated with the moral and economic decline of the nation. The organizations of the Religious Right had a major influence on the 1976 and 1980 presidential elections by directly affecting the political fortunes of Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. Although many of the organizations declined and disbanded in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s, some of the organizations of the Religious Right persisted into the 2000s and continue to shape policy discussions, drive voter turnout, and influence religious and political life in the United States.

Even though actors in the Religious Right appealed broadly to the conservative cultural sensibilities of Americans from Protestant, Catholic, Mormon, and Jewish backgrounds, the movement most capably mobilized white evangelical and fundamentalist Christians. The decentralized nature of white evangelical Protestantism means that organizers associated with the Religious Right mobilized coalitions of activists and rank-and-file members from large conservative denominational bodies such as the Southern Baptist Convention, the Presbyterian Church in America, and the Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church, while also drawing support from independent churches associated with Reformed, Pentecostal, charismatic, and nondenominational Protestantism. Further, the term Religious Right has also been used by scholars and journalists alike to identify a broad ecumenical coalition of activist Catholics, Mormons, Jews, and other cultural conservatives who have made common cause with Protestants over social issues related to sexual morality—including resisting abortion rights, combating pornography, and fighting against rights for homosexuals—since the 1970s.

Scholars often trace the roots of the Religious Right to the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy, a series of theological and institutional disputes that split conservative Protestants in the early 20th century. In the intervening decades between the 1920s and 1970s, conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists developed an institutional subculture of churches, colleges, and voluntary societies that created a popular perception of their withdrawal and isolation from mainstream social and political culture in the United States. This institutional separation, however, did not stop conservative Protestants from contributing to many of the most important political controversies of the 20th century, including debates over cultural change, economic theory, and foreign policy during the Cold War. By the late 1970s, a unique convergence of social changes and new developments in law, politics, and media led to the emergence of a distinct coalition of special interest political groups that have since been labeled the Religious or Christian Right. These groups had a profound effect on electoral outcomes and public policy debates that has persisted well into the 21st century.


  • Religion and Politics
  • Religion in America

Updated in this version

Minor updates to the review of the literature, several citations, and the main text. Paragraph added on the 2016 presidential election.

The Prehistory of the Religious Right, 1910–1976

Political engagement by religiously inspired activists is hardly new in American history. Whether one points to the political projects of colonial-era Puritan clergy or the rowdy debates over slavery, women’s rights, and alcoholic temperance in the 19th century, religious activism has played a pivotal role in shaping American history. Consequently, the political activity of the Religious Right of the 1970s must be contextualized within the broader streams of American religious and social history. The populist, politically reformist sentiment identified with the Religious Right can be traced to various sources in American evangelical Christianity but is perhaps most often linked to the separatist strains of white fundamentalist evangelicalism that developed in the first three decades of the 20th century.

The Politics of Fundamentalism

The core political constituency of the Religious Right of the 1970s had its roots in a series of theological and institutional disputes known as the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy that reached a peak in the 1920s. Protestant modernists, or theological liberals, favored modernizing Christian teachings to conform to new scientific theories such as Darwinian evolutionary theory. They also embraced recent developments in biblical scholarship that challenged traditional views of the divine origin of Christian scripture. Fundamentalists emphasized the “fundamentals” of Christian orthodoxy, insisting on the inerrancy of scripture, the divinity of Christ, His virgin birth, and the reality of scriptural miracles. Early fundamentalists advocated these positions in—and took their name from—The Fundamentals, a series of essays published between 1910 and 1915.

In the 1920s, fundamentalists contributed to a number of national controversies including, most prominently, the infamous Scopes trial of 1925 in which conservative Presbyterian and Democratic politician William Jennings Bryan played a central role in a legal dispute over the teaching of Darwinian evolutionary theory in Tennessee public schools. The Scopes trial unfolded during a decade of conflict over social issues ranging from alcohol prohibition and the changing roles for women in society to the political resistance against the campaigns of prominent Catholic politicians. Against the backdrop of these divisive issues, fundamentalists battled to control churches and began to create independent institutions. In 1927, for example, Southern evangelist Bob Jones Sr. founded Bob Jones College—later expanded to Bob Jones University (BJU)—to resist modernist trends in theology and the secularization of higher education represented by the Scopes trial. Institutions like BJU popped up across the country—especially in the South and West—as theological conservatives sought to develop spaces of organizational and bureaucratic power to protect what they regarded as traditional Christian theological and social positions. Many of these institutions would persist for decades and create an alternative religious subculture largely insulated from broader secular trends in the United States. Indeed, Jones’s BJU would play an important role later in the century in catalyzing the growth of the Religious Right when federal officials attempted to regulate the university’s racial policies and prompted Christian conservatives to organize a political response.1

The “Old” Christian Right from the Great Depression to the Cold War

In the post-Scopes era of the 1930s, growing numbers of conservative Protestants struggled to reconcile their separatist religious sensibilities with their increasing sense of the need to engage in direct political and social activism. Many, like Bob Jones, focused on building the secessionist institutions that formed in the wake of the Fundamentalists-Modernist controversy. Another small but vocal contingent took aim at the Great Depression–era economic policies of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.2 They developed politicized religious rhetoric that would give shape to the anti-communist bombast of the Cold War and the pro-family politics of the last two decades of the century. Some prominent fundamentalists, such as Baptist preacher J. Frank Norris, criticized the New Deal to condemn the centralization of political power in Washington, a trend some interpreted in apocalyptic terms, seeing parallels to ancient biblical prophecy regarding the rise and fall of powerful regimes. Other more controversial pro-Nazi anti-Semites such as Episcopalian writer Elizabeth Dilling, Catholic radio broadcaster Father Charles Coughlin, and Christian Nationalist Crusade agitator Gerald L. K. Smith pushed the limits of populist religious rage in their attempts to dismiss FDR’s New Deal as a Jewish Bolshevik plot.

By the 1950s, the Depression and World War II–era religious dissenters gave way to a broader consensus among evangelicals and fundamentalists regarding the necessity of engagement with the wider culture. They came to view communism and Soviet Russia as an existential threat, and warned that the centralization of federal power might lead to a similar encroachment of godless materialism in the United States. Few conservative Protestants spoke more forcefully on these matters than the neo-evangelicals. Billy Graham, Carl F. H. Henry, Harold Ockenga, and other neo-evangelicals associated with Fuller Theological Seminary, Wheaton College, and the publication Christianity Today explicitly rejected the institutional separatism of old-line fundamentalism to argue that social and political action must be regarded as part of evangelicalism and not seen as being at odds with it. In The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism, Henry lambasted fundamentalists for their intellectual and social isolation in the years following the Scopes trial.3 Likewise, Graham, an ex-BJU student, became the most popular and renowned white evangelist of the era by embodying Henry’s challenge to embrace theological conservatism and social engagement. Graham directly engaged in the politics of the era by framing the Cold War between the United States and Russia in theological terms, a point he made in many of his mid-century revivals beginning in 1947.

In contrast to neo-evangelicalism, an equally politically active model of old-line fundamentalism advocated by the likes of Presbyterian secessionist Carl McIntire, ex–Disciples of Christ pastor Billy James Hargis, and numerous regional ministers argued for the continuation of fundamentalist institutional separatism.4 Often couched in the rhetoric of aggressive anti-communism, these ministries lashed out against the political priorities of the day to condemn racial desegregation and advocate foreign military intervention against “Reds” abroad. They also rejected secular trends in culture and supported a more public role for Christianity in civil institutions. The student movement of the 1960s, the counterculture, the Civil Right movement, and anti–Vietnam War activism drew the ire of anti-communist fundamentalists.

McIntire, Hargis, and others also took aim at their fellow Protestants. They focused on attacking the ecumenical body of the National Council of Churches, which they condemned as an unbiblical, Babel-like “super church.” They also lashed out against neo-evangelicalism as a compromise with, not condemnation of, degenerate modern culture. Speaking mostly to regional audiences in the South, West, and Northeast, religiously and politically incendiary broadcasts such as McIntire’s Twentieth-Century Reformation Hour and Hargis’s Christian Crusade pushed the limits of regulating access to public radio airwaves. Both ministries anticipated legal disputes that would later animate the Religious Right of the 1970s as they faced frequent regulatory challenges regarding their political messages and wrangled with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) over their tax-exempt status.

By the 1960s a large number of evangelical leaders had begun to question the isolationism of a previous generation of fundamentalist leaders. Neo-evangelicalism and anti-Communist fundamentalism reflected more than a half-century’s worth of controversy regarding engagement with and withdrawal from the broader culture. A small number of younger evangelicals rejected the status quo conservatism of neo-evangelicalism and anti-Communist fundamentalists and turned to anti–Vietnam War, anti-segregation, and anti-poverty activism.5 A larger coalition of evangelicals and fundamentalists turned toward aggressive political organizing and built new relationships with the Republican Party. In the GOP, they found politicians willing to embrace conservative social and economic issues in a way that resonated with white evangelical Christians living in the American South, the West, and beyond.

The Sunbelt

In the first half of the 20th century, a majority of white Southern evangelicals—most concretely represented by the sustained political loyalty of Southern Baptists—favored the Democratic Party. The 1960 nomination of John F. Kennedy, a Catholic, saw a sizable number of Southern evangelicals and fundamentalists switch to the Republican Party. Interest in the Grand Old Party (GOP) intensified with the presidential candidacy of conservative Arizona Republican senator Barry Goldwater in 1964. Goldwater campaigned as an advocate for states’ rights and critic of the civil rights movement. White voters in Southern counties who had once consistently supported Democrat candidates ranging from William Jennings Bryan to Harry Truman defected to the Arizona senator. Although defeated by Lyndon B. Johnson in a landslide, Goldwater’s bid helped join the GOP with a network of conservative activists including grassroots Protestant ministries, conservative Catholic activists such as Phyllis Schlafly and William F. Buckley Jr., and far-right organizations such as the ultra-conservative John Birch Society. Goldwater’s operatives resuscitated the moribund Republican Party apparatus in the South and created a strong GOP presence in the West.

The realignment of white evangelicals and fundamentalists away from Democrats and toward Republicans and non-affiliated independents coincided with rapid demographic changes in the United States. Geographically, the traditional regional stronghold of evangelical and fundamentalist Christians has been the so-called Bible Belt of the Southern United States, a region stretching from Virginia to Texas. More recently, however, scholars have emphasized that the regional support for the Religious Right might be better conceptualized as the Sunbelt, a much larger region stretching from Southern California in the West to the Carolinas in the East. During the latter half of the 20th century, the Sunbelt region of the United States witnessed unprecedented population growth and destabilizing social change as Americans emigrated from dense, industrialized urban centers in the North and Northeast to the South and Southwest. The federal government’s post–World War II subsidization of homeownership and the decentralization of urban areas helped fuel the rise of the major metroplexes of the Sunbelt such as Los Angeles, Phoenix, Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, and Raleigh–Durham. Further, complex patterns of de- and re-segregation facilitated by African American migration to Northern cities and the development of white suburban residential communities contributed to the growth of more religiously and ethnically homogenous communities in some areas.

Just as racial tensions peaked in the 1960s and populations shifted from cities and the country to the suburbs, changes in the manufacturing and service sectors of the economy dramatically altered the ways Americans labored. These shifts led to changing roles for minorities and women in a labor force once dominated by white males. As a consequence of these demographic changes, domestic social concerns displaced previous worries about foreign communism. New issues concerning women’s roles in the domestic sphere and the labor force made many Americans uneasy. Further, concerns raised by the sexual revolution, the widespread availability of birth control, and countercultural movements of the 1960s seemed to undermine the very nature of the American family. Unease about race and skyrocketing crime rates in urban areas further contributed to the sense of familial precariousness.

By the late 1960s and early 1970s, a number of political operatives identified these demographic changes taking place in the South and West and recognized that political identification in these regions correlated closely to individual religious affiliation. In The Emerging Republican Majority, Republican political strategist Kevin Phillips popularized the “Southern strategy” of exploiting white anxieties over racial desegregation and concerns about cultural changes affecting the family.6 Republican politician Richard Nixon, following the counsel of Phillips and other advisers, successfully wooed some evangelicals and fundamentalists with his “law and order” platform that combined social conservatism with a get-tough attitude on crime and countercultural radicalism. The Watergate scandal and Nixon’s unprecedented resignation from the presidency set the stage for the emergence of conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists as an organized and cohesive political bloc that could rally around a candidate who shared their dissatisfaction with the previous decade’s political, social, and demographic changes.

Jimmy Carter and the Rise of the Religious Right, 1976–1980

The 1976 presidential candidacy of former Democratic Georgia governor Jimmy Carter marked the rise of the Religious Right. Carter, a self-identified “born again” Southern Baptist Sunday School teacher, hailed from a Sunbelt state and spoke an evangelical vernacular of spiritual regeneration and traditional family values. He temporarily reversed the steady trend of evangelicals and fundamentalists gravitating toward the Republican Party by openly discussing his faith and making outreach to religious conservatives an important component of his campaign strategy. Following Carter’s electoral victory, political pollster George Gallup Jr.—himself a prominent evangelical—attributed the president-elect’s success partially to the coalition of evangelicals who backed the candidate. Gallup declared 1976 “the year of the evangelical,” a conclusion seconded in national publications such as Newsweek and Time.

Religious conservatives’ infatuation with Carter was short-lived, however, as some of his policies exacerbated concerns about economic and social shifts that seemed to upend traditional gender relationships that primarily viewed women as mothers and homemakers. Carter’s support for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), a proposed constitutional amendment that would have guaranteed “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged … on account of sex,” alienated many of his religious supporters. Anger with Carter became especially apparent in the wake of 1977’s National Women’s Conference and 1980’s White House Conference on Families. Carter’s statements on the events emphasized an inclusive and diverse conception of family forms that including divorced, single-parent, multigenerational, and childless families. The administration found itself in the middle of fractious disputes over the nature and shape of the American family as feminists, conservatives, and political operatives vied to select delegates to the two conferences. Lobbying to influence these conferences and oppose the ERA helped drive the formation and mobilization of numerous conservative Christian political pressure groups including Beverly LaHaye’s Concerned Women for America (CWA), a conservative Christian counterpoint to the feminist National Organization for Women.

The CWA was one of a number of conservative groups that formed in 1979, leading many journalists, historians, and social scientists to pinpoint that year as the tipping point when a network of explicitly religious organizations coalesced into the political movement of the Religious Right. Interconnected changes in electoral regulations, the media, and law facilitated this development. First, changes to U.S. electoral laws severely weakened party control over American politics. Next, fundamental changes to broadcast media affected the ways content producers delivered messages to their audiences. Finally, systemic legal changes fundamentally altered public religious practice in the United States and led to a public backlash.

The Moral Majority

No organization more clearly manifested the convergence of the legal, political, and media changes that led to the rise of the Religious Right than the Moral Majority. Southern Baptist minister Jerry Falwell founded the Moral Majority in 1979 after a number of religious and conservative political activists urged him to use the resources of his sizable Virginia-based Thomas Road Baptist Church to mobilize Christians to social and political action. Like many conservative Southern evangelicals, Falwell had been ambivalent about overt evangelical political activism in the 1960s. His Old-Time Gospel Hour television program echoed the concerns of many of his contemporary Baptist fundamentalists by criticizing civil rights activists, endorsing anti-communism, and toeing a theologically conservative evangelical mark. He founded Lynchburg Baptist College in 1971, a nonprofit, private coeducational institution that has since grown into Liberty University, one of the largest universities in Virginia; by 2016 it claimed a student body of over 110,000 students in its traditional and online courses and a $1.1 billion endowment.7 Falwell’s ambitious institution-building activities and broadcasting success put him in a unique position to use the organizational strengths of his ministry to tap into the growing political concerns of his fellow ministers and their parishioners.

Falwell’s newfound commitment to cultural engagement and political activism culminated in the late 1970s with the organization of the Moral Majority. Under the leadership of Robert Billings, by 1980, the Moral Majority claimed more than two million members and a $1.5 million budget. The organizational structure of the Moral Majority was a product of significant developments in the regulation of the financing of political campaigns in the 1970s. Post–Watergate scandal reforms of campaign finance regulations restructured the way special interests and political pressure groups could try to influence local and national party politics. In 1971, the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA), placed strict limits on fundraising and spending related to political campaigning. The Supreme Court’s complicated 1976 ruling in Buckley v. Valeo upheld parts of the FECA by maintaining restrictions on individual contributions to political parties and political action committees (PACs) while simultaneously concluding that limits on independent expenditures by candidates, private individuals, or political groups violated the First Amendment protections of freedom of speech and association.

Political Action Committees

The PAC system encouraged political pressure groups to develop new ways of raising money from a wide network of small, medium, and large individual donors. At the forefront of such fundraising was Richard A. Viguerie, a Catholic with connections to the Southern conservatism of Billy James Hargis and George Wallace. In the 1960s, Viguerie pioneered direct mailing, a technique of precisely targeting political mass-mailing advertising campaigns to potential voters and donors. Viguerie’s direct mail campaigns combined the sophisticated use of computer databases and cutting-edge marketing techniques to solicit support—often in the form of small contributions from thousands of donors—first for the Goldwater campaign, then for many other conservative political candidates. With the passage of the FECA and the development of the PAC system, Viguerie’s marketing savvy and his vast mailing lists of potential donors made him an exceptionally powerful figure in the late 1970s.

During the organizing phase of the Moral Majority, Viguerie impressed upon Falwell the utility of the PAC system and the finer points of building a vast base of donor support. As a testament to the willingness of religious conservatives to take advantage of the new political realities of post-Watergate Washington, Falwell, Billings, and their staff organized four distinct enterprises: (1) Moral Majority, Inc., a tax-exempt, non-tax-deductible political lobbying organization; (2) Moral Majority Foundation, a tax-exempt, tax-deductible project designed to educate ministers and laypeople on the finer points of voter registration and mobilization; (3) Moral Majority Legal Defense Fund, part of a growing network of public law firms dedicated to reversing the legacy of liberal firms such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU); and (4) Moral Majority Political Action Committee, a PAC designed to help fund the political campaigns of conservative candidates.8 The convergence of the political awakening of Sunbelt religious and cultural conservatives and the development of the PAC system contributed to the redistribution of funding and power from political parties to individual candidates’ personal campaign funds and to other PACs engaged in issue advocacy.

The Electronic Church

As new campaign financing regulations and fundraising models shifted power away from political parties and toward special interest pressure groups and fundraising masterminds, a changing regulatory landscape for media outlets and the widespread availability of cable and satellite television allowed for the dissemination of religious ideas and the mingling of political ideas outside of the traditional channels of religious authority. This change was most apparent following Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulatory changes in 1960 that allowed local television network affiliates to use paid programming to meet “public interest” quotas. Freed from requirements to air local community-oriented programming, network affiliates could sell superfluous airtime to the highest bidder, and a significant amount of money rolled in from religious programs. Channels began to sell more and more time to religious broadcasters who, in turn, used their programming to fundraise and thus increase their viewership.

This new regulatory environment and the rise of federally unregulated cable and satellite television technologies created incentives for religious broadcasters to develop innovative uses of electronic and broadcast media. By the 1970s journalists and scholars had dubbed this new religious programming the “electronic church” and its pioneering media personalities “televangelists.” The electronic church allowed for the development of televangelist ministries that gained popularity on deregulated network television and through cable and satellite television networks. While evangelicals and Catholics had exploited novel broadcast technologies throughout the century—including important figures ranging from Billy Sunday and Charles Fuller to Aimee Semple McPherson and Bishop Fulton Sheen—changes in FCC regulation of local network programming and cable broadcasting allowed for the proliferation of television-based ministries. Jerry Falwell, D. James Kennedy, and James Robison all developed successful syndicated broadcasts while Pat Robertson and Jim Bakker pioneered evangelical entry into the cable market with the formation of the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) Cable Network in 1981. Although many of these programs remained apolitical, the robust and omnipresent media ecology of the electronic church contributed to the organizational and financial development of the Religious Right and also fueled concerns about the cultural and political dominance of politicized Christianity.

The Law

Behind the political and media changes that shaped the organizing and messaging of the Religious Right lay a much deeper set of legal controversies that religious conservatives of all persuasions and faiths believed cut to the heart of their ability to worship as they saw fit. Unlike the largely symbolic battles over the National Women’s Conference and the White House Conference on Families, since the 1950s a series of district court and Supreme Court rulings had had a profound effect on the role religion could play in the public life of many Americans. Just as the Carter administration had angered religious conservatives with its priorities for organizing the family conferences and its support for the ERA, the administration further exacerbated tensions with religious conservatives when the Internal Revenue Service stripped Bob Jones University of its tax-exempt status in 1976.

In the early 1970s, the IRS had moved to revoke BJU’s tax-exempt status because of its racially discriminatory policies. Traditionally, BJU barred black students, but legal pressure in the 1970s prompted the university to, first, enroll married African American students, and then admit unmarried blacks, but ban interracial dating. The IRS’s reasoning relied on a three-judge D.C. district court’s ruling in Green v. Connally (1971) that upheld an IRS decision to revoke the tax-exempt status of any organization that engaged in racial discrimination. The agency angered religious conservatives across many faiths when it applied the Green ruling to BJU because of its racial policies. Although the decision on BJU’s tax status predated Carter’s presidency, his administration’s pursuit of the university during the appeals process left many conservative Christians from the South aghast that one of their own would seek to meddle in the internal affairs of a fundamentalist institution.

The Green case and the revocation of BJU’s tax-exempt status happened in the context of a series of highly controversial legal rulings that many religious conservatives felt disproportionally affected them. In the 1960s, a number of U.S. Supreme Court rulings allowed federal and state governments to regulate education more tightly. Three landmark rulings distressed religious conservatives: Engel v. Vitale (1962), Murray v. Curlett (1963), and Abington School District v. Schempp (1963). Taken as a whole, these rulings effectively ended the practice of prayer and Bible reading in public schools. To conservatives, these legal decisions and the IRS’s subsequent pursuit of BJU seemed to rewrite traditional racial hierarchies, undermined time-honored familial relationships, and excluded certain religious practices from public spaces, thereby restricting religion to a narrow sphere of privatized experience. In response, Christian leaders created a loose coalition of public interest law firms, law student organizations, and institutions designed to resist what they perceived as an orchestrated secular-humanist attack on religious establishments.


In the popular imagination, no single legal ruling is more commonly associated with the development of the Religious Right than the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 ruling, Roe v. Wade. The Roe decision legalized abortion in the United States and opened a complex set of ethical and religious questions related to a woman’s constitutionally protected right to terminate a pregnancy. Initially, many conservative churches and religious leaders from evangelical and fundamentalist backgrounds said little about the ruling or, as in the case of Southern Baptists, tentatively sided with the Court’s majority.9 Others, such as the editors of Christianity Today, condemned the decision. The age of large-scale political and social resistance to the Roe ruling ultimately coincided with the organized political mobilization of the Religious Right that coalesced in the late 1970s.

The reassessment of Roe came as a result of several changes specific to the emergence of the Religious Right. First, the movement’s practical willingness to cooperate on matters of policy related to family issues brought Protestants into dialogue with Catholics and other non-Protestants on the issue. Next, a number of ministries condemned the ruling and made resisting abortion and overturning Roe a salient political rallying point. Perhaps most significantly, the popular fundamentalist theologian Francis A. Schaeffer saw Roe as the logical outcome of an atheistic, materialistic, Darwinian modern worldview that had come to dominate culture in Western Europe and North America. Schaeffer emerged as an unlikely best-selling author who condemned “secular humanism”—an atheistic philosophy that put humans at the center of the universe and displaced the traditional Christian view of a God-centered world. In Whatever Happened to the Human Race? Schaeffer and renowned pediatric surgeon C. Everett Koop—Ronald Reagan’s future surgeon general—co-authored a scathing indictment of the secular humanist worldview that led to the reasoning behind Roe and the practice of modern surgical abortion.10 The book and its multi-part film adaptation galvanized many Protestants to resist abortion and are generally credited with helping to jump-start widespread conservative resistance to abortion.

Schaeffer helped shape the concepts of Christian civil disobedience and what he called “cobelligerency.” In his best-selling A Christian Manifesto, Schaeffer defended Christian political activism and urged Christians to engage in civil disobedience.11 Advocating nonviolent techniques once championed by civil rights activists in the South, Schaeffer argued that Christians had a moral and theological obligation to resist unjust laws and to use nonviolent means of protest to defend fetuses and protect the sanctity of the American family. In public statements and lectures, Schaeffer also argued that evangelicals could work with a “cobelligerent,” a person or organization that may not be a Christian, but who might be correct about a single issue. Schaeffer took this idea directly to Falwell, who adopted it as a central concept for his Moral Majority, a pan-religious and nondenominational organization. The widespread acceptance of a concept like cobelligerency pointed to the ways in which an emphasis on theological purity no longer concerned many politically active conservative evangelicals.

The Maturation of the Religious Right, 1980–Present

The Carter administration’s management of the various family conferences and international problems including the Iranian Revolution, the 1979 energy crisis, and an economic recession soured many Americans on the president, and the politicized religious forces that once supported Carter turned on him. They found an unlikely ally in former movie star and California governor, Ronald Reagan. Reagan was a telegenic conservative well known for his anti-communist stance in Hollywood and tireless support for national right-wing Republicans since Goldwater’s 1964 presidential bid. Reagan identified as a “born again” Christian and spoke the language of religious conservatives even if, as governor of California, he signed legislation supporting abortion rights and opposed legislation that would have banned homosexuals from teaching in public schools. Despite these early policy positions, Reagan nonetheless skillfully connected with religious supporters and used his own extensive resources as a master campaigner and conservative icon to woo the leaders of the Religious Right.

In his outreach to conservative evangelicals Reagan contributed one of the most memorable moments in 1980s politics. In Dallas, Texas, in August 1980, the Religious Roundtable, a Christian Right organization founded by Southern Baptist Ed McAteer in 1979, organized the National Affairs Briefing Conference, which included prominent national Protestant leaders from, among other groups, Campus Crusade for Christ and the National Association of Evangelicals. In front of an enthusiastic crowd of clergy and laymen, Reagan told the ostensibly nonpartisan group, “I know you can’t endorse me, but I endorse you and what you are doing.”12 Reagan may not have been a perfect evangelical, but he commanded loyal support from evangelicals and other religious conservatives because of his long-standing commitment to conservatism in the United States.

The Religious Right alone did not create the Reagan coalition, but its infrastructure concretized a general trend in the electorate. Conservative white evangelicals who had returned to the Democratic Party to support Carter in 1976, now defected back to the Republican Party, solidifying a trend decades in the making. Carter, who carried 56 percent of the Southern Baptist vote in 1976, now lost that vote: 34 percent to Reagan’s 56 percent. Interlocking and cooperating organizations such as the Moral Majority, Concerned Women for America, and the Religious Roundtable helped brand party policy platforms and shape public perceptions of controversial issues. After the 1980 election the Religious Right became synonymous with the GOP in the popular imagination, a linkage that would fascinate and frustrate political conservatives and Christians alike and trouble Democrats for decades to come. The interconnected components of the Religious Right provided important leverage in close elections across the country: in party primaries, local elections, and national congressional mid-term elections where voter turnout and razor-thin margins decided outcomes, the organs of the Religious Right could prove decisive.

Collapse of the Moral Majority

By the end of the 1980s, conservative Christians could point to their new cultural and political clout. Many prominent religious leaders had gained direct access to the White House in the Carter and Reagan administrations; prominent national ministries reached massive audiences on broadcast radio and television, and on new media such as cable television; some religious leaders commanded major PACs and other political fundraising mechanisms that made even the most experienced Republican or Democratic political operatives salivate; Democrats and secularists warned of a religious takeover of the United States. Yet, despite hyperbolic warnings of some on the left, the decentralized nature of American Protestantism and the tenuous ties between the cobelligerents of the Religious Right indicated to many pundits that the movement was in decline, or perhaps total collapse. Indeed, in terms of the Religious Right’s own stated goals, the movement was a failure: abortion was legal, women made up a significant portion of the labor force, and pornography proliferated while public schools remained prayer-free.

Just as Falwell’s innovative Moral Majority represented the tip of a vast right-wing political empire that coalesced in 1979, the organization’s dissolution a decade later hinted at the broader implications of the Religious Right’s successes and failures. By the end of the 1980s the Moral Majority faced significant financial difficulties and eroding popular support. When Falwell shuttered the organization, he nonetheless declared victory: “The religious right is solidly in place,” he told reporters in 1989, “and, like the galvanizing of the black church as a political force a generation ago, the religious conservatives in America are now in for the duration.”13 In many ways, Falwell was correct. Since the 1976 presidential election, a durable coalition composed of religious lobbying groups, public interest law firms, and Washington-area think tanks had emerged on the American political landscape. This network created a perception of unprecedented religious influence in American politics that peaked during the congressional and presidential election cycles of the 1980s, but that would endure through the 1990s and beyond.

The Christian Coalition

Marion G. “Pat” Robertson (son of a U.S. senator), a media and preaching mogul who hosted the widely viewed 700 Club television program and founded the Christian Broadcasting Network and the Family Channel cable network, challenged George H. W. Bush, the sitting vice president of a popular president, for the presidential nomination of the Republican Party in 1988. Like Falwell, Robertson was a Southern Baptist with a penchant for institution building. He founded a university—Regent—and had boundless political ambition. In a political shock, Robertson came in second in the Iowa caucuses—behind Kansas senator Bob Dole but ahead of Vice President Bush. Robertson failed to maintain his initial momentum and bowed out of the race after poor showings in the subsequent primaries.

After suspending his campaign, Robertson used his remaining resources—including a mailing list estimated in the millions—to create one of the most influential and controversial charitable organizations of the second generation of Religious Right groups: the Christian Coalition. Aggressive in its support of Republican candidates and skilled at exploiting the media and political ecology of the 1990s, the Christian Coalition, like the Moral Majority before it, was paradigmatic of the shifting nature of the Religious Right. Under the leadership of Ralph Reed, a twenty-seven-year-old Republican, the Christian Coalition expanded its activities into more than forty states and pushed the legal limits of a charitable Christian organization. Reed and Robertson built the group into a major political force in 1990s politics by offering voters’ guides, educating local activists, building local political machines, and serving as a conduit between conservative Christians and Republican politicians. Reed helped set the tone of the Religious Right in the post-Reagan political landscape by describing himself as a “guerrilla” fighter who used the nimble resources of the Christian Coalition to sneak in and win local elections. “You don’t know it’s over until you’re in a body bag,” he told a Virginia newspaper. “You don’t know until election night.”14 The IRS, citing the overt political activity of the Christian Coalition, eventually denied its application for 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status in the late 1990s. The organization persisted as a 501(c)(4) social issues advocacy group, but with a much-diminished status in the new millennium.

The Legacy of the Religious Right

While the Moral Majority failed to outlast the initial exuberance of the early 1980s and the Christian Coalition struggled to maintain focus during the presidency of Democrat Bill Clinton, a number of organizations proved far more durable and survived, in part, because they remained largely single-issue pressure groups devoted to promoting a narrow agenda, not building an ambitious political network. Noteworthy examples include Beverly LaHaye’s Concerned Women for America and the various organs associated with James Dobson’s Focus on the Family ministry. Many of these organizations found willing partners among Washington’s inside-the-beltway think tanks—most notably Paul Weyrich’s Heritage Foundation—to help write public policy recommendations and shape national discussions about morality and social issues confronting American democracy in the late 20th century.

Alongside these policy-oriented single-issue groups, other important organizations avoided the short-term election-oriented outlook of the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition to focus on building durable institutional connections between religious leaders and policy makers. Few organizations more clearly represented this than Tim LaHaye’s Council for National Policy (CNP). Founded in 1981 and modeled on the Council on Foreign Relations, the CNP is a membership-only organization that meets three times a year in closed-door meetings. Leaked membership directories from the 1980s indicate that the organization was dominated by clergy from the South and West, who made up more than 80 percent of the CNP’s expansive membership roles. Members also included important business leaders such as Joseph Coors, Charles and David Koch, and Nelson Bunker Hunt. The CNP played a pivotal role in networking Religious Right leadership with political figures in the GOP, including presidential candidates and other prominent national figures.

The political and cultural legacy of the Religious Right is complex and likely to be contested by pundits and scholars, political activists, and average citizens for decades to come. By the dawn of the new millennium, the major controversial political groups of the Religious Right had either disbanded or, as in the case of the Christian Coalition, evolved into much weaker and less ambitious organizations. Nonetheless, many important pressure groups remained, and polling in the 2000 and 2004 presidential election cycles suggested that Republican and former Texas governor George W. Bush benefited from the support of religious conservatives and the political infrastructure of the Religious Right. Notably, the results of the 2004 election suggested that “Values Voters”—mostly white, evangelical Protestants—turned out to support Bush and a number of state referenda banning same-sex marriage. Several exit polls indicated that “moral values” trumped voters’ concerns over the economy, international terrorism, or the other problems facing Americans in the George W. Bush era. While political scientists and pundits now generally concede that the polls returned faulty results, initial election postmortems attributed Bush’s defeat of Democratic Senator John Kerry to a new wave of religious and social conservatism in U.S. politics.

During the 2008 and 2012 presidential election cycles, religion played a key role, but in unexpected ways as Democrat Barack Obama, an African American with connections to Black liberation theology and tenuous family ties to Islam, dominated the politics of the era. The rise of Obama and a conservative resurgence in the form of the Tea Party complicated any easy parsing of evangelicals and fundamentalists into the Religious Right or other political categories. Young evangelicals evolved on critical social issues, notably adopting more liberal positions on same-sex marriages and gay rights. Meanwhile, the economic populism embodied in the Tea Party movement managed to mobilize aspects of the older Religious Right and make their presence felt in the congressional midterm elections of 2010 and 2012.

By 2016, these vexing trends reached new heights with the election of real estate mogul and reality TV star Donald J. Trump to the presidency. A significant amount of popular reporting highlighted Trump’s support in conservative evangelical circles. Particularly prominent was Jerry Falwell Jr., son of Liberty University founder Jerry Falwell. Although Trump was already well known for his divorces, sexual scandals, incendiary public statements, and general indifference to religion, Falwell provided Trump with prominent opportunities to speak at Liberty and helped him connect with other conservative religious leaders. Meanwhile, prominent Religious Right veterans including James Dobson, Ralph Reed, and Pat Robertson all offered some level of public support for Trump. Even though Trump lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton, exit polls suggested that Trump’s Electoral College victory benefited from securing over 80 percent of the white evangelical vote. Reasons for Trump’s support among conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists remain hotly debated in journalistic and scholarly circles, with explanations ranging from lingering white racism and suspicions over Obama’s religious and racial identities, to more practical economic and political concerns related to the economic populism unleashed by the Tea Party, and concerns over which party would nominate the next generation of Supreme Court justices.

Review of the Literature

The proximate origin of the historiography of the Religious Right was the presidential election cycles of 1976 and 1980. The need to explain the rise and fall of Jimmy Carter and the ascendency of Ronald Reagan dominated early research into the development of the Religious Right. Given the significance of national elections and campaign strategizing, it should come as no surprise that journalists and social scientists produced much of the early research on the Religious Right. Important early long-form journalistic accounts tended to focus on the mega-ministries that shaped the right and the legacy of right-wing political activity associated with Reagan’s long career as a nationally recognized leader in the American conservative movement.15

From the 1980s through the early 1990s much of the scholarship was dominated by social scientists focused on studying the coalition of organizations that made up the Religious Right. Edited volumes dedicated to exploring the organizational prowess of the Religious Right and offering detailed breakdowns of the religious affiliations of voters became perennial favorites of academic presses.16 Besides tracking and interpreting the trends associated with specific election outcomes, social scientists have offered some of the most significant studies of the historical evolution of the Religious Right. In 1990, sociologist Jerome L. Himmelstein provided a nuanced and far-reaching study that traced the ideological and organizational roots of the New Religious Right of the 1970s to the Old Right of the 1950s and the anti–New Deal forces of the 1930s.17 William B. Hixson’s masterful 1992 meta-analysis of the social scientific literature on the American right wing provides a simultaneous social history of the development of the Religious Right and an intellectual history of the scholarly literature on the subject.18 Political scientist Michael Lienesch’s 1993 study of the intellectual output of the Religious Right focused almost exclusively on material published since the late 1970s to provide a significant snapshot of the movement at the peak of its cultural and political power.19 Finally, of note is Sara Diamond’s carefully researched 1995 study, which used resource mobilization theory to situate the Religious Right in the context of a much larger story documenting the complex network of organizations comprising the right wing of American politics.20

Almost as soon as the Religious Right became a common category in social scientific research, historians began searching for the origins of the Religious Right and exploring the relationship between the “New” and “Old” branches of the movement. In the early 1980s historian Leo Ribuffo set the stage for this discussion by charting the history of the “Old Christian Right” of the Depression era.21 Other significant historical works, although not specifically about the Religious Right, have offered important insights by situating the movement within the much larger story of American conservative evangelicalism. One of the most significant is the second edition of George M. Marsden’s classic study, Fundamentalism in American Culture, which provides a rich account of the Fundamentalist-Modernist split and its implications for 20th century culture and politics.22 The work of historian Randall Balmer on the historical centuries-long development of American evangelicalism also offers important depth to any study of the Religious Right.23 Finally, although a sociologist by trade, William Martin offered a rich historical account of the long history of the Religious Right that ultimately served as the basis for a popular television documentary on the subject.24 While these historical studies exhibit incredible nuance regarding the history of the Religious Right, most share a basic narrative in which evangelicals and fundamentalists engaged in the politics and culture wars of the 1920s, withdrew from engagement with wider American culture to build institutions and a separatist evangelical subculture, and then reemerged as a political force in the form of the Religious Right of the 1970s. This conventional “backlash” narrative highlights the initial role fundamentalists played as a reactionary intellectual movement aimed at attacking theological modernism and secular American culture.

More recent research—especially Matthew Avery Sutton’s ambitious revisionist study American Apocalypse (2014)—challenges this narrative of cultural withdrawal and eventual reengagement to suggest durable continuities between early fundamentalists and more recent developments like the Religious Right.25

Indeed, this entire article is deeply indebted to recent reassessments of the “backlash” and “withdrawal” narratives. Alongside Sutton’s work, the “Sunbelt thesis” pioneered in works by Darren Dochuk, Matthew D. Lassiter, Lisa McGirr, Steven P. Miller, Michelle M. Nickerson, Daniel K. Williams,26 and other historians has situated the Religious Right in a much more complex narrative about the rise of the post–World War II American right wing. Much of this work is revisionist in nature and has developed a narrative that does not recognize clear boundaries between evangelicals and fundamentalists; political activists and armchair kvetchers; Catholics and Protestants; right-wing revolutionaries and rank-and-file Republicans. Heavily influenced by social history, researchers emphasizing the importance of the Sunbelt region have developed narratives that focus on women, suburbanites, church groups, and other previously overlooked groups to document the explosion of conservative activism that overlapped with and reinforced the Religious Right of the late 1970s. Rather than emphasizing the reactionary and discontinuous nature of the Religious Right, these works highlight common political tendencies among white evangelicals and fundamentalists that were shaped by the interaction between shifting patterns of domestic familial organization, changing demographic trends, evolving labor practices, and the growth of the federal government over the course of the 20th century.

While the body of scholarship related to the Religious Right has expanded exponentially since the 1990s, the vast majority of the literature remains focused on conservative Protestant activists. Scholars have only recently demonstrated sustained interest in tracing the history of the “Religious Left,” an evangelical countercurrent with roots in the civil rights activism and anti–Vietnam War student movement of the 1960s and 1970s.27 Further, although the significance of Catholics, Mormons, and secular conservatives has been noted in the literature, these traditions remain understudied. Catholics have generated a significant amount of attention because of their resistance to abortion and the popularity of figures such as William F. Buckley, but they are nonetheless uneasy participants in the wider historiography of the Religious Right. Donald T. Critchlow’s study of arch-conservative Republican activist Phyllis Schlafly has called attention to the importance of her coalition of Catholic supporters in the battle to nominate Goldwater and stop the ERA, yet studies of figures such as Richard A. Viguerie remain absent.28 Neil J. Young’s work on the connections between the Latter-day Saints, Catholics, and conservative Protestants offers a promising step toward correcting these oversights in the literature, but there is a significant amount of work left to be done.29

Alongside this growing literature focused on Sunbelt politics is an associated body of scholarship that explores the complex relationship between religion, politics, and capitalism in the 20th century. For example, Kevin M. Kruse’s One Nation Under God (2015) marks an important historiographic shift aimed at—at least partially—escaping the conventional “rise of the Religious Right” narrative.30 Kruse’s work—similar to the previously cited studies by Dochuk and Lassiter, and to recent research by Bethany Moreton, Darren E. Grem, Kim Phillips-Fein, and Sutton31—explores a network of businesspersons, intellectuals, and clergy that built an anti-New Deal, post-World War II ideology of Christian nationalism out of Protestantism, anticommunism, and laissez-faire economics. This body of historical research reminds readers that economically and socially “conservative” religion does not necessarily map to “conservative” evangelical and fundamentalists theology. Instead, these works challenge scholars to either expand the boundaries of “Religious Right” to include a wider range of actors, institutions, and theologies operating on a much larger timeframe, or to acknowledge the limited heuristic utility of the category.

Primary Sources

Specialized researchers interested in primary documentation of the rise of the Religious Right can consult a number of important denominational and institutional archival collections documenting the development of conservative theology and social movements in the 20th century. While it would be impossible to list all of the significant archival collections here, especially notable archival collections that frequently appear in the secondary literature include the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives, the Billy Graham Center Archives at Wheaton College, Bob Jones University’s Fundamentalism File, and Fuller Theological Seminary’s Archives. Also of importance are the collections of a number of prominent “watching the right” groups that have donated their collections to public institutions. Notable collections in this vein include the People for the American Way papers at the University of California, Berkeley, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State,32 Tufts University’s Institute for First Amendment Studies papers, and the privately held collections of Public Research Associates in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Digital sources for researchers abound. Besides the obvious utility of exploring digitized back issues of national publications such as Christianity Today, the New York Times, Time magazine, Newsweek, and the Los Angeles Times, there are other important digital resources available on the Religious Right. Many think tanks, ministries, and pressure groups have published portions of their back catalogue of books, magazines, and policy papers on the Internet. For example, the Heritage Foundation has an extensive database of reports and policy statements dating to the mid-1970s. Researchers can find more recent digitized content from such important Religious Right legacy organizations as Focus on the Family and Concerned Women for America. University of California, Santa Barbara’s The American Presidency Project provides a powerful search tool for those interested in primary sources related to religion and politics, and the database has particularly useful collections of documents produced since the Carter administration. For those interested in the more extreme theological voices on the Religious Right, useful Internet-based sources include the websites of Christian Reconstructionists Rousas John Rushdoony and Gary North, virtual clearinghouses of newsletters, books, and policy statements from the formative decades of the 1970s through the 1990s. Likewise, a large collection of internal memoranda and notes authored by the staffers of Norman Lear’s People for the American Way have been published in a searchable online database by UC Berkeley’s Center for the Comparative Studies of Right-wing Movements.

Many academic libraries and large public libraries hold significant collections of primary sources related to the development of the Religious Right. Besides searching for publications by prominent figures associated with the movement—Robertson, Falwell, and many other leaders were prolific authors and publishers with many books, newsletters, and magazines to their credit—there are a number of useful edited primary source anthologies that place the Religious Right in context. Donald T. Critchlow and Nancy MacLean’s Debating the American Conservative Movement: 1945 to the Present, Debating Twentieth-Century America and Gregory L. Schneider’s Conservatism in America since 1930: A Reader offer important excerpts that situate the Religious Right within the larger context of movement conservatism in the 20th century.33 Matthew Avery Sutton’s Jerry Falwell and the Rise of the Religious Right: A Brief History with Documents provides an excellent historical introduction to the Religious Right with supplemental primary sources tracing the emergence of the Religious Right to the Fundamentalist-Modernist split of the early 20th century, a trajectory also explored in Barry Hankins’s Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism: A Documentary Reader.34

Further Reading

  • Balmer, Randall H. Blessed Assurance: A History of Evangelicalism in America. Boston: Beacon, 1999.
  • Balmer, Randall H. The Making of Evangelicalism: From Revivalism to Politics and Beyond. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2010.
  • Bruce, Steve. The Rise and Fall of the New Christian Right: Conservative Protestant Politics in America, 1978–1988. New York: Clarendon, 1988.
  • Critchlow, Donald T. Phyllis Schlafly and Grassroots Conservatism: A Woman’s Crusade. Politics and Society in Twentieth-Century America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005.
  • Diamond, Sara. Roads to Dominion: Right-Wing Movements and Political Power in the United States. New York: Guilford, 1995.
  • Dochuk, Darren. From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism. New York: W. W. Norton, 2010.
  • Flippen, J. Brooks. Jimmy Carter, the Politics of Family, and the Rise of the Religious Right. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2011.
  • Hendershot, Heather. What’s Fair on the Air? Cold War Right-Wing Broadcasting and the Public Interest. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011.
  • Himmelstein, Jerome L. To the Right: The Transformation of American Conservatism. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.
  • Hixson, William B. Search for the American Right Wing: An Analysis of the Social Science Record, 1955–1987. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992.
  • Lichtman, Allan J. White Protestant Nation: The Rise of the American Conservative Movement. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2008.
  • Lienesch, Michael. Redeeming America: Piety and Politics in the New Christian Right. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993.
  • Marsden, George M. Fundamentalism and American Culture. 2d ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.
  • Martin, William C. With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America. New York: Broadway Books, 1996.
  • Miller, Steven P. Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South. Politics and Culture in Modern America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009.
  • Miller, Steven P. The Age of Evangelicalism: America’s Born-Again Years. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.
  • Ribuffo, Leo P. The Old Christian Right: The Protestant Far Right from the Great Depression to the Cold War. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1983.
  • Sutton, Matthew Avery. American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism. Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2014.
  • Swartz, David R. Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012.
  • Williams, Daniel K. God’s Own Party: The Making of the Christian Right. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.


  • 1. Historian Randall H. Balmer has forcibly argued that BJU’s separatist culture and resistance to racial desegregation during the 1960s helped spur the growth of many of the legal and nonprofit institutions associated with the Religious Right of the late 1970s. See Randall H. Balmer, “The Real Origins of the Religious Right,” POLITICO Magazine, May 27, 2014.

  • 2. Matthew Avery Sutton, “Was FDR the Antichrist? The Birth of Fundamentalist Antiliberalism in a Global Age,” Journal of American History 98, no. 4 (January 2012): 1052–1074.

  • 3. Carl F. H. Henry, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1947).

  • 4. Markku Ruotsila, Fighting Fundamentalist: Carl McIntire and the Politicization of American Fundamentalism, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015) provides an exceptionally lucid profile of this type of separatist fundamentalism.

  • 5. For a survey of this trend see especially chapter 3, “The Evangelical Left and the 1960s,” in Countercultural Conservatives: American Evangelicalism from the Postwar Revival to the New Christian Right, ed. Axel R. Schäfer Studies in American Thought and Culture (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2011).

  • 6. Kevin Phillips, The Emerging Republican Majority (New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House, 1969).

  • 7. Liberty University’s 2016 enrollment numbers and endowment are available at, respectively, “Liberty University Quick Facts,” Liberty University, 2017; and “Liberty University,” U.S. News and World Report College Rankings, 2017.

  • 8. For a more complete accounting of the organizational structure of the Moral Majority, see Robert C. Liebman, “Mobilizing the Moral Majority,” in The New Christian Right: Mobilization and Legitimation, eds. Robert C. Liebman, Robert Wuthnow, and James L. Guth (Hawthorne, NY: Aldine, 1983), 50–54.

  • 9. Daniel K. Williams, in Defenders of the Unborn: The Pro-Life Movement before Roe v. Wade (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), provides an overview of the American pro-life movement before the Roe decision. Williams underscores the relatively obscurity of the issue for most evangelicals and fundamentalists.

  • 10. Francis A Schaeffer and C Everett Koop, Whatever Happened to the Human Race? (Old Tappan, NJ: F. H. Revell, 1979).

  • 11. Francis A Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1981).

  • 12. Howell Raines, “Reagan Backs Evangelicals in Their Political Activities,” New York Times, August 23, 1980, 8.

  • 13. Peter Steinfels, “Moral Majority to Dissolve; Says Mission Accomplished,” New York Times, June 12, 1989.

  • 14. Quoted in Daniel K. Williams, God’s Own Party: The Making of the Christian Right (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 230.

  • 15. See, for instance, Alan Crawford, Thunder on the Right: The New Right and the Politics of Resentment (New York: Pantheon, 1981).

  • 16. For a sampling of such collections, see Robert C. Liebman, Robert Wuthnow, and James L. Guth, eds., The New Christian Right: Mobilization and Legitimation (Hawthorne, NY: Aldine, 1983); John Clifford Green, Mark J. Rozell, and Clyde Wilcox, eds., The Christian Right in American Politics: Marching to the Millennium, Religion and Politics Series (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2003); John Clifford Green, Mark J. Rozell, and Clyde Wilcox, eds., The Values Campaign?: The Christian Right and the 2004 Elections, Religion and Politics Series (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2006); Clyde Wilcox and Carin Larson, Onward Christian Soldiers? The Religious Right in American Politics, 3rd ed., Dilemmas in American Politics (Boulder, CO: Westview, 2006); and William Clyde Wilcox, God’s Warriors: The Christian Right in Twentieth-Century America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992).

  • 17. Jerome L. Himmelstein, To the Right: The Transformation of American Conservatism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990).

  • 18. William B. Hixson, Search for the American Right Wing: An Analysis of the Social Science Record, 1955–1987 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992).

  • 19. Michael Lienesch, Redeeming America: Piety and Politics in the New Christian Right (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993).

  • 20. Sara Diamond, Roads to Dominion: Right-Wing Movements and Political Power in the United States (New York: Guilford, 1995).

  • 21. Leo P. Ribuffo, The Old Christian Right: The Protestant Far Right from the Great Depression to the Cold War (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1983).

  • 22. George M. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture, 2d ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006).

  • 23. See especially Randall H. Balmer, Blessed Assurance: A History of Evangelicalism in America (Boston: Beacon, 1999); Randall H. Balmer, Thy Kingdom Come: An Evangelical’s Lament (New York: Basic Books, 2006); and Randall H. Balmer, The Making of Evangelicalism: From Revivalism to Politics and Beyond (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2010).

  • 24. William C. Martin, With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America (New York: Broadway Books, 1996).

  • 25. Matthew Avery Sutton, American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism (Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2014).

  • 26. Darren Dochuk, From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism (New York: W. W. Norton, 2010); Matthew D. Lassiter, The Silent Majority: Suburban Politics in the Sunbelt South, Politics and Society in Twentieth-Century America (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007); Lisa McGirr, Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right, Politics and Society in Twentieth-Century America (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001); Steven P. Miller, Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South, Politics and Culture in Modern America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009); Michelle M. Nickerson, Mothers of Conservatism: Women and the Postwar Right, Politics and Society in Twentieth-Century America (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012; and Williams, God’s Own Party.

  • 27. David R. Swartz, Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012).

  • 28. Donald T. Critchlow, Phyllis Schlafly and Grassroots Conservatism: A Woman’s Crusade, Politics and Society in Twentieth-Century America (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005).

  • 29. Neil J. Young, We Gather Together: The Religious Right and the Problem of Interfaith Politics (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).

  • 30. Kevin M. Kruse, One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America (New York: Basic Books, 2015).

  • 31. Bethany Moreton, To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010); Darren E. Grem, The Blessings of Business: How Corporations Shaped Conservative Christianity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016); and Kim Phillips-Fein, Invisible Hands: The Making of the Conservative Movement from the New Deal to Reagan (New York: W. W. Norton, 2009).

  • 32. Americans United papers are split between their clipping files—which contain rich sources on the Religious Right—held at Columbia University and the administrative files at Princeton University.

  • 33. Donald T. Critchlow and Nancy MacLean, Debating the American Conservative Movement: 1945 to the Present, Debating Twentieth-Century America (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2009); and Gregory L. Schneider, Conservatism in America since 1930: A Reader (New York: New York University Press, 2003).

  • 34. Matthew Avery Sutton, Jerry Falwell and the Rise of the Religious Right: A Brief History with Documents (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2012); and Barry Hankins, Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism: A Documentary Reader (New York: New York University Press, 2008).