The Rise and Fall of the Evangelical LeftPosted: May 28, 2014
The Fate of Progressive Evangelicalism
Shirley Hanson had little interest in politics. The suburban Minneapolis homemaker was committed to her family, serving in her local community, and, in particular, serving in her evangelical church. Aghast at the excesses of the late 1960s and early ’70s, she voted for Richard Nixon in 1968 and 1972 but then was disillusioned by the Watergate scandal. As the 1976 presidential election approached, she became intrigued with a relative new-comer to national politics, Jimmy Carter. The manner in which his faith was so much a part of his identity compelled her to think anew about her interest and possible involvement in politics.
When her three children returned to school that fall, Hanson went door-to-door in surrounding neighborhoods to generate votes for Carter. She then watched with considerable satisfaction that November as the peanut farmer from Plains, Georgia, was elected as the 39th President of the United States.
Fast forward four years. Hanson renounced her support for Carter and cast an impassioned vote for Ronald Reagan. She was not alone in her decision: a grinding recession, gasoline shortages, and a hostage crisis in Iran that deeply wounded American morale left Carter vulnerable.
In Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter, Randall Balmer, a noted commentator on America’s religious past and present who serves on the faculty at Dartmouth College, seeks to make sense of this turn of events, situating Carter in the long arc of progressive evangelicalism and in particular its vicissitudes during the ascendancy of the Religious Right, a period detailed so well by David Swartz in his recent Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism…(read more) Books and Culture
Reviewing the book “Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism”, in October 2012, For Christianity Today, Gregory Metzger writes:
In the Iowa caucuses of 1976, The New York Times reported on the surprising impact of a new force in American politics. This force propelled a relative unknown to victory in Iowa and eventually earned him the nomination of his party. The candidate was Jimmy Carter, the party Democratic, and the new political force evangelicals.
Carter’s shocking victory in Iowa would propel him to the Democratic nomination, and in the general election Carter would benefit from the active support of Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and Jimmy Allen, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, in his defeat of Republican Gerald Ford. Four years later evangelicals would prove to be a key plank in a Religious Right’s effort to defeat Carter and elevate Ronald Reagan to the presidency. A new book tells the dramatic story of the grassroots movements of the evangelical left that formed in the ’60s and ’70s and helped pave the way for Carter’s stunning victory, and explains the forces that would leave those movements in ideological retreat in the ’80s and ’90s. It’s a complicated story told with great skill and clarity by David R. Swartz in Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism (University of Pennsylvania Press).
[Order the book Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism from Amazon.com]
Swartz, assistant professor of history at Asbury University, did his studies at Notre Dame under the tutelage of first George Marsden and then Mark Noll, and his writing reflects the decades of careful evangelical scholarship that those two have pioneered. Swartz has produced a must read not only for those interested in American religion and politics, but also for students of global Christianity. In relatively short order (the book’s main text comes in at 266 pages), Swartz gives a richly textured narrative of some of evangelicalism’s brightest thinkers, most creative activists, and most controversial provocateurs.
In these pages legendary, now-deceased figures like Carl F. H. Henry, Mark Hatfield, and Francis Schaeffer come alive again in fresh perspective and telling anecdotes. Other individuals who are still with us—like John Perkins, Jim Wallis, and Samuel Escobar—are helpfully placed in the broader context of global events and evangelical controversies. And major evangelical institutions like InterVarsity, Calvin College, and Fuller Theological Seminary are woven into the story with a care and sensitivity sure to educate even their most dedicated supporters. The end result is a book that is both a pleasure to read and a conversation to join, regardless of the political or religious convictions of the reader…(read more) Christianity Today
Gregory Metzger is a freelance writer from Rockville, Maryland.
Todd C. Ream is professor of higher education at Taylor University and a research fellow with the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University. Drew Moser is the Director of the Calling and Career Office at Taylor University. Together they are writing a cultural biography of Ernest L. Boyer, who served under Jimmy Carter as the United States Commissioner of Education.
- The Real Origins of the Religious Right (politico.com)
- Jimmy Carter’s evangelical downfall: Reagan, religion and the 1980 presidential election (gyggrey.wordpress.com)
- The Age of Evangelicalism: An Interview with Steven P. Miller (usreligion.blogspot.com)
- The Not-So-Lofty Origins of the Evangelical Pro-Life Movement (religiondispatches.org)
- Evangelicals and the betrayal of American conservatism (dailycaller.com)
- Russell Moore Fears No Man (nationalreview.com)
- U.S. Army lists Evangelical Christianity, Catholicism, and “Islamophobia” as forms of “Religious Extremism” with Al-Qaeda and Hamas (jihadwatch.org)
- The coming crackup? Evangelicals and the GOP (dailycaller.com)