History of the Religious Right

A respectful and honest account of the history of the religious right.

history of the religious right podcast series

The religious right, or the Christian right, has been one of the most formidable political forces of the last 20th and early 21st century. They came to prominence in the public eye in the 1980s with the Moral Majority during the presidency of Ronald Reagan. By the time of President George W. Bush, they were a key voting block for Republican candidates. This movement was central to the rise of the culture wars in the 1990s all the way to the present. Most recently this group was instrumental in the election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States.

This podcast series tells the history of the religious and Christian right from before World War II to the present. Unlike many sources available online today this series does not exist to simply criticize the movement but to recognize the good intentions and motives that helped in bringing it about. Upon taking power in American politics however, something seemed to shift. JB Shreve looks at the rise of the religious right and where things went wrong in his view.

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Part 1 – Before We Were Republicans 

The origin of Christian involvement in American politics has a longer history than most people realize but it probably does not begin where you would imagine. Episode 1 of this series on the history of the religious right in America examines early 20th-century Christian involvement in politics. Some of the most devoted and progressive Christians in American politics in the early 20th century would not even be allowed in the Republican party by today’s standards.

This introductory episode to my podcast series on the History of the Religious Right starts with an explanation of the approach I am taking to this series. This is not a podcast series designed to ridicule or denounce the religious right. This is a respectful, honest and well-researched view of one of the very powerful and influential phenomena of American politics in the second half of the 20th century to today. I once considered myself a part of the religious right and I still respect the original intents and objectives of this political group.

In this episode, we will look at figures such as Jane Adams and William Jennings Bryan. The original representatives of the religious right in American politics (they did not call themselves by that terminology of course) would have been classified as progressives and even liberals in their own time. They represented a values-based approach to American politics. Those values were centered around faith and valuing human life.

Part 2 – The Christian Nation, America in the 50s

There is a reason why American conservatives and Christian conservatives look back to the 1950s as the golden age of America. The 1950s were the closest thing America has ever been to being a Christian nation by the standards most modern religious conservatives offer. In the 1950s the forces of anti-communism and pro-Americanism easily merged with a “God Bless America” message to help establish the religious right in American politics.

This episode looks at the rise of Billy Graham and a Christian America that took shape after World War II. This was conveniently correlated to a rising opposition to Soviet Union communism and the atheist principles that supported this ideology. The polarization of the Cold War, McCarthyism, and other concepts all worked to support the idea of a Christian America.

The question, “Is America a Christian nation” had not really been asked before this time. In the 1950s, the question was asked and the answer from Christian conservatives in America was a definitive yes.

Part 3 – Christian American Undone, the Turbulent 60s & 70s

The idea of a Christian America began falling apart in the 1960s. For the religious right the 1960s and 70 answer the question, when did America stop being a Christian nation.

The social turbulence of this time period actually worked to solidify the religious right as a movement and political force beyond anti-Communism. This episode is about the undoing of America and the coming together of the Christian right.

The 1960s were not a culture war. They were a cultural shock and awe invasion by the radical left – at least that is the way it looked in the eyes of Christian conservatives. This is part 3 in my podcast series on the History of the Religious Right.

In this episode, we look at the beginning of the battles over prayer in schools and several other key Supreme Court decisions from the 1950s through the 1960s. By the end of the 1960s Richard Nixon was learning how to leverage these social and cultural divides to his own power interests. In doing this he helped birth the religious right as we know it today.

For the religious right, the answer to the question “When did America stop being a Christian nation” is found in the 1960s and 70s.

Part 4 – A Born Again President and the Moral Majority

After the tumult of the 60s and Watergate, Americans were burnt out by the mid 1970s. Jimmy Carter entered the scene as America’s first born again president. He wouldn’t be good enough for the standards of the religious right and the newly formed organization of the moral majority.

Jimmy Carter was the first American president who claimed to be “born again.” But few members of the Religious Right would claim him as their representative or ideal President. This episode looks at the different versions of political Christianity presented by Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. We also look at the rise of the Moral Majority, a powerful Christian political organization that began organizing and codifying the ideals and ideologies of the religious right.

This episode also looks at the rise of Jerry Falwell in the 1970 and 80s through the Moral Majority and counters some of the popular myths about where the religious right came from.

Part 5 – Culture Wars of the 1990s

The 1980s saw great prominence for the rise of the religious right. The beliefs and politics of this group transitioned from a subculture to the mainstream and set the stage for the Culture Wars of the 1990s.

This episode looks at the presidency of Ronald Reagan, the candidacy of Pat Robertson and the rise of the Religious Right in the 1980s. The culmination arrives in 1992 with the onset of the culture wars at the 1992 Republican Convention.

Part 6 – End of the Christian Right

This final episode in our series looks at how the religious and Christian right lost its influence in America. Picking up with the culture wars in the 1990s and continuing through to today we look at how the years of greatest strength for the religious right ended up exposing massive vulnerabilities. This is where the religious right ends.

The end of the religious right was not about losing political struggles and battles. It was about political priorities overcoming the original values and principles that the members of the religious right believed in.

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JB Shreve is the author of "How the World Ends: Understanding the Growing Chaos." He has been the host of the End of History podcast since 2012. He has degrees in International Relations and Middle East Studies. His other books include the Intelligence Brief Series. Regular posts and updates from JB Shreve are available at www.theendofhistory.net