Religion in American Politics

Religion in American Politics: A Short History

Frank Lambert
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: STU - Student edition
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Religion in American Politics
    Book Description:

    The delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention blocked the establishment of Christianity as a national religion. But they could not keep religion out of American politics. From the election of 1800, when Federalist clergymen charged that deist Thomas Jefferson was unfit to lead a "Christian nation," to today, when some Democrats want to embrace the so-called Religious Left in order to compete with the Republicans and the Religious Right, religion has always been part of American politics. InReligion in American Politics, Frank Lambert tells the fascinating story of the uneasy relations between religion and politics from the founding to the twenty-first century.

    Lambert examines how antebellum Protestant unity was challenged by sectionalism as both North and South invoked religious justification; how Andrew Carnegie's "Gospel of Wealth" competed with the anticapitalist "Social Gospel" during postwar industrialization; how the civil rights movement was perhaps the most effective religious intervention in politics in American history; and how the alliance between the Republican Party and the Religious Right has, in many ways, realized the founders' fears of religious-political electoral coalitions. In these and other cases, Lambert shows that religion became sectarian and partisan whenever it entered the political fray, and that religious agendas have always mixed with nonreligious ones.

    Religion in American Politicsbrings rare historical perspective and insight to a subject that was just as important--and controversial--in 1776 as it is today.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2458-8
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. 1-13)

    From the birth of the republic, religion and politics have operated most of the time in separate spheres. Fearing sectarian strife in a society characterized by religious pluralism, delegates to the Constitutional Convention in 1787 opted against a federal religious establishment, giving the government no power over religion and religion no official role in the state. Indeed, one of the exceptional features of the American Revolution was the separation of church and state. Separation did not, however, mean that religion was regarded as unimportant in the new nation; on the contrary, many deemed it to have a mission far more...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Providential and Secular America: Founding the Republic
    (pp. 14-40)

    During the Revolutionary era, patriot ministers reminded Americans that God was sovereign over the new republic. In a 1774 sermon, Rev. Samuel Sherwood of New York asserted that God is the “sovereign Lord and supreme Ruler of all things” who “has the great affairs of the kingdoms and empires of the earth, in his own hands; and can dispose of them as seems good unto him.” God’s preference, Sherwood argued, was for godly rulers to govern according to God’s law; however, he pointed out that the Almighty “made mankind rational creatures; and left them to choose” what they deemed best...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Elusive Protestant Unity: Sunday Mails, Catholic Immigration, and Sectional Division
    (pp. 41-73)

    Lyman Beecher was no supporter of religious pluralism. Rather, the Presbyterian pastor at Litchfield, Connecticut, was a staunch defender of the Standing Order, which recognized orthodox churches like Beecher’s as the colony’s established churches with public funds appropriated for their maintenance. But for almost thirty years following ratification of the U.S. Constitution, Connecticut Republicans had waged a determined campaign for disestablishment on the grounds that preference for one religious sect violated dissenters’ rights of religious liberty. Beecher defended the Standing Order as necessary for ensuring a moral citizenry. He believed that Christianity was the fountain of moral teachings and the...

  7. CHAPTER THREE The “Gospel of Wealth” and the “Social Gospel”: Industrialization and the Rise of Corporate America
    (pp. 74-103)

    In the fifty years following the Civil War, industrialization transformed the United States’ economy, society, and culture. The increase in productivity was astounding, vaulting the country from a fourth-rate economy to the world’s leading industrial power by World War I, with a GNP that surpassed that of Britain, Germany, and France combined. Not only was productive capacity increased; industrialization changed the way that Americans did business, giving rise to big business in the form of large corporations and trusts that mobilized huge amounts of capital and employed thousands of workers. At the same time, the workplace changed for millions of...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Faith and Science: The Modernist-Fundamentalist Controversy
    (pp. 104-129)

    Industrialization and its accompanying problems did not cause lasting fissures within America’s religious marketplace. Differences in how to respond to the Gilded Age were primarily a matter of emphasis and strategy. Conservative evangelicals preferred to pursue moral reform by praying down and preaching up a revival, believing that redeemed individuals would make virtuous voters and officeholders. Those in the social gospel movement took a more direct approach by lobbying for political reform that would curb the power of corporations, eradicate corruption in government, and ameliorate the miserable living conditions in urban centers. Christians who embraced the gospel of wealth reconciled...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Religious and Political Liberalism: The Rise of Big Government from the New Deal to the Cold War
    (pp. 130-159)

    Oak Ridge, Tennessee, is situated only about sixty miles from Dayton, but in 1942 the two towns were located in different universes. Like Dayton, the area between Black Oak Ridge to the north and Clinch River to the south, what was to become the new city of Oak Ridge, was farmland dotted by small rural communities such as Scarborough, Wheat, Robertsville, and Elza. But within months after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the United States declared war on the Axis powers, the federal government purchased the land, relocated the residents, and built three laboratories to develop and produce weapons-grade...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Civil Rights as a Religious Movement: Politics in the Streets
    (pp. 160-183)

    Voices long silent in the religious marketplace demanded to be heard in the 1960s. And when once again they were denied a fair hearing by the religious establishment, they took their message directly to the country and sought a hearing in the court of public opinion. Blacks, students, women, Native Americans, and the poor denounced the cultural and political elite dominated by white, middle- and upper-class, Protestant males. These protesters charged the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) establishment with perpetuating a morally bankrupt society that promoted greed, war, racism, and sexism. The new voices offered alternative interpretations of the gospel that...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN The Rise of the “Religious Right”: The Reagan Revolution and the “Moral Majority”
    (pp. 184-217)

    On May 1, 2005, Rev. Jerry Falwell called on his congregation at the Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, to reclaim America. The fundamentalist pastor dubbed his plan “Massive Spiritual Aggression” and defined it as a “Biblical, non-violent, lawful and offensive strategy which I believe the Lord gave me many years ago as a plan to take America back.” For too long, he asserted, the church in America had been on the defensive, and the result had been the loss of moral authority in families, schools, and government. Now was the time to “take back our children . ....

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT Reemergence of the “Religious Left”? America's Culture War in the Early Twenty-first Century
    (pp. 218-250)

    For most of its first three decades as a political force, the Religious Right faced little concerted, organized opposition from a coalition on the religious left. While individuals from liberal Christian organizations as well as liberal Jews attacked the Right, there was minimal coordination. Moreover, most religious liberals were Democrats, which meant they were members of a party reluctant to promote any religious movement that could be defined as exclusive, or that could be accused of trying to create a religious establishment. However, a succession of electoral failures culminating in the reelection of George Bush in 2004 inspired some liberal...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 251-270)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 271-294)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 295-296)