Red State Religion

Red State Religion: Faith and Politics in America's Heartland

Robert Wuthnow
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 488
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  • Book Info
    Red State Religion
    Book Description:

    No state has voted Republican more consistently or widely or for longer than Kansas. To understand red state politics, Kansas is the place. It is also the place to understand red state religion. The Kansas Board of Education has repeatedly challenged the teaching of evolution, Kansas voters overwhelmingly passed a constitutional ban on gay marriage, the state is a hotbed of antiabortion protest--and churches have been involved in all of these efforts. Yet in 1867 suffragist Lucy Stone could plausibly proclaim that, in the cause of universal suffrage, "Kansas leads the world!" How did Kansas go from being a progressive state to one of the most conservative?

    InRed State Religion, Robert Wuthnow tells the story of religiously motivated political activism in Kansas from territorial days to the present. He examines how faith mixed with politics as both ordinary Kansans and leaders such as John Brown, Carrie Nation, William Allen White, and Dwight Eisenhower struggled over the pivotal issues of their times, from slavery and Prohibition to populism and anti-communism. Beyond providing surprising new explanations of why Kansas became a conservative stronghold, the book sheds new light on the role of religion in red states across the Midwest and the United States. Contrary to recent influential accounts, Wuthnow argues that Kansas conservatism is largely pragmatic, not ideological, and that religion in the state has less to do with politics and contentious moral activism than with relationships between neighbors, friends, and fellow churchgoers.

    This is an important book for anyone who wants to understand the role of religion in American political conservatism.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3975-9
    Subjects: Political Science, History, Religion, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xvi)
    (pp. 1-9)

    On May 10, 1867, suffragist Lucy Stone telegraphed Susan B. Anthony from Atchison in eastern Kansas. “Impartial suffrage, without regard to color or sex, will succeed by overwhelming majorities,” she predicted. “Kansas leads the world!” Stone had reason to be optimistic. For the past month, she had been lecturing to enthusiastic crowds at churches and town halls, and enlisting support from community leaders. Leading Congregational and Presbyterian ministers along with editors of newspapers were declaring their allegiance. Two weeks later, theNew York Tribuneechoed her positive assessment: “The young state of Kansas is fitly the vanguard of this cause.”...

    (pp. 10-16)

    On the night of November 12, 1912, police in Topeka were summoned to the third floor of the Hotel Glenwood, where they found Laura Beers dead in a pool of blood. Witnesses claimed to have heard a quarrel between Mrs. Beers and her husband, to which he freely admitted while maintaining that her death had occurred accidentally. Suspecting worse, police took Mr. Beers into custody, charging him with his wife’s murder.¹

    The incident led to one of the most controversial trials in Kansas history, and attracted attention from journalists and readers across the country. The most bizarre aspect of the...

    (pp. 17-66)

    The story of how Kansas came to be known as a bastion of Protestant Republican conservatism begins in the 1850s when statehood was at issue, and when that issue was central in national politics. This period just prior to the Civil War saw the first alliances between Republicans and Methodists in Kansas. The relationship of religion to politics that emerged in those years continued through the end of the nineteenth century—and shaped much of what happened in the twentieth century. Many parts of eastern Kansas were settled immediately after the Civil War, and counties farther west were inhabited by...

    (pp. 67-109)

    Competition between Methodists and Catholics would periodically become an influence in Kansas politics, but its immediate effect in the 1880s and 1890s was to reinforce a moderately conservative civic ethos across the state. Whatever their disagreements might be, Methodists and Catholics alike had a stake in promoting what they regarded as good citizenship. Congregations brought people together, creating what later scholars would call social capital, helping them to make friends, conduct business, and care for the needy. Church buildings were widely regarded as adornments to thriving towns and were routinely mentioned in newspaper stories as laudable achievements. Public lectures and...

    (pp. 110-168)

    Never one to shy from hyperbole, ex-senator John J. Ingalls declared in 1896 that Kansas was the “nucleus of our political system,” the “core and kernel of the country,” “indispensable” to the nation’s inspiration and improvement, unmatched in the ample rewards of its industry and the conditions of its prosperity. “Its arithmetic is more dazzling than poetry,” he opined. Historians would have difficulty describing it in ways that did not strain the “capacity of human credulity.”¹ The speech occurred as Populists advanced a far different picture of Kansas prosperity. But if Ingalls’s rhetoric was less than compelling as an assessment...

    (pp. 169-214)

    In 1952, Dwight David Eisenhower was elected on the Republican ticket to be the thirty-fourth U.S. president. Kansans voted for their native son over challenger Adlai E. Stevenson by a 69 to 30 percent margin, the largest spread of any state except North Dakota and Vermont. After years of being in the political wilderness, the state had finally come again into its own. Eisenhower represented the best that Kansas had to offer. He was an accomplished war hero and yet a plain spoken man of the people. His family was made up of ordinary folks from Abilene. He was a...

    (pp. 215-266)

    On the afternoon of March 18, 1968, forty-two-year-old Senator Robert F. Kennedy journeyed by motorcade to Lawrence. Two days earlier, following a surprisingly strong second-place finish by challenger Eugene McCarthy against President Johnson in the New Hampshire primary, Kennedy had announced his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination. Speculation about the effects of Kennedy’s entry was feverish. Would he be able to win in the primaries against McCarthy and Johnson? Was it a gamble worth taking? Would his involvement weaken the Democrats and make it easier for a Republican to win? Inside KU’s massive Allen Fieldhouse, where Kennedy was to...

    (pp. 267-311)

    The parishioners were sitting quietly that Sunday morning waiting for the worship service to begin. It was Pentecost Sunday, not one of the more important days of the liturgical calendar, but a time for the church to be reminded of God’s indwelling spirit of love. The padded pews, the hushed reverence as people took their seats, the sunlight filtering in through stained glass, and even the subdued serenity of the wood-and-brick sanctuary were conducive to silent reflection. There was a brief commotion somewhere outside near the front of the church. An usher came forward, asked the worshippers to remain seated,...

    (pp. 312-360)

    While the Kansas State Board of Education debated evolution to the point that many of the state’s citizens grew weary of hearing about it, conservative church leaders in Kansas continued the struggle against abortion and expanded their activities to include opposition to same-sex marriage. Unlike the early 1990s, when the Religious Right threw everything it had into making the right to life an issue that would arouse thousands of activists, the ensuing years required action that could be sustained by fewer numbers and with less support from the general public. By the decade’s end, it was clear that the Religious...

    (pp. 361-370)

    A century and a half after Abraham Lincoln lectured at the Methodist Church in Atchison, the principal questions for those of us who ponder the relationship of faith and politics in the twentyfirst century are these: What are the decisive turning points that with hindsight can be said to have shaped the region’s political climate—to have produced, in this instance, one of the reddest of the nation’s red states and led to the Religious Right’s lengthy ascendancy? And what broader conclusions can be drawn from this history about the contested place of religion in U.S. politics?

    The changes that...

  15. NOTES
    (pp. 371-444)
    (pp. 445-464)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 465-484)