Reagan’s Religious Right: The Unlikely Alliance between Southern Evangelicals and a California Conservative

  • Daniel K. Williams
Part of the Studies of the Americas book series (STAM)


When leaders of an emerging Christian Right began campaigning for Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan in 1980, some evangelicals expressed dismay at this seemingly incongruous alliance. Reagan, after all, was a divorced Hollywood actor who, as governor of California, had signed into law one of the nation’s most liberal abortion bills only thirteen years earlier. Why would evangelicals who wanted to bring America back to “traditional values” campaign for a candidate whose cultural and political background reflected the influence of the secular forces that they denounced? “It would disturb me if there was a wedding between the religious fundamentalists and the political right,” evangelist Billy Graham told Parade magazine in February 1981. “The hard right has no interest in religion except to manipulate it.”1


Republican Party Reagan Administration Moral Majority Religious Conservative Social Conservative 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Marguerite Michaels, “America is not God’s Only Kingdom,” Parade, February 1, 1981, 6.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Several historians and biographers, including James Patterson, John Ehrman, and Lou Cannon, have correctly pointed out Reagan’s lack of attention to the Christian Right’s legislative program. See James T. Patterson, Restless Giant: The United States from Watergate to Bush v. Gore (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 177.Google Scholar
  3. John Ehrman, The Eighties: America in the Age of Reagan (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2005), 178.Google Scholar
  4. and Lou Cannon, President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1991), 812–813.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Donald H. Gill, “Will the Bible Get Back into School?” Eternity, May 1964, 10.Google Scholar
  6. Bill Rose, “Reagan Charts Course,” Oakland (CA) Tribune, March 25, 1967.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Tim Miller and Tonda Rush, “God and the GOP in Kansas City,” Christianity Today, September 10, 1976, 59.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Lisa Myers, “The Christian Right: New Wave in Politics,” Washington Star, July 7, 1980.Google Scholar
  9. Bruce Nesmith, The New Republican Coalition: The Reagan Campaigns and White Evangelicals (New York: Peter Lang, 1994), 40.Google Scholar
  10. 9.
    James Mann, “Preachers in Politics: Decisive Force in ’80? ” U.S. News and World Report, September 15, 1980, 24.Google Scholar
  11. 10.
    Rosemary Thomson, “Jerry Falwell: ‘Let’s Love America,’” Christian Life, September 1980, 37.Google Scholar
  12. 14.
    Billy James Hargis, “A Communist World: Must it Be?” Christian Crusade, October 1964, 34.Google Scholar
  13. Ronald Reagan, “A Time for Choosing,” October 27, 1964 Scholar
  14. 15.
    Ronald Reagan, “Intent to Run for President,” New York, November 13, 1979 ( Scholar
  15. 17.
    David Finkel, “Hundreds Praise Preacher’s Prayer,” Tallahassee Democrat, March 4, 1980.Google Scholar
  16. 18.
    Steven V. Roberts, “Reagan, in Chicago Speech, Urges Big Increases in Military Spending,” New York Times, March 18, 1980.Google Scholar
  17. 19.
    Sally Saunders, “Reagan Agrees to Debate in State,” Greenville News, January 31, 1980.Google Scholar
  18. 20.
    William Martin, With God on our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America (New York: Broadway Books, 1996), 168–199.Google Scholar
  19. David E. Rosenbaum, “Conservatives Embrace Reagan on Social Issues,” New York Times, April 21, 1980.Google Scholar
  20. Howell Raines, “Reagan Backs Evangelicals in their Political Activities,” New York Times, August 23, 1980.Google Scholar
  21. Helen Parmley, “Religious Conservatives Launch Bid to Influence Presidential Politics,” Religious News Service, August 25, 1980, “Moral Majority” folder, Weniger Files, BJU.Google Scholar
  22. 21.
    Rosemary Thomson, Withstanding Humanism’s Challenge to Families: Anatomy of a White House Conference (Morton, IL: Traditional Publications, 1981), 139, 141; Rosenbaum, “Conservatives Embrace Reagan.”Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Bruce Buursma, “Evangelicals Give Reagan a ‘Non-partisan’ Stump,” Christianity Today, September 19, 1980, 50.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    James Mann, “Preachers in Politics: Decisive Force in ’80?” U.S. News and World Report, September 15, 1980, 24.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Anthony Lewis, “Religion and Politics,” New York Times, September 18, 1980; Rosenbaum, “Conservatives Embrace Reagan.”Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Gary Scott Smith, Faith and the Presidency: From George Washington to George W. Bush (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 331–336.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Phil Gailey, “Charitably Speaking,” New York Times, January 22, 1982; Raines, “Reagan Backs Evangelicals.”Google Scholar
  28. 30.
    Matthew C. Moen, The Christian Right and Congress (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1989), 100.Google Scholar
  29. 31.
    Edwin Warner, “New Resolve by the New Right,” Time, December 8, 1980, 27.Google Scholar
  30. 32.
    Smith, Faith and the Presidency, 339; Michelle McKeegan, Abortion Politics: Mutiny in the Ranks of the Right (New York: Free Press, 1992), 66–67.Google Scholar
  31. Marjorie Hyer, “‘Christian Right’ Optimistic: Seeking a Born-Again America,” San Francisco Chronicle, January 31, 1981.Google Scholar
  32. 33.
    Jon Margolis, “The American Conservatives’ Two Faces,” Chicago Tribune, July 12, 1981.Google Scholar
  33. Adam Clymer, “Right Wing Seeks a Shift by Reagan,” New York Times, September 6, 1981, 20.Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    “Bush Lauds Christians’ Role,” New York Times, June 14, 1982; Baptist Press, “Bush Endorses Religious Right,” Southern Baptist Advocate, August/ September 1982, 4.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Howell Raines, “Reagan Endorses Voluntary Prayer,” New York Times, May 7, 1982.Google Scholar
  36. Jerry Falwell, Direct Mail, February 29, 1984, “Moral Majority—— School Prayer, Feb./March 1984” folder, People for the American Way, Washington, D.C.Google Scholar
  37. 36.
    Ronald S. Godwin, “Symbols Wear Thin,” Moral Majority Report, August 1982, 2.Google Scholar
  38. Charles Austin, “Religious Right Growing Impatient with Reagan,” New York Times, August 16, 1982.Google Scholar
  39. Ronald Reagan, Abortion and the Conscience of a Nation (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1984); McKeegan, Abortion Politics 66; Smith, Faith and the Presidency 593; Jerry Falwell, Moral Majority direct mail, September 2, 1986, folder 4, MOR 1–5, Liberty University Archives, Lynchburg, VA.Google Scholar
  40. 37.
    Jerry Falwell, “A Bystander—How Not to Be One,” Christian Life, October 1983, 24.Google Scholar
  41. 39.
    Ellen M. Rosenberg, The Southern Baptists: A Subculture in Transition (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1989), 183.Google Scholar
  42. 40.
    John Rees, “The Religious Right’s Dr. Tim La Haye,” Review of the News, August 8, 1984, 36–37.Google Scholar
  43. 44.
    Jerry Falwell, “A Hero’s Story,” Liberty Report, May 1988, 3–4; Jerry Falwell, Moral Majority Direct Mail, June 1988, “Moral Majority—Fundraising Iran/Contra 1988” folder, PFAW.Google Scholar
  44. 46.
    E.J. Dionne, Jr., “Voters Delay Republican Hopes of Dominance in Post-Reagan Era,” New York Times, November 10, 1988.Google Scholar
  45. 47.
    Martin Mawyer, “Strength, Savvy of the New Right Scares Liberals,” Moral Majority Report, November 1984.Google Scholar
  46. 48.
    Dale Buss, Family Man: The Biography of Dr. James Dobson (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2005), 88, 154–155, 170.Google Scholar
  47. 49.
    John Dillin, “US Conservatives on the March: Religious Right Optimistic,” Christian Science Monitor, March 19, 1986.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Cheryl Hudson and Gareth Davies 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniel K. Williams

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations