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THE LOS ANGELES BOOK REVIEW
JUNE 20, 2017
By Andrew Wright
“EIGHTY-ONE PERCENT?” I thought on the morning after the 2016 presidential election. “Are you freaking kidding me?” How could it be that more than eight out of 10 self-identified “evangelicals” were able to overlook Donald Trump’s explicit misogyny, racism, and anti-immigrant nationalism to support him for president? Something had to be wrong with that figure (from the Pew Research Center). I know these people. I’ve shared pews, classrooms, and friendships with them over the years. Was there something about my evangelical friends that I misunderstood?
Such misunderstandings are to be expected, since the relatively loosely affiliated group of Christians who call themselves “evangelical” have both a theological and political identity, which don’t always match perfectly. It is this distinctly American meeting of the religious and political that Frances FitzGerald ably dissects in her new book, The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America.
It is hard to understand the vast evangelical support for Donald Trump without considering the complex ways that evangelical politics were bound to political conservatism over a long and tumultuous history. This partnership artificially and yet enduringly fused evangelical social engagement with support for the Republican Party and sentiments of American exceptionalism. FitzGerald describes how, beginning in the early to mid-20th century, evangelical leaders (e.g., “neo-evangelical” leaders like Harold Ockenga and Billy Graham, or later figures of the Christian Right like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and James Dobson) held tacit and yet politically conservative convictions that helped them forge friendships and alliances with the nation’s politically conservative elite.
This process culminated in the election of George W. Bush, one of the most sympathetic and dependable presidents the Christian right had ever had. Although Bush’s relationship with the Christian right was initially an uneasy one, over time the two became mutually dependent. By the 2004 election, evangelicals formed the basis of Bush’s base, giving him, FitzGerald says, 78 percent of their vote. By the end of his term(s), however, the evangelical marriage with Bush and the Republican Party was scuttled by the president’s perceived incompetence, exemplified by the failed nomination of the unqualified Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, the mishandling of Hurricane Katrina, and (of course) the enduring disaster of the Iraq War. All this, FitzGerald suggests, weakened evangelicals’ commitment to the Republican Party, perhaps splintering the evangelical vote. Perhaps.
This splintering, FitzGerald notes, resulted in the unprecedented unpredictability of evangelical politics in recent years. On one hand, for the first time in three decades an evangelical left-center garnered support. Historical evangelical progressives like Jim Wallis, Ron Sider, and Tony Campolo were joined by more traditional evangelicals like megachurch pastors Rick Warren and Greg Boyd. Other “new evangelicals” forged a politics in support of social, racial, and environmental justice.
On the other hand, however, an alliance between Christian conservatives with more secular Republican libertarians emerged, resulting in the Tea Party — or the “teavangelical” movement, if you will. FitzGerald contends that this fusion was not really an equal alliance: Tea Party principles reigned, and conservative evangelicals became more bound to the libertarian ideologies of small government fiscal conservativism than ever before. In contemporary rightist evangelical politics, the spiritual does not just become political, it often gives way to crass, bombastic, and even racial and misogynist sentiment and rhetoric. So while the evangelical left is stronger today than in the past, the “teavangelicals” still dominate the public perception of, as well as (remember that 81 percent) the political impact of the evangelicals as a whole.
How did evangelical politics get here? In one sense, it was a 20th-century history, but FitzGerald also exposes its roots at the core of evangelicalism. From the Great Awakenings of Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and Charles Finney, evangelicalism was spirituality suited to the American frontier, and especially to the rural South. By focusing on the salvation of souls, the liberty of individual conscience, and the need for repentance in light of God’s imminent judgment, evangelicalism fashioned a theological identity for white settlers.
While it is true that some revivalism sought social transformation — consider, for instance, the abolition and social reform movements that emerged from Charles Finney’s revivals — FitzGerald suggests that it quickly gave rise to a fundamentalism rooted in a simple theological truth: human beings have turned away from God and must repent in order to be spared from judgment. And so the United States itself — especially its sinful cities — was a lapsed Christian nation in need of redemption. This formulation, in FitzGerald’s view, is a central feature of conservative, rural evangelical politics in the United States.
There is a difference, of course, between fundamentalism and other forms of evangelicalism that sought more positive relationships with modern culture. The “neo-evangelical” movement, broadly represented by figures like Billy Graham, and institutions like the Fuller Theological Seminary (where I am a PhD candidate) and Christianity Today, encouraged a more dialogical intellectual engagement with non-believers. As historians have noted, it is this form of evangelicalism that gained widespread acceptance among the American public. Graham, for instance, had the respect and ears of prominent business figures, as well as presidents from Dwight Eisenhower to Ronald Reagan, playing the role of “America’s pastor.” This less-confrontational version of evangelicalism is not only distinct from fundamentalism, but it also seeks status as an independent intellectual and political tradition.
Yet FitzGerald shows that these “neo-evangelicals” were still a force for conservatism in the political arena, especially in the wake of the social upheavals of the 1960s. She shows, for instance, that although Graham maintained relationships with Civil Rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., he was also hesitant to publically support them, fearing that he might upset conservative southerners. Graham also supported the Vietnam War, largely over concern about the “apocalyptic” threat of communism. FitzGerald could have added that worry over labor unrest in the early 20th century, and disdain for Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s, landed evangelicals on the right of the political divide in the decades preceding Graham. Graham, if anything, inherited this tradition, and benefited from the support of various Christian capitalists who saw his ministry as a safeguard against leftist reform.
Although Billy Graham might seem like the polar opposite of Donald Trump in terms of character and theological vision, there may be a conceptual likeness between the call for a return to a more faithful Christian America and “Make America Great Again.” Could the revivalist emphasis on the liberty of the individual conscience underpin, or resonate with, the unwavering emphasis on personal responsibility and contempt for social programs expressed by the Tea Party? And could the modern rightist resistance to intellectual “elitism” draw on latent anxieties about the threat of “atheistic” modern science? Could 81 percent of evangelicals have ignored the misogyny and anti-immigrant nationalism of the Trump campaign because the man capitalized, crassly, on their deeply embedded longing for a return to a prior state of American goodness, surety, or even holiness? FitzGerald implies that this is the case.
In FitzGerald’s analysis, evangelical spirituality, which emerged from the revivalism of the 19th and 20th centuries, is bound to a conservative political belief that the United States was and remains “God’s country.” Indeed, the lesson of this book is that, in the context of American political discourse, “evangelical” is nearly impossible to extricate from histories of political conservativism and even jingoism. Trump may not be an aberration as much as a cartoonish expression of this trend.
Evangelicals — particularly white evangelicals — have rarely seen themselves as implicated in the moral failures of the United States; notably, they often have been the ones who benefit from them (e.g., racial segregation). Evangelical, then, is not only a theological marker; it is also a political, social, and even, perhaps, racial one. In this sense, evangelicalism has a lot of work to do not in terms of healing of the United States’s moral failures, but in confronting and acknowledging its own. Their goal and ours should not be to “make America great again,” but to take stock of the ways that America has yet to be great, especially for those on its periphery. FitzGerald does not raise these broader questions about the future of evangelicalism and our democratic process, but her text does provide a useful ground for considering them. Lord willing, all is not lost.
Andrew Wright is a PhD candidate in Christian Ethics and Philosophical Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.
THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR
The Evangelicals' examines the collision of politics and faith
By Steve Donoghue APRIL 19, 2017
Speaking at the National Religious Liberties Conference in Iowa in November 2015, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz told a packed house that in his opinion, “any president who doesn’t begin every day on his knees isn’t fit to be commander in chief of this nation.” The comment was elicited by a question from Orthodox Presbyterian minister Kevin Swanson, who shortly before had told the same packed house that the penalty for homosexuality should be death. Both Swanson and Cruz drew applause.
Some political commentators found the whole display – both the Islamic State-style call for executing gay people and the suggestion that only a religious person could be a worthy US president – disturbing, but it was also irrelevant. The following November, Donald Trump – a man married to his third wife and openly ignorant of even the simplest Sunday school basics of Christianity – won the Oval Office with 81 percent of the evangelical vote.
The American Evangelicals of the 21st century elected a transparently nonreligious president for what would seem to be purely tactical reasons: They liked his promises – to cut federal regulations, to purge the country of unauthorized immigrants, to halt the immigration of Muslims – enough to overlook questions about his faith and character.
In many ways, the successive waves of evangelicalism that have done as much as any other movement to create and shape American society have always been this puzzling, which is all the more reason to hail the appearance of Frances FitzGerald’s massively learned and electrifying new book, The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America.
Here is the long, contradictory, and compelling history of American Evangelicals and the world they made. In the telling of this story, FitzGerald pulls off an admirable feat. She writes compassionately about generations of deeply held faith without seeming naive, even as she resists cynicism while noting the psychotics, charlatans, and con artists who have sometimes arisen to "deceive the very elect." The result is a quiet marvel of a book, well deserving of winning its author her second Pulitzer (after her 1973 win for “Fire in the Lake”).
The book follows those successive waves with magisterial readability, moving briskly from Jonathan Edwards to the Second Great Awakening to the Scopes “monkey trial” and finally settling on its true subject, the rise of the modern politically active evangelicalism of groups like the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition of America – and the rise of the modern revivalist preacher, men like William Branham, controversial faith healer A.A. Allen, Oral Roberts, pugnacious preacher Jerry Falwell (“He took to evangelism as if he had been born to it”), and most of all, in many ways the real star of FitzGerald’s book, Billy Graham, whose “Youth for Christ” rallies drew hundreds of thousands and whose political influence at its peak was immense.
“Graham liked the company of powerful men,” FitzGerald tells her readers, “and throughout his career many politicians courted him because of the large constituency he represented, or in the hope that his blindingly righteous presence might envelope them.”
“The Evangelicals” tracks the shifting position of the movement on a wide array of key American issues, from slavery to public morals to the civil rights movement to modern social causes such as gay rights. FitzGerald is adroit and gentle in noting how often America’s religious right wing seems to have been fighting rearguard actions. The book is full of rival sects and denominations – Methodists, Pentecostals, conservative Baptists, Lutherans, Swedish Baptists, members of the Assemblies of God, Southern Baptists, Presbyterians, and half a dozen others (and in many ways, their combination runs deeper than a standard history of America) – and this feels more like listening to an entire country’s long and complicated confession.
Her subject is the American version, but as FitzGerald makes clear, the phenomenon of evangelicalism is probably as old as religion itself. “The classic jeremiad is this: The people have fallen into evil ways and committed sins that jeopardize their covenant with God and risk His judgment upon them,” she writes. “But His wrath may be stayed if there is a spiritual revival and the people repent and return to God.”
Throughout American history, charismatic preachers, speakers, and faith healers have cropped up, gained massive followings, raked in mountains of money, garnered considerable political clout, founded churches and universities, and inspired both rage and adoration. The Founding Fathers, who went to such great lengths to separate church from state, might be appalled at the picture described in “The Evangelicals,” but the book is a distinct blessing for the rest of us.
Steve Donoghue regularly reviews books for The Christian Science Monitor.
THE NEW YORKER
THE EVANGELICALS, by Frances FitzGerald (Simon & Schuster). This incisive history of white evangelical movements in America argues that their influence has been more pervasive and diverse than generally realized. Contending that media coverage typically focusses on TV preachers and a loyal born-again constituency dictating its socially conservative agenda to Republican politicians, FitzGerald shows that debate within evangelical denominations over slavery was part of the national schism that led to the Civil War, and that the counterculture movements of the nineteen-sixties echoed the populist, anti-intellectual tenor of evangelist discourse. The book concludes in the present, with eighty-one per cent of Evangelicals having voted for Donald Trump, despite his many unchristian qualities.
THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
With God on Their Side: How Evangelicals Entered American Politics
By ALAN WOLFE
The Struggle to Shape America
By Frances FitzGerald
Illustrated. 740 pp. Simon & Schuster. $35.
When Jimmy Carter described himself as “born again” in his 1976 run for president, most academics and journalists had a vague idea of what he meant, but few experts on religion could be found within their precincts. Back in those days presidential candidates kept their faith to themselves unless, like John F. Kennedy or George Romney, they were adherents to a religion historically disdained by the Protestant majority. Here’s a quiz: What is the faith of Carter’s running mate, Walter Mondale? (It is not Lutheranism, the dominant religion of his home state of Minnesota.) If Mondale were running today, you would know.
In the same year in which Carter ran for president, Jerry Falwell, then emerging as a leader of the religious right, claimed that the notion that religion and politics should be kept apart “was invented by the Devil to keep Christians from running their own country.” The Devil having been last seen on American shores conversing with Daniel Webster in Stephen Vincent Benét’s 1937 short story, Falwell was actually suggesting that modern American politics would be taking a radically new direction. He was correct: We now expect confessional declarations from our candidates, even if, as in Donald J. Trump’s case, they lack any shred of spiritual sensibility.
Frances FitzGerald’s “The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America” is a 700-page historical overview of the conservative Protestantism that has become so omnipresent in our public life, including its offshoots in fundamentalism and Pentecostalism. It is, simply put, a page turner: FitzGerald is a great writer capable of keeping a sprawling narrative on point, even as it descends into discussions of Keswickian holiness, pretribunalist rapture and theonomic governance. (Don’t ask.) Anyone curious about the state of conservative American Protestantism will have a trusted guide in this Bancroft and Pulitzer Prize winner who has previously written about Vietnam, Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative and American textbook controversies. In addition, FitzGerald clearly took her time; she reports on a visit to an important religious site as early as September 1987. We have long needed a fair-minded overview of this vitally important religious sensibility, and FitzGerald has now provided it.
One major question dominates FitzGerald’s treatment, and it is suggested by her subtitle. Why should the faithful try to shape America at all? To a strong believer, God’s kingdom is the one that matters, and it is not of this world; America, from such a perspective, is just a tiny speck in a vast world unknowable to us. Get right with the Lord, not the Republican Party.
As if to demonstrate such a sentiment, separation from, not engagement with, the world around us was the major tendency in conservative American Protestantism during the first half of the 20th century. Baptists were strict adherents to the separation of church and state. Religious entrepreneurs like William B. Riley in the North and J. Frank Norris in the South concentrated on building fundamentalist fiefs rather than political movements. Another important separationist, according to FitzGerald, was J. Gresham Machen, expelled from the Presbyterian general assembly for his strict and sectarian screeds against both theological liberalism and spreading fundamentalism. Separationism, FitzGerald writes, “inspired conspiracy theories of the vilest sort, but it also fostered group solidarity and attracted Bible-believing Protestants alienated in the strange new world of global depression and global war.” Whatever you think of the separationists and their ideas, shaping America was not high on their list of priorities.
Billy Graham and Richard Nixon, Knoxville, Tenn., May 1970. Credit BETTMAN, via Getty Images
The same cannot be said of Billy Graham. “His lasting achievement,” FitzGerald says, “was to bring the great variety of conservative white Protestants, North and South, into his capacious revival tent under the name ‘evangelicals.’ ” Graham gave evangelicalism a more subdued tone, one not reflected in the harsher rhetoric of Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson. Yet the difference between them was not over whether to shape America but how. The more explicitly right-wing fundamentalists thundered. Graham and his like-minded evangelicals taught. Robertson entered politics by running for president. Graham was more effective by gaining the attention of elected presidents, including Richard Nixon and George W. Bush. But both Robertson and Graham shared a desire to reject separationism in favor of engagement.
The merger between the Republican Party and the evangelical movement did not result in separationism’s total abolition. FitzGerald includes a fascinating chapter on conservative Christian intellectuals. One of them, R.J. Rushdoony, developed a complicated theological system he called Christian Reconstructionism; he taught that “with God on their side, Christians had no need for majoritarian politics, or for compromise and accommodation to reach their goal,” as FitzGerald puts it. The other prominent thinker within the movement was Francis Schaeffer, a prolific author and filmmaker who, again as FitzGerald characterizes his ideas, argued that “Christians had a duty to resist a government that acted against God’s law.” (One of Schaeffer’s funders was the father-in-law of our secretary of education, Betsy DeVos.) Schaeffer’s legacy lives on among those, like the former congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who believe that this country was founded by religious Christians.
Amazingly enough, “The Evangelicals,” for all its length, is not comprehensive. There is no discussion of church music here, even as the evangelicals led a move away from the organ to Christian rock and white gospel. Missing as well are Christian bookstores and the self-help therapies and guides to sexuality they can barely keep in stock. African-Americans are not included in FitzGerald’s story either, and while she justifies her choice on the grounds that their religious histories and traditions are different from those of whites in matters of worship style and, to a lesser degree, theology, they stem from very similar roots. (Pentecostalism, for example, began with blacks and whites worshiping together before splitting along racial lines.)
Pat Robertson, October 1996. Credit Amy Toensing for The New York Times
Although FitzGerald ends with Donald Trump’s presidential victory, her book helps us understand why separationism has become an all-but-forgotten aspect of the conservative Protestant religious experience. Despite Trump’s quite secular lifestyle and attitudes, evangelicals, more concerned with the Supreme Court than a Supreme Being, voted overwhelmingly for him, and he returned the favor by offering to “destroy” the Johnson amendment, which seeks to prevent the clergy from endorsing candidates by revoking their tax exemptions if they do. With Trump in power, an alliance between conservative Christians and conservative politicians seems as strong as it will ever be.
One should not, however, ignore the irony. Because they work so ceaselessly to shape America, it is fair to say that conservative Christian political activists, at least from the standpoint of the separationists, are doing the Devil’s work far more than the American Civil Liberties Union. The overweening pride, lust for power and idolatry of worshiping the state that characterizes so many of today’s conservative evangelicals will at some point probably doom them, but only when the criticism comes from within their own ranks. FitzGerald touches on this at the end of her book when she discusses the work of people like Russell Moore, who in 2013 replaced the culture warrior Richard Land as the president of the Ethics and Religious Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and worked to bring the S.B.C. back to its original religious roots. At the time of this writing, Moore seemed in danger of losing his job for aggressively opposing Trump. Watch to see if he does, and you get a glimpse of the future direction the evangelicals will take.
Alan Wolfe recently retired as director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College.
THE WASHINGTON POST
By Colin Woodard April 14
One of the great paradoxes of the 2016 presidential election was the overwhelming support of white evangelical Christians for Donald Trump, a vulgar, thrice-married man who bragged of serial sexual assault and whose familiarity with scripture seemed fleeting. Exit polls indicated that 8o percent of them backed Trump, two percentage points more than went for Mitt Romney in 2012 or George W. Bush in 2004. Given that they made up 26 percent of the electorate, one could say their role was decisive. But what accounts for their enthusiasm?
Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Frances Fitzgerald’s sprawling new history of the white evangelical movement and its effort to shape the nation is a good place to start looking for answers. For while “The Evangelicals” was completed before the general election, it takes readers from the First Great Awakening of the 1730s to the aftermath of last year’s Republican convention, when it was already clear that the evangelical community was lining up behind the man with the golden Gotham tower. The revealed history suggests that Trump’s campaign rhetoric struck many chords with a movement that’s waged war against cultural pluralism, religious diversity, the Islamic “threat” and the Enlightenment’s very insistence that verifiable facts trump the beliefs they contradict.
Fitzgerald shows how a movement that began in reaction to the Calvinist establishment of New England and interior Pennsylvania came to profoundly shape American life and identity in the first decades of the 19th century. It “created a marketplace of religion,” she writes, in which many of the movement’s leaders “explicitly preached individual freedom, the separation of church and state, voluntary association as a primary means of social organization, and republicanism as the best form of government.”
But the evangelical world was split by slavery and the Civil War, with Southerners breaking off to form their own slavery-endorsing denominations. In the North, there was a further split when their traditional worldview — that the Bible was inerrant and literally true, and that individual salvation would solve social problems — was challenged by industrialization, the scientific revolution generally, and Charles Darwin and German biblical scholarship in particular, which showed how the Good Book had evolved into its present form. There was an acrimonious struggle between the modernists or liberals who accepted and accommodated these discoveries and the conservatives or fundamentalists who rejected them.
Fundamentalism’s detractors would later associate it with hillbillies and Southern country folk, but as a political matter, the movement was born and based in Northern cities into the 1950s. “By all evidence its main constituency was small-town Protestants who had come to the cities to work in the factories and mills,” Fitzgerald notes, where they “found themselves in a pluralistic society where their beliefs were considered outdated or even bizarre.” They reacted by forming “urban ghettos: church communities in which they could separate themselves from what they considered the corruptions of ‘the world.’ ” Seeing themselves as “the saving remnant and the rightful heirs to American civilization,” they sought not Amish-like separation but to be would-be conquerors of a corrupted nation.
Until the 1960s, there was no such movement in the South because there, evangelicals were dominant and unchallenged. But the civil rights movement, desegregation and the cultural revolution of the “Long Sixties” changed that. During the two decades that followed, a new fundamentalist challenge to American liberalism would be lead by Southern televangelists such as Jerry Falwell, who helped rewrite the 1979 Republican Party platform into what he likened to “the constitution of a fundamentalist Baptist Church,” and Pat Robertson, whose 1988 presidential run was undermined by his televised assertions that he could cure the sick and had commanded Hurricane Gloria to spare Virginia Beach. (It devastated Long Island instead.)
Both men allied with Republican presidents and congressional leaders to push laissez-faire economic policies and a hard line on the atheistic Soviet Union, but their wholesale embrace of partisan politics was controversial within the evangelical community, in part because their alliances failed to deliver the social and cultural changes they had promised. After Bill Clinton’s 1996 reelection, the movement despaired. It had virtual control over the GOP’s platform, 18 state parties and the selection of vice-presidential candidates, and yet, Fitzgerald writes, “after two decades of Christian Right political activity, the public was not more conservative on abortion than it had been before and substantially more liberal on gay rights and women’s roles.” Its strategist, Paul Weyrich, declared: “I believe we have probably lost the culture war.”
Instead, evangelicals found a willing ally in President George W. Bush, who had been born again, spoke their language and relied on their support to win reelection. Motivated by the same-sex-marriage issue, they turned out for Bush in huge numbers in 2004. “The Christian Right had been left for dead, but in just two years its desiccated organizations had revived and swollen like some desert plants after a rain,” Fitzgerald writes. “The Democrats had not seen this coming.” Yet, once again, the effort resulted in disappointment: Bush’s second term was marked by military setbacks in Iraq and economic disaster at home, while same-sex marriage would become the law of the land.
Had Trump lost, this history might have ended with the rise of the “new evangelicals,” a reaction to the Christian right’s politicization of the church. Rick Warren, one of their leaders, called for a “second reformation” that would return evangelicals to their 19th-century roots of “compassionate conservatism” on behalf of the poor, sick and dispossessed. “In a sense,” Fitzgerald writes, the movement “came full circle, with a return to the reformist imperatives of the antebellum evangelicals.”
But Trump won, and readers will hear his themes throughout fundamentalist and Christian right factions’ histories: a distrust of diversity, immigration and Islam; a belief in majoritarian rule and that the world is in a state of crisis. There’s William Jennings Bryan’s “view that democracy meant popular sovereignty and the absolute right of the majority to rule”; there’s the 1980s scholarship on fundamentalists showing that their biggest difference with theological moderates was a discomfort with “cultural pluralism and . . . change as a fact of life”; there’s the 2007 polling showing that 63 percent of evangelicals saw immigrants as “a threat to U.S. customs and values” and 90 percent favored “forced deportation” for all undocumented immigrants; and in 2002-2003, Falwell said the prophet Muhammad was a terrorist, Robertson declared Muslims “worse than the Nazis,” and the head of the moderate National Association of Evangelicals feared that Muslims were becoming “the modern day equivalent of the Evil Empire.”
Fitzgerald, writing after Trump secured the Republican nomination but before he won the presidency, argues that such voices are on the wane, as younger evangelicals are on the whole more sympathetic with the progressives’ embrace of cultural pluralism, acceptance of moral ambiguities and rejection of intolerance. “Millennial churchgoers were far more ready to accept gays, lesbians, and transgender people and, of course, other ethnic minorities than their elders,” she writes. “Evangelicals might continue to vote Republican, but the demographic changes were already registering in major evangelical organizations . . . [which] were taking on more social justice issues.” If so, Trumpism may find decreasing returns at the ballot box from the passage of time alone.
Colin Woodard is the author of five books, including “American Character: A History of the Epic Struggle Between Individual Liberty and the Common Good.” He is a staff writer at Maine’s Portland Press Herald.
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
By Terry Eastland
March 31, 2017 6:19 p.m. ET
The word “evangelical” comes from a Greek word meaning “the gospel” or “good news,” a word found throughout the New Testament and embraced by all Christians. In colonial America, the term came to be associated with revivals in which the experience of conversion was of foremost importance. Evangelicalism eventually became a distinct form of Protestantism and, in the modern era, the progenitor of a particular subculture: that of the so-called Christian right. In “The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America,” Frances FitzGerald seeks to chronicle the evolution and influence of this subculture and, along the way, to track its fitful, and controversial, role in American politics.
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. Televangelists joined the fight for biblically grounded values, echoing Falwell’s themes.
Many evangelicals liked what Falwell and other such preachers were saying. But by the late 1980s, as Ms. FitzGerald reminds us, the movement had lost some of its influence, partly because of financial troubles (which led Falwell to shut down the Moral Majority) and partly because of high-profile sex scandals that undermined any sense of moral authority: think of the Bakkers, Jim and Tammy Faye, and of Jimmy Swaggart.
Within a few years, though, the Christian right had entered a robust phase. 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. Soon enough, evangelicals were a voting bloc that Republican candidates avidly pursued. In presidential elections since the emergence of the Christian right, two-thirds to four-fifths of evangelical voters have voted for the Republican candidate.
It is clear throughout “The Evangelicals” that Ms. FitzGerald finds the Christian right a troubling force. She is disturbed by the blending of religious fervor and electoral politics and has no sympathy for the movement’s positions on social matters: e.g., abortion and gay rights. She credits the Christian right with having “reintroduced religion into public discourse, polarized the nation, and profoundly changed American politics.” She is worried by the efforts of conservative evangelicals to 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. Even so, she has crafted a well-written, thought-provoking and deeply researched history that is impressive for its scope and level of detail.
Ms. FitzGerald begins with the Great Awakenings of the 18th and 19th centuries, a series of revivals that transformed Protestantism by introducing, as she puts it, “a new idea of conversion as a sudden, overwhelming experience.” As a result, the teaching of the church became less important than the life of the individual believer. Evangelicalism was soon the dominant expression of Protestant Christianity, influencing denominations throughout the young nation.
The “awakenings” were Bible-centered, of course, but in the broader world of the late 19th century the Bible was becoming the object of a new scrutiny, one that treated the biblical text like any other: as a purely historical document containing human error. Thus emerged from within evangelical Protestantism a “fundamentalist” counterreaction that emphasized the inerrancy of Scripture. Bible societies sprang up to make the case, as did Bible institutes like Dwight Moody’s in Chicago. These organizations became, Ms. FitzGerald writes, “centers of militant anti-modernism and the training grounds for the evangelists of fundamentalism.” Many fundamentalist preachers separated from their churches, finding them wrong on basic doctrines. They saw themselves, Ms. FitzGerald writes, as “the saving remnant and the rightful heirs to American civilization.”
In 1942, the National Association of Evangelicals was formed to “bring together a wide range of evangelical groups into a united front,” as Ms. FitzGerald writes, and to foster “community-wide revivals.” At the time, the term evangelical didn’t mean very much. The group’s leaders called themselves evangelicals, she says, to escape “the associations of bigotry and narrowness” that were attached to militant separatists.
The new organization failed to bring about the revivals that it had hoped would eventuate in another Great Awakening. But a spirit of revival did begin to show itself. The preachers who took to the podium included the young Billy Graham, an eloquent North Carolinian (who is now in his late 90s). He came from a fundamentalist background but deliberately called himself an “evangelical.” By that he meant a conservative Protestant who had been “born again.”
“Not all conservative Protestants used it, but eventually the term stuck,” Ms. FitzGerald writes, “in part because pollsters, journalists and academics used it in order to describe the confusing set of conservative denominations and independent churches. Fundamentalists then became a subset of evangelicals, and most of them were separatists who had left their denominations.”
Mr. Graham’s “lasting achievement,” Ms. FitzGerald says, “was to bring the great variety of conservative white Protestants, North and South, into his capacious revival tent under the name ‘evangelicals.’ ” Mr. Graham, she also says, thought “that America had a moral and spiritual mission to redeem the world.” And she claims, with some plausibility, that Mr. Graham became “a pastor of the national civil religion.”
That religion has been preached by Falwell and others on the Christian right and indeed in the broader evangelical world today. One can hear its notes in the rhetoric of red-state conservatism and in the appeals, from both left and right, to American exceptionalism, an idea that guides even blue-state figures when they call for, say, American intervention in humanitarian crises abroad.
Since the heyday of evangelical visibility and influence in the 1980s and 1990s, the Christian right has shifted and splintered. During the early 2000s, Ms. FitzGerald notes, the movement achieved some long-sought political victories under George W. Bush: notably limits on stem-cell research and a ban on partial-birth abortion.
At the same time, however, 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. As Ms. FitzGerald notes, there is less talk today about “Christianizing America.”
What is the future of the Christian right? In “The Evangelicals,” Ms. FitzGerald treats her subject mostly as a historical phenomenon with a long and interesting genealogy. But she is obviously aware of its persistence and the obstacle it still presents to an “enlightened” or liberal agenda. What the Christian right almost certainly will not do—even if it is not now what it once was—is lay down the struggle to shape America.
—Mr. Eastland is the author of “Religious Liberty in the Supreme Court: The Cases That Define the Debate Over Church and State.”
by Molly Worthen
The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America
By Frances FitzGerald
Simon & Schuster
Donald trump has never been known for displays of Christian humility. The first few minutes of his remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast in February were no exception. He thanked the creator of Celebrity Apprentice and, pronouncing Arnold Schwarzenegger a “total disaster,” asked the audience to pray for the show’s ratings. Trump went on to remind everyone that he is a billionaire, “somebody that has had material success and knows tremendous numbers of people with great material success—the most material success.” Later he acknowledged that his mission to stop terrorism “may not be pretty for a little while,” and promised that his administration would confront threats “viciously, if we have to.” Trump’s signature swagger makes many Christians wince, but it has deterred few white evangelicals. Eighty-one percent of those who voted last year cast their ballot for him.
That figure has become one of the most discussed statistics of the 2016 election. How could so many conservative Christians have voted for a thrice-married casino mogul who has bragged about assaulting women and rarely goes to church? Some commentators have speculated that perhaps these voters weren’t all that “evangelical” to begin with. “Many cultural Christians who never go to church identify as ‘evangelical’ or ‘born-again,’ ” suggested one conservative Christian blogger. A writer in The Nation emphasized evangelicals’ concern about future nominations to the Supreme Court: “If you can rally voters around abortion, few other issues matter.” Other observers credited plain old party loyalty or wondered whether this election proved that religion doesn’t matter very much anymore. So many voters seemed motivated by economic and racial grievances and resentment of Washington elites, not faith.
At the end of The Evangelicals, her nearly 700-page history of white evangelical Americans from colonial times to the present, Frances FitzGerald settles on the last of these assessments. “The simplest explanation was that those evangelicals who voted for Trump had affinities with the Tea Party,” she writes. They seemed to care more about shrinking the government, creating jobs, and deporting illegal immigrants than about enforcing Christian morals. “The Trump victory had shown,” she goes on, “that the Christian right had lost its power.” Yet FitzGerald’s careful account offers grist for a much richer exploration of evangelicals’ affinity with Trump.
Fitzgerald begins with the great revivals of the early 18th century, which brought forth evangelicalism as we know it today, more or less. The emphasis on the literal truth of the Bible, the focus on the born-again experience, and the swarm of entrepreneurial evangelists whom no Old World church hierarchy could control—the basics of evangelical culture were in place 300 years ago.
She follows this story through the rise of the Christian right in the 1970s and ’80s, and evangelicals’ role in politics today. Synthesizing a wide range of scholarship, FitzGerald offers no major argument of her own, but she reveals long-standing patterns in evangelical politics and leadership. Her overview, in tandem with an array of more pointed books on the subject, suggests that evangelical support for Trump is not a deviation at all—not a sign of hypocrisy or declining influence. On the contrary, that 81 percent figure makes perfect sense.
American evangelicalism was born in a revolutionary era.
Late in her book, as FitzGerald recounts evangelical activists’ embrace of the Tea Party movement during the Obama years, she deems the alliance “unlikely,” at least “from a historical perspective.” In fact, the partnership between white Protestants and libertarians dates back at least to the American Revolution. In the 18th century, evangelical Christians had plenty of company among their fellow colonists in decrying the king’s abuse of power. But evangelical preachers fused their commitment to freedom from “civil tyranny” with a demand for the spiritual freedom to decide, without political coercion, to accept Christ. “There is not a single instance in history in which civil liberty was lost and religious liberty preserved entire,” preached John Witherspoon, a Presbyterian minister with evangelical sympathies who signed the Declaration of Independence. “If therefore we yield up our temporal property, we at the same time deliver the conscience into bondage.”
Evangelicals in the early republic nurtured a deep suspicion of an encroaching federal government, and many were happy to collaborate with heterodox politicians who felt the same way. Thomas Jefferson may have taken a razor to his personal copy of the Gospels, excising the tales of miracles, but he had friends among the Baptists, who supported his campaign to enshrine religious freedom into law. Trump is not the first politically useful infidel to find allies in the evangelical world.
The point is that American evangelical religion was born in a revolutionary state. This founding moment of rebellion against big government left evangelicals keenly aware of the fragility of personal liberty—and the capacity of centralized power to snuff it out. Over time, the conservative evangelical vision of spiritual liberty fused with free-market ideology. Recent research has called attention to the collaborative efforts of capitalists and evangelical ministers to convince Americans that the free market is sacred. In the late 19th century, Darren E. Grem notes in The Blessings of Business (2016), businessmen recruited evangelical organizations to help them pacify a restive labor force. “Either these people are to be evangelized, or the leaven of communism and infidelity will assume such enormous proportions that it will break out in a reign of terror such as this country has never known,” warned the evangelist Dwight L. Moody in 1886.
The labor unrest of the turn of the 20th century, the Great Depression, and the New Deal hardly appear in FitzGerald’s book, but those decades of economic disaster and reform are crucial to explaining conservative white evangelical politics through the rest of the century, as well as the embrace of Trump. By the time the Roosevelt administration began to transform the federal government’s relationship to American capitalism, millions of Catholic, Jewish, and Eastern European immigrants had settled in the United States. Large numbers of African Americans began migrating north and agitating for civil rights. Many white evangelicals feared they were losing control over the nation’s culture. By redistributing wealth to the poor—including so many foreign-born arrivals and African Americans—the New Deal threatened to undermine that authority even further. Opposition to Soviet Russia provided a perfect rallying cry: The country represented the godless, totalitarian end toward which the New Deal might lead.
In One Nation Under God (2015), Kevin M. Kruse probes the alliance between leading industrialists and the Los Angeles preacher James W. Fifield Jr. In 1935, Fifield co-founded an organization called Spiritual Mobilization to battle the New Deal’s “encroachment upon our American freedoms.” His propaganda campaign, funded by donations from tycoons like the tire magnate Harvey Firestone and J. Howard Pew Jr. of Sun Oil, dazzled Americans with radio spots and Independence Day media blitzes celebrating “freedom under God.” Mailings encouraged ministers to warn their flocks of the “anti-Christian and anti-American trends toward pagan stateism in America.”
Fifield and his allies did not succeed in dismantling the New Deal. But by the 1950s, Billy Graham was rallying huge crowds with his dark predictions about the communist menace, an ideology “masterminded by Satan,” he said in 1957. “Graham sometimes invoked Communism as part of an end times prophecy,” FitzGerald writes, “and at other times as part of a jeremiad in which Americans had a choice to make.” In blending their movement’s libertarian inclinations with anticommunist hysteria and anxieties about cultural change, these evangelical leaders helped catalyze the most powerful ideology in modern American politics: Christian free-market mania. Evangelicals in other countries, such as Canada, worked alongside secular Social Democrats to build a generous social safety net. In the United States, conservative white Protestants ensured that the welfare state remained anemic.
Trump’s authoritarian machismo is in step with a long evangelical tradition of pastor-overlords.
At the same time, conservative white evangelicals have a long record of being highly pragmatic, rather than purist, in their libertarianism. Throughout American history, they have been more than happy to use the tools of the federal government to protect their own authority and advance a moral agenda—as they did, for example, during the campaign for Prohibition. This selective libertarianism continues to thrive. Trump’s promises to “drain the swamp” resonate with deeply rooted suspicion of big government, but conservative evangelicals applaud his more intrusive proposals as well. Today, many on the religious right find themselves on the losing side of global capitalism, and they don’t want anyone messing with their Social Security or Medicare.
Trump’s threats to curb free trade and punish journalists may make real libertarians apoplectic. And his initial executive order restricting immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries outraged some prominent evangelical organizations and leaders who lamented the order’s unbiblical abandonment of refugees. But other influential evangelicals, such as Billy Graham’s son Franklin, support Trump’s policy. The president’s isolationist approach plays well among Americans who believe that the time has come to restore the capitalist order as God intended it to be: with native-born white Americans on top.
In any case, ideology is not the sole bond between conservative evangelicals and Donald Trump. His dictator-lite charisma is essential to his appeal. To the majority of Americans—those who did not vote for him—Trump has all the allure of the boorish boss who takes too many liberties at the staff Christmas party. But his authoritarian machismo is right in step with a long evangelical tradition of pastor-overlords who anoint themselves with the power to make their own rules—and, in the event of their own occasional moral lapses, assure their followers that God always forgives.
Other forms of Christianity, like Roman Catholicism and many strains of liberal Protestantism, feature formidable Church structures: diocesan councils and synods, hierarchies and protocols that help keep rogues and would-be autocrats in line. In the evangelical world, these institutions are generally much less powerful—or nonexistent. FitzGerald chronicles the imperial ambitions of ministers like the Midwestern fundamentalist William Bell Riley and Jerry Falwell, a prime mover behind the Moral Majority. “Those who had built up their own churches or Bible schools,” she writes,“were rulers of their own fiefdoms.”
Down through the decades, more than a few of these figures, FitzGerald observes, have squelched dissent or scandal with little concern for the opinion of denominational bureaucrats. In a tradition that has always prized “soul liberty” and spiritual autonomy, American evangelicals have sometimes shown a strong preference for leaders who demand unquestioning obedience—and who, like Trump, consider disagreement a form of disloyalty.
Nowhere is this tendency more obvious than in the evangelical subculture that nurtured Donald Trump himself: the prosperity gospel. When Trump was a child, his family attended Marble Collegiate Church in New York City, pastored by Norman Vincent Peale, a celebrity minister whose influence radiated throughout evangelical circles and beyond. He was one of the most famous proponents of a spiritual style sometimes called the “Health and Wealth” gospel or “Name It and Claim It” faith.
Praying for a new car or a promotion may sound “shockingly materialistic,” FitzGerald writes. But for believers, prosperity theology means that the material world has “a miraculous, God-filled quality.” Its basic tenets appear throughout the Bible—the notion that God answers prayers, rewards believers with worldly blessings, and punishes those who don’t keep the faith. And then, like most heresies, it pushes such orthodox teaching to an extreme. Imagine that your desired reality is true, Peale urged believers. His handy slogan: “Prayerize, picturize, actualize.” Peale, the dean of “the power of positive thinking,” would have understood Trump’s penchant for inventing his preferred reality.
God never goes back on his word. According to many prosperity-gospel preachers, if you don’t get that new job you prayed for, then you didn’t pray sincerely enough, live righteously enough—or give generously enough to your church. The Florida mega-church pastor Paula White, who is frequently called the president’s “spiritual adviser” (and, like him, is on her third marriage), encourages her followers to donate generously to her ministry, and to expect financial returns. “When you give the ‘firstfruits of your increase,’ as the Word says, your ‘barns will be filled with plenty and your vats will OVERFLOW,’ ” her website promises.
Trump perfected his own brand of prosperity ministry in the ad campaigns for the now-defunct Trump University. “I’ll show you how to turn this sizzling opportunity into a tidal wave of profits,” one 2007 newspaper advertisement read. The candidate who specialized in ludicrous promises has continued that magical thinking now that he’s in office, as he vows to create “25 million new jobs” and insists that he can replace Obamacare with “a much better health-care plan at much less money.”
Throughout the 2016 campaign, historians suggested a range of analogies to explain Trump’s growing popularity. Did his momentum resemble the rise of fascism in 1930s Germany? Do his despotic tendencies and sensitive ego remind us of Napoleon? Maybe Henry VIII? Distant echoes are always tantalizing. The truth is that Trump’s victory—especially his popularity among conservative white evangelicals—has sources closer to home. His ascendancy was certainly galvanized by a 21st-century whirl of social media and global economic discontent. But in the end, Trump won over evangelicals—and won the election—because he exploited beliefs and fears with origins deep in America’s past.
MOLLY WORTHEN, the author of Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism, is an assistant professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
How America’s evangelicals became a potent force
Apr 6th 2017
The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America. By Frances FitzGerald. Simon & Schuster; 740 pages; $35.
VISIT an evangelical church in America on a Sunday morning, and you are likely to be embraced, perhaps literally, by fellow worshippers, then impressed by the pastor’s scriptural exegesis. Depending on his text, and on the news, he may remind his flock that the devil walks among them, and of the risk—a perennial one for white evangelicals, as Frances FitzGerald’s timely and enlightening book makes clear—that depravity may turn God away from their country. Yet in November four out of five of these decorous, Bible-loving Christians voted for an adulterous reality-television star who has said he has never sought divine forgiveness.
White evangelicals make up around a fifth of America’s population, yet four decades after they became a central feature of public life they continue to baffle their compatriots. “The Evangelicals” was written before Donald Trump’s victory, but it illuminates these contradictions. Ms FitzGerald, a Pulitzer prizewinning historian, shows how the rise of evangelical creeds, during the Great Awakenings of the 18th and 19th centuries, was itself a sort of populist revolt, by “a folk religion characterised by disdain for authority and tradition”. It was not only anti-elitist but anti-intellectual, “a religion of the heart, as opposed to the head”, in which puritanical harangues were leavened by the promise of a widely shared salvation and, after a born-again experience, a direct relationship with God.
Spread, often, by untutored preachers using vernacular storytelling, this was an insurgent faith suited to the frontier. Today its adherents seem sceptical of religious tolerance, but initially they advocated it, so as to compete with established churches. Rival attitudes to that kind of activism—whether to withdraw from the secular world and patiently await the Rapture, or to engage in the hope of speeding it along—form one of the axes around which Ms FitzGerald’s narrative turns. The others include the tensions between the North and the evangelical heartland of the South, the argument over the fundamentalist belief in biblical inerrancy and the ongoing dispute over whether America should be a light unto the nations or an isolated refuge of piety.
Ms FitzGerald explains how, along with these internal conflicts, urbanisation, war and immigration shaped the evangelical world, just as evangelicals, “the most American of religious groups”, helped to shape the nation. She concentrates, topically, on the rise of the evangelical right. Fundamentalism, she says, seemed to have been routed at the Scopes monkey trial of 1925, when William Jennings Bryan failed to defend the Bible’s literal truth, or so many bystanders reckoned. But it recovered in the general religious boom after the second world war, energised by celebrity revivalists, above all Billy Graham, and by the dizzying social advances of the following decades, which many pastors vehemently resisted.
The presidential campaign of 1980, starring “a divorced former Hollywood actor who rarely attended church”, saw an alliance emerge between Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority and the Republican Party; the relationship between the party and the Christian right has since wavered between passion and wariness, taking a toll on both sides. Falwell may be the book’s single most important character. He not only led white evangelicals into mainstream politics, Ms FitzGerald writes, but injected the evangelical mode of thinking with them. Waging “holy war” against secular humanism, he “introduced the fundamentalist sense of perpetual crisis, and of war between the forces of good and evil”.
Falwell is also a good example of Ms FitzGerald’s method, and its success. This is a monumental study. Some of its detail—such as the varieties of religious experience that evangelical churches encompass, from Pentecostal charismatics and snake-handlers to the prosperity gospel—is gripping. Some of the theological rows, for example over the precise sequencing of the Apocalypse and the Second Coming, may weary lay readers. But the engines of her book, as of its subject, are the lives of leaders such as Falwell. His hard-living father, Carey Falwell, once killed an employee’s cat and fed it to him as squirrel stew, and threw a drunkard into a cage with a bear.
Circuit-riding preachers, megachurch pastors, millionaire televangelists who traded on their audiences’ willingness to suspend disbelief: she sketches her characters in gory technicolour. She is droll about their chicanery and non-judgmental about their conspiracy theories, prophecies and prejudices. There are fanatics and entrepreneurs, like Pat Robertson, a broadcasting impresario who ran for president in 1988 under the half-familiar slogan, “Restore the Greatness of America Through Moral Strength”. There are charlatans who take to extreme lengths the presumption of forgiveness that is central to their faith’s structure and appeal. These are mercurial, self-invented, quintessentially American lives.
By the administration of George W. Bush, white evangelicals’ favourite president, their political agenda had narrowed. (Abortion, Ms FitzGerald notes, became a preoccupation only in the 1980s.) Partisanship intensified such that “Bill and Hillary Clinton were the Antichrist.” Many evangelicals have become wedded to a seemingly un-Christian social policy that “elevated opposition to higher taxes and [Barack] Obama’s health-care reform to the status of biblical absolutes”. The Supreme Court’s legalisation of gay marriage in 2015 was, for them, a calamity. Meanwhile, despite their egalitarian impulses, these congregations always had an authoritarian, patriarchal bent, the chain of command running from God to husbands and fathers. And so they, and America, arrived at Mr Trump.
It is a shame that Ms FitzGerald excludes black evangelical churches, with all their struggles and heroism. As she says, “theirs is a different story,” but the two are intertwined—not only in the history of slavery and segregation, both defended by the Southern Baptists, the country’s biggest Protestant denomination (and probably most outsiders’ paradigmatic evangelical church). White and black evangelicals will converge in future as well: as she observes, white congregations are greying, so that, despite the nativism rife in many, their vitality will increasingly depend on attracting black and Hispanic members.
She does examine the quieter, but burgeoning, Christian left, a movement that emerged in the 1960s, aiming to recapture the spirt of reform that marked earlier evangelical eras. Likewise she refers to the growing subset of thinkers and activists who are orthodox in theology but renounce the bankrupting compact with the Republican Party and the fixation on sexual morality. These groups, who care as much about life after birth as before it, and value justice in the sublunary world as well as salvation in the next, are evangelicals too.
Lily Rothman...is History and Archives Editor for TIME.
It's a lesson apt for a book about faith: Things happen for a reason. The waves of conservative Protestant influence that have swept American life at various points in history have often seemed to come out of nowhere. The emergence of the Christian right's political influence in the 1970s, for example, just as experts said religion was losing its place in U.S. culture, was shocking. But in her new major work on the subject, The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America, historian Frances FitzGerald (who won a Pulitzer in 1973 for Fire in the Lake) shows how the origins of these booms are discernible from afar. Her book makes the case so well, it leaves readers with the feeling that we should all be paying closer attention.
The Evangelicals, as zippy as a 752-page history can be, starts in the 18th century with a new style of worship spreading in a new nation. But it's not until the turn of the 20th century, as evangelicals make a concerted effort to apply their specifically American faith to the reform of a secular country, that things heat up. If you remember the Scopes monkey trial from high school and are tempted to skim FitzGerald's bit on that 1920s dispute, don't. It was never as simple as how or whether to teach evolution in public schools, and FitzGerald's examination of why is a highlight.
Understanding the mechanisms that shift evangelical ideas into secular politics sheds insight beyond the church — from the post–World War II years when men like Billy Graham came on the scene at just the right moment to spread the good word, and on to the post-'60s backlash that created the modern Christian right, with its nostalgia for a "quasi-mythological past" when "America was a (white) Christian nation." Which brings us to today. Although FitzGerald's coda on Donald Trump's victory has a tacked-on feel in an otherwise masterful narrative, her explanation of evangelical support for his campaign — which puzzled many — reads as essential. FitzGerald illuminates how a decades-long relationship between the Christian right and the Republican Party (later joined by the Tea Party) coalesced into what looks like a mutually inextricable bloc.
RELIGIOUS NEWS SERVICE
(RNS) The most important new book on evangelicals in many years has been released just in time for Easter. Frances FitzGerald’s massive new tome is called “The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America.” Everyone who cares about religion in America must read it. I will be moderating a conversation with the author on Wednesday night (April 12) at the Atlanta History Center.
Reading this book during the Lenten season, and completing it during Holy Week, may be contributing to my primary take on the book: Evangelicals very badly lost their way. And they did so because their gospel stopped being about the love of God in Jesus Christ, demonstrated most profoundly at the cross, and instead became a reactionary jeremiad about saving America by electing Republican politicians and fighting culture wars.
The author is not an evangelical insider and does not make that claim. But she offers all the evidence necessary for me to make it, aided by nearly 40 years as a participant in American evangelical Christianity.
That’s not all the book is about, of course. FitzGerald offers a comprehensive history of American evangelicals that traces their story all the way back to the 18th century. With considerable though not flawless grasp of detail, the book tells the American evangelical story with remarkable comprehensiveness. I was especially struck by her tracing of distinctive northern and southern evangelicalisms, her description of the explosive growth of Pentecostalism and her elegiac take on the arc of Billy Graham’s career, whose entanglement with Richard Nixon ended up foreshadowing the later course of politicized evangelicalism.
“The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America” by Frances FitzGerald. Image courtesy of Simon and Schuster
The last half of the book slows down, covering only the period since the rise of Jerry Falwell and the Christian right in the 1970s. FitzGerald has reported directly on conservative evangelicalism since that period, and that reporting shows up in these lengthy chapters. Pretty much everything there is to be said about Falwell, Pat Robertson, Ralph Reed, Richard Land, James Dobson and a cast of thousands of earnest (and sometimes clownish) Christian rightists can be found here.
Perhaps newer to most readers will be FitzGerald’s discussion of the splintering of American evangelicalism in the aftermath of what she calls the “unfortunate George W. Bush.” As a participant in much of the history she recounts, I know most of the people she describes as “new evangelicals” (like Joel Hunter, Richard Cizik and Jim Wallis) as well as those in a still-conservative but less rigid group like Russell Moore. She tells this post-2006 story very well indeed.
FitzGerald concludes that the old angry white guy Christian right is slowly dying out, and shows that the political energy of the white conservative Christian right mainly moved to the Tea Party by 2010 and then to the Trumpistas in 2016. That still makes them a potent political force (for a while longer), but this version of “Christian” politics is even more morally compromised and less recognizably Christian than in the Falwell-Robertson days.
FitzGerald’s subtitle is “The Struggle to Shape America.” Therein lies the problem, not with the book, but with the movement. The Christian faith is not fundamentally about shaping America or any other country. It is fundamentally about nurturing a community of human beings who will faithfully follow Jesus. This is where American evangelicals went wrong.
FitzGerald knows that evangelicalism is a global community but shows that American evangelicalism is very deeply American. So even from the 19th century American evangelicals had a tendency to identify their own community and its concerns with that of America writ large.
She especially shows that after the massive social changes of the 1960s, evangelicalism became very deeply white-male-reactionary American. This evangelical white-male-reactionary-Americanism came to override the Christian gospel or even to define it. The gospel was not about Jesus, but about nostalgia for a lost America where our guys, and our values, were unquestioned.
In the end, the result was an unholy marriage of top evangelical leaders to the Republican Party and conservative lobbyists and operatives. In reaction, a smaller group of evangelical progressives also became involved in similar conjugal relations with the Democrats and their lobbyists and operatives.
When religious folk get entangled with secular politicians in the political arena, the politicians always win. They have home field advantage. The earnest religious types get played. And the people in the pews start heading for the exits.
Faithful Christian discipleship does involve bearing witness to Christian convictions in public. But drawing the line between this dimension of Christian proclamation, on the one hand, and getting used by politicians, on the other, has proved very difficult for evangelical Christians since at least Billy Graham. It’s a sordid story, and it has shaped American religion and public life for more than a generation.
Path of evangelicals in America leads to era of Trump
By Douglas Brinkley MARCH 31, 2017
President Ronald Reagan delivered a monumental speech at the National Association of Evangelicals on March 3, 1983, excoriating the Soviet Union for being “the focus of evil in the world.” Democrats lashed out at Reagan for being a reckless Cold War hawk.
The real story, however, was largely missed by the national press. Reagan, hoping to conjure voter enthusiasm for his 1984 election bid, denounced “modern-day secularism” and “Washington-based bureaucrats and social engineers” in pulpit language that buoyed televangelists Oral Roberts and Pat Robertson. By the time Reagan called for school prayer and reversing Roe v. Wade the crowd went wild. No longer were evangelicals outsiders from Podunk or Swamp Hollow — they were the new conservative Protestant and GOP establishment.
In Frances Fitzgerald’s “The Evangelicals’’ — an epic history of white American evangelical Protestantism from Plymouth Rock to Trump Tower — the enduring appeal of Jesus Christ looms large in our national culture. Fitzgerald, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1973 for “Fire in the Lake,’’ an account of the Vietnam War, gracefully swoops over the decades of populist evangelicalism with Barbara Tuchman-like grace.
This is a comprehensive, heavily footnoted, yet readable study of how the evangelical tradition has become seared into the fabric of American life and the key figures who made it happen. Italso tracks the movement’s influence on the nation’s politics, including evidence from the last election of widening schisms that gave a lift to candidate Trump.
Fitzgerald, always judicious and unbiased, nobly succeeds in analyzing the nuanced differences between evangelicalism and fundamentalism, Calvinism and postmillennialism, charismatics and Pentecostals. Her intricate knowledge of Southern Baptists, Mennonites, holiness groups, Dutch Reformed groups, and other nondenominational churches is astonishing. “Many have little in common,” Fitzgerald writes of these evangelical outlets, “except for the essentials of their faith”
“The Evangelicals’’ begins with a fast-paced romp through the First Great Awakening in America (which reached its apogee in the 1740s but continued to rattle traditional Episcopalian and Presbyterian church windows in 1776). Enter theologians Jonathan Edwards of Connecticut and George Whitefield of Massachusetts who disrupted traditional Protestantism at its very foundation by shifting the emphasis from ritual and doctrine to personal faith. Revivals mushroomed across the land. Preachers sold a salvation-at-hand message that the faithful could bond directly with Christ-the-Savior and that Jesus “would save not just the apparently worthy” but even those sinners who “would receive His grace.”
That was a game changer for American Protestantism. By the time of the Second Great Awakening (ca. 1790–1850) intrepid preachers ballyhooed a zealous Christianity centered on religious conversion and rejection of Enlightenment deism in favor of a belief in a supreme being who is present in the world. A potent anti-intellectual viewpoint was baked into the movement. By the 19th century Puritanism wasn’t the dominant religious force in America anymore — evangelicalism was.
While some evangelicals of the antebellum era addressed education, health, temperance, and criminal justice from the pulpit — like northern abolitionist Charles Finney whose campaign against slavery led to the first feminist movement — the majority fixated on the Bible’s final authority. Essentially, evangelicalism was about being born again and then spreading the Gospels.
Following the Civil War the Northern faithful broke ranks with their Southern brethren. Out of this severing grew today’s evangelical vs. traditional Protestant square-off. Southern Baptist churches began redefining themselves as fundamentalists. The Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925, for example, was supposed to signal the death knell for the evangelical movement. Holy rollers seemed antiquated in the age of Edison and the Model T.
But evangelical churches adopted creationism to counter Darwin’s theory of evolution, and it took hold. “[Evangelicalism] grew mighty in the North,” Fitzgerald writes, “through the work of separatist pastors, radio preachers, and tent revivalists, who preached to rural Americans and to those who migrated to the fast-industrializing cities in the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s.”
One star in the 1940s was the Rev. Billy Graham, “a lanky figure in sherbet-colored suits with wide lapels and polychrome hand-painted ties.” His ministry hoped to unite Protestants under a gigantic Christ-loving tent. The charismatic Graham was born in Charlotte, N.C., in 1918. As an ordained Southern Baptist minister in the 1950s, his “crusades” were held in 185 countries.
By then, everyone from Dwight Eisenhower to Martin Luther King Jr. wanted to collaborate with him. Graham, the televangelist, was befriended by Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. According to Fitzgerald, the genius of Graham was that he “spoke about the problems of the modern condition — emptiness, loneliness, guilt, nervous tension, and the fear of death — offering a decision for Christ as a cure for every benighted soul.”
Jerry Falwell also figures prominently. As founding Southern Baptist pastor of a megachurch in Lynchburg, Va., Falwell praised the New Testament one day and spewed racism the next. His gift involved linking Southern evangelicalism to GOP politics. Convinced that young minds were being poisoned by secularism, he established Liberty University in 1971. But it wasn’t until 1979 when Falwell launched his antiabortion Moral Majority organization that he grew in national stature. His hyperconservative “pro-family” views became a bread-and-butter staple of the modern GOP.
Fitzgerald also profiles Jimmy Carter, a devout Southern Baptist (like Graham), as a potent reminder that Southern evangelicals weren’t always politically far right. Carter’s “born-again” faith allowed him to win Bible Belt states like Georgia and Alabama in the 1976 presidential election. By then, evangelicalism in the South and Southwest was such a cresting demographic force that even Gerald Ford, an Episcopalian, described himself as “born-again.” That was smart politics in 1976 — one Gallup poll found that a third of Americans described themselves as born-again Christians.
Fitzgerald grapples with left-leaning figures like Ron Sider and James Wallis, buther last chapters ponder the ties between GOP conservatives and Southern evangelicals. (The Democratic Party, which inherited the black Southern evangelical tradition, exemplified by the civil rights movement, is omitted by Fitzgerald because “theirs is a different story, mainly one of resistance to slavery and segregation”).
Fitzgerald ends with the 2016 election. An astonishing 48 percent of Republican primary voters were white evangelicals. Fitzgerald attempts to analyze why so many born-again Christians supported Donald Trump, thrice-married libertine, over Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, whose father was an evangelical pastor.
Starting with Reagan’s presidency, the ideas of Graham, Falwell, and others became the heartbeat of the GOP. It was a full-bore rejection of the 1960s counterculture (especially on civil rights, abortion, and the women’s movement).
But over the years, rifts formed. The evangelical population was shrinking, and denominations disagreed over the acceptance of immigrants, particularly Latinos. Younger members took less hardline stances on issues like LGBT rights; many left the movement. Increasing numbers were more focused on economic nationalism and immigration restrictions than traditional cultural concerns.
They might still be voting Republican, but politics were winning out over theology. “In other words,” Fitzgerald writes, “the Christian right was no longer a movement but simply a faction within the Republican Party.” And, she speculates, this may only be the beginning as the aging top ranks give way to a more progressive, multicultural generation.
Douglas Brinkley is professor of history at Rice University and author of “Rightful Heritage: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Land of America.’’
Why an Award-Winning Writer Turned Her Attention to Evangelicals
Barry Hankins / April 11, 2017
I first encountered Frances FitzGerald in the 1970s when I read her Pulitzer Prize-winning book on the Vietnam War, Fire in the Lake, to which I still refer when I lecture on the war. In addition to the Pulitzer, the book also won the Bancroft Prize for best historical work as well as the National Book Award. Its immense success catapulted FitzGerald to the top level of journalist-historians, where she has remained ever since.
In the 1980s, she became interested in the Christian Right. Among other types of research, she spent time at Jerry Falwell’s Thomas Road Baptist Church and Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. I suspect that interest launched her latest book, because it seems her animating research question is something like: Where did the fundamentalists and evangelicals of the Christian Right come from? The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America is her answer.
Exhaustive History of the Christian Right
FitzGerald has read most of the scholarship on evangelicals and synthesized it into a masterful narrative. Her bibliography of more than 250 books would make a good preliminary reading list in the PhD program here at Baylor University. Paragraph by paragraph I could say to myself, There’s Marsden, McLoughlin, Kidd, Dochuk, Hatch, Marsden again, me, Diamond, Carpenter, Green, Noll, and so on.
She begins the story, appropriately, with the 18th-century revivals of the First Great Awakening, the birthplace of American evangelicalism. She demonstrates that from the beginning the movement was primarily religious and theological, with political overtones, and quite diverse. But FitzGerald wants to move quickly to more recent times and so reaches “Liberals and Conservatives in the Post-Civil War North” by page 56 and “The Fundamentalist-Modernist Conflict” of the early 20th century by page 95.
Throughout this sometimes riveting narrative, FitzGerald demonstrates a keen grasp of evangelicalism’s intricacies. By way of just two examples, she outlines the nuanced differences between separatist fundamentalists and more broadly evangelical believers in the early 20th century. Even more impressive, when she gets to “the thinkers” of the Christian Right—Rousas Rushdoony and Francis Schaeffer—she explains the subtle differences between J. Gresham Machen and Cornelius Van Til in order to show the influences in Rushdoony’s thought. Moreover, she’s careful to point out that while many in the Christian Right were influenced by Rushdoony, few adopted his central argument that America’s destination will be, and should be, the institutionalization of Old Testament law. Instead, the Christian Right went with Schaeffer’s Christian Manifesto rhetoric of attempting to restore America’s “Christian base”—but no theocracy.
FitzGerald’s chapter on Falwell and the Moral Majority starts on page 291, and so for the final 344 pages of narrative the book becomes the most exhaustive history of the Christian Right since William Martin’s With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America (1996). But FitzGerald has the advantage of another two decades of history to cover since Martin’s book first appeared. Her argument in brief is that the Christian Right, having started in the Reagan era, declined in the 1990s, then took off again and peaked during its all-too-close alliance with George W. Bush. The precipitous decline in Bush’s fortunes during his second term—caused by the debacle in Iraq, the mishandling of Hurricane Katrina, and, finally, the economic crash of 2008—dragged the Christian Right down with the president. In short, the alliance that seemed so beneficial and brought such hope for a restored Christian America ended in disaster for the Christian Right. As FitzGerald aptly puts it,
To many Democrats and moderate Republicans, the White House and the Republican leadership had seemed to have become a captive of the Christian right. To many evangelicals, the opposite seemed to be the case: the Christian right had become a function of Republican politics. (534)
The hope that Barack Obama would be a one-term interlude came crashing down with his unexpected re-election in 2012, after which Christian Right leaders spoke in both apoplectic and apocalyptic terms.
The years since Bush left office, especially Obama’s second term, have seen the rise of the “new evangelicals” (not to be confused with the Neo-evangelicals of the 1950s), who are skeptical of the old Christian Right’s approach to politics and especially wary of the degree to which the Falwell-Robertson-Dobson generation aligned evangelicalism with the Republican Party. Chief among the new evangelicals is Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
It seems to be part of FitzGerald’s subtle thesis that the Christian Right transformed evangelicalism from a religious to a political movement—and that this was not a good thing. There is something to this, but we need to keep in mind, as she acknowledges, that even at its height only about 20 percent of evangelicals identified with the Christian Right. When evangelicals think and talk about politics, and especially when they vote, the vast majority sound and act like the Christian Right, from which they take their political cues.
But I’ve always maintained that the typical evangelical isn’t all that political. Rather, the important things for most evangelicals are: (1) living godly lives; (2) raising their children to be committed, evangelical Christians; (3) being active in their local churches; and (4) evangelizing their neighbors. They talk about issues like abortion and gay marriage in Sunday school, and on Election Day about 75 percent to 80 percent of them dutifully vote Republican, even if a pagan like Donald Trump is at the head of the ticket. They may even put a sign in their yard for the Republican congressman in their district. But the vast majority of evangelicals don’t march in the street, write letters to their congressmen and senators, run for the local school board, or attend Christian Right rallies. They’re too busy being Christians, so they leave that to the Falwells, Roberstons, and Dobsons of the world.
This is where FitzGerald’s book falls down a bit. In covering the Christian Right so thoroughly, The Evangelicals perpetuates the myth that evangelicalism and the Christian Right became synonymous. In part, FitzGerald seems to want to show that this was the case and that it was an unfortunate aberration, given the nearly three centuries of rich and robust evangelicalism that predated the Christian Right. On the other hand, however, part of the reason we need good history is to show that perceptions, especially those perpetuated by the media, need correction—that there’s more to a movement than its most visible, loud, and sometimes outrageous public figures.
Part of the reason we need good history is to show that perceptions, especially those perpetuated by the media, need correction—that there’s more to a movement than its most visible, loud, and sometimes outrageous public figures.
When FitzGerald gets to the new evangelicals who broke ranks with the Christian Right after 2008, she acknowledges, “These dissenters came from an evangelical constituency largely unknown to the rest of the country”. She even cites Mark Noll as suggesting they had been there all along “in international aid agencies, colleges and seminaries, denominations and independent churches”.
While not mentioning them by name, John Piper, Tim Keller, and The Gospel Coalition would fit this new evangelical category. These and others have succeeded in carving out a larger niche in the wake of the demise of the Christian Right. “In other words,” FitzGerald writes a few pages later, “the Christian right had done its work all too well: it had managed to convince Americans that all evangelicals, if not all Christians, belonged to their movement. And many evangelicals wanted out” (559).
So in a history like this, one might ask, why not tell us what these other evangelicals were doing while the Christian Right captured the Republican Party and sucked up all the attention of the media?
Three Missing Groups
Attention to at least three evangelical submovements might have corrected this deficiency.
First, what were evangelical women doing during the era of the Christian Right? There is now a substantial body of scholarly literature on the ways women are empowered by evangelical women’s organizations. I’m thinking primarily of R. Marie Griffith’s fine book, God’s Daughters: Evangelical Women and the Power of Submission; Susan K. Gallagher’s Evangelical Identity and Gendered Family Life; Brenda Brasher’s Godly Women: Fundamentalism and Female Power; and James Ault Jr.’s Spirit and Flesh: Life in a Fundamentalist Baptist Church. Ault’s book provides a well-rounded picture of what life is like in a church pastored by a Falwell disciple and peopled by members who wanted the Christian Right of the 1980s to succeed. Still, only a few in the congregation Ault studied (actually lived in) became thoroughly immersed in politics, and many thought their pastor was too political.
A second relatively apolitical submovement that could have provided a window into non-Christian Right evangelicalism would be Promise Keepers. While portrayed in the media as just part of the Christian Right, Promise Keepers was more accurately an interracial men’s movement where white Republican evangelicals apologized to and hugged black Democratic evangelicals while both groups promised to be better husbands and fathers. It was only indirectly political, but it was highly gendered, as evangelical history often is.
Third, and much more recently, while FitzGerald does a nice job tracking the splintering of the Christian Right and the rise of the new evangelicals, she does almost nothing with the Emerging Church Movement, which existed outside the Christian right for the entirety of its existence (1995cc—2012cc), if indeed the movement is over now.
It’s not that FitzGerald fails to acknowledge there have been evangelicals since 1980 who do politics differently than the Christian Right. Relying on the sociological work of John C. Green and the insightful analysis of religion writer Mark Pinsky, she aptly characterizes the current state of evangelicalism. The movement is divided between a Bible Belt manifestation in which certain social issues loom large, and Sun Belt evangelicals who are middle-class suburbanites not as animated by young-earth creationism or posting the Ten Commandments in public spaces. For the latter, the culture shock has worn off, and, as Green writes, “hard-edged politics no longer appeals to them” (569). Think Rick Warren here.
Both groups, however, still care about abortion and gay marriage. In this way FitzGerald accounts for the non-Christian Right diversity I’m suggesting above. But these important differences, and many important non-Christian Right evangelical submovements, get little specific attention. We don’t know what the other 80 percent of evangelicals were doing when Falwell, Robertson, and Dobson were on the march.
Making Evangelicalism Evangelical Again
Most of FitzGerald’s book is eminently fair, balanced, and detached, even in early coverage of the Christian Right. And she provides some really significant insights. For example, she argues Falwell presents a key turning point that produced Christian Right evangelicalism. Whereas fundamentalist and evangelical activists of the 1950s (like Billy Graham) warned that communist infiltration would subvert America’s moral base, Falwell’s jeremiad reversed that view. As FitzGerald writes, “The decline of American economic and military might owed to the growing moral decay and godlessness of American society” (308). Or, as she quotes Falwell himself, “We are economically, politically, and militarily sick because our country is morally sick” (308).
While that might sound like a Jonathan Edwards sermon from the 18th century, “it wasn’t, for the sin lay not in the souls of his congregation,” FitzGerald observes, “but in outside forces” (308)—secular humanism first among them. Or, another significant insight:
To follow [Pat Robertson’s] career is thus not just to see the evolution of the Christian right but to follow the currents and cross-currents of the most inventive and unstable of religious movements in modern American history.
I ask, how many secular journalists, or even scholars in the academy, have that level of insight into the history of evangelicalism?
Still, the closer FitzGerald gets to the present, the more she crosses the line from understanding and explanation to exasperation and bewilderment. You can forgive the snarky tone when she covers the scandals of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. But then she puts scare quotes around “religious freedom” when talking evangelical fears that bakers and florists will be forced to participate in gay weddings in the wake of the Obergefell decision. FitzGerald seems oblivious to inconsistency when secular liberals criticize the Christian Right for its manifold attempts to use the power of the state to encourage religion—while those same critics of the Christian Right endorse the power of the state to coerce evangelicals to participate in a marriage ceremony. Hence, “religious freedom” gets scare quotes as an example of “laws that discriminate against LGBT.”
These criticisms aside, FitzGerald’s book is for the most part admirable. I believe she’s correct in arguing that the Christian Right skewed public perception of what evangelicalism is and who evangelicals are. If she’s correct when she writes about the post-2010 years, “The Christian right was no longer a movement but simply a faction within the Republican Party” (623), she implies that perhaps evangelicalism can become more fully evangelical again, both in its essence and its public perception. She seems to think that would be a good thing. I do too.
THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS
Where Evangelicals Came From
Garry Wills APRIL 20, 2017 ISSUE
Every few years, it seems, conservative religious groups, quiescent or unnoticed, come blazing back onto the national scene, and the secular press reacts like the bad guy in the 1971 western Big Jake who says to John Wayne, “I thought you were dead.” Wayne drily answers, “Not hardly.” Now, in The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America, Frances FitzGerald answers the recurrent question, “Where did these people [mainly right-wing zealots] come from?” She says there is no mystery involved. They were always here. We were just not looking at them. What repeatedly makes us look again is what she is here to tell us.
“Evangelicals” is an elastic term, and FitzGerald intermittently shrinks or stretches it. But she does direct us to the right starting point, to the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Great Awakenings, major religious events in our early history when the word “evangelicalism” came into wide American use. Evangelical religion is revival religion, that of emotional contagion. It can best be characterized, for taxonomic purposes, by three things: crowds, drama, and cycles.
The first Great Awakening, of the 1730s and 1740s, stunned entire regions by the numbers of people who took part. The leading preacher in a cadre of them, George Whitefield—who, with John and Charles Wesley, founded the Methodist movement in England—had followings that overflowed the churches and followed him out to streets, plazas, or the nearby countryside. When Benjamin Franklin went to hear Whitefield preach from the steps of Philadelphia’s City Hall in 1739, he measured with characteristic precision the reach of his voice in different directions, and felt that he had verified reports that 25,000 people could hear him preach in a cleared space.
Before he came from England, Whitefield had already become a “field preacher”; the skeptic David Hume, who listened to one of his sermons in Edinburgh, is said to have told a friend, “He is…the most ingenious preacher I ever heard. It is worth while to go twenty miles to hear him.” Any man who could astonish Hume in Scotland and Franklin in America was a preacher beyond any orbit of expectation. The great Samuel Johnson said of Whitefield, “He would be followed by crowds were he to wear a night-cap in the pulpit, or were he to preach from a tree.”
The crowds were astounding because they were self-assembled, gathered outside the normal parish structures. This was nothing like going to one’s church on Sunday. It was an event. It could happen any day, and run for several days. It was symbolically important for the people to be “going out”—an exodus from the ordinary, including the ordinary religious formalities (ordained ministers, ecclesiastical garb, liturgical ceremony, a reverent hush in the congregation). It was salvation in a hurry, time was running out, too urgent for formal rites. The crowd was important to the whole ethos of the movement. The preacher was credentialed not by church authorities but by the size of his crowd and its responses to him—by the number of souls he saved.
Emotion was communicable. Salvation was catching. The Holy Spirit’s urging made for responses like “Amen,” or “Hallelujah,” or “Come Lord Jesus,” or “Glory!”—or the later “Praise the Lord.” Spasmodic seizures of different sorts made outsiders call the saved ones “holy rollers” or “quakers” or “shakers” or “jumpers.” The people would “turn, turn, turn,” as in the song “Simple Gifts.” Some would faint, “slain in the spirit.” The preacher himself could get worked up to pitches of near hysteria. The religious convulsions Whitefield and Wesley had inspired in England were called by Ronald Knox “Methodist paroxysms.” These spasms traveled well to America.
As the American West opened up, “going out” took on further meaning in the camp meetings or tent revivals of preachers like Barton Stone, Alexander Campbell, and their epigones. Stone’s weeklong revival at Cane Ridge, Kentucky, in 1891 drew a likely 20,000 people, over 10 percent of the state population. Dozens of preachers ministered to the people at Cane Ridge—including Presbyterians like Stone as well as some Baptists and (especially) Methodists. Revivals broke free not only of church buildings but of denominational divisions, creeds, and rituals. Huckleberry Finn went to a Campbellite revival:
There was as much as a thousand people there, from twenty mile around. The woods was full of teams and wagons, hitched everywhere, feeding out of the wagon troughs and stomping to keep off the flies…. Then the preacher begun to preach; and begun in earnest, too; and went weaving first to one side of the platform and then the other and then a leaning down over the front of it, with his arms and his body going all the time, and shouting his words out with all his might; and every now and then he would hold up his Bible and spread it open, and kind of pass it around this way and that, shouting, “It’s the brazen serpent in the wilderness! Look upon it and live!” And people would shout out, “Glory!—A-a-men!” And so he went on, and the people groaning and crying and saying amen.
Mark Twain had personal dealings with Alexander Campbell, since as a boy printer he had set some of his writings in type. (Franklin had done the same thing for Whitefield a century earlier.)
Such crowds could not stay outside in all weathers, so big halls were thrown up to hold them, beginning with one Whitefield quickly raised in Philadelphia. These were no ordinary churches. In Whitefield’s England, those who dissented from the established religion—the “non-conformists”—were said to worship in chapel, not church. Whitefield’s meeting house was a huge “chapel” in that sense, and so are evangelical buildings, right down to the megachurches of our day, places like Second Baptist in Houston, with 26,659 attending, or Saddleback Valley in California, with 22,055. Crowds are still essential, and at times they can go outside, as when Billy Graham filled a football stadium at the University of Tennessee in 1970 or gathered over a million people in the People’s Plaza of Seoul in 1973.
The outdoor venues of evangelicals had created “the sawdust trail” that people would file down to show they were saved, to make their own profession of faith, to shake the preacher’s hand, or to sign up for a local church. The sawdust aisles in tents were kept in the temporary structures specially built for revivals, and the term would be kept even in permanent structures. The evangelist preacher Billy Sunday (1862–1935) always called on the saved to “hit the sawdust trail,” no matter what hall he was in (if any).
An important evangelical success was the creation of virtual crowds for radio or television “gospel hours.” Something like the revivals’ shared responses can be elicited at a remove, making “crowd” a psychological category, not merely an arithmetical one. This is partly done by having live audiences present at the broadcasting site. This on-site audience, heated by a skilled preacher, serves as a surrogate for the larger but thinner population listening in.
But even without an immediate physical audience, the feel of a revival can be cultivated, often with the help of inspiring music. Participation can be stimulated (or simulated) by calls to the remote audience for prayer, by the naming of illnesses to be cured, by other kinds of virtual attendance. Holy mementos are offered for sale; prayers are directed to local needs. Even the constant pleas for money need not be merely venal. They allow the listeners or watchers to join the “ministry.” It is a way for the audience to make a declaration for Christ, to take action—mentally to “hit the sawdust trail.”
The more successful radio and TV revivals could boast of huge crowds knit together electronically. Popular preachers even created their own networks—CBN (Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network), TBN (Paul Crouch’s Trinity Broadcasting Network), PTL (Jim and Tammy Bakker’s Praise the Lord network). By the mid-1980s, only two secular networks were larger than Robertson’s CBN.
The awakenings were crowd events, with controlled (if sometimes barely) excitement. They exemplify what Ronald Knox called the religion of enthusiasm. The urgency to be saved at once, with a flood of relief at such a rescue, comes from an awareness that the end is near. History for evangelicals keeps an exigent timetable. It is a theological equivalent to the Doomsday Clock tended by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. The evangelical acceptance of the creationist doctrine that the universe began a “short time” ago and will not last long comes not only because “the Bible tells me so,” but as a reminder that history is compressed, that it is speeding along to its climax. One cannot put off the accounting for one’s soul. Be saved now or you are probably damned. Only accepting Jesus as your personal savior can give you a sure ticket to heaven. The impending battle of Armageddon can fill every moment of the believer’s life with drama. Any moment we may leap out of time straight into eternity.
To walk down toward a revival’s preacher, to make one’s decision for Christ, is a dramatic moment not only for the ones doing the deciding but for the onlookers, who are internally cheering them across the finish line to salvation. The great revivalist Charles Grandison Finney (1792–1875) knew how to increase this urge of people to save others. He created the “anxious seat” at his revivals, for those still hesitating to commit themselves to Jesus. Anyone in the anxious seat became the instant target of all the circumambient prayers. If the prayers successfully dislodged any of those seated, whoops of joy would greet another victory for the Holy Spirit.
Those who wrote the New Testament believed the world would end in their lifetime. This became something of an embarrassment when the church survived for years, and then for centuries. In the fifth century, Augustine of Hippo solved that problem with symbolic readings of the apocalyptic passages, saying they did not refer to literal time on the calendar. Thus the Middle Ages—with a few exceptions like the Joachite prophecies in the second millennium—lived with the everyday, not the final crisis.
That was changed during the Reformation, when the scarlet woman riding the seven-headed beast (Revelation 17.3–6) was interpreted as the pope on Rome’s seven hills, and the slaying of that beast was thought to be immanent. Protestants were apocalyptists, which made Americans super-Protestants, since they had split from the tainted English Protestants who retained bishops and priests, canons and deans.
The American Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) counted every defeat of Catholic forces around the world as a harbinger of history’s quick fulfillment. He organized prayer brigades to ensure specific Protestant victories, including a fast day for the British capture of the French fortress of Louisbourg in Canada. Benjamin Franklin mocked this cannonade by orison:
You have a fast and prayer day for that purpose; in which I compute five hundred thousand petitions were offered up to the same effect in New England, which added to the petitions of every family morning and evening, multiplied by the number of days since January 25th, make forty-five millions of prayers; which, set against the prayers of a few priests in the garrison, to the Virgin Mary, give a vast balance in your favor…. I believe there is a Scripture in what I have wrote, but I cannot adorn the margin with quotations, having a bad memory, and no Concordance at hand.
Edwards believed in a more optimistic chiliasm than that of later evangelicals. He agreed with John Winthrop (1588–1649) that Americans had come to a virgin continent to set up “a light upon a hill,” a model for the impending biblical millennium, the thousand-year reign of Christ mentioned at Revelation 10.6. These “postmillennials” think the world will end only after this thousand years of godly time, whose foundations were already being laid on American soil.
Opposed to such postmillennials are the premillennials, who think the world’s showdown battle (Armageddon) will happen before the thousand-year reign of Christ. The view that the saved will be snatched up to heaven (the Rapture) before the battle, given a sharper definition in England by John Nelson Darby (1800–1882), was promulgated in America by Cyrus I. Scofield (1843–1921) in his perennially best-selling Scofield Reference Bible. Debate on the religious right was waged between “premils” and “postmils” (in Protestant seminary slang). It was such debate, combined with different Calvinist views of predestination, that Huck Finn heard from church folk and muddled up as “preforeordestination.”
Most modern evangelicals are premils. They leave the postmil attitude to “mainline” churches, where work for godly goals can take the form of progress, social justice, and the benefits of science. Evangelicals, distinguishing themselves from most ritualistic churches, note with satisfaction that the influence of “mainline” churches has been dwindling. Secular forces of progress and science need no reinforcement from such an acquiescent religiosity. A worldly church is just the world, according to evangelicals. The salt has lost its savor.
Evangelicals want sudden rescue, linked with sudden judgment. Religion for them is an experience, not an argument. Emotional immediacy is treasured over everyday “improvement.” You do not improve your way into heaven. There is no moral evolution along the sawdust trail. You “hit it,” as Billy Sunday said, or you don’t. The appeal of a “premil” End Time to evangelical believers attracted notice in the 1970s when Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth outsold (with 81 million copies) other books of that era, including All the President’s Men, Roots, and The Joy of Sex.
People have been right to ask, at intervals, where evangelicals have suddenly come from. They do seem repeatedly to disappear, only to reemerge unexpectedly. The price of intense emotional ebullition is burnout. The improvisings of the revival lack, at first, the forms and procedures of the institutional, which make for stability and continuity. It is hard to keep End Time piety at white heat, and even harder to keep outsiders interested. But relapses into a quieter life have never meant that believers stopped believing. They just continued to share their emotion around less conspicuous campfires. Max Weber would say their charisma undergoes routinization (Veralltäglichung). But the remission need not be permanent. Various crises, real or perceived, make the apocalypse plausible again.
This cyclic pattern of flarings and fadings was demonstrated spectacularly in the first Great Awakening. If you looked at America early in the eighteenth century, you would conclude that this was a country of fervid religiosity. If you looked at it at the end of the century, you would say it was a country of Enlightenment rationality, the country of our Founders and their documents. The evangelical scholar Mark Noll shows that the Great Awakening was followed by a Great Unchurching—the years 1750 to 1790 saw the deepest decline (in fact the only real decline) in Americans’ evangelical belief.* But what followed, with the dawn of the nineteenth century, was the second Great Awakening, the revival of revivalism. The rhythm is peristaltic. In 1925, most learned Americans thought that Clarence Darrow and H.L. Mencken had, between them, slain all opposition to Darwin at the Scopes trial. But evangelicals were simply gathering strength to mount ever-newer defenses of what they now call “creation science.”
It was easy for some evangelicals to go into hibernation mode, since some of them have always been leery of engagement with “the world.” These separatists do not want to be sullied with compromise. Carl McIntire (1906–2002), the prolific author and radio preacher (and proponent of rebuilding Noah’s ark to ride away from a damned world), wrote that the proper response to nonbelievers is “attacks, personal attacks, even violent attacks.” Jerry Falwell (1933–2007), before he founded the evangelist Moral Majority to engage in politics, had been a separatist, saying believers should not waste their time on passing worldly concerns like anticommunism or civil rights. But separatists are usually ready to come out of their cave when they find the world willing to listen to them. (McIntire, for instance, mounted a full-throated defense of the war in Vietnam.)
A healing session led by the evangelist Oral Roberts, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1960
Sometimes this involves finding allies for causes they espouse—as evangelicals found labor unions would join them in the Sabbatarian ban on delivering mail on Sundays (passed into law in 1912), or when early feminists helped them prohibit alcohol (by the Eighteenth Amendment of 1919). FitzGerald identifies evil occasions that have mobilized modern evangelicals in response—as when Billy Graham discovered “godless” communism (as the foe of religion), or Anita Bryant discovered homosexuality (as being inculcated), or Phyllis Schlafly discovered feminism (ready to draft women into the armed forces), or Francis Schaeffer discovered “secular humanism” (as the death rattle of the West), or Jerry Falwell discovered abortion (as murder). Steve Bannon’s discovery of Islam as the main threat to America came a little too late for FitzGerald to include, but it has picked up heavy support among the evangelicals she is describing.
Issues like these become, for a time, matters that even the less godly may get concerned about. This can give the more fervent evangelicals a giddy sense of acceptance. In 1979, the year Jerry Falwell founded the Moral Majority, the television faith healer Pat Robertson effused: “We have, together with the Protestants and the Catholics, enough votes to run the country. And when the people say, ‘We’ve had enough,’ we are going to take over.” Falwell himself hoped to add conservative Jews to the ranks, and said, “We are fighting a holy war, and this time we are going to win.”
Recently we have had other such flashpoints—over “religious freedom” (the right to discriminate on religious grounds against other people’s constitutional rights), or same-sex marriage, or transgenderism. But the most successful current issue has been the opposition to abortion—FitzGerald notes that state legislatures have passed or proposed three hundred bills to limit access to abortion between 2011 and 2016. The hope of repealing Roe v. Wade with a new Supreme Court justice helped prompt 81 percent of evangelicals to vote in 2016 for an irreligious lecher as president.
FitzGerald is good at describing these high-profile engagements in The Evangelicals. She observes the niceties that divide different factions in the biblical camp. She notes that some of the people she calls evangelicals don’t want to be called that. Fundamentalists don’t necessarily support the religious right. Certain Pentecostalists don’t want to be confused with Charismatics, and vice versa. Southern Baptists veer off in different directions under different leaders. By trying to preserve a diplomatic objectivity as an observer, FitzGerald has to confess that “this book is not a taxonomy.” She nonetheless uses “evangelical” as a conveniently vague term for most kinds of revivalism, while diplomatically recognizing even small-bore turf battles.
But she makes one astounding error of taxonomy. She doesn’t include black churches in a study of evangelicals. She “omits the history of African American churches” because “their religious traditions are not the same as those of white evangelicals.” Who are these white evangelicals she is talking about? Some white evangelicals were abolitionists while others were defending slavery. It is hard to deny that many if not most black churches are evangelical in style. They have preachers credentialed by enthusiastic congregations, outcries during the sermon (“Tell it!”), proclamatory music, and cyclic intensities.
In fact, in an earlier book, Cities on a Hill (1981), a study of four different “visionary communities” in America, FitzGerald said that preachers like Martin Luther King Jr. gave Jerry Falwell warrant to give up his own earlier separatism as “false prophecy.” Many black churches have agreed with white evangelicals in condemning abortion and homosexuality. There are black religious conservatives as well as liberals, or a mix of both. There have been hugely successful outliers like Father Divine (1876–1965) and Reverend Ike (1935–2009) whom it would be misleading to label as simply conservative or simply liberal; but they were certainly evangelical.
Reverend Ike called his following “the do-it-yourself” church, and the whole evangelical enterprise could adopt that as a slogan. Evangelicalism is a bottom-up religiosity as opposed to a top-down one. It prefers the improvised over the prescribed, spontaneity over tradition, experience over expertise, emotion over slower religious reasonings. Ronald Knox said, “The Evangelical is always an experimentalist.” Evangelicals are suspicious of establishment, liturgy, elaborated creeds, and standardized piety.
Evangelicalism tends to break out of any single denomination—think of the preachers from various bodies at Cane Ridge. It is fissiparous even in its most favorable environments—think of Methodism branching into the Disciples of Christ, the Holiness Movement, the African Methodist Episcopal Church. (Whitefield, it should be remembered, was an ordained Anglican.) Evangelicalism is a style—Mark Noll calls it a “value system.” It can affect even some “high church” bodies or members. There are Pentecostalists among Roman Catholics. (Phyllis Schlafly, it should be remembered, was a Catholic, as Kellyanne Conway and Steve Bannon are. Bannon showed his allegiance in his 2014 Skype address to the Institute for Human Dignity at the Vatican.)
Given this description of evangelical style, two things should be noticed. America is, or likes to think of itself as, a “do-it-yourself democracy.” Many of the traits I have been listing are ones Americans will fancy themselves as embodying (or wanting to). People who hit the sawdust trail are working a kind of do-it-yourself salvation. The credentialing by the people is what all presidents claim. No wonder Noll thinks of evangelical religion (despite its roots in Wesley’s England) as native to America, as giving America its most recognizable God. Calvin said God “elects” his chosen ones. In America we choose to elect our leaders. The crowd credentials the preacher. Historians rightly observe that our national political conventions have borrowed elements from revivals.
A second thing to notice is how many of the traits I have listed would be ascribed by his voters to Donald Trump. He too presented himself as opposed to elites, to the academic and political and journalistic establishments, even (for a brief lying while) to banks and special-interest lobbying. He is spontaneous and improvising—“telling it like it is” in his supporters’ eyes. He feels so credentialed by his crowds that he cannot even conceive that more people voted for the establishment candidate than for his own “authentic” ticket—he will no doubt go to his grave thinking that any votes against him were rigged.
Trump has a style that seems like no style to the “proper” viewer, the “politically correct.” His antiestablishment pose could not, all by itself, make 81 percent of evangelicals vote for him. They had ancillary reasons for doing that—the hope of outlawing abortion, Hillary hate, feeling scorned by “the elite.” But his style helped ease the godly toward this godless man. They felt he was “talking their language”—little realizing that it was the language of Father Divine among others, of evangelicals as tastelessly rich as Donald Trump. It is the “tastelessly” that assures them he is no snob. As Fran Lebowitz says, “He’s a poor person’s idea of a rich person”—living in a vulgar gold splendor the poor man would embrace if he had “made it.”
Trumpian populism has proved a natural fit for Steve Bannon. The films he produced celebrate populist heroes—Sarah Palin (The Undefeated, 2011), “Duck Commander” Phil Robertson (Torchbearer, 2016)—or they let spokespersons like Dick Morris, Mike Flynn, and John Bolton denounce the “elites” of the establishment—The Battle for America (2010), Generation Zero (2010), Clinton Cash (2016). Bannon even has his own version of the evangelicals’ Armageddon, one that explains the dark message of Trump’s inaugural “American carnage” speech that he worked on. Ronald Radosh says that Bannon told him, “I’m a Leninist. Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”
That is not quite true. Bannon thinks the establishment is crumbling on its own, which is why Trump calls everything preceding his glorious arrival a “disaster.” In Generation Zero Bannon said that a cataclysm is already in process. In two books he admires and promotes, and on which he based Generation Zero, two amateur historians, William Strauss and Neil Howe, argued that each country gets four cataclysmic “turnings” when the status quo falls apart and a new order has to be invented or imposed. America has used up three of its turnings (the Revolution, the Civil War, the Great Depression) and its last has already begun. “The end is near.” No wonder Trump can disregard experts in places like the State Department—their demise is being taken care of by history.
Trump has been accused of being drawn to Alex Jones–style conspiratorial theories. Bannon assures him it is something grander than that. They are instruments of a great historical destiny. A do-it-yourself politics like the do-it-yourself religion of the evangelicals is the only thing to rely on in the crash of our ultimate turning. It looks less and less odd that 81 percent of evangelicals voted for Trump. They know what End Time sermons look like.
Given these apocalyptic developments in the time between FitzGerald’s finishing her book and its publication, there is a certain wry poignancy to her final pages. She drops hints (hopes?) that the cycle of periodic revivals may have finally exhausted itself. She says that the evangelicals’ numbers are declining, that they no longer have national leaders or organization. Millennials, “the largest of all living generations,” are not drawn to their preachers. Does that mean that we may not have to ask, in the future, “Where did these people come from”?
THE NATION Q&A:
Jon Wiener: Some basic facts: How many people in the United States today call themselves Evangelical?
Frances Fitzgerald: I think it’s about 20 percent.
JW: And how many of the white evangelicals voted for Trump?
FF: 81 percent.
JW: Trump does not go to church. Do evangelicals care about that?
FF: Of course they care, but sometimes other things are more important to them: the Republican platform, and what Trump has promised them—as opposed to the Democrats, who have never been terribly sympathetic to their policy desires.
JW: Why do evangelicals even care about public policy in America? Why do they care about the Republican platform? Isn’t God’s kingdom the one that matters? Isn’t the task of evangelicals to get right with the Lord, and not with Donald Trump?
FF: Some evangelicals say that, and there’s been great criticism of Trump from some of the leading evangelicals. But like everyone else in this country, evangelicals are affected by government policies. Trump has already appointed something like five people, including his vice president, who are part of the Christian right.
JW: It seems like today’s evangelicals emerged in response to what you call the long 1960s, to what we might call the sins of the ’60s, especially feminism and gay liberation.
FF: That’s certainly fair to say. But in the background is their economic conservatism.
JW: Do they really care about tax cuts for the rich or cutting back government regulations on business? Is that something that Jesus has spoken about to them?
FF: Jerry Falwell said it was in the Book of Parables, but I don’t think that everyone thinks that way. There was a real split this time between the pastors and the laity. A poll done by an evangelical group called LifeWays found that the pastors tended to vote on religious issues: “religious freedom,” justices of the Supreme Court. Lay people voted on the economy and national security.
JW: We’re talking as if evangelicals have always focused on the Republican platform, but this wasn’t always a Republican thing. Jimmy Carter was a born-again Christian. Did evangelicals vote for Jimmy Carter?
FF: They voted for him the first time, in 1976, as one of their own, which he certainly was, but not the second time, in 1980, because they felt that he had become a liberal. They were looking for somebody more sympathetic to their causes, and they found it in Reagan—who wound them around his little finger.
JW: In the recent Republican primary there were some candidates who really were evangelicals: Ted Cruz, for example. Why did the white evangelicals go for Trump rather than for Ted Cruz or one of the other people who was more closely identified with their religious views?
FF: That surprised a lot of people, particularly after the leaders of the religious right came together and decided to endorse Ted Cruz. But evangelicals voted for Trump anyway. They were not listening to the people who used to be able to tell them how to vote. As I said, they voted on economics and foreign policy.
JW: Young evangelicals today care only about one issue: abortion. But the Bible doesn’t really have anything much to say about abortion. How come abortion has emerged as the millennials’ big issue?
FF: It’s been growing ever since the beginning of the ’80s. In the past it was not much of a concern to evangelicals, most of whom were like liberal Protestants, supporting what they called therapeutic abortions—abortion in the case of rape or incest, but also harm to the mother. The harm included psychological harm, so that could mean almost anything. What they didn’t like was what they call abortion on demand, which is what Roe v. Wade protects.
Abortion had always been a Catholic issue, and evangelicals couldn’t stand the Catholics. It took years to convince them that abortion was murder, as the Catholics said. Then they became more Catholic than the Catholics on this issue, because it connected with what they saw as part of the destruction of the patriarchal family, which they have been supporting all these years.
KIRKUS STARRED REVIEW
Another superb work by renowned but long-absent political journalist FitzGerald (Vietnam: Spirits of the Earth, 2002, etc.), this one centering on the roiling conflict among American brands of Christianity.The author opens with a brief revisitation of a moment when progressive evangelicalism seemed ascendant: the presidential campaign of Jimmy Carter, which soon gave way to a reborn kind of hidebound Christianity in the form of the anti-humanist Christian right, "declaring holy war against ‘secular humanism' and vowing to mobilize evangelicals to arrest the moral decay of the country." Thus ever it has been, from the burned-over revivalism of the 19th century to the latest religio-revanchisms from Colorado Springs or Lynchburg. By FitzGerald's account, this revival of the right truly has been a revival, for after the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925, "most informed people thought fundamentalism dead." However, through rightists such as Billy Graham, fundamentalism was reborn as a political force. FitzGerald traces the culture wars that have since riven the country to the divisions between liberal and right-wing visions of Christianity as well as larger elements of society. In the 1960s, she notes, "most conservative Christians were horrified by the counterculture, but a number of young evangelical ministers, most of them Pentacostals, saw the potential in it for conversions." Granted that many of the converted became conservative themselves and that the Christian right is, in the author's view, mostly a reaction against the social revolution of that era, what has happened since is truly fascinating: the right wing of evangelical American Christianity has made a devil's bargain with politicians such as the sitting president, who claimed the Bible as his favorite book but "did not seem to remember even a verse of it." In making that bargain, it also may be making a last stand, since millennials are abandoning religion in droves, and those who do go to church are "on the whole more sympathetic with progressive positions than with those of the right." Overflowing with historical anecdote and contemporary reportage and essential to interpreting the current political and cultural landscape.
Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and historian FitzGerald (Fire in the Lake) provides a compelling narrative history of “the white evangelical movements necessary to understand the Christian right and its evangelical opponents.” Dispatching pre-20th-century events in the first three chapters, and the period from 1900 to 1945 in just two more, FitzGerald focuses most closely on evangelical culture and politics from the rise of Billy Graham through the Obama presidency. She skillfully introduces readers to the terminology, key debates, watershed events, and personalities that have populated the history of white American evangelical Protestant culture in the last half-century. She explains issues such as fundamentalism, biblical inerrancy, Christian nationalism, civil religion and anticommunism, the charismatic movement, and abortion, and introduces such diverse figures as Karl Barth, Jerry Falwell, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Pat Robertson. Also present, though less prominently featured, are members of the evangelical left, such as Ron Sider and James Wallis. Attention to intraevangelical theological and political differences is especially welcome at a time when evangelical and even Christian have become stand-ins for the Christian right. A substantial bibliography and endnotes will assist readers who wish to delve more deeply into specific topics. This is a timely and accessible contribution to the rapidly growing body of literature on Christianity in modern America. (Mar.)