What the Religious Right Got Wrong: Evangelicalism (1945 - 1960)

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This is a podcast episode titled, What the Religious Right Got Wrong: Evangelicalism (1945 - 1960). The summary for this episode is: <p>This week's episode is the first of a three-part series about the rise of the religious right. Today, we focus on Evangelicalism as we go through history to discuss what it means to be evangelical and why it can be both theological and political. We then dive right into what led evangelical Christians to become political and the effect of the Supreme Court ruling that stated it's unconstitutional to have state-led prayers in public schools. Listen now!</p>
What's it mean to be an evangelical?
02:55 MIN
Is the topic of abortion what led to the right of the Christian right?
05:02 MIN
When did America become a Christian nation?
02:21 MIN
Billy Graham and anti-communism
05:45 MIN
The Eisenhower Administration - The Christianization of America
03:05 MIN
Supreme Court ruling: It's unconstitutional for state-led prayers in public schools
05:13 MIN

Keith Simon: Are you tired of tribalism?

Jason Whitlock: I think a lot of what the left supports is satanic.

Alexandria Ocasio Cortez: The only time religious freedom is invoked is in the name of bigotry and discrimination.

Patrick Miller: Are you exhausted by the culture war?

Donald Trump: If they don't like it here, they can leave.

Hillary Clinton: You could put half of Trump's supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables.

Keith Simon: Are you suspicious of those who say Jesus endorses their political party?

Farron Cousins: Is it possible to be a good Christian and also be a member of the Republican party? And the answer is absolutely not.

John MacArthur: From certainly a biblical standpoint, Christians could not vote Democratic.

Patrick Miller: We trust the lamb, not the donkey or the elephant.

Keith Simon: This is the podcast that's too liberal for conservatives and too conservative for liberals.

Patrick Miller: I'm Patrick Miller.

Keith Simon: And I'm Keith Simon. And we choose truth over tribe.

Patrick Miller: Do you?

Dan: Hey, Keith. Who put the" evil" in evangelicalism?

Keith Simon: "Evil" in evangelicalism?

Dan: It's in there. E- V- I and L.

Keith Simon: Wow, I never got that before.

Patrick Miller: Yeah. Well, if you were a reader of the signs, you would know the truth. And the truth would set you free.

Keith Simon: Astrology signs?

Dan: No, signs of the times. Left Behind stuff.

Keith Simon: I'm a Sagittarius. You?

Dan: I don't know what I am.

Keith Simon: Harry Styles had a great song, Sign of the Times.

Dan: Oh, it is a great song.

Keith Simon: Is he the guy who dresses up in girls' clothes?

Dan: Well, I think he's pansexual, all sexual? That's how I remember it.

Keith Simon: He likes sex all the time?

Patrick Miller: No, no, no. Pan crosstalk everything.

Dan: Yeah. You can put anything in a pan, you can put anything into your bed. That's how I remember it. crosstalk.

Keith Simon: Also," pan" is the Greek word for all and everything.

Dan: Oh, I like my version better. You can put whatever you want on a pan, you put whatever you want in your bed.

Keith Simon: That's really what you thought?

Dan: It's like a stir fry. It's a stir fry.

Patrick Miller: It's a sexual stir fry. Oh, that's good. Okay. No, I don't think that evangelicalism is evil, but we are beginning this journey answering the question. Do we want to be called evangelicals?

Keith Simon: Yeah. And whenever I first became a Christian and I heard the term" evangelical," I didn't even really know what it meant. I think I thought it just meant Christian.

Dan: That's what I thought too. I didn't know there was any other kind of Christian than an evangelical.

Patrick Miller: My favorite iteration of evangelical is Evan jellyfish. I don't even remember who said that.

Keith Simon: Doug Wilson, I think.

Patrick Miller: Was that Doug? Oh gosh. Yeah.

Keith Simon: You lost an excitement for it, I guess.

Dan: Okay. Sorry. I want to go back. Here's truly how I define evangelicalism. It's just, if you know this song(singing). Do you guys remember this one?

Patrick Miller: I know all the dance moves stiff.

Keith Simon: What's with the funky bass? It's like the Seinfeld bass.( singing).

Dan: Do you remember the movements?

Keith Simon: The movement?

Dan: crosstalk kids ministry?

Patrick Miller: I didn't grow up in...

Dan: Yeah, me neither. Well, you would like, from the grave, you would... I've asked that every week-

Keith Simon: You dig a grave?

Dan: Yeah, you dig a grave and then crosstalk-

Patrick Miller: They know that in ancient Israel, they didn't bury people. Right?

Dan: Well, I don't think it's theologically sound.

Keith Simon: Private school Patrick is ruining this moment. Give us a little history lesson, bro.

Patrick Miller: I've asked our worship leaders," Did you tell those children's ministry dummies that they didn't bury people in Israel?"

Keith Simon: Dan, you were remarkably normal for the house you grew up in.

Patrick Miller: I know.

Dan: I mean, homeschooled two years.

Keith Simon: I know. And you, you came out normal and still involved in church and follow Jesus.

Dan: Yeah.

Patrick Miller: Wow.

Keith Simon: Right? Because I mean, most people would've-

Patrick Miller: We should do a whole podcast on that.

Keith Simon: On just your life.

Dan: Thank you. crosstalk.

Keith Simon: How do you go from homeschooled fundamentalist crazy thief- in- the- night to normal, mature, fun-

Patrick Miller: His parents are going to listen to this podcast. They'll be like,"What the heck?"

Dan: Yeah. They listen to it every time. Sorry, Dad. Sorry, Mom. We love you.

Keith Simon: Shout out.

Patrick Miller: I don't think you were crazy. I know Dan's parents, I like them both, they're wonderful people and that's probably part of why Dan's in a great place. Boom.

Dan: Okay, I'm sorry. I feel like I've been chastised.

Patrick Miller: Yeah. Yeah. Okay. Here we go. So as we're talking about this question, maybe my intro into it is that over the last year, two years, even, I've had a lot of people ask me," What happened to you?" And what they mean whenever they say that? Well, they actually usually mean one of two things. They're either asking me," When did you become so liberal?" And then they might also mean, depending on who I'm talking to," When did you become so conservative?" And it seems to me, when I get these questions, that my evangelical bonafides are being thrown into question.

Keith Simon: And they're being thrown into question because, I guess, of political and cultural things, right?

Patrick Miller: Political and cultural things, by the way that I don't think I've moved on.

Keith Simon: So when people ask you if you have gotten to be too liberal, I guess they're thinking of things, that you acknowledge systemic racism, or that you think that maybe we need to do more to think of the poor, or that you are anti war.

Patrick Miller: Yeah. I talk about poverty and someone tells me," You're a full- blown Marxist," and I go," What? What? No, I'm not a Marxist."

Keith Simon: I had somebody I ate lunch with and they asked me from... You know where this is going. I swear to God they ask me," So Patrick's a communist, right? Just a full communist." And I looked at him like," No, I don't think I share an office with a communist."

Patrick Miller: But I've had it go the opposite direction, where I've had people come up to me and they said," Well, when did you get so conservative? You seem to really care about sexual ethics all of a sudden and LGBT issues. When did that happen?" And I go," What? Nothing's changed."

Keith Simon: Or people think maybe if you don't think the United States is a completely Christian nation. Oh, that's a big one.

Patrick Miller: Or if I say that someone who voted for Donald Trump might not be a racist.

Keith Simon: Trump broke everything, didn't he? I mean, not Trump, but the whole Trump phenomena just, it all fell apart.

Patrick Miller: It was an earthquake. It created these fractures between evangelicals and where you fell on the fault lines, whether you voted for Donald Trump or you voted for Hillary Clinton, or you voted for someone else, or you didn't vote for anyone at all, all of a sudden it was putting you into particular evangelical camps. And everybody's looking at each other saying," Well, when did you change?"

Keith Simon: What I want to say to people back is," What happened to us?" Like," What happened to you? When did winning a political war become more important than your witness for Jesus? When did you decide you were going to accept the offer of Satan to have all the kingdoms of this world in exchange for worshiping earthly power? What happened to turning the other cheek? What happened to compromise? When did you start compromising your convictions on behalf of a political candidate? When did you start caring more about politics than you did the kingdom of God?" I don't think you and I have changed; I think the world around us has changed. Now, maybe everybody thinks that, maybe we've all changed, I don't know. I'm just saying these are the questions that we've been asked and they're issues that we've had to think through. Do we want to be called evangelicals? What is an evangelical?

Patrick Miller: Well, what it's revealed to me personally, is that this word" evangelical," which I used to always think of as not just an identity marker, but when I called myself an evangelical, I thought it meant that I had a certain set of theological presuppositions, theological ideas. So I would've said that being an evangelical means that you keep Jesus at the center of everything. Being an evangelical means that you believe that the Bible is God's word; it's authoritative, it's inspired. It means that we should have a missional attitude; evangelize people. Tell them about Jesus. It means a lot of different things, but that's what I thought it meant to be an evangelical. But then after the Donald Trump era and you got evangelicals dividing over politics, it started making me ask the question: Was it actually the case that evangelicalism was more of a political identity, and that the subtext behind all of this was that it wasn't just that we shared ideas about Jesus, we shared a particular set of politics and policies, and when those started dividing, we can no longer be in the same big tent?

Keith Simon: All right. So just to be really clear on what an evangelical is, I think Patrick got it. There are different definitions out there, but they're around Jesus and the Bible and believing that you need to be born again to be a Christian, things like that.

Patrick Miller: Social activism historically also included.

Keith Simon: But if you think about it, an evangelical could belong to a Lutheran church, a Methodist church, a Baptist church-

Patrick Miller: With Catholic evangelicals.

Keith Simon: ...non- denominational church. So" evangelical" was a way of grouping Christians across lost denominations who believed in a certain set of ideals. They had a certain conviction. And it separated them from what you would think of as either fundamentalists on one side or liberals on the other side. And liberals were people who had left the authority of the Bible and left the deity of Christ, the exclusivity of Christ, and fundamentalists were people who, well, they were angry.

Patrick Miller: Well, they broker no deals." My precise way of thinking about the Bible, theology, how we should live in conjunction with the world, is the right way. And if you disagree with me, get off the boat because there's no space for you."

Keith Simon: Yeah, it was," I want to separate from you." One way of thinking about it, evangelical versus a fundamentalist is the evangelical liked Billy Graham and a fundamentalist didn't, because Billy Graham was too willing to associate with a wide variety of people.

Patrick Miller: That's great. And when we think about what it means to be an evangelical, there is a historical route here. And if you're looking at American history and particular, evangelicalism, like Keith said, it brought together all of these streams of Christianity. You had the doctrine of Presbyterians, which was pretty serious, you had the warm interpersonal relationships and the warm relationship with God that you saw with Pietists and Methodists, you had the social activism, which was often present in Baptist churches. And so it was bringing together all of these streams under one big tent.

Keith Simon: But somewhere along the way," evangelical" went from being a term that people use to describe theological convictions, biblical convictions, to being something that was used to describe people of political convictions.

Patrick Miller: One thing that happened in the media, I mean, I remember even 10 years ago, people having debate. The media seemed to think that evangelical's a political identity, and then you have people like Tim Keller and others saying it's not about politics, it's about these shared convictions that we just listed out.

Keith Simon: I got resentful when people said it was a political identity.

Patrick Miller: Oh, me too.

Keith Simon: I thought," You don't know what you're talking about." And it turns out, I think I'm the one who didn't know what I was talking about, because we've been doing the deep dive into the history of evangelicalism, and more specifically, the history of the religious right, and trying to figure out, okay, where does the religious right as a political movement come from? And in the process of digging around, reading, studying, thinking, talking with people about it, what I've come to believe is that there's good reason to think of evangelical, both theologically and politically. Both of them are probably accurate.

Patrick Miller: And to be clear, we aren't saying that things have always been this way, that evangelicals have always had the same politics, that they've always supported the same parties. Right now we're talking about the movement as it exists today in the present. But that's not the way it always was. And to understand the present state of evangelicalism, we have to understand its past. Yeah. And what this press is against is the notion that movements do not change. I think about my little kids, for example, and my daughter thinks that every dad is exactly like me. So if I was an angry dad who yelled at her constantly, she would just assume that every dad was an angry dad who yelled at their kids constantly. If I am a nice dad who's kind and generous and present with her, then she's just going to assume that's the way every dad is. And sometimes that's how we come at history. We look at what evangelicalism is today, and we have this idea that it's this monolith that has existed for all time and hasn't changed. But the reality is that evangelicalism has transformed over centuries in America. And it's transformed a tremendous amount in the last 40 to 50 years as well.

Keith Simon: Yeah. If you just go back in the last century, what you find is that evangelicals changed their position on lots of things. Christian evangelicals used to be really suspicious of war. They wanted to stay out of World War I, or at least they themselves didn't want to go to war, they didn't want their kids, their brothers, their fathers to go to war, because they saw war and the military as very corrupting on people's morals. And they were afraid if their kids went to war, they would come back and have compromised their Christian convictions.

Patrick Miller: And venereal diseases.

Keith Simon: That too, because evidently that's bad. Is that bad where you live?

Patrick Miller: But I think that might blow people's mind, because now this merger between evangelism and being very pro military is just taken as a given, but we don't have to go back a hundred years to find many evangelicals who would've been on the other side of that position. Maybe another example, if you talk to a evangelical in the'50s, and you asked that person, should pastors, preachers, Christians, should they talk about politics? Should they be involved with politics? Most of them would've said," No, the job of the church is to win souls. We don't need to get involved with politics." But if you fast forward by 40 years, you're going to find a lot of evangelicals who say," Oh no, actually in reality, we should be involved. And by the way, if you go back 150 years, you're going to find people who say you should be. So that's a flip flop thing that's happened. Let's be involved, let's not be involved. Let's be involved, let's not be involved.

Keith Simon: And every movement's like this. I mean, if you just think of the Republican and Democratic party. There was a time when Republicans were the ones who were the champion of minority rights. Martin Luther king Jr.'s dad, Martin Luther king Sr., he was a Republican up until the Kennedys reach out to him in the early'60s and he flips. So, just think how much the black church went from being Republican to being Democrat. So what a group believed a hundred years ago isn't necessarily what they believe now.

Patrick Miller: Yeah. And 70 years ago, most Southern Christians, evangelicals, were registered Democrats. And so, again, we cannot think about history as though these monoliths have always existed because that's not how history actually works.

Keith Simon: So when we want to understand evangelicalism, but more importantly for this conversation we're having today, if we want to understand the rise of the religious right, what we need to do is we need to go back and see, okay, what's the genealogy here of the religious right? Where did it come from? It didn't just spring out of nothing. So what were the circumstances that led to its formation, to its creation? What were its values, and how have those changed?

Patrick Miller: Yeah. Okay. So you're making me think about, I've been reading The Chronicles of Narnia to my daughter Iris. She does not understand most of it, but highbrow, we start high in the Miller household.

Keith Simon: We're all shocked. We're all shocked.

Patrick Miller: And so the first book I read to her was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. So this is the classic one, you meet all the characters for the time. And the villain in it is the White Witch.

Keith Simon: Did you read this when you were a kid?

Patrick Miller: I have read all of them, of course.

Keith Simon: Well, I thought maybe it was too liberal for your house.

Patrick Miller: I was in a band in middle school and our band name was F2S which is short for Farewell to Shadowlands, which is the last chapter of the last book of the Chronicles of Narnia.

Dan: I thought you were going to call it The Chronic What? Cles of Narnia.

Patrick Miller: There we go. Yeah. So I'm reading her this book. Poor Keith. Keith is just sitting over here so confused.

Keith Simon: I read The Chronicles of Narnia to my kid. I'm not confused about that.

Patrick Miller: No, you're confused by our joke.

Keith Simon: I have no idea, but nobody else does either.

Dan: Oh, I assure you they do.

Patrick Miller: It's fundies. If you're an evangelical, you knew that weird worship song we just heard. If you're a millennial, you know what Dan just said. Okay. It's okay. That's why we bring Keith here. He adds history.

Dan: Boomers struggle.

Keith Simon: Could you shut up? I'm not a boomer.

Patrick Miller: Okay. So anyways, the villain in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is the White Witch. And we finished the book, and we've read several other ones, and now we've come to a book called The Magician's Nephew. Now, The Magician's Nephew is a prequel to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. And it tells you the story of how the White Witch came to Narnia. But it's a little bit tricky for a six year old, because she's never called the White Witch in The Magician's Nephew. She's called Jadis, she's called the queen, and so I'm trying to explain to her over and over again," Hey, this is the White Witch." And she goes," No, you're not right. That was in the other book." And I said,"No, no, no, no. This is how we get to the other book."" Oh no, no, no, no. That's just a different story." And I think, again, we're tempted to view history that way. We only know what happens in our moment in the story, and we ignore the prequel, but if you understand Narnia, you have to understand the prequel to understand what happens inside of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Dan: My parents made us read it in the correct order, in my opinion, where you start with Magician's Nephew.

Patrick Miller: No, I'm publication order.

Dan: Ah, that's very cool. You loved your child more. So the same kind of thing happens with Star Wars, right, when you watch them. Keith, have you watched Star Wars? The first... Well, what's now known as four or five and six? But they were the only ones we knew. What was the first one called? Just Star Wars, right? Then you had the Return of the Jedi and Empire Strikes Back. crosstalk.

Patrick Miller: ...my wife described star wars. No, no, no. The first one was originally called Star Wars, but then it was retitled, subtitled Star Wars: A New Hope. The second one is Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. And the third one is Return of the Jedi.

Dan: That was a long time ago.

Patrick Miller: And then retrospectively, George Lucas says," Actually, those are episodes four through six," and he comes out with episodes one through three, which is the prequel.

Keith Simon: I tried to watch one of those. It was so bad. I could not. I gave up at that point.

Patrick Miller: Hopefully this podcast isn't that bad, but that's what we're trying to do. We're trying to give the prequel and this podcast to the rise of the religious right. And we're trying to show how evangelicalism developed into what it is today. And again, if you want to understand where we are today, why we are who we are, why Christianity is what it is, you have to understand the history here. And I just find most Christians, myself included, by the way, up until very recently, are fairly illiterate in this history.

Keith Simon: Yeah. And so just to pull it all the way through, this is not only the prequel to Star Wars, it's The Magician's Nephew in The Chronicles on Narnia. It's The Hobbit in the Lord of the Rings. It's the behind- the- scenes story, what led up to what you think of as the main event? And I think if you asked people today, what led evangelical Christians, Bible believing, Jesus loving Christians, to get involved in politics? Why did they get involved back in the 1970s? What was it that galvanized them to come together and go to the polls and elect people... And they had never shown an interest in this before.

Patrick Miller: Yeah. Historically, a very apolitical movement.

Keith Simon: Had not come together as a voting bloc to say," Hey, we want to use our political weight to make a difference." What was it that caused evangelicals to come together and do that?

Patrick Miller: For myself, if you had asked me that question four or five years ago, I would've said abortion. Hands down, abortion had to be the issue that galvanized Christians to become political.

Keith Simon: Yeah. Everybody, I think, would've said that. And I am almost 100% convinced that that is absolutely false.

Patrick Miller: Let's do a little bit of history and then we're going to go even further back. We're trying to debunk the myth that I think a lot of people have that abortion is what led to the rise of the religious right.

Keith Simon: Okay. Before you do it, we're going to do it, but let's just say this. You don't know two more pro- life people than me and Patrick. You just don't. All right? So we're not talking about our convictions here.

Patrick Miller: This is history.

Keith Simon: What we're just talking about is how did this come together? We're not questioning evangelicals' commitment. No, to pro- life movement today. All we're doing is saying, how did evangelical Christians become so political? What led to it and what didn't lead to it?

Patrick Miller: So let's start here. 1973 is Roe versus Wade. And so you might assume that at this point, you've got all kinds of evangelicals, Protestant Christians, up in arms over what happened in the Supreme Court. But the reality is that wasn't the case. Evangelicals were remarkably silent during Roe versus Wade. At the time, it would've really been considered a Catholic issue. In fact, in 1976 Christianity Today, so this is three years after Roe versus Wade, it shows you that it's still being debated. They had a op- ed, which was titled Is Abortion a Catholic Issue? That's still up for grabs three years after Roe versus Wade.

Keith Simon: And you have to understand the divide between Protestants and Catholics was so intense, that if something was Catholic, Protestants just immediately went the other way. They just didn't want to have anything to do with it. So to label it a Catholic issue was to label it as the other side wants this.

Patrick Miller: Kind of like the left and right today. If Donald Trump says it, if you're on the left, you hate it. Right? And that's the way Catholics and Protestants acted together at that point.

Keith Simon: So in 1971, the Southern Baptist Convention, and by the way, they reaffirmed this in 1974, 1976 at their annual meetings, they say this:" We call upon Southern Baptist to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertain evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother."

Patrick Miller: It's hard to imagine an evangelical writing something like that today.

Keith Simon: And the Southern Baptist convention coming out as a collective group saying," Hey, abortion's okay in a lot of circumstances."

Patrick Miller: Yeah. Three years after Roe versus Wade. Another major leader in the Southern Baptist Convention, a guy named W. Barry Garrett said this:" Religious liberty, human equality and justice are advanced by the Supreme Court abortion decision." Now, I want to be clear what he was trying to say. Baptists have historically emphasized the separation between church and state. They did not historically want the state to legislate morality. And so while there still might have been Baptists who had moral disagreements with abortion, they thought it was a net positive that the government wasn't getting involved with it.

Keith Simon: Yeah. And there are lots of other leading religious figures of the day, W. A. Criswell, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, a historic Baptist church so that he never believed that a fetus became a human being until after the child was born. Carl F. Henry, who was the editor of Christianity Today and a hugely influential person in evangelicalism said this quote," A woman's body is not the domain and property of others."

Patrick Miller: James Dobson, who you'll know from Focus on the Family even today, and who is a major lay later voice who spoke out against abortion, but this is what he said in 1973. He said that the Bible was silent on matters of abortion. And he said it was plausible for an evangelical to believe, this is a quote, that" a developing embryo or fetus was not regarded as a full human being."

Keith Simon: Jerry Falwell, who you might know through his son, Jerry Falwell Jr., or his school, Liberty University, or you might know him as the founder of The Moral Majority, which built its reputation on being pro- life, he had never talked about abortion from the pulpit until 1978, 1978, five years after the Supreme Court decision.

Patrick Miller: Now, we're going to get more into the abortion thing. But what we're trying to debunk right now is not your pro- life position. Again, Keith and I are very strongly pro- life. What we are trying to say is that evangelicals and Protestants were incredibly late to the game. Catholics got this well before evangelicals ever did. But even more importantly, it was not the thing that motivated the rise of the religious right? The religious right is up and running and going before abortion's a thing. In fact, there's an author named Randall Balmer who talks about being in some of the early meetings of the religious right around Reagan. And he has quote after quote after quote of leaders in the movement saying abortion wasn't the thing, abortion, wasn't the thing, abortion wasn't the thing.

Keith Simon: So if it wasn't the thing, what was the thing?

Patrick Miller: Well, that's where we go next.

Keith Simon: Yeah. So, so before we go there, let's just make sure you get what we're saying and not saying. We're trying to say, how is it that evangelicals went from being apolitical, in other words, not involved in politics, not all voting together, to being in a position where they are reliably Republican? How did that happen? What's the history behind that? And you might say," Well, it's obvious. It's abortion." We're going," No." We're going to come back and talk abortion in another episode and get into all the details, but we are just going to puncture that right now and say," No, it wasn't abortion that led to it." So let's get into what did lead to it.

Patrick Miller: So I think maybe a good place to start is a related question. When did America become a Christian nation? Now, we're not going to get into the history of the founding of the United States. There's a lot of information and misinformation out there about the views of the founding fathers. Actually, this is really interesting, Keith, I don't know when the interview with John Mark Comer will come out, but he was telling me about a book by Rodney Stark. I really like Rodney stark. He's a sociologist.

Keith Simon: Mormon.

Patrick Miller: Yeah. He's an interesting guy.

Keith Simon: I think.

Patrick Miller: I'm not sure what his beliefs are.

Keith Simon: Baylor?

Patrick Miller: But yeah, he's at Baylor. And wasn't he an Avenger?

Dan: Wait, what?

Patrick Miller: Stark?

Dan: Oh, Tony Stark. Yeah. That's close. Sorry.

Patrick Miller: Just say Johnny Stark.

Dan: Rodney.

Patrick Miller: Rodney Stark. Just making sure.

Keith Simon: Yeah, no, sociologist.

Patrick Miller: Sociologist. And he made the case from the data that actually during the time of the founding, America was at its peak secular levels. At the founding, it was at its peak secularization levels up until today, that we're approaching that again today, and that we haven't seen anything in between. And people can say," Well, I don't believe that." All I can say is there were two great awakenings before and after the revolution. You don't have to wake up if you ain't asleep. It's just a fact, right? Let's think of that. So we're going to have John Fea on the show, or John Fee, who's written a lot on this topic.

Keith Simon: Let's figure out how to say his name before you get him on. I talked to historian here at the university, and he said that lowest church attendance was at the founding of the country.

Dan: Ding, ding, ding.

Keith Simon: As a percentage of the population, low church attendance, which is completely different than most people have. Most people have that everybody's in church and then we've secularized over time. That just doesn't quite square with the fact.

Patrick Miller: I always thought all the pilgrims were just like they have their hats on, they go to church. I saw that in movies and stuff. Not true?

Keith Simon: Well, some did, but the country was bigger than the pilgrims.

Dan: Than the pilgrims.

Patrick Miller: Shoot. crosstalk.

Dan: My childhood history is not great.

Patrick Miller: They got outvoted. But we don't want to start with the birth of America, we want to start at the moment at which, at least in our opinion, Americans really started to think of America as a Christian nation, as a special Christian nation. Now, I want to pause and say this. There have been Americans throughout American history who have thought of America as a Christian nation. The question is when did America as a cultural whole really begin to take on this identity of America as the Christian nation of God?

Keith Simon: So if abortion is not the way that the Christian right formed, how did it form? Who were the people involved? What were the key moments?

Patrick Miller: Tell us, Keith.

Keith Simon: That's what we want to get into now, is trying to figure that out and answer that question. And the way we want to do it is through a quiz. When I go to dinner with people, I know they probably hate it, but I love to throw out little quizzes and ask people questions.

Patrick Miller: That's called go out to dinner with Keith and he makes you feel stupid.

Keith Simon: I hope not, but maybe.

Patrick Miller: Can I have some background music to this quiz?

Keith Simon: Well, yeah. Let me set it up and then I don't know what you're going to do, but you can do whatever you want. But these are questions that I like to ask people on American history, because they sound like the kind of questions you should know the answer to, but it turns out no one does. All right, here we go. What is the official, oh, I like it, what is the official US motto, and when did it become the motto? Two. When was the Pledge of Allegiance last changed, and what was the change? Three, who was the only president baptized while in office? And last, when was the first National Prayer Breakfast? So, when you ask people those questions, those sound like the kind of questions they should know the answer to, and you can see it on their face, but they don't. They say all kinds of stuff, some closer than others.

Patrick Miller: Keith's the smart one. Tell us the answers, Keith.

Keith Simon: Well, all of them, let's just say this: Easiest to know-

Patrick Miller: You have to answer what is the answer?

Keith Simon: Oh, yes, because of the Jeopardy music?

Patrick Miller: Oh yeah.

Keith Simon: What is the 1950s?

Patrick Miller: They all take place in the'50s. Gotcha.

Keith Simon: They all take place in the'50s. And the first president to be baptized in office is President Eisenhower. And he's in office from 1952 to 1960. And all these other things happen while he is in charge.

Patrick Miller: What's the US motto?

Keith Simon: The US motto now is" In God we trust," and the pledge of allegiance when it was changed last in 1954, it was changed to add the phrase" under God."

Patrick Miller: So you're telling me that" In God we trust" hasn't been on my money since the founding of the country?

Keith Simon: Well, it hasn't.

Patrick Miller: I said my money as though I was there.

Keith Simon: So the historians out there, don't get mad at us. I know there was a time that it was on the money back in the early Roosevelt, Teddy Roosevelt, then it was taken off, then it was added officially to paper and coins in the 1950s. And it was officially made the US motto in the 1950s. And so there's this conception out there that America is a Christian nation. And I think what a lot of people have in mind are the 1950s, where it turns out there was this big embrace between the government and Christianity. It's like the government gave Christianity a big fat kiss.

Patrick Miller: Yeah. Something happened. Something tremendous in the 1950s which changed the American public's self- conception. We went from being just a nation to being the Christian nation. And let me just say this. That's not to say that there have not been Christians throughout history that have seen America as a special nation. Of course there have been Christians who saw America that way. The difference in the'50s is that America as a whole sees America this way. And to understand what happened, I think we need to go back to a guy named Billy Graham.

Keith Simon: Yeah. Billy Graham is an incredibly influential figure within not only the American church, but also within America culture. One of the reasons is because he's just a great person of integrity. So we want to say we respect Billy Graham.

Patrick Miller: Yeah. Tremendous respect for Billy Graham.

Keith Simon: He was used by God in a lot of ways. He had these big crusades all around, and...

Dan: Have you been to one of those crusades?

Keith Simon: No. I've never been to a Billy Graham crusade.

Dan: I've been to one.

Keith Simon: You have?

Dan: It was good. It was good.

Keith Simon: Where was it?

Dan: Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis.

Keith Simon: How old was he? He had to be old?

Dan: He was old. I was seven.

Keith Simon: Yeah? Did you walk the aisle?

Dan: Yeah. I'm pretty sure I remember. I just saw a lot of crosstalk. It was just the hype factor, man. You had to walk down.

Keith Simon: Yeah, you had snacks down there. It's not like crosstalk.

Patrick Miller: I too have been to a Billy Graham crusade, Arrowhead. Yeah.

Keith Simon: You guys are so religious.

Patrick Miller: Well, my mom became a Christian in fourth grade, and it was shortly after that, I remember her being really excited, understandably. I remember going and all I remember thinking is this was overblown. What is the big-

Keith Simon: Typical kid.

Patrick Miller: I know. I was totally cynical. I mean, if I went there now I would appreciate him.

Keith Simon: Well, you saw him in his older years, right?

Patrick Miller: He's obviously passed away, yeah.

Keith Simon: But when he burst on the scenes, it was 1949, it's in Los Angeles and he has this-

Patrick Miller: And he was fire. I mean, if you watch his preaching today, you're like...

Keith Simon: And he's really good looking.

Patrick Miller: He is a good looking guy.

Keith Simon: I mean, you're like," Wow, dude. You got it going on." Anyway.

Dan: I can't even imagine this. I only saw him as an old dude.

Keith Simon: Oh really? No, you got to watch in YouTube clips.

Dan: I'll Google it.

Keith Simon: So he's in'49, in Los Angeles, and 350,000 people have come to his crusade there over a period of weeks.

Patrick Miller: How did that happen?

Keith Simon: Well, he started slow. But a guy named William Randolph Hearst who owned a lot of magazines, journals, newspapers. He took a liking to Graham, because Hearst was a big anti- communist, and Billy Graham was big on anti- communism. I mean, he was partly preaching that along with Jesus at the revival. And so what happens is, is that Hearst sends one of his reporters over to the crusade with this command: Puff Graham. Puff Graham, not Puff Daddy, is there somebody named Puff Daddy? But puff Graham, because what he's saying is," Let's publicize this guy, let's elevate his stature," and that's exactly what happened.

Patrick Miller: So people might not realize that anti- communism was a big part of Billy Graham's message. This is a quote, I believe it's from that rally, but this is what he said:" Communism has decided against God, against Christ, against the Bible and against all religion. Communism is not only an economic interpretation of life; communism is a religion that is inspired, directed, and motivated by the devil himself who has declared war against God almighty."

Dan: Can I make a quick communism joke?

Keith Simon: There's a communism joke?

Dan: There is. Let's try this. Patrick, why do communists write everything in lowercase?

Patrick Miller: Dan, I don't think I know the answer to that.

Dan: Well, because they hate capitalism.

Patrick Miller: Wow. I wish I'd laughed crosstalk-

Keith Simon: You just became a dad and you're already killing the game, man.

Patrick Miller: Yeah. So he had a profoundly anti- communist message. Now, I want to set up the cultural context here. It's 1949. You've got GIs who've come back from World War II. They've spent time overseas where every day they had a mission, they had a purpose and they had an enemy to fight. They come back to America, and of course it's just normal life. And lo and behold, another power comes to rise, which is the communist state in Russia, the Soviet Union. Now, I want to be really clear. I am not a communist, nor am I the son of a communist.

Keith Simon: Somebody once asked me if you were a communist. I think they were serious too.

Patrick Miller: Yeah. Yeah.

Keith Simon: You're such a leftist.

Patrick Miller: Well, it happens. But here's the bigger picture. Communism was bad. Okay? The Russians were sending dissidents to gulags to be murdered by the millions. It was a anti- religious state so you could not be a Christian in the Soviet Union, at least not a Christian who wasn't a part of the state religion, which was completely devoid of what we would think of as authentic Christianity.

Keith Simon: Yeah. Communism was a bad thing. And so in the World War II, it ended by the Soviet Union coming down and taking in all of what we think of now as Eastern Europe.

Patrick Miller: Splitsies. We got part of Germany, they got part of Germany.

Keith Simon: You get some Germany. You get some Germany. So once the allies have defeated Germany and the access powers, now it's obvious that the opponent of America is going to be communism and the Soviet Union. And here's the thing: communism was godless and America embraced Christianity, which has God. Pro God. And so it didn't just become the United States versus Soviet Union, or even capitalism versus communism, it was God versus godlessness.

Patrick Miller: Yeah. And so you obviously heard the quote that I just read, but as the 1950s go on, all of these things begin to merge with one another. Anti- communism, being pro God, being pro America, because America was really viewed as the last bastion of democracy and freedom. In fact, at the time, the USSR had detonated a nuclear weapon and we were beginning nuclear proliferation. And it seemed as though Armageddon might be on the horizon.

Keith Simon: Yeah. That nuclear weapon was detonated right before Graham's crusade in Los Angeles. So everybody was hyped about it.

Patrick Miller: The bomb kind of jettisoned his career in a lot of ways. And again, it made sense from a Christian-

Dan: You mean to say it blew it up? Hey, dad joke number two.

Keith Simon: There we go.

Patrick Miller: Well, and it's worth saying, Graham had a theological perspective that there was going to be an Armageddon, a time where the world would be destroyed, Jesus would arrive and take all of his people away so they didn't have to suffer through it. And so it was easy to look at what was happening on the world's stage from Graham's perspective, and I don't agree with him on this, by the way, and say," Yeah, we're in the middle of that. America's rising up as a Christian nation, but we are on the cusp of losing it all."

Keith Simon: And now we need to introduce another person into the story. And that is President Eisenhower.

Patrick Miller: Can we call him Ike?

Keith Simon: Ike, and he was president from 1952 to 1960, two- term president. And one of the ways that he got recruited away from being a general in the army who executed D- Day and running for president... Isn't that what you call your birthday, Daniel? D- Day?

Patrick Miller: D- Day. Daniel's day.

Keith Simon: ...was through his relationship with Billy Graham. And Eisenhower comes into office not being from a particularly religious background. The military wasn't particularly religious at this stage in time. But through his relationship with Graham, he embraces Christianity. He comes to say that he was elected in order to help lead the country spiritually. He told Graham," We need spiritual renewal." And of course we mentioned earlier in the quiz that he was the first president baptized in office, he begins cabinet meetings with prayer. In fact, in his inaugural address, he opens it with a prayer. So what you is that Eisenhower begins to preside over the Christianing, if that's a word, it's not, but you get my point.

Patrick Miller: The Christianization.

Keith Simon: ...of America.

Patrick Miller: Yeah. Another example that fits into this: Eisenhower, he signed a document, which was drafted by the National Association of Evangelicals, which is funny on two levels that that organization still exists, and I don't know how many presidents have signed documents by them, but this is what it said. It said that the United States had been founded on the principle of the Holy Bible. Now, I think that that's a little bit of revisionist history, but again, it's fitting to this picture that he was helping create a civic religious order, where all of these things, capitalism, America, Christianity, were mergering together. And it was giving the GIs who'd come back from World War II a sense of purpose in their life." I need to raise a family, I need to have a good income and we need to do it so that America can be better than the USSR and defeat them, remain powerful to keep the world safe."

Keith Simon: And during the Eisenhower administration, there really is a religious revival. You might even call it a church revival.

Patrick Miller: Yeah. So to give you some examples here. Before World War II, church involvement usually hovered somewhere between 43% and 49%. But then, by the end of the'50s, in 1960, it had climbed to 69%. That is a enormous growth in church attendance.

Keith Simon: I wish we could get that now at our church. I'd take it.

Patrick Miller: During those same 15 years, 1945 to 1960, the US population grows by 19%, but church attendance goes up by 30%.

Keith Simon: But here's the thing about the religion of the United States in that time, is that it was Christian, but I don't know how deeply Christian it was. Eisenhower said this. He said," Our four of government is founded on a deeply religious faith. And I don't care what it is." So we need faith, but it doesn't really matter what the faith is, as long as we have a faith that we can all rally around.

Patrick Miller: Along the same lines, 80% of Americans at this time said that they believe the Bible was the revealed word of God, but only 47% can name a single author of the gospels.

Keith Simon: That's pretty brutal. Dan, can you name an author of the gospels?

Dan: I've got all of them. I've got all of them memorized. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, Acts and the letters to the... I knew a song.

Keith Simon: Ooh, a song.

Dan: Evangelicalism.

Keith Simon: So in the 1950s, there's this rise of God and country. There's this rise of religious involvement inside of churches. There's this embrace between the civic government and Christianity. And yet it's a little bit shallow. There's not a lot of depth to it. And there's some pretty big inconsistencies going on at this time. For example, how churches treat minorities, how churches interact with women. Now, we'll get into that in another episode, another conversation, but let's just say that it might be a mile wide image deep.

Patrick Miller: Yeah. This is what the scholars would call a civil religion. And, again, what we're not trying to do is say that there were no authentic followers of Jesus. There were plenty of authentic followers of Jesus. What we are trying to say is that America's self- conception was changing. We were no longer just a nation among many nations, we were a nation that was founded on the Bible, a nation which stood for God and stood against the godless, devilish, communists who threatened to destroy the world. That's the self- conception that develops during the 1950s. And when you hear people today saying things like," Make America great again," or even in the'60s and'70s wanting to go back to what America was, what they really don't mean is let's go back to 1776, or let's go back to the early 1800s. What they're saying is," I want to go back to the 1950s."

Keith Simon: Yeah. They think are going back to 1776 because that's where they've got the story of Christianity and America being united together. But what we're trying to show you is that that really happens in a collective sense, in a national sense, in the 1950s. So if the 1950s end with Christians feeling good about themselves and good at the state of the country, it's getting ready to all fall apart. Because we're hitting in the 1960s and it's all going to fall apart, and they've got a long way to fall because they're riding so high.

Patrick Miller: The freaking Beatles. In a few years later it's all about to fall apart. As you're talking about what people are thinking, I'm thinking about a conversation I had with someone who's a very sincere follower of Jesus, and didn't mean anything by this, but he was describing going to a rodeo. And he told me that at this rodeo, they sang the national anthem, they prayed together, they did the Pledge of Allegiance and everybody said," One nation under God" and they really meant it. And he said," Isn't that what it's all about? God and country and family? Shouldn't that be what we go back to?" And I'm a nice person, so I didn't correct him, but I thought," Well, no. I mean, there's nothing wrong with that maybe, but that goes back to the 1950s. You didn't have people praying and doing the Pledge of Allegiance and all these things and sporting events in this civil religion sense until that time period."

Keith Simon: Okay. So let's talk about how it all falls apart in the 1960s. And the first thing that happens that freaks everybody out-

Patrick Miller: Was it abortion?

Keith Simon: No, we're still a ways away from abortion. It is when the Supreme CourtT rules, in 1962, that it is unconstitutional for state- led prayer in public schools.

Patrick Miller: Okay. So let's try to be really clear about this in 1918. That's the first time that the United States mandates that all American citizens must get at least some elementary education. Now, this means that the state is both forcing children to have education, and it's paying for and overseeing it.

Keith Simon: Yeah. So in the 1950s, we said there's this vague God and country, in God we trust kind of religion. And then it begins to work its way into schools. But, the schools are locally controlled. And so, individual school does districts around the country were all doing their own thing. There's a Board of Regents in New York State that decided that they were going to write a prayer that the schools could recite at the beginning of each day. But each local school district could make that decision or not. But here's the prayer. Here's the prayer. Because this is what eventually Le leads to the Supreme court case and the kicking prayer out of schools. Or at least that's how it's framed. Here's the prayer. It's short. Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon thee, and we beg thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our country." Pretty innocuous prayer. Right?

Patrick Miller: Yeah.

Keith Simon: I mean, it's pretty vague. I mean, there's no Jesus in there, anything like that. And so there's a school district in Long Island that mandates that the school use this prayer. So like Patrick's saying, here we've got people that have to go to school, and now we're saying that they have to pray this prayer. And there was a group of people who resisted that. And that group sues. And one of the names-

Patrick Miller: We should pause and say why people would resist, because there were other people who resisted. Sometimes Catholics resisted because they thought that the prayers were too Protestant. Other times you had Jews or Quakers, people who didn't... well, in the Jewish case were worshiping a different God or in the case of the Quakers, they didn't like this church and state merger, the civic religion thing, so they didn't want to pray for their country in that public way.

Keith Simon: Yeah. And just to pick up on that, it was a group of Catholics and Jews who were mostly against this prayer. But all the Catholics backed out. So it ended up being five Jewish families. And the first one, alphabetically was Engel. That's the last name. And so this case became known as Engel versus Vitale. And Vitale was the president of the school board in the school district that decided everybody had to crosstalk-

Patrick Miller: I hope some day my name can be in a famous court case.

Keith Simon: I think you don't want that.

Patrick Miller: I think you're right. I take it back. I take it back.

Keith Simon: I think you don't want that.

Patrick Miller: I take it back.

Keith Simon: But you can see what the court is wrestling with, is how do protect people's freedom of religion, that they can worship whatever God or know God at all, while at the same time saying," Hey, look. Our money says,'In God we trust.' We pray before the opening of the United States Congress. Our Pledge of Allegiance says,'Under God.' So is it okay to mandate prayer in school just like it's on our money, and just like it's in our Pledge of Allegiance?"

Patrick Miller: The state is going to require my child to go to school. And I think that I have responsibility for my child's values, ideals, beliefs. Is that the state's responsibility to teach them a prayer? There's a legitimate case to be made here. I don't think it's crazy. But it gets overblown. People, Billy Graham being one of them, began to talk about God being banned from the United States. He said, I'll quote him," Followed to its logical conclusion, prayers cannot be said in Congress, chaplains will be taken from the armed forces," by the way, none of this stuff has ever happened," and the president will not place his hand on the Bible when he takes the oath of office."

Keith Simon: So in 1962, Engle versus Vitale, leads to the court kicking mandated prayer out of the public schools. Of course, anybody could pray privately if they wanted to pray. That's always been okay.

Patrick Miller: Students could lead prayers, it just couldn't be mandated by the state.

Keith Simon: Right. A state- written prayer. And everybody freaks out. And the media does a horrible job of covering it, which won't surprise anyone. But eventually, like Patrick says, it's overblown, the reaction, Billy Graham, everybody is all coming apart. But eventually, people like the Southern Baptist come to appreciate this. They look at it and say," Hey, look, do we really want a state writing a prayer for our kids?"

Patrick Miller: And there's nothing surprising there. I mean, again, this is where our lack of history often stops us. The there has been, in fact, if you went back to the early 1800s, do you want to know what the main theological debate was? It was between Christians who wanted state involvement in the church, usually that meant they wanted their local state, like Maryland, to establish their church as the official church of Maryland, turns out that's legal, by the way, most people don't realize that, and then other Christians who said," No. I don't want state funding, I don't want the state involved, because that's what leads to religious persecution." And Baptists have always historically been on the side of those who say," No, I don't want an established church." So it made perfect sense that Baptists would've said," Yeah, I don't want prayer in schools. We don't want the government entangled with our religion."

Keith Simon: So then the next year. So if everybody's freaking out because prayers taken out schools...

Patrick Miller: It's about to get worse.

Keith Simon: ...but they eventually calm down. They're like," Yeah, we don't want these people writing prayers." But like Patrick says, it is about to get worse...

Patrick Miller: Much worse.

Keith Simon: ...because in 1963, the United States Supreme Court rules in a case called Abington Township versus Schempp. They overturn a Pennsylvania law requiring teachers to read 10 Bible verses to their students at the start of each the day.

Patrick Miller: Do you think they just flipped the Bible open and did it at random?

Keith Simon: It was totally up to the teacher.

Patrick Miller: "Maybe let's just do the shortest ones to get through this as quickly as possible.'Jesus wept.' Next."

Keith Simon: "Next." And so, if you think people freaked out about the prayer, they really freaked out about the Bible reading, because in the prayer thing they could say," Hey look, we don't want the state writing prayers for our kids." But when it came to the Bible, that was just reading God's word. It wasn't asking the state to create anything. And so therefore they were far more upset about the Bible being kicked out than prayer kicked out.

Patrick Miller: So again, the reactions are, at times overblown, you have some people, this is a quote from the time," Will God's name be omitted from the flag salute and the Star Spangled Banner to appease the atheists?" And again, you can hear the communist threat lingering inside of this, because communism was an atheist...

Keith Simon: We're becoming like them. I mean, we're just becoming just like the communists.

Patrick Miller: So what's happening is that at the beginning of the 1960s, there is a secular, often academic, left wing, which is responding to what they saw as the religious incursions of evangelicals and Christians in general into public and civic life. And they're beginning to press back. And then in the 1960s, everything starts to change. So here's what we got coming up. Oh, thanks for the music, Dan. This makes me feel good. Here's what we got coming up. We've got anti- communism continuing, civil rights movement...

Keith Simon: Vietnam War.

Patrick Miller: Vietnam War. Equal rights movement, the ERA.

Keith Simon: The Pill.

Patrick Miller: School textbooks. If you don't know about school textbooks crosstalk assaulting-

Keith Simon: Moms get angry over the textbooks. Textbook moms.

Patrick Miller: I get really angry crosstalk. And we've also got abortion. And so what happens in these next two decades is the left's responding to what happens in the'50s, and then we get the right responding to that left. And that right is what becomes the religious right.

Keith Simon: Thanks for listening. If you found this podcast helpful, make sure to subscribe and leave a review.

Patrick Miller: And make sure it's at least five stars.

Keith Simon: Stop. No, just be honest. Reviews help up other people find us.

Patrick Miller: Okay, okay. At the very least, you can share today's episode, maybe put it on your social, your favorite text chain.

Keith Simon: And if you didn't like this episode, awesome. Tell us why you disagree on Twitter @ truthovertribe_. We might even share your thoughts in an upcoming newsletter.


This week's episode is the first of a three-part series about the rise of the religious right. Today, we focus on Evangelicalism as we go through history to discuss what it means to be evangelical and why it can be both theological and political. We then dive right into what led evangelical Christians to become political and the effect of the Supreme Court ruling that stated it's unconstitutional to have state-led prayers in public schools. Listen now!