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Rough CountryHow Texas Became America's Most Powerful Bible-Belt State$

Robert Wuthnow

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780691159898

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691159898.001.0001

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God Can Save Us

God Can Save Us

The Campaign for a Moral America

Chapter:
(p.325) Chapter 10 God Can Save Us
Source:
Rough Country
Author(s):

Robert Wuthnow

Publisher:
Princeton University Press
DOI:10.23943/princeton/9780691159898.003.0011

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter discusses the emergence of the New Christian Right or simply the Religious Right as a powerful new force in American politics. The rise of the Religious Right has been examined from all angles, and several key factors have been identified. It clearly depended on leadership. The most visible leaders were preacher Jerry Falwell, whose Moral Majority rallies at state capitals had been gaining attention in the late 1970s, and fellow televangelist Pat Robertson, whose popular 700 Club television program included discussions of social and moral topics. Both were canny entrepreneurs who knew how to attract media attention, and there were conservative political operatives eager to enlist their support. There were unifying issues as well, such as opposition to abortion, homosexuality, and promiscuity, and the more general sense that religion was under siege by secularity and humanism. And there were lingering divisions within Protestant denominations and among Catholics over such issues as social activism, the legacies of the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War, communism, gender equality, the ordination of women, and theology.

Keywords:   Religious Right, New Christian Right, American politics, political movements, Protestants, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson

To me, humanism—and as I say, that is a nice academic word for atheism—humanism, like a floodtide, is coming in to destroy our homes, destroy our young people, destroy our school system, destroy our government.

W. A. CRISWELL, FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH, DALLAS, 1980

If Dallas is the buckle on the Bible Belt, First Baptist Church is a big old ruby in the center of that buckle.

STEVE BLOW, CORPUS CHRISTI, 1976

On Friday evening, August 22, 1980, Ronald Reagan spoke to an enthusiastic crowd of seventeen thousand evangelical leaders and laypeople at Reunion Arena in Dallas. Criswell opened the two-day conference the previous day, challenging the audience to fight humanism and homosexuality and calling on them to renew their faith in the “God who can save us.” Television preacher Jerry Falwell flew in from Virginia to appear on stage with Reagan and shake his hand. Reagan told the audience, “I know you can’t endorse me. But I want you to know that I endorse you.” That fall Reagan won 51 percent of the popular vote nationwide, beating President Jimmy Carter by nearly 10 percent. In Texas Reagan’s margin of victory was 14 percent. It was the largest win by a Republican presidential candidate in the state’s history. A statewide poll showed that 84 percent of conservative Protestants voted for Reagan.1

More than any other single event, Reagan’s enthusiastic reception by conservative religious leaders at the National Affairs Briefing in Dallas put observers on notice that something they were calling the New Christian Right or simply (p.326) the Religious Right was a potentially powerful new force in American politics. Most of the leaders who greeted Reagan with thunderous cheers and thankful amens were Baptists. And yet it was Reagan rather than fellow Baptist Carter who sparked their support.

The rise of the Religious Right has been examined from all angles, and several key factors have been identified. It clearly depended on leadership. The most visible leaders were Falwell, whose Moral Majority rallies at state capitals had been gaining attention in the late 1970s, and fellow televangelist Pat Robertson, whose popular 700 Club television program included discussions of social and moral topics. Both were canny entrepreneurs who knew how to attract media attention, and there were conservative political operatives eager to enlist their support. There were unifying issues as well, such as opposition to abortion, homosexuality, and promiscuity, and the more general sense that religion was under siege by secularity and humanism. And there were lingering divisions within Protestant denominations and among Catholics over such issues as social activism, the legacies of the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War, communism, gender equality, the ordination of women, and theology.2

Each of these factors, as it happens, fits neatly with what is known about the impetus of social conditions more generally in the mobilization of large-scale social and political movements. Theories of resource mobilization emphasize the nuts and bolts that must be present for any significant movement to get started and gain traction. Falwell’s and Robertson’s television ministries were bringing in millions of dollars and reaching large segments of the population in ways never before enjoyed by local pastors, denominational heads, or even the most charismatic traveling evangelists. It mattered that they knew how to make headlines, and ironically it helped that Carter’s born-again Baptist faith put discussions of evangelical religion in the national spotlight. Quieter, behind-the-scenes resources helped as well. For instance, it mattered that political operatives knew how to exploit the mailing lists of television ministries and that these ministries developed networks among local pastors.

The unifying issues of the Religious Right correspond with other strands of social movement interpretation. On the one hand, the old “whose ox is gored” interpretation suggests that movements mobilize when people feel threatened. Such threats may well have been felt by conservative churchgoers who feared that homosexuality and promiscuity were undermining their values. Falwell and Robertson emphasized not only these wider cultural threats but also the more specific possibility that God’s work could be impeded by unfavorable Federal Communications Commission regulations or court decisions about taxes and separation of church and state. To white residents who may have been less than eager to embrace racial integration, the federal government probably evoked additional concerns that all was not as well as it could be. On the other hand, an equally plausible interpretation suggests that social movements develop when people realize they have enough clout to make a difference. In short, activism (p.327) stems from entitlement, just as it did in the civil rights movement for African Americans, but now among a predominantly white constituency of conservative Christians who realized that one of their own was in the White House, that other candidates were courting their vote, and that their numbers were in fact large and growing.

The role of divisiveness within religious organizations draws attention to the wider organizational environment in which social movements develop. Well-institutionalized organizations, such as schools and hospitals, political parties, and religious denominations, for the most part maintain the status quo, encourage incremental social reforms, and discourage upstart movements from forming. When the authority of these established organizations erodes or is challenged, opportunities for new leaders with new ideas emerge. In the 1960s and 1970s opportunities of this kind were present in nearly all the major religious organizations. Clergy and laity mobilized to support or oppose civil rights and the Vietnam War. They fought or promoted denominational mergers, ecumenical councils, innovations in worship, and new independent ministries. Special-purpose groups organized within denominations and across denominational lines to mobilize concerned members. These groups developed coalitions and articulated positions on many of the issues that gained wider attention in the Religious Right. The new identities that emerged retained denominational labels but increasingly involved categories that cut across these traditional lines. A person of faith might still be a Baptist, but it also mattered that one was a conservative Baptist rather than a moderate or liberal Baptist.

General arguments about social conditions in which the Religious Right took root nevertheless leave unanswered questions about the processes involved. One such question pertains to resources that get mobilized. How do leaders come to realize that these are indeed resources that can be deployed for some new endeavor? And related to that is whether the resources are depleted in being mobilized or whether it is actually mobilization that creates them. Similarly, the unifying issues need to be queried more closely to see if they have been brewing for a while, are new or newly salient, and whether some played a more unifying role than others? By the same token, the place of division within established organizations is not satisfactorily understood without addressing questions about the specific opportunities, constraints, role models, and coalitions involved, and in this instance the shifting understandings of religion’s relationship to politics.

Although the Religious Right played a national role in the 1980 presidential election and continued to be of national interest throughout the 1980s and beyond, the processes through which it developed were local as well as regional and national. They varied from state to state, and they reflected local and regional differences in the strength of religious traditions, changes in the demographic composition of these traditions, political rivalries, and influences stemming from racial and ethnic factors. Texas is a particularly interesting location in which to observe these processes, not only because of its political clout and the strength of (p.328) its Southern Baptist churches, but also because of its divisions between Democrats and Republicans, its Catholic population, and the changing relationships among white Anglos, African Americans, and Hispanics.

Brother Roloff and Radio Evangelism

The person who played one of the most influential roles in bringing conservative religion into a combative relationship with politics in Texas is seldom mentioned in standard histories of the Religious Right. Reverend Lester Roloff, a Baptist who grew up on a farm near Dawson, Texas, became one of the state’s most prominent radio evangelists. As he liked to explain, he was a sickly child who on one occasion felt himself so near death that he prayed, “Lord, if you let me wake up in the morning, I’ll be a preacher.” The opportunity came in 1932 when the eighteen-year-old Roloff preached his first sermon as a freshman at Baylor. Soon he was conducting revival meetings in the area, causing people to shout and weep, declaring that they were born again, and in one town chasing the bootlegger away and shutting down the gambling hall.3

During World War II, Roloff moved to Corpus Christi where the community was filled with navy recruits, pastored the Park Avenue Baptist Church, and in 1944 began the daily broadcasts of a radio program called the Family Altar. The program aired on station KWBU, owned by the Baptist General Convention of Texas, and could be heard in twenty-two states. The venture proved so successful that Roloff abandoned his congregation, formed Roloff Evangelistic Ministries, and devoted his energy full-time to radio preaching and in-person tent revivals that drew huge crowds.

Roloff thrived on controversy, condemning whisky drinkers and communists and causing public disturbances with loudspeakers from his “gospel van” and tent meetings. In 1945 he argued at a meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Texas that Baylor should not award Truman an honorary degree because of the president’s rough language. By 1955 his criticisms of fellow Baptists, who he claimed were no longer preaching the true gospel, grew to the point that the Baptist General Convention of Texas banned him from broadcasting on KWBU and he was no longer welcome in most Baptist pulpits. As a result, his ministry grew. Brother Roloff’s Family Altar was heard on hundreds of stations nationwide, and he was piloting his own airplane to conduct revivals across the country.

Radio, of course, had long been the medium through which charismatic preachers were able to extend their ministries. Truett’s broadcasts from the First Baptist Church in Dallas in the 1920s, Norris’s from Fort Worth a few years later, and Winrod’s from near Del Rio in the 1930s were early examples. With few regulations governing what could be said on the air, radio preachers were largely on their honor to keep religion separate from politics. Truett for the most part did, while Norris and Winrod did not. Broadcasts that aired as worship services from (p.329) local congregations and through the Baptist General Convention of Texas generally adhered more closely to the expectations governing these organizations than did broadcasts from independents such as the Roloff Evangelistic Ministries.

For every radio preacher who made it big, there were dozens who launched smaller ministries. One was the Reverend Donald Skelton of Dallas, whose Victory New Testament Fellowship included a radio ministry and who attracted small audiences when he spoke in person at independent fundamentalist churches. Another was Church of Christ pastor Landon Saunders, whose Herald of Truth religious programs aired from Abilene. Others included Seventh Day Adventist pastor Bob Thrower—the Hour of Prophecy evangelist from Corpus Christi—and Allen Ehlers’s Faith Mission International in Del Rio. There were also Spanish-language ministries, such as Reverend Juan Valenzuela’s evangelistic radio programs from San Antonio.

Broadcasting’s potential to create lucrative empires was most evident in the ministry of another radio evangelist with Texas ties, Herbert W. Armstrong, a former Quaker whose broadcasts began in 1933 from a small station in Eugene, Oregon, and evolved into a national ministry featuring apocalyptic prophetic messages. Headquartered in Pasadena, California, Armstrong’s Worldwide Church of God ministries grew to include television broadcasts on nearly four hundred stations as well as international radio and publishing and were earning between $35 and $40 million annually by the late 1970s. The church claimed some eighty-five thousand members nationwide who were expected to give as much as 30 percent of their wages to support the ministry’s far-flung activities. In the early 1950s an East Texas resident named Buck Hammer donated a small parcel of land to the ministry, with the result that thousands of members started making annual pilgrimages to the area for a weeklong Feast of Tabernacles. In the mid-1960s Armstrong purchased more than four thousand acres about a hundred miles east of Dallas near Big Sandy and constructed Ambassador College, a campus for Christian young people interested in clean living and willing to work for the institution at least twenty hours a week in addition to their studies. Several years later when a breach occurred between Armstrong and his son Garner Ted Armstrong, the younger leader founded the Church of God International nearby.4 In 1977, when flagging donations led the senior Armstrong to consider selling the Big Sandy campus, Roloff offered to buy it for $10 million.5

Roloff’s radio and revival ministry had grown steadily during the 1950s and 1960s. In the late 1950s he held revival meetings in tents, school auditoriums, and municipal buildings, and many of his public appearances were still at local churches, often in independent congregations or at Baptist meetings convened by fundamentalist pastors. He sometimes linked faith in Christ with worldly success, appearing at Rotary International meetings and preaching to business leaders. But these appeals proved less effective than framing himself as an old-fashioned preacher bringing a simple message of repentance and hope. In 1959 his supporters in Corpus Christi constructed an air-conditioned worship (p.330) facility for his ministry with ample parking and seats for sixteen hundred.6 By the mid-1960s he was appearing in larger venues, such as the Scofield Memorial Church in Dallas, and across the nation on radio stations featuring Hunt’s Life Line broadcasts, McIntire’s fundamentalist sermons, and Fuller’s Old-Fashioned Revival Hour. Over the next few years his radio ministry expanded to include television broadcasts and he was conducting well-attended evangelistic services in Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, New Mexico, and Virginia as well as in towns across Texas. Half-page newspaper advertisements described him as “one of the greatest preachers in America.”7 Nothing yet signaled the celebrity he would attain in the 1970s.

Broadcasters’ conflicts with government in those years most often resulted from questions raised by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). For example, in 1972 the FCC challenged fundamentalist McIntire’s broadcasts and “March for Victory” rallies on grounds that his messages were too partisan to qualify for public airtime reserved for religious programming—prompting a supporter in Texas to warn of the “danger in the heavy hand of political government.” The following year state and federal authorities charged that Ohio broadcaster Rex Humbard’s $12 million a year ministry was being financed in part by selling unregistered securities through unlicensed brokers.8 But Roloff’s ministry faced a different challenge.

As his ministry expanded, Roloff discovered that listeners were eager to support programs that not only saved souls but also rescued men from alcoholism and led wayward boys and girls back to the straight-and-narrow. By 1967 the ministry was supporting the City of Refuge farm home for alcoholics, the Good Samaritan Rescue Mission, the Lighthouse Home for delinquent boys, and another home for girls. The Rebekah Home for Girls drew especially favorable responses as several of the girls participated in a singing group at Roloff’s revival meetings and in 1970 appeared with Roloff on Phil Donahue’s popular television program. In most respects, the homes reflected the same social service commitment that had led to the founding of denominational orphanages and hospitals earlier in the century and were similar in purpose to the Salvation Army’s rescue missions and evangelist David Wilkerson’s “Teen Challenge” program for delinquent youth in New York City that gained national acclaim through Wilkerson’s 1962 best-seller The Cross and the Switchblade. The one difference was that Roloff refused mandatory state licensing of the homes.

The issue came to a head in 1973 when sixteen of the girls and their parents charged Roloff with physically abusing the girls. Roloff acknowledged that the girls had received corporal punishment but declared that the spankings were no worse than his daddy had given him as a boy and were in fact consistent with scriptural teachings about sparing the rod and spoiling the child. Alumnae of the home came to Roloff’s defense, testifying that the girls were rebellious troublemakers and deserved what they got.9 At first Roloff agreed with a court order requiring him to obtain licenses from the state welfare department for his homes (p.331) for troubled children. But in 1974 the Texas Supreme Court ruled that he did not have to comply with the lower court. The incident drew wider attention when hearings before the state legislature raised questions about potential church and state conflicts, licensing of other child-care activities, and the role of state and local welfare offices in monitoring social services.

Instead of quietly acceding to the state’s request to secure a license, Roloff staged a public rally at the state capital at which some of the once-wayward girls sang and gave their testimonies. He was then fined and sentenced to five days in jail for contempt of court, only to have the decision reversed by the Texas Supreme Court. The notoriety immediately drew invitations for Roloff and his Honey Bee Quartet to speak and sing at church gatherings. Lawmakers contemplating measures to tighten the regulation of child-care facilities were deluged with messages from Roloff’s supporters complaining that any such laws would infringe on their religious liberties. Referring to his revival meetings as “liberty rallies,” Roloff argued that he was waging a “battle for religious liberty and freedom and for separation of church and state for which our forefathers [came] to this new world to enjoy.”10

To Roloff and the many who supported him, the phrase “liberty of conscience” that had for so many years held special meaning for Texas believers came increasingly to mean that government should not interfere with religion, not that religious leaders should avoid politics. Keeping religion out of politics was an argument Protestants used against Catholics and against fellow preachers who might be viewed locally as being on the wrong side of the issues. It put preachers at risk if they ventured too far into partisan politics, as illustrated by figures such as Reverend Honey and Baxton Bryant. But it had not deterred preachers from arguing for dry laws, speaking against Al Smith, working with public officials to organize orphanages, preaching against JFK, participating in farmworkers’ strikes, meeting with municipal officials about housing discrimination, and helping to organize civil rights demonstrations. Still, it was easier to defend making statements about public policies when those policies appeared to be infringing on religious freedom. Liberty of conscience meant freedom to run church-related hospitals and colleges without government inference, to hold tax-free real estate, to preach on radio and television, and to provide homes for juvenile delinquents without state licensing.

The controversy over Roloff’s programs continued through the end of the decade. In 1976 he was again sentenced to jail for several days on charges of contempt of court. Angry citizens compared the state’s intervention with that of the federal government desegregating the schools. In Georgia and Alabama, community groups organized “freedom rallies” to hear Roloff speak about his persecution from the government. Fundamentalists in Texas introduced a “Brother Roloff Bill” to exempt religious child-care centers from state licensing requirements, only to have the bill narrowly defeated. A district judge declared a mistrial in a $4.7 million damage suit against Roloff brought by a youth paralyzed from (p.332) the waist down in a diving accident at Roloff’s home for boys. Critics accused Roloff of possibly having kidnapped some of the youth at his homes, and allegations of physical abuse continued.

Roloff stood his ground, threatening to die or spend his life in jail to keep the government from interfering with his religious freedom. “The license from the state has to do with controlling my spiritual liberty,” he argued. “I believe the Lord reserves the right to give that license to me.” He objected not only to the principle of licensing but also to state regulations about sex education, social workers having high school diplomas, food safety and nutritional standards, and the placement of babies born at the homes. His ministry continued to grow, and his cause drew wider and wider attention. In 1978 a rally in Dallas on his behalf was estimated to have attracted ten thousand participants. That fall the case became an issue in the gubernatorial race between Republican Bill Clements and Democrat John Hill. Roloff used his pulpit and broadcasts to campaign against Hill and took credit for swaying as many as a quarter of a million votes for Clements. As attorney general, Hill had led the drive to force Roloff to obtain state licenses. Roloff associates sent out letters a few weeks before the election charging that Hill would “signal the bureaucrats to move in for the kill.” The Sunday before the election, Roloff’s supporters distributed forty-five thousand brochures at churches stating that Clements believed in “parental rights,” “salvation by grace,” and “a free church without government controls.”11

This was the moment at which Roloff felt he could raise the $10 million to purchase Ambassador College. His stand for religious liberty was attracting favorable comments and bringing in donations from supporters across the country. Over the next eighteen months, bills to stiffen child-care protection and to exempt Roloff’s homes continued under consideration in Austin, and a grand jury continued to investigate charges of abuse. As the National Affairs Briefing convened in Dallas, another former resident of the Rebekah Home for Girls came forward with testimony of whippings and painful memories of force-fed Christianity.12

It all ended for Roloff on November 2, 1982, when his single-engine Cessna crashed in a thunderstorm, killing him and the four young women traveling with him. Fundamentalist leader Bob Jones Jr. of Bob Jones University eulogized Roloff as a man of God who “stood in the gap” and bore the brunt of the battle. “He knew what it was to be lied about and slandered and opposed by the wrong kinds of preachers and the wrong kinds of public officials,” Jones declared. Inspired by Roloff, other pastors announced their intention of following his example. “Texas can’t be our boss. God is our boss,” a pastor near Fort Worth argued in 1986, defending his decision to refuse state licensing of a Baptist boys home. “Texans will pay if they oppress God’s people. They’ll pay dearly. God knows how to do that through different types of tragedies.” Roloff’s homes remained open and continued to be charged periodically by former residents with allegations of physical abuse. In the 1990s, as Texas lawmakers considered new measures to encourage (p.333) greater involvement of faith-based organizations in social service provision, a plan was approved to permit faith-based children’s homes to be accredited by a private agency rather than the state. “What a blessing it is,” Roloff’s successor observed. “Our God hears and answers our prayers.”13

God’s Angry Man

When rumor spread in 1977 that Armstrong hoped to shed Ambassador College from his holdings, the other Texas evangelist who tried to buy it was James Robison. “God’s angry man,” as sociologist William Martin aptly described him, Robison was destined to play a role in mobilizing the Religious Right similar to Roloff’s, only more directly.14 Whether he planned it that way or simply discovered it as he went along, Roloff found that mobilizing the faithful is more effective when conflict with the government is involved than when it is not, and when that conflict extends over a period of years. Not by chance did supporters come to liken his ordeal with the struggle at the Alamo when martyrs for freedom bravely stood against an alien tyranny. A religious leader could hardly be accused of breaching the separation of church and state if it was the state infringing on religious freedom. Robison found the same to be true.

In 1964 twenty-one-year-old Austin native Robison conducted wildly successful revival services in Baptist churches at several locations across the South, including one at a large church in Shreveport and another in Houston. Robison was soon touted as the next Billy Graham and was being invited to preach special revival campaigns at dozens of churches. By 1966 he had his own advance man at work lining up weeklong Billy Graham–style crusades for Christ organized in cooperation with local churches spanning a number of Protestant denominations and complete with music by a large choir and personal counseling. His most successful crusade that summer was in Lockhart, where crowds of about a thousand filled the high school football stadium night after night to hear the dynamic young evangelist. With West Texas soloist John McKay offering music and giving his testimony about finding God, the revivals were tailor-made for Texas audiences.

The following spring Robison formed the James Robison Evangelistic Crusade Association to expand the work, again on the model of Graham’s organization. Baptist churches in Baytown, Big Spring, Freeport, Kerrville, Lubbock, Midland, and San Antonio, among others, placed advertisements in local newspapers encouraging the community to turn out for the young man who was being used by God more than any person other than Graham himself. Tanned, tall, and rugged, Robison’s good looks resembled those of actor James Garner. Like Graham, Robison held a worn Bible in his hand while preaching, quoted scripture for memory, and called on audiences to repent. Soon Robison’s half-hour syndicated television program Get Together was also attracting a growing (p.334) audience, but in-person revival meetings were still the mainstay of his ministry. Besides invitations to speak at churches, he was holding citywide crusades in municipal auditoriums and preaching to students and teachers at assemblies in high school gymnasiums. At a weeklong crusade in Garland in 1970, some forty thousand persons—mostly young people—filled the stadium night after night. By 1974 Robison claimed to have conducted more than 350 crusades in some thirty states and preached in person to six million people.15

Robison’s fundamentalism, strict belief in biblical inerrancy, and success in soul winning drew particular praise from the state’s most influential Baptist. Criswell declared that Robison was “a new star in the galaxy of God’s flaming, shining lights who point men to Christ” and noted that his “evangelistic crusades are becoming nothing short of Pentecostal in their power and in their outreach.” Some years later Criswell would accuse Robison of becoming too Pentecostal, deviating from what Criswell believed to be the true interpretation of scripture by encouraging believers to speak in tongues and practice exorcisms. But for now, Criswell saw only the need to extend his blessing to the young evangelist. “We rejoice that in our day and in our generation we have lived to see so marvelously blessed a young man,” he said. “May God keep him in strength and in increasing power through the unfolding years that lie ahead.”16

With headquarters at Hurst near Fort Worth, Robison devoted an increasing share of his time after 1975 to the television ministry while enlarging the variety of in-person meetings conducted by his staff. In addition to old-fashioned preaching services, meetings included special concerts of religious music and meetings with topics oriented toward youth. Among others, singer Johnny Cash performed on behalf of the organization, and husband and wife team Billy and Winky Foote toured for the ministry, preaching, singing, putting on magic shows, and hosting fun nights at churches for children and teenagers. The ministry’s outreach was further assisted by the work of Mike Huckabee, the young media assistant who would later serve as governor of Arkansas and run for president in 2008.

But Robison’s most notable success was the conversion of Fort Worth celebrity T. Cullen Davis, a multimillionaire oil equipment dealer who found Christ after being charged in two sensational murder trials. In 1976 a shooting spree occurred at his mansion, and Davis was accused of killing his twelve-year-old stepdaughter. Eventually acquitted, he was also accused and then found innocent of trying to buy the death of a judge hearing a divorce case. Davis abandoned his playboy lifestyle and through the guidance of Robison declared himself a born-again Christian who henceforth would commit himself to combating the decadent humanism that he felt was destroying society and was surely the source of his own difficulties. That commitment reportedly stemmed from Davis reading the Bible four or five hours a day over a period of months, giving up alcohol, and becoming increasingly distraught about the teaching of evolution and humanism in public schools. One evening Davis and Robison reportedly took the (p.335) multimillionaire’s million-dollar collection of gold, silver, jade, and ivory objects, which Davis decided were pagan idols, and smashed them with hammers in the parking area outside Davis’s mansion.17

Robison’s trouble with the FCC began in 1977 when the evangelist’s television program, seen weekly in some seventy cities, was canceled by its home station WFAA in Dallas because of Robison’s attacks on homosexuals and Playboy magazine publisher Hugh Hefner. The cancellation occurred according to the station’s interpretation of FCC rules because mentioning any specific person by name required advance notification of that individual. The Agape Metropolitan Community Church of Fort Worth, which ministered to homosexuals and had not been mentioned specifically, demanded equal time and filled the time slot with a program of its own.18

The brouhaha appeared to be over when Robison apologized and WFAA reinstated his program. But the station manager acknowledged having received phone calls and letters by the “bucketsful” in support of Robison. Although preachers and conservative churchgoers had been railing against sexual promiscuity for years, homosexuality had recently become a front-burner topic through a campaign in Florida led by singer Anita Bryant. A former Miss Oklahoma from Tulsa, Bryant was well-known for her appearances on television, had sung during the graveside services for Lyndon Johnson in 1973, and was regarded by many in Texas almost as if she were a hometown girl. When Miami passed an ordinance banning discrimination against homosexuals, Bryant formed a campaign called Save Our Children that challenged the ordinance and succeeded in its repeal.19 A survey conducted a few months prior to the Florida campaign showed the nation almost evenly divided on a question about homosexuals teaching in public schools, with 54 percent saying they should be allowed to teach and 46 percent saying they should not. But among white evangelical Protestants in the South, only 29 percent said they should be allowed to teach while 71 percent said they should not.20 According to a report given by WFAA, many of the calls and letters in support of Robison mentioned Bryant and asked why the FCC did not cancel programs criticizing her by name.21

Like Roloff, Robison benefited from the encounter with government. In 1978 prominent Baptist preachers appeared at his rallies and Texas Baptists scheduled one of its statewide events such that his would immediately follow. With $4 million in operating revenue, Robison planned a prime-time television blitz that would air in 225 markets at an estimated cost of $20 million. Huckabee, now serving as spokesperson for the organization, declared, “Money is really no object.”22 But before the blitz could be arranged, Robison again found himself in trouble with FCC regulations. WFAA once more canceled his program because of incendiary remarks against homosexuality. Robison replied that he had attacked no individual or organization by name, yet the station held that it had received a complaint from the Dallas Gay Caucus and had determined that the gay community had indeed been attacked.23

(p.336) In further responding, Robison drew a distinction that had been successfully made in the past and would become a central argument of the Religious Right. The station argued that such matters as homosexuality should be dealt with on news and public affairs shows rather than on religious programs. Robison in turn argued that the issue was not political but moral. “Many people treat it as a political issue,” he acknowledged. But it is a “moral issue,” a “biblical issue,” and as such he felt “that as a preacher I have the privilege as well as the responsibility to preach what the Bible said.”24

The distinction maneuvered the station into a corner. The station’s management agreed that Robison had a right to talk about moral issues, including adultery, murder, and rape, but drew the line on talking against homosexuality. Huckabee replied, “Does that mean if we talk about the evils of alcohol that the owner of Joe’s Bar would get equal time?” He asked, “If we talk about the evils of adultery, would a wife-swapping club qualify for equal time?” The idea seemed so ludicrous that Robison’s attorneys suggested a lawsuit against the station might be in order.25 Outraged viewers saw the station’s position as an affront not only to Robison but also to God. “It is time that Christians took a stand on issues such as this,” a pair of offended viewers declared, “and let the world know we are going to unite and fight.”26 In reply, the Religion and Life Committee of the Dallas Gay Political Caucus declared that it too had scripture on its side. Robison had defamed the gay community, the committee said, by portraying it in terms of the most bizarre activities of an unrepresentative group. “The Bible warns us against false prophets and wolves in sheep’s clothing,” it said.27

Almost immediately Robison found he had powerful allies. Eddie Chiles, a Fort Worth oil baron and owner of the Texas Rangers, was an ardent defender of Americanism and free enterprise who offered a regular radio commentary that began, “I’m Eddie Chiles and I’m mad as hell.” Usually he was mad about something the government was doing, such as raising taxes or regulating oil drilling. Chiles made his private airplane available to Robison and Huckabee for a trip to Houston, explaining that Robison’s fight for the First Amendment was his fight, too. In Houston, Robison and Huckabee met with attorney Richard (Racehorse) Haynes, who agreed to serve as counsel. Haynes was the attorney who successfully defended Cullen Davis in the murder case and controversial divorce hearing. Huckabee, seeing the impending suit as an opportunity that “God engineered” for the “cause of Christianity,” announced that it would not be directed toward WFAA but against the federal government itself.28

Baptist leaders from Texas and beyond rallied to Robison’s support as well. The Baptist Standard editorialized that the FCC ruling was an infringement on freedom of the pulpit. Robison warned that the attack on him was like an atom bomb that could explode to the devastation of all religious programming. Haynes secured the assistance of a top communications lawyer to develop the case. Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry agreed to serve as honorary chair of Robison’s “National Call to Arms” committee to raise $15 million for broadcasts about the (p.337) nation’s moral problems. Criswell and more than eight hundred Baptist ministers from around the state and several other states met to organize a “Freedom of Speech” rally at the Dallas Convention Center. “We’re going to take them to the mat,” Haynes told the gathering, referring to the FCC. “They say we have to be fair,” Criswell observed, “yet we see hours and hours and hours of filth, violence and sexual immorality on our television daily. But when a man speaks up and says what God says about an issue, they say he is not fair.”29

Although homosexuality had been the precipitating issue, the planners wanted the “Freedom of Speech” rally to focus on the larger and more encompassing issue of freedom to preach over the airwaves about religion and morality. To this end, they decided against inviting Anita Bryant, ostensibly to avoid security problems but also to avoid clouding the issues—a wise decision in retrospect that gave added impetus to the Religious Right. Freedom of speech was the framing device that permitted the movement to attract supporters such as Chiles who disliked government regulations whether they had to do with religion or not. The idea resonated especially with Baptists’ perennial emphasis on liberty of conscience. And it was an umbrella under which the broad range of moral concerns that had stirred Goldwater and Hunt in the 1960s and that were still of central concern to Criswell could receive attention. On Tuesday, June 5, 1979, with Haynes, Criswell, and Falwell seated on the platform, Robison defended his right to preach the Bible as he saw fit to an appreciative audience of more than ten thousand.30

That Big Old Ruby

Robison’s stand against the FCC played an important role as preparation for the National Affairs Briefing that brought Reagan to Dallas in 1980. Robison himself was the event’s chief planner and by his own account personally invited Reagan and suggested the “I endorse you” remark.31 Criswell’s support, though, was more than incidental. The “big old ruby” adorning the Dallas Bible Belt buckle, as journalist Steve Blow described Criswell’s First Baptist Church, was the center not only of Baptist power in Texas but of Texas power itself. While the rise of the Republican Party in Texas could probably be understood without reference to Criswell’s church, the connection that developed between Republicans and conservative Protestants in Texas requires close consideration of the church’s role.

Standard treatments of the Religious Right place heavy emphasis on public opinion. One rendition starts at the bottom and argues that conservative southern Protestants were fed up with Democratic policies that favored civil rights. Having voted twice in recent elections for fellow southerners and having been disappointed in both Johnson and Carter, they were ready by 1980 to join the GOP. All it took was prompting from Falwell, Robertson, and a few others to see that Republican candidates were closer to true biblical morality than Democrats. (p.338) The other version starts at the top, giving Reagan and his advisers most of the credit for crafting language appealing to the moral sentiments of conservative white southerners without seeming to be overtly racist.

The two arguments are not mutually exclusive and yet in combination miss an important aspect of the process through which the Republican Party gained power and was assisted by the Religious Right. Although social movements are sometimes powerful enough to swing general elections toward one party or the other, imagining that they have done so—and making claims to that effect—can readily exaggerate their influence. That may especially be the case when an election is otherwise not close. A social movement more reasonably may exercise influence in closely contested local elections and primaries. In 1980 the Republican Party in Texas already had considerable strength dating to the Eisenhower and Nixon administrations and evident even among Goldwater’s supporters in 1964 and the party’s growing appeal among the middle class. The Religious Right’s role in Texas was less in shifting votes from Carter to Reagan in the general election than helping in small, symbolic ways with Reagan’s contest against George H. W. Bush in the Republican primary. How that marginal effect occurred is best illustrated among the state’s Southern Baptists and with particular reference to Criswell.

In 1980 there were approximately sixteen thousand religious congregations in Texas, with a total of nearly 7.8 million adherents. That was by far the largest number of congregations in any state and more adherents than in any state other than California and New York. In many ways Texas resembled the rest of the United States in being the home of diverse religious traditions. A study of religious membership in 1980 showed 2.3 million Catholics living in Texas, 932,000 Methodists, nearly 196,000 Presbyterians, 174,000 Episcopalians, 144,000 Lutherans, and 30,000 Jews. However, the state’s history as a bastion of Southern Baptist strength remained undiminished. There were nearly four thousand Southern Baptist congregations, with a total of nearly 2.7 million adherents. That was more than double the number of adherents in Georgia or North Carolina, the other states with the largest numbers of Southern Baptists. In addition, there were another million evangelical Protestant in Texas who belonged to small, independent, fundamentalist, Assemblies of God, Brethren, Church of God, Churches of Christ, Holiness, and Pentecostal congregations and who differed from Southern Baptists on matters of doctrine but generally held similarly conservative views on social, moral, and political issues.

Baptists’ tradition of local congregational autonomy meant that no single individual or body could dictate exactly what clergy preached or what members were expected to believe. The considerable agreement on basic teachings about personal salvation, soul winning, and adherence to the Bible stemmed from common training of clergy in the denomination’s seminaries and Bible institutes as well as statements of faith for ordination and membership. Congregational autonomy also made the denomination agile, just as it had been throughout the state’s history. Small congregations adapted well to sparsely populated farming (p.339) communities. They adapted equally well to rapidly growing suburban communities with large populations. Indeed, they adapted especially well to these communities because a pastor who preached effectively, worked hard at canvassing the neighborhood for newcomers, and was reasonably good at fund-raising could benefit from a growing congregation with an increasing financial base that could support a better salary for the pastor and a larger staff.

County comparisons in 1980 show that Southern Baptists had churches in 98 percent of the state’s counties and made up at least 40 percent of all Protestants in 87 percent of the counties. Historic patterns were still evident in the fact that Southern Baptists made up slightly larger proportions of the Protestant population in counties with lower median incomes and slower population growth. Southern Baptists nevertheless accounted for at least half of all Protestants in counties with above-average median incomes, higher than average population growth, and larger than average urban populations.32

The largest Southern Baptist congregation in Texas was still Criswell’s First Baptist Church in Dallas. Officially the congregation included 21,793 members in 1980. This compared with a median of only 288 members for Southern Baptist congregations statewide. Membership never meant that everyone faithfully attended. But First Baptist’s 3,500 seats were generally filled to capacity at least twice on Sunday mornings. More than 3,000 attended Sunday school classes, and as many as 50,000 tuned to the church’s radio and television broadcasts.33

Criswell was uniquely influential in Dallas and in Southern Baptist circles nationwide. Serving at First Baptist since 1944, he had consolidated power within the congregation by surrounding himself with loyalists who were themselves influential in banking, oil, and real estate as well as with staff and associate pastors who commanded authority in the denomination. In a state that took pride in being big and in a city that liked to call itself “Big D,” being the president of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination—as Criswell was from 1968 to 1970—and being able to speak as head of the denomination’s largest congregation mattered.

Dr. Joel Gregory, who joined Criswell’s staff in the early 1990s, mused that the First Baptist Church of Dallas held a place in Southern Baptists’ minds similar to Canterbury for Anglicans, Salt Lake City for Mormons, and Rome for Catholics. For aspiring preachers, he wrote, Criswell’s church evoked “something in the spiritual realm akin to sexual lust in the fleshly realm.”34 Of course few would have put it quite that way. It was rather that Criswell’s success seemed clearly to be a manifestation of God’s mission being accomplished on earth.

By the early 1970s Criswell’s political views were well-known. He was firmly opposed to big government, and he was a Republican. On government, one of his most characteristic remarks was in a 1976 sermon when he observed, “More and more the government is seizing the daily lives of the people.” Big government connoted the Soviet-style totalitarianism to which he had been firmly opposed throughout the Cold War, and it was something that liberals were wittingly or unwittingly condoning. As he explained, “I can easily understand the (p.340) acceptance and expansion of the Red Russian Empire in the nations of the world by an immediate and patent reason. It lies in the left-winger, in the socialist, in the welfare-stater, in the liberal, in the fellow traveler. The only thing that a liberal is against in America, or any of the nations of the world, is the conservative who believes in work and in paying his debts and living within his budget.” What was wrong about communism was, in his view, what he also associated with domestic policies helping the poor. He may have shifted his mind about civil rights, but it still was part of his thinking that welfare policies were somehow giving African Americans too much power. “They’re making black cities out of our great cities,” he said, noting that Atlanta was “virtually all black now” and that white residents were fleeing Dallas by the thousands. He blamed school integration—another reason to distrust big government. “The parents ought to have the choice—not the government and least of all the courts,” he observed.35

Holding Kennedy and Johnson responsible for school integration and the welfare state, Criswell saw Republicans rather than Democrats as the better choice. During the 1976 campaign between Carter and Ford, Criswell repeatedly took jabs at Carter. On October 10 Ford attended worship services at Criswell’s church. In comments to the crowd before turning to the biblical text of the morning, Criswell criticized Carter for an interview in Playboy magazine in which Carter acknowledged having had adulterous thoughts. After the service Criswell endorsed Ford while standing on the steps of the huge church, and Ford graciously accepted the endorsement. The story of Criswell’s endorsement and a photo of Ford and Criswell at the church circulated in national newspapers and in most of the small newspapers serving communities in Texas. Over the next three weeks, journalists followed Criswell to see if he had more to say about the election, editors considered the endorsement’s potential impact, and readers wrote letters expressing heated views about it. A Texas Baptist would have had to be severely isolated from the media to have avoided knowing about Criswell’s endorsement. Some attributed the endorsement simply to Criswell’s concerns about Carter’s Playboy interview, while others thought it stemmed from Carter somehow being too sympathetic toward the charismatic movement they felt was threatening Baptists. There was general agreement that an endorsement from someone as powerful as Criswell was important.

It was of course by no means the first time Texas preachers had found ways to show their pleasure or displeasure with public officials. However, such a public display of support on the eve of a national election was so blatant that even Criswell came under attack from fellow Baptists for having crossed the invisible line separating church and state. In North Carolina Wake Forest University president James Ralph Scales and Sanford business leader George McCotter countered by forming a group calling itself Baptist Laymen for Carter. At a Baptist conference in Little Rock, several pastors called a press conference denouncing Criswell’s endorsement. The Dallas Pastors Association condemned Criswell for making political comments from the pulpit. And Baptist General Convention of (p.341) Texas president James G. Harris said he personally did not endorse candidates. The criticism seemed only to embolden Criswell, who repeated his attacks on Carter. “My land,” Criswell told a reporter, “I just expressed an opinion. If we can’t state an opinion, we have lost our democracy.”36

Criswell’s endorsement fueled speculation in the press that religion was already playing too much of a role in politics because of Carter’s self-professed born-again evangelical faith. Arthur Schlesinger Jr., for example, charged that a person’s religion or lack thereof should be private and “should stay out of politics.” But in a move that would later give them reason for pause, liberal church leaders came out in favor of mixing religion and politics. New York’s Union Theological Seminary president Donald Shriver, for example, defended Carter, arguing, “Biblical faith includes both dimensions, the personal and the social.” With Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Reinhold Niebuhr, and many other pastors and theologians having spoken on social and political issues, Shriver thought it beyond debate that a presidential candidate should be free to voice religious convictions. “It’s almost as if a politician merely mentions the name of God, it’s some kind of heresy,” Shriver observed. “Many people are interested in knowing the religious convictions of national leaders. It’s a basic, motivating influence.”37

Carter’s victory tamped down Criswell’s criticisms, causing him even to declare that Carter was a fine Christian who deserved everyone’s prayers. But Criswell’s concerns about big government continued. Shortly after the 1976 election Criswell was the keynote speaker in Del City, Oklahoma, at the annual meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. The Oklahoma convention had experienced a twenty-five percent increase in baptisms over the past ten years and the Del City church with some 3,500 members was the largest one in the state. Criswell told the crowd that evil forces were trying to seduce America into secularism and materialism. The convention also discussed the perceived threat against conservative Baptists from the federal government. “Government should not be allowed to investigate the financial records of churches or of religious organizations because of their activity in carrying out their concept of the mission of the church,” a leader of the Oklahoma conference declared, “even if that mission means activity to influence legislation and the formation of public policy.”38

By 1979 Criswell’s influence seemed unbounded. At age seventy he was in good health, worked out at the YMCA every day, routinely made headlines, and pastored what journalists usually described as the largest congregation in America, if not in the world. The church was not only large in numbers; it was also where the rich and famous showed they were devout Christians by holding membership and donating generously. Hunt’s wife gave $800,000 to purchase the old downtown YMCA building for use as the new Criswell Center for Biblical Studies. Mary Crowley, wealthy founder and president of Home Interiors and Gifts, gave the church $750,000, and members matched it in one evening to cover the cost of the new Mary Crowley Building. The total value of Criswell’s church property in downtown Dallas was $18 million on the books, and leaders said in reality (p.342) it was closer to $25 million. As a person of deep faith, Criswell naturally gave God the credit for the ministry’s success. But nothing was left to chance. In 1979 the congregation with great fanfare accepted its twenty thousandth member. That member just happened to be Dallas Cowboys place kicker Rafael Septien. And at the same service commentator Paul Harvey became member number 20,001.39

In 1980 Criswell’s influence became especially evident in what sociologist D. Michael Lindsay has termed convening power. Lindsay’s argument in examining a later generation of evangelical pastors, business executives, and government leaders is that their influence is easily underestimated if only the extent of their wealth or even the frequency with which they are featured in the media is considered. Their behind-the-scenes influence, Lindsay suggests, is typically expressed in being able to convene meetings by calling in personal favors and cultivating networks to whom only a few have access.40 “Opportunity hoarding” is the less charitable term sociologist Charles Tilly invented to describe the same phenomenon. It operates, Tilley wrote, “when members of a categorically bounded network acquire access to a resource that is valuable, renewable, subject to monopoly, supportive of network activities, and enhanced by the network’s modus operandi.”41 Examples might include racially segregated country clubs with membership fees only the superwealthy can afford or high-priced study retreats for the wealthiest board members of an Ivy League university.

Convening power uses social capital to get the right people together and to exclude others. Reagan’s trip to Dallas for the National Affairs Briefing in 1980 included a private reception at the Hyatt Regency. The host was Criswell’s wealthy church member and faithful donor Mary Crowley. A majority of the select group were also members of the First Baptist Church. They included oil baron Clint Murchison and his wife, Cullen Davis and his wife, and Eddie Chiles and his wife. Associate pastor Dr. Paige Patterson and his wife were there. A guest not from Criswell’s church was Dr. B. Clayton Bell, Billy Graham’s brother-in-law who pastored the metroplex’s large, upscale Highland Park Presbyterian Church and who had officiated at the weddings of H. L. Hunt’s granddaughters Ellen Finley Hunt and Elizabeth Bunker Hunt. Their parents, Mr. and Mrs. Nelson Bunker Hunt, who had recently spearheaded a $60 million Campus Crusade for Christ fund-raising campaign, were among the guests at the Reagan reception. Another guest was Judge Paul Pressler of Houston, one of the most outspoken supporters of the fundamentalist wing in the Southern Baptist Convention. Criswell presented Reagan with a Bible and told him to use it for the swearing-in ceremony in January.42

Baptist Battles

It is impossible to fully appreciate Criswell’s role and that of other religious leaders in 1980 apart from the battle for control of the Southern Baptist Convention that was occurring in the late 1970s. The skirmishes that had erupted (p.343) periodically from the 1890s through the 1950s in which fundamentalists accused fellow Southern Baptists as well as pastors and seminary professors from other denominations of heresy returned on a wider scale than ever before. The conflict pitted fundamentalists who believed that the Bible should be interpreted as literally inspired and free of historical and scientific errors against moderates willing to embrace at least some room for variation in human interpretation and the historical record. Why the controversy erupted when it did can be traced to several dynamics within the denomination and the wider society. Southern Baptist pastors of course disagreed with one another during the civil rights movement about the pace of change and what the denomination’s position should be. In those years, younger and better-educated pastors and lay leaders increasingly sided with the denomination’s Christian Life Commission that favored more progressive steps toward integration against the wishes of older and more conservative gradualists. In the 1960s Southern Baptists took differing views of the policies toward women’s ordination that were dividing other denominations and were being discussed in some Southern Baptist congregations. Personalities and struggles for the control of seminaries and colleges mattered. There were also concerns that fundamentalists inspired by high-profile leaders such as Falwell were leaving the denomination and joining independent Baptist fellowships.

Sociologist Nancy Tatom Ammerman, who conducted an extensive study of the conflict, including results from a survey of Southern Baptist pastors and laity, found that socioeconomic factors and location also made a difference. Moderates tended to be better-educated, middle-class members with above-average incomes, and they lived in cities and suburbs where they attended large Baptist congregations. The fundamentalists included both middle-class and working-class members, but they were more likely to have grown up on farms or in lower-income families, and they were more likely to attend rural churches or small urban congregations. There was a kind of “us versus them” mentality among the fundamentalists, as one pastor explained, an outsider mindset that pitted believers against the world and especially against those who went to college and got an education.43

In 1979 the conflict took on additional importance when Criswell’s associate pastor, Patterson, and Judge Pressler mounted a highly publicized six-month campaign to ensure that the next SBC president would be a fundamentalist. Patterson was a graduate of Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene and New Orleans Seminary, a well-known polemicist and preacher, and the son of a prominent pastor who had been chief executive of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. In 1970 the younger Patterson became the president of Criswell College, the Bible institute that Criswell founded with the help of several wealthy donors to promote premillennial and dispensationalist theological training. Pressler was a Southern Baptist lay leader whose hackles had been raised in 1961 by a professor at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City who published a book on Genesis that Pressler thought deviated from biblical truth about (p.344) creation. Surprised that the professor was not immediately rebuked, Pressler wrote later that he was “absolutely appalled by the way that was handled and that let me know there was liberalism” in the denomination. To Pressler’s dismay, he discovered that the books students were reading at Baylor were also “just liberal garbage.” That discovery prompted him to enlist Patterson in hopes of turning the denomination around.44

Patterson argued that the administrators and faculty at the denomination’s six theological seminaries and several of its colleges were straying from the denomination’s 1963 statement of faith that affirmed the infallibility of scripture. Stung by the accusations, the six seminary heads came to Dallas and met personally with Criswell and Patterson. Following the meeting, the group announced that the seminary presidents denied any preferences for liberal interpretations of the Bible and were firmly in support of teaching and preaching biblical infallibility. Three weeks later in Houston at the denomination’s annual conference, the nearly twelve thousand delegates approved Patterson’s handpicked candidate, Dr. Adrian Rogers, a Memphis pastor committed to biblical inerrancy.45

Rogers’s election is credited as the major step in what became known as the conservative resurgence within the Southern Baptist Convention. Over the next decade fundamentalists won every election for the denomination’s highest office and successfully appointed likeminded leaders to key positions on denominational boards and at seminaries and colleges. The longer-term impact reinforced the denomination’s support of conservative social and political as well as theological issues. Its near-term impact was conservative mobilization across the South and especially in Texas. To ensure success for their side, Patterson and Pressler canvassed Texas and persuaded a large number of conservatives to attend the denominational conference in Houston, including as many as several hundred who did so without having been properly elected as delegates from their congregations. When Rogers expressed uncertainty about allowing himself to be nominated, Patterson was on hand to persuade him that the presidency was God’s will.46

Despite Patterson and Pressler’s role in mobilizing the conservative resurgence, Ammerman’s study found that pastors from Texas and neighboring states were not substantially more likely than pastors from elsewhere in the South to identify themselves as conservatives. Her survey, conducted in 1985, nevertheless showed how decisively the denomination’s pastors tilted toward conservatism. Among all Southern Baptist pastors surveyed, only 19 percent said they were moderates or moderate conservatives, while 49 percent said they were conservatives and 33 percent said they were fundamentalists. Among pastors in Texas and neighboring states, only 15 percent were moderates, 47 percent were conservatives, and 38 percent were fundamentalists.47

The conservative resurgence among Southern Baptists places Criswell and the First Baptist Church of Dallas in a larger perspective. Although Patterson’s role was obvious and direct, that was only part of the story. There were plenty (p.345) of pastors in Texas and across the South who identified themselves as fundamentalists and conservatives. But few of them had the kind of credentials that gave them much in the way of cultural capital beyond their own congregations. In Ammerman’s study only 33 percent of self-identified fundamentalist pastors had a college degree, let alone any training beyond college, and although higher education was more common among pastors who said they were fundamentalist conservatives, only a third of that group had postbaccalaureate degrees.48 That contrasted sharply with Criswell and the leadership at First Baptist.

The simplest way to describe Criswell’s influence is that many pastors and laity espoused fundamentalism, but Criswell made it respectable. He did so in several ways. As pastor and preacher, he demonstrated that a fundamentalist who interpreted the Bible literally could also be well read, conversant with literature, and capable of holding his own in any circle of well-educated people. From working with him in what was seldom an easy relationship, Dr. Gregory observed that in Criswell “the right-wing of American Christianity had a genuine Ph.D. who could quote Shakespeare and Browning by the mile from memory as well as he could the Apostle Paul.” As a person, Criswell demonstrated not only a photographic memory and keen intellect in sermons but also a taste for travel, music, art, and antiques, including a collection that would have shocked many of his members had they known its extent and true value. And as leader of a congregation that included expensive downtown real estate and everything from ministries for the homeless to its own bowling alley and skating rink, Criswell showed without necessarily preaching about success that faith and worldly success were by no means incompatible. Having a deacon board of distinguished Dallas attorneys, bankers, and oil executives spread the same message. So did one of the church’s most popular Sunday school teachers, the nationally acclaimed motivational speaker Zig Ziglar.49

How much the prestige, power, and educational credentials on display at Criswell’s church mattered can be understood in relation to wider changes taking place among evangelicals in the 1970s. As the number of younger Americans going to college climbed from approximately seven million in 1970 to more than twelve million in 1980, the proportion of evangelicals who were college-educated increased as well. By 1980, four in ten Southern Baptists nationwide had some training beyond high school.50 That was well below the proportion in other large denominations, but it accentuated the status differences within the denomination. On the one hand, skepticism persisted toward the well-educated elite who were considered a corrosive influence on tradition-minded people. A commonly held view among conservatives, for example, was that the best and brightest went off to seminaries in New York and Boston, got “swept off their feet,” and came home too proud to sit in clapboard churches singing “Are you washed in the blood of the lamb?”51 Against such temptations, it was good that a preacher as intellectually sophisticated as Criswell could write a book called Why I Preach That the Bible Is Literally True.52 On the other hand, the kind of status anxiety (p.346) implied in criticisms of the educated elite suggested that fundamentalists themselves yearned for greater respect. No longer was it quite enough for a country boy to start preaching as a teenager. An earned degree was better than an honorary title. It was reassuring to hear a pastor like Criswell conjugating Greek verbs from the pulpit.

An Equal Role for Women

Against the backdrop of conservative preachers arguing about immorality and government intrusion on their ministries, shifting arguments about gender roles and the empowerment of women became an additional source of contestation. By 1970 more than three million women nationwide were enrolled as students in colleges and universities, and while the ratio of men to women was still 3:2 at these institutions, almost three times as many women were going to college that year than a decade earlier. In Texas 30 percent of women in their twenties had at least some college training in 1970 compared with 40 percent of men. Women were also increasingly involved in the paid labor force. While the proportion of single women nationwide who were employed (about half) was the same as in 1950, the proportion of married women who were employed rose from only 25 percent in 1950 to 41 percent in 1970.53 In Texas nearly half (48 percent) of women between the ages of eighteen and sixty-five were in the labor force.54 Outside of work and family, women’s involvement in public life continued to include participation in churches and clubs, civic associations, advocacy organizations, and service activities. As women entered the labor force, secured positions in professional occupations such as law and medicine, and became more active in advocacy organizations, they were increasingly exposed to instances of gender discrimination, received lower salaries than men for similar work, and faced mixed signals about what opportunities should be open to women and which ones conformed best to expectations about gender roles.

In 1972 the U.S. Congress approved wording of a constitutional amendment that, if ratified, would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex. Ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) required approval by thirty-eight states before March 22, 1979. Following failed attempts in the Texas legislature during the 1960s to secure passage of laws prohibiting sex discrimination, the Texas legislature ratified the federal amendment in March 1972, and voters approved by 4-to-1 a state constitutional equal rights amendment eight months later.55 By 1976 thirty-four states had ratified the amendment, which made the issue all the more salient in the remaining states as well as in several states where ratification was in danger of being rescinded.

The wide margin by which the state amendment had been approved in 1972 suggested that the matter of equal rights for women might have been settled at that point in Texas. However, the federal amendment generated increasing (p.347) debate. In 1974 Maine and Montana became the thirty-first and thirty-second states to vote for ratification, giving proponents hope that six more would soon follow suit. But in Tennessee lawmakers debated rescinding their state’s approval following worries that the ERA would cause women to be drafted and sent to battle even if they were pregnant. Soon after, Florida legislators narrowly defeated a step toward ratification in their state. In response, the National Organization of Women and the League of Women Voters ramped up efforts to secure passage in other states, and President Ford declared August 26, 1974, as Women’s Equality Day, urging Americans across the nation to work for final ratification of the ERA. Between then and the 1976 presidential election, the ERA became a front-burner issue nearly everywhere. Lawmakers in North Dakota approved it, but Tennessee voted for rescission. In March 1975 Indiana and South Carolina defeated efforts for ratification. In April efforts to advance ratification failed in Illinois, Florida, and Missouri. The same outcome occurred that summer in Louisiana and the following March in Arizona.

The ERA mobilized women as well as men on both sides of the issue. Whether to vote in a state referendum to ratify it and whether to push for or against rescission solidified what was otherwise a complex issue on which many different perspectives could have been taken into a forced choice. A person was either for the ERA or against it. The fact that women played leadership roles in opposing it as well as in favoring it illustrated two important aspects of the debate. Women’s involvement in civic activities and the fact that many were well educated and held leadership positions in their communities meant that they were prepared to engage with the debate about ERA ratification, whether that meant organizing local events for speakers, serving as journalists and columnists for local newspapers, forming grassroots groups to get out the vote, or simply writing letters and signing petitions. The other aspect was that the debate drew and reinforced a new symbolic distinction transecting the larger gendered categories of male and female. The distinction was most clearly expressed in the term feminist. A woman was no longer simply a woman, wife, mother, or homemaker, but a feminist or antifeminist. Both sides argued that theirs reflected the best understanding of biological differences between men and women, the truest way of protecting the special roles and rights of women, and the clearest ideas about equality and inequality.

Religion was an important part of the debate for several reasons. For those who took the Bible seriously and who regularly heard sermons based on scripture as well as having grown up learning Bible stories, religion was a source of authoritative wisdom about gender roles. It included narratives about women who faithfully served their husbands as well as texts explaining that women should be submissive members of their households. It included other stories about strong women with direct relationships to God as well as scripture injunctions about gender equality, social justice, and helping people who were disadvantaged. In congregations, women participated in Bible study groups, taught Sunday school (p.348) classes, and sometimes served on church boards. In addition, the question of whether women should be ordained as lay leaders and preachers was being widely debated and voted on in many of the major Protestant denominations, while among Catholics after the Second Vatican Council new ideas were being discussed about ways of empowering women laity as well as men while stopping short of altering traditional teachings about male celibacy as the necessary qualification for priesthood. Alternative understandings of gender equality were thus a matter of public discussion within religious circles at the same time that these discussions were becoming politically salient in relation to the question of ratifying the ERA.

Several denominations, including Congregationalists, Disciples of Christ, and Universalists, had permitted women to be ordained since the nineteenth century, but questions about ordination had never been debated as broadly or in as many denominations simultaneously as in the decade and a half prior to the controversy surrounding the ERA. Through wide-ranging discussions and changes in denominational rules, the Methodist Church and the northern branch of the Presbyterian Church voted to permit women to be ordained in 1956. Those decisions were followed in 1960 by the African Methodist Episcopal Church and in 1964 by the southern branch of Presbyterians. Then in 1970 the American Lutheran Church and Lutheran Church in America followed suit. The Episcopal Church did so in 1976, and the Reformed Church in America made the change in 1979. Meanwhile, seven smaller denominations also undertook rule revisions about women’s ordination. The changes generated almost as much discussion and controversy as women’s suffrage had in earlier decades. Biblical interpretation was necessarily involved as clergy and lay leaders reexamined the meaning of scriptural teachings about gender both inside and beyond the church itself. Politicking occurred at church conventions and included the various perspectives of parish pastors, missionaries, women’s groups, and college faculty. Once the decision was made to allow women to be ordained, congregations faced questions about whom to hire and in what capacity. Many of the denominations, seminaries, and church-related colleges also wrestled with questions about gender-inclusive language in lectionaries, hymnbooks, and Bible translations. Studies showed that differences of opinion were still well in evidence in the 1980s, and that these differences typically fell along lines of age, education, region, and theological orientation.56

The first ordination of a woman to the ministry in the Southern Baptist Convention occurred in 1964, but the woman, Addie Davis of Durham, North Carolina, moved north after failing to find a pulpit anywhere in the South. A decade later only fifteen Southern Baptist women had been ordained, and nearly all of them went into nonparish work, such as college chaplaincies and counseling. The most public endorsement of the Equal Rights Amendment came at a meeting of the denomination’s Woman’s Missionary Union in San Antonio in October 1976 when the group’s president expressed support of the measure and (p.349) called on Baptist women to use their power to bring about social change. The denomination’s male leaders were not in total agreement about women’s roles in the church, but in the survey Ammerman conducted in 1986 only 2 percent of the respondents said their congregation had ordained a woman. Sixty-nine percent said they did not favor the Equal Rights Amendment.57 At Criswell’s church in Dallas, members undoubtedly held varying opinions about the ERA, but the church’s official stance on gender equality was clear. Women were not allowed to preach or to serve as deacons. The one notable exception was Mrs. Criswell, who held considerable behind-the-scenes power and taught a popular Sunday school class. The policy that permitted her to do so was that she was nominally under the authority of her husband. Criswell himself felt that women’s place was in the home and that if women ever chose something other than that God-intended role, society was in mortal danger.58

Opinion polls conducted among the general public showed that attitudes toward gender issues were complex. In a nationally representative survey conducted in 1976, for example, 66 percent of the women interviewed agreed that “many qualified women can’t get good jobs [while] men with the same skills have much less trouble.” Fifty-two percent of the women surveyed agreed that to overcome discrimination, “women must work together to change laws and customs that are unfair to all women.” But on another question, 78 percent of the women said the “best way to handle problems of discrimination is for each woman to make sure she gets the best training possible for what she wants to do,” while only 22 percent said “only if women organize and work together can anything really be done about discrimination.” When asked directly about the Equal Rights Amendment, 67 percent of the women said they approved of it. Views of the “women’s liberation movement,” though, were more evenly divided, with 51 percent of the women saying its influence was about right, 17 percent saying its influence was too little, and 32 percent saying its influence was too much.59

The responses to these questions varied by age, race, and region; by political party affiliation; by whether a woman was currently working; and by whether she had graduated from college. But taking account of these differences, the strongest influences were religious participation and ideology. The odds of favoring the Equal Rights Amendment were about a quarter lower among women who attended religious services weekly than among women who attended less often. And these odds were further reduced by more than half among women who said they felt close to “conservatives.”60

How the ERA generated discussions that made these differences more politically salient at the local level was illustrated in numerous events during the 1970s. For example, a prominent women’s club in Corsicana whose leaders had long been involved in service activities for the community organized a meeting in April 1975 to discuss the ERA. The speaker was a well-educated man whose credentials included coming from “two well-known [local] families.” In his remarks, which were also carried in a report by the women’s editor of the Corsicana (p.350) Daily Sun, he assured the crowd that he fully believed that women were equal to men and should receive equal pay for equal work. He was also certain, however, that men “are more muscular, more agile and daring than their consorts,” and that a woman’s place was that of “lover, mother, and keeper of the hearth.” The Equal Rights Amendment, he declared, was “hogwash,” a violation of everything he had been taught and everything he revered. The amendment struck at the very heart of family life, in his view. If it were passed, women would be responsible for the financial support of their families, divorced women would no longer be entitled to child support, and children would be packed off to day-care centers like they were under Hitler’s regime.61

Advocacy organizations to promote the ERA or to oppose it mobilized constituents, forged connections with national associations, and elevated leaders to public prominence in ways that symbolized what each side stood for and sharpened the differences in public perceptions. On the pro-ERA side, the Texas Women’s Political Caucus was founded in 1971 under the leadership of Dallas attorney Hermine Dalkowitz Tobolowsky and played a key role in the state’s ratification process in 1972. Other prominent leaders with positions in the professions, government, or business included attorney Gretchen Raatz, Chicana businesswoman Olga Soliz, African American state representative Eddie Bernice Johnson, state board of education member Jane Wells, El Paso county clerk Alicia Chacon, San Antonio mayor Lila Cockrell, assistant attorney general Martha Smiley, and state representative Sarah Weddington. Organizations that supported the ERA ranged from local groups, such as the Dallas nonprofit planning organization Women for Change, led by feminist Beverly Myres, to statewide organizations, such as the Texas Nurses Association and Tejanos for Political Action, to chapters of national associations, such as the American Bar Association, Association of American University Women, National Organization for Women, and the National Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs. More than a dozen religious organizations, including Church Women United, the National United Methodist Women’s Caucus, and the Presbyterian General Assembly, also supported the ERA.

Organizations that formed in opposition to the ERA in Texas included American Women Are Richly Endowed (AWARE), Committee to Restore Women’s Rights, Concerned Citizens for Feminine Freedom, Humanitarians Opposed to Degrading Our Girls (HOTDOG), Happiness of Womanhood (HOW), Stop Taking Our Privileges (STOP), and Women Who Want to Be Women (WWWW). Local parent-teacher organizations, women’s clubs, and churches sometimes voiced opposition, as did the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women. The WWWW, under the direction of founder Lottie Beth Hobbs, was one of the most active anti-ERA organizations in Texas. A lay leader, church secretary, and Bible teacher in the evangelical Churches of Christ denomination, Hobbs gained a following in the 1960s by authoring a series of Bible study guides and devotional books oriented toward (p.351) women readers on topics such as Mary and Martha, Your Best Friend, and Victory over Trials. Disturbed by the Equal Rights Amendment, she prepared a flyer titled “Ladies! Have You Heard?” which the printer who worked on her books dressed up in pink and made ten thousand copies of, which she then distributed on church literature tables and got reprinted in small-town newspapers. The flyer wove warnings about threats to wives and children from disgruntled militant feminists with biblical statements about God calling women to a beautiful and exalted place at home.62 The flyer’s success facilitated the founding of the WWWW, which she described as an association of “fundamental Bible-believing people, people who believe in the family as the building block for a stable society.” The group’s principles included belief in the Bible, opposition to secular humanist philosophy, and conviction that husbands should be family heads and providers with wives serving as full-time homemakers.63

By late fall 1974 it was evident that efforts would be made when the Texas legislature convened in January to persuade it to rescind the state’s 1972 ratification of the ERA. That possibility propelled groups on both sides to mobilize petition drives, hold public meetings, and stage demonstrations. Organizations such as the Texas Women’s Political Caucus that had worked for ratification were joined by new groups, such as the Dallas Committee of Texans for the ERA, and gained support from established organizations, such as the League of Women Voters and Texas Conference of Churches, in lobbying to fend off rescission. On the other side, WWWW members demonstrated against the ERA wearing army uniforms, hard hats, and football uniforms to illustrate the roles women would be expected to play if the ERA became national law.64 They persuaded Representative Bill Hilliard, a conservative Democratic insurance executive from Fort Worth, to introduce a rescission bill. Hilliard was an active member of the Sagamore Hill Baptist Church, where he served as superintendent of the Sunday school.65 The Sagamore Hill church was an evangelistic-minded congregation the associate pastor of which in the early 1970s was Jack Graham, who later became the head pastor of Plano’s eleven-thousand-member Prestonwood Baptist Church and served two terms as president of the Southern Baptist Convention.66 “I want the state to take care of its own,” Hilliard declared, “and leave the federal government out of Texas’ business.”67

A study conducted by two political scientists at the University of Houston among 154 women who appeared at the Texas capital on April 14, 1975, to advocate rescission found that nearly all the women were white, middle-aged, and middle to upper-middle class. The majority had attended college, but two-thirds had grown up in small towns or rural areas, and three-quarters were housewives. Nearly all were church members, and two-thirds were fundamentalists. Like Hobbs, many were members of the Churches of Christ. Ninety-one percent agreed that “the federal government is taking away our basic freedoms,” and 88 percent agreed that the nation had moved “dangerously close to socialism.”68

(p.352) The conservative activism that spring, columnist Richard Morehead observed, was a potentially powerful force in the state’s politics that contrasted sharply with the more familiar liberal mobilization that had occurred in relation to the Vietnam War and civil rights. The presidential candidate most likely to benefit from this activism, Morehead predicted, was Reagan, whose radio broadcasts and newspaper columns were well-known in Texas and who was coming to a fund-raiser in Dallas a few months later. Already there was a conservative Republican caucus that would indeed turn in a strong showing for Reagan and at the Republican National Convention in Kansas City the following year lead an unsuccessful effort on the platform committee to oppose ratification of the ERA.69

Meanwhile, both sides of the ERA forged stronger network ties between local and national organizations and increased the topic’s political salience. At the thousand-member National Women’s Political Caucus convention in Boston in July 1975, Texas women in leadership roles included Liz Carpenter, former press secretary for Lady Bird Johnson and vice president of the international public relations firm Hill & Knowlton, TWPC cofounder Jane Wells, and outgoing national chair Frances Sissy Farenthold. On the other side, Hobbs was working to turn the WWWW into a national network and was aligning the organization more closely with Phyllis Schlafly’s Stop ERA movement and Eagle Forum, in which Hobbs would later serve as vice president. Schlafly was a well-educated, conservative Catholic Republican who had written seven books, penned numerous newspaper columns, and become the most visible leader on the national stage opposing the ERA. She considered feminism a threat to homes, husbands, families, and children and blamed women’s liberation for the rising divorce rate. She also considered the struggle one of protecting states’ rights against the federal government. In a speech to the Public Affairs Luncheon Club of Dallas on March 15, 1976, she argued that pro-ERA groups were “trying to cram the Equal Rights Amendment down our throats with federal money.” “It’s all a grab for power at the federal level,” she declared. “They’re trying to take the last remaining jurisdiction from the states.”70

Whether mobilization for or against the ERA affected voter turnout in 1976 was difficult to determine. Certainly both sides hoped that it did. A study comparing turnout among women and men found that turnout was 4.9 percent higher among men than among women in 1964 but was only 0.8 percent higher in 1976. However, the change appeared to be entirely attributable to women’s increasing participation in the labor force. Comparisons of turnout among men and women taking account of whether they were employed or not showed almost identical rates between men and women within employment categories in both elections.71

More relevant than turnout differences between men and women, though, were the differences between conservatives and moderates or liberals. Among all white southerners, 85 percent of conservative women voted in 1976 compared with only 58 percent of nonconservative women, and among men, 88 percent of the former voted compared with only 63 percent of the latter. The importance of (p.353) these differences was further evidenced by the fact that in national data several constituencies that generally favored the ERA—those with college educations, African Americans, and employed persons—had higher than average turnout rates while southerners had lower than average turnout rates, but these influences were countered by higher than average turnout rates among Republicans, weekly churchgoers, and conservatives. Indeed, when all these factors were taken into account, the odds of having voted in 1976 were three and a half times as high among conservatives as among nonconservatives.72

Further indication of the salience of the Equal Rights Amendment was evident in a 1978 CBS Election Day Survey in which voters were asked if the ERA had made a difference in how they voted. The national data showed that almost 40 percent of voters said it had mattered, although it was unclear from the raw results just how it may have mattered. More telling results were evident when the responses of southern Republican women voters were examined in relation to who they hoped would win the presidency in 1980. Among those who said the ERA mattered, 57 percent hoped Reagan would win, compared to only 37 percent among those who said the ERA had not mattered.73

Through 1976 most of the efforts for and against the ERA in Texas had been locally organized and focused on state more than on national policies, with the latter shaping opinion mostly through news reports and the 1976 presidential election. On November 18, 1977, Texas became the center of national attention because of two simultaneous conventions that opened that day in Houston. At the Albert Thomas Convention Center some ten thousand delegates and supporters from across the nation gathered for the International Women’s Year National Women’s Conference at which Betty Friedan, Barbara Jordan, and other noted leaders spoke, while across town at the Astro Arena some twenty thousand women convened at a Pro-Family Rally under the leadership of Hobbs and with Phyllis Schlafly as one of its keynote speakers. “Women’s libbers, follow Jesus Christ and your husband and your pastor, repent,” one of the signs at the Astro Arena read. Although Schlafly’s earlier efforts on behalf of Goldwater and against communism in the 1960s had garnered some interest and financial support from H. L. Hunt and her newsletter was well-known to Hobbs and other anti-ERA leaders, her Stop ERA network had been preoccupied mostly in other states where more active legislation was pending. Schlafly regarded the Houston conference as the decisive turning point that spelled doom for the ERA partly because of the enormous enthusiasm generated by the profamily event but even more so because of what happened at the other conference, where abortion rights and lesbian rights had been embraced more publicly than ever before. The feminist movement, Schlafly declared, “has sealed its own doom by deliberately hanging around its own neck the albatross of abortion, lesbianism, pornography and federal control.”74

As the March 1979 deadline approached, ERA advocates successfully petitioned Congress for an extension until June 30, 1982. Efforts focused on securing (p.354) ratification in Illinois, Florida, North Carolina, Missouri, and Oklahoma, but none of these efforts succeeded. Meanwhile, Kentucky and South Dakota rescinded their previous ERA votes. Pro-ERA leaders stuck to their guns, as political scientist Jane Mansbridge showed in her brilliant requiem, Why We Lost the ERA, not acceding to the criticisms opponents levied against the movement, but arguing that the amendment would indeed bring about much needed significant change.75 The shifting tide that resulted in defeat not only mobilized conservative women but also reduced the prospects for moderate Republicans who had supported the ERA, especially if they were also defenders of abortion rights.

Like the civil rights movement, Chicano activism, and previous efforts to alter the social position and power of different parts of society, the ERA ratification efforts showed that symbolic boundaries dividing “us” and “them” do not simply emerge full-blown from human propensities for categorization or from institutional arrangements. Symbolic boundaries are the result of contestation involving the strategic deployment of catch phrases and labels that inflect the categories with meaning. The labels that serve conveniently as shorthand signifiers in news stories, polls, and political campaigns convey ideas about values that are implicitly respected or that are said to be deserving of respect. The claim is not only a call for recognition but also an implicit understanding of why recognition is merited.

Leaders play important roles in mobilizing support through speeches and statements to the media, and they formulate policies that sometimes result in effective legislation or the blockage of legislation. But leaders also dramatize the symbolic meanings and perceptions associated with particular “us” and “them” categories. On the pro-ERA side, the most prominent leaders in Texas symbolized the new possibilities for career advancement in the professions, government, and business that women could achieve and the struggles against discrimination that these achievements so frequently required. The personal and organizational networks involved were of value not only as social ties but also in further demonstrating that the ERA was a legitimate endeavor accorded with respect from national organizations with credentials in the professions, government, and business. Leaders were keenly aware of the symbolic importance of demonstrating their commitment to inclusiveness and of cultivating larger constituencies by including Chicana and African American women as well as women of white Anglo descent and by transcending the political lines separating Democrats and moderate Republicans. They knew the ERA held less appeal among homemakers than it did for workingwomen, but they sought to overcome that disadvantage through meetings in rural areas and by cultivating support from labor unions.

Both sides explicitly cultivated religion in ways that dramatized different connections between religious identities and the ERA. The pro-ERA side drew connections with the more liberal and moderate Protestant denominations that had been more supportive of racial integration and had shifted toward (p.355) ordaining women clergy. Few of the most prominent leaders in Texas identified themselves primarily through a connection with religious organizations, but varying personal affinities were present. Tobolowsky was Jewish, taught and sang in the choir at Temple Beth-El in San Antonio, and kept active relations over the years with Jewish organizations; Smiley was a graduate of Baylor University where she had served as student body president; Weddington was the daughter of a Methodist minister and grew up playing the church organ and giving Sunday devotionals; and Myres was an elected elder in her Presbyterian church and served as a commissioner to the Presbyterian General Assembly.76 The anti-ERA side’s religious connections were evident in Hilliard’s Baptist membership and especially through Hobbs’s appearances at churches and frequent references to biblical teachings. Hobbs argued that the ERA was a moral issue that churches should address because its humanist agenda clashed fundamentally with Christianity.

As the debate about the ERA took root, opponents gained ground by increasingly arguing that they were the profamily side of the debate and suggesting by implication that ERA supporters were antifamily. Opposition to the ERA was thus publicly described as something other than what its demographic correlates may have suggested. It was presented, not as the position of a constituency that was older, less well educated, and unsupportive of gender equality; it was rather that part of the population that believed in the virtues of strong families. That definition resonated especially well with married heterosexual couples who either had children or hoped to have them, and it played well among active church members whose congregations generally encouraged marriage and provided family-centered programs for married adults and children. By implication, the “other” who supported the ERA were men who got their girlfriends pregnant and failed to stay around to parent their children, unwed mothers who deviated from patterns of ideal two-parent families, women who valued family life so little that they aborted their fetuses, married or single women who valued a career more than motherhood, and homosexuals.

How difficult it was for ERA supporters to counter the impression of being antifamily was evident in 1977 when delegates met in Houston. Press releases emphasized that many of the women at the conference were good wives and mothers. Editorials favoring the resolution encouraged readers to consider the fact that all the ERA did was ban discrimination on the basis of sex and not to be swayed by emotionally charged language about it being antifamily. But some of the newspapers that carried these articles and editorials also published a political cartoon that spoke eloquently. The cartoon depicted a woman wearing an ERA button struggling desperately to stay afloat in a tempestuous sea, surely destined to drown because of four huge boulders roped to her neck and pulling her down. The boulders were labeled government child support, gay rights, abortion issue, and feminists’ demands.77 Opponents’ success in casting the ERA as an antifamily amendment associated with radical feminism, homosexuality, and abortion (p.356) was evident in public opinion. The proportion of women favoring the ERA declined from 67 percent in 1976 to 48 percent in 1978 and rose modestly only to 53 percent in 1980. In 1980, 32 percent said they disapproved of it, up from 16 percent in 1976.78

Roe v. Wade and Beyond

Like the ERA, abortion generated discussions about rights, freedom, and whether the federal government was friend or foe. Abortion became one of the defining culture war issues of the 1980s and was hotly contested by religious leaders. But well before the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, abortion evoked sharply differing public interpretations. In one view, abortionists and the clientele they served connoted moral debauchery similar to that of drug users, adulterers, and communists. A well-publicized 1964 case in Dallas, for example, accused the male defendant not only of having attempted to perform an abortion but also of adultery, molestation, lewdness, drunken driving, and several other unnamed immoral acts.79 The Walter Jenkins incident and accusations of moral decline that critics of the Johnson administration voiced that fall included allegations that Washington cronies were running call girl and abortion rackets.80 But other discussions considered it unfortunate that women were dying because professionally performed abortions were unavailable. One estimate suggested that nationwide more than a million illegal abortions were being performed every year, and that at least five thousand women annually died as a result.81 Responding to the tragedy of thalidomide-induced birth defects and considering the more general issue of dramatically rising population growth, community organizations sponsored symposia to discuss the possible legalization of abortion.82 As the sexual revolution took hold, the story line in motion pictures and novels wrestled with teen pregnancy, failed contraception, and ethical questions surrounding abortion. Health officials in Dallas estimated that for every four births, there was at least one abortion.83

Steps toward legalizing abortion under carefully defined special circumstances were proposed during the 1960s with little avail. In 1966 forty-one states, including Texas, permitted therapeutic abortions only if necessary to save the life of the mother. Discussions about the possibility of easing restrictions were initiated by the Texas Medical Association, which saw the need to include consideration of impaired physical and psychological health of the mother, birth defects, and pregnancy from forcible rape or incest.84 The health policy discussions broached ethical questions as well, such as whether it was more desirable to perform an abortion or force a rape victim to continue an unwanted pregnancy. These questions connected with larger cultural debates. One was the debate in theological circles prompted by the concept of situational ethics, which suggested that absolute moral standards should be compromised by reasoned consideration of (p.357) utilitarian assessments having to do with personal happiness.85 The other was the one Goldwater, evangelist Billy Graham, and countless others had been voicing about the moral decline of American culture. Easy access to abortion was one more indication that the nation was sliding down a path of sexual permissiveness toward moral oblivion.

As the Texas legislature in 1967 considered a bill easing restrictions on abortion, Catholic Charities director Reverend John A. Matzner published an editorial in The Texas Catholic condemning the measure. Matzner argued that the issue was not about compassionate concern for the mother or well-being of the baby, but about the rights of an unborn infant. An unborn infant with a grave physical or mental defect, he argued, had just as much right to be born as a healthy infant. To compromise that right, he said, would be to violate God’s law according to Catholic doctrine “that human life is sacred and that the direct killing of an unborn defenseless child is still murder, no matter how much rationalization to the contrary is prevalent.”86

Matzner’s editorial sparked interest in what other religious leaders’ views might be. From New York news arrived that Cardinal Frances Spellman and other leading American Catholic officials strongly opposed all “attacks upon the lives of unborn children,” while in England the Archbishop of Canterbury reportedly thought Anglican teachings could accommodate further easing of restrictions.87 In Texas citizens weighed in with views that abortion was morally wrong and destructive of civilization, on the one hand, and morally imperative, on the other hand. For the time being, testimony before the Texas legislature came from the medical community. The terms of debate focused on the extent to which mental health considerations should be included, whether rape cases were being given sufficient attention, and what risks the proposed legislation might create for doctors.88 As the debate continued, and as similar legislation was being proposed in Colorado, Oklahoma, and several other states, public interest increased. In September 1967 an international conference on abortion drew additional attention to the issue. Then in October the Texas Supreme Court brought further interest to the issue by ruling that an unborn child has rights.89

In 1968 the Texas Medical Association and the Texas legislature continued to search for consensus about an appropriate revision of laws regulating abortion. At its national conference in May, the United Methodist Church passed a resolution favoring laws permitting abortion when birth would endanger the mother, when a child would be born grossly deformed, or when pregnancy resulted from rape or incest. But as the presidential campaign that fall focused attention on economic policies and the costs associated with public welfare, commentators drew a new issue into the abortion debate. They argued that abortion was mainly a problem because so many women were getting pregnant out of wedlock, which in turn was said to be an indication of loose morality. Who exactly was at fault remained unclear, but the implication was that welfare mothers with illegitimate children, single mothers failing to instill proper morals in their sons and (p.358) daughters, and rising interest in abortion were all somehow part of the same problem.90

As the Texas legislature convened in January 1969, a new bill to ease restrictions on abortion was introduced. Citing polls that the vast majority of Protestant and Jewish women and upward of two-thirds of Catholic women favored such legislation, the bill’s sponsors were surprised when a large number of cards and letters arrived with opposition outpacing support twenty to one.91 Two months later the bill was dead. The chief opponent was seventy-eight year-old Archbishop Lucey of San Antonio. Any legislator who voted for the bill, the archbishop declared, should be charged with murder.92

More than anything else to date, the bill’s defeat galvanized efforts to condemn or support the liberalization of Texas abortion laws. The bill’s chief sponsor, Representative James H. Clark Jr. of Dallas, denounced the Catholic Church’s hypocrisy in opposing the bill but doing little to care for grossly deformed children with serious birth defects or to help families strapped with devastating medical expenses. The Dallas Morning News published a series of articles examining the medical, theological, and legal aspects of the debate. Conservative Catholics, Protestants, and Jews wrote letters to the editor and to Clark arguing that God would punish Texas if the bill passed and suggesting that killing the elderly would be next. “Continue to push this diabolical kind of murder,” one letter to Clark declared, “and you have no guarantee that you will not die a helpless, demented old man on your own dung heap.” Other Catholic leaders took the same position as Archbishop Lucey. That view held that human life starts at conception and the person’s soul is present at that point. In consequence, abortion not only was murder but was particularly heinous because it was inflicted against the most innocent and defenseless of all humans. Those who disagreed sought counterarguments suggesting that it was impossible to know exactly when human life began.93

In retrospect, the two sides that would continue arguing about abortion well into the next century were already defined at this juncture. Those who were opposed insisted that any abortion constituted murder and thus should be impermissible by any standard, moral or legal. They claimed to have both God and science on their side, giving certainty in value as well as in fact. The other side held that neither God not science was quite that clear, meaning that a kind of consequentialist reasoning should prevail in which legislation should be passed that reduced the likelihood of doctors being charged with criminal penalties, mothers dying, or infants living with terrible suffering. In face of the opposition’s claims, the supporters of liberalized legislation opted for freedom of choice. As one supporter argued, “There is nothing in the proposed law changes that require that an abortion be done on anyone or in any hospital that does not wish to do so.”94

As Texas lawmakers pondered what steps to take next, some fifty bills in more than two dozen states were proposed, and eleven states approved laws permitting abortions under particular circumstances. Religious bodies gingerly put forth (p.359) statements as well, with groups ranging from the Union of American Hebrew Congregations to the United Presbyterian Church in the USA expressing approval of less restrictive access. Other religious organizations formed networks of clergy and counselors from whom women could seek advice if they were considering having an abortion. The Baptist General Convention of Texas did not immediately side with those who opposed less restrictive access to abortion. Its Christian Life Commission submitted a report suggesting that meaningful changes to the state’s abortion laws had been delayed too long. “This delay ignores the expressed need for change from a majority of lay and medical groups including a special Texas Medical Association committee to study abortion laws,” the report stated. On the related issue of illegitimacy, the report also expressed support for increased ceilings on welfare support and argued that welfare payments do not necessarily contribute to illegitimacy among the state’s low-income people.95

With prospects for legislation on the issue in Texas apparently dead, a Dallas married couple and an unmarried pregnant woman filed suit in federal court on Tuesday, March 3, 1970, arguing that Texas abortion law deprived women of the fundamental right “to choose whether to bear children.” The suit further argued that state laws infringed on the plaintiffs’ right to secure adequate and private medical advice and in the case of the unmarried woman to receive a safe abortion under the care of a competent licensed physician. The woman denied that her life was endangered by the pregnancy, claiming only that she was a victim of economic hardship and social stigma. Because of the stigma, she identified herself as Jane Roe. The defendant was Dallas County district attorney Henry Wade.96

When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs on January 22, 1973, Roe v. Wade became the source of one of the nation’s most enduring controversies. Norma L. McCorvey, a.k.a. Jane Doe, gave birth long before the case was decided. Sarah Weddington at age twenty-seven became the youngest attorney ever to argue a successful case before the high court. Besides her continuing involvement in the ERA ratification movement, Weddington served three terms in the Texas House of Representatives. In religion and politics, the two sides whose positions in 1969 had still been difficult to sort into well-organized factions became the pro-life movement and the pro-choice movement. As the decade proceeded, the two not only became better organized and more sharply differentiated; they also solidified the meanings of conservative and liberal and elevated the importance of those distinctions in churches and in electoral politics.

In the months following Roe v. Wade, church groups lined up on one side or the other of the issue. In San Antonio Lucey’s successor, Archbishop Francis James Furey, denounced the decision as tragic and called for an immediate end to the killing of unborn children.97 Local and statewide right-to-life committees formed with leadership and local meetings in Protestant as well as in Catholic churches. The National Council of Catholic Bishops declared that passage of a constitutional amendment against abortion should be one of the nation’s (p.360) highest political priorities. Among Southern Baptists, the executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs expressed opposition to the idea of a constitutional amendment against abortion while an organization of clergy and laity called Baptists for Life sent a delegate to Washington to testify in favor of the proposed amendment.98 Meeting in Dallas that year, the Southern Baptist Convention elected as its president a conservative pastor from Lubbock, instructed the denomination’s Christian Life Commission to publish materials on both sides of the abortion issue, voted against several proposals to combat gender discrimination and increase the number of women serving on church boards, but stopped short of passing a resolution against abortion.99 The American Lutheran Church at its annual national convention heard sharply differing views about the virtues of the Supreme Court’s decision and the dangers of abortion on demand.

Besides church groups and right-to-life chapters, service organizations were also drawn into the debate. The pro-life side was represented by homes for unwed mothers, orphanages, and new alternative pregnancy counseling, and adoption centers. The pro-choice side included hotlines and walk-in centers that dealt with drug abuse and family problems and that now provided referrals for abortion and counseling. Planned Parenthood clinics became a particular focal point of controversy. In business since the early 1940s as sources of birth control and family-planning information, these centers by the 1960s had become increasingly associated with discussions of teen pregnancy, out-of-wedlock births, and questions about poverty and rising public welfare costs. After Roe v. Wade, news media routinely advertised Planned Parenthood clinics as sources of information about sex, abortion, and venereal disease, which held negative connotations among a significant share of the public and in some publications were further connected with stories of addiction, promiscuity, slum life, and urban violence.

The Roe decision prompted negative reactions toward the federal government similar to the “us” and “them” tensions fundamentalist preachers saw in threats from the Federal Communications Commission and court rulings against school prayer. Pro-life groups reinforced the distinction between local activists and the federal government by organizing annual pilgrimages to Washington each year on the anniversary of Roe. In addition, bills were proposed to exert local power against the Court’s decision. In 1975, for example, a court case in Orange County, Texas, opened the door for local nonprofit, publicly affiliated hospitals to bar abortions except when medically necessary. Two years later the Texas legislature enacted a bill that granted medical personnel and private hospitals the right not to participate in abortions.

Pro-life advocates differed from pro-choice supporters in ways that resembled results comparing the two sides on the Equal Rights Amendment. The sides differed in level of educational attainment and especially in terms of being homemakers or employed in the paid labor force. However, the abortion debate helped legitimate the argument that well-educated, reasonable, intelligent people could (p.361) be socially and morally conservative, just as Criswell did in symbolizing respectable upscale support for theological fundamentalism. To opponents of abortion, it made sense that their side was the more logical position even though the other side might be represented by physicians and persons with high positions in the federal government. A backer from Texas who felt Republicans should include an antiabortion plank in its 1976 platform amply illustrated this view. “The unborn baby is just as much a human being as you or me. How can anyone say that one minute before birth a baby is any less a human being than one minute after, or one minute before six months pregnancy than one minute after six months?” In the writer’s view, it was no less murder for a doctor to abort an unborn baby than to kill someone’s living children, even though the parent might consent. “What is most disturbing,” the writer continued, “is that there are people who think with such twisted logic and are responsible for making and enforcing the laws of this country. These people must be denied or removed from such positions before we find our country traveling down the same road as Nazi Germany.”100

In 1976 the Dallas Morning News carried nearly 400 stories mentioning abortion, and smaller local and regional newspapers across the state mentioned the topic in more than 2,600 articles, more than twice the number in 1975. Much of the coverage focused on the Texas Republican delegation’s plans to press for an antiabortion plank at the Republican National Convention and Reagan’s stronger stance against abortion than Ford’s and Carter’s. In the process, the idea of conservatism itself became a more salient category than it had been since the 1964 campaign. Conservatism included lingering concerns about racial integration as well as specific points separating conservatives from moderate Republicans and Democrats. As a delegate from El Paso explained, “We would like to see a strengthening for the conservatives who want to get this country on some kind of an intelligent basis, instead of spending ourselves into oblivion.” Conservatives were, in his understanding, the “idealistic wing” of the party who wanted it to be a party of principles that stood against “abortion, busing, and [turning over] the Panama Canal.”101

Over the next three years, the abortion debate focused on state and national legislation having to do with questions such as Medicaid coverage and counseling requirements and was carried out by special interest organizations such as Texas Right for Life and Texas Pro Life, on one side, and the Texas Abortion Rights Action League and Texas Family Planning Association, on the other. Religious leaders expressed personal views on the various decisions, but on the whole they seemed willing to let the matter be pressed by lawmakers and in the courts. Polls nevertheless suggested that religious affiliations mattered. A national survey in 1978, for example, showed that 50 percent of mainline Protestants (such as Episcopalians, Methodists, and Presbyterians) considered abortion acceptable if a married woman wanted to have no more children, whereas only 32 percent of Catholics and 25 percent of evangelical Protestants (such as Southern Baptists) agreed.102

(p.362) Electing Ronald Reagan

Seventeen hundred people crowded the Houston Civic Auditorium the evening of Wednesday, April 23, 1980, to hear the sixth and final debate among the Republican presidential candidates. Early contenders had included Congressman John Anderson of Illinois, Senator Howard Baker of Tennessee, Bush from Texas, former Texas governor Connally, Congressman Phil Crane of Illinois, Senator Bob Dole of Kansas, businessman Ben Fernandez of California, Reagan from California, and former Minnesota governor Harold Stassen of Pennsylvania. The two candidates still in the race on April 23 were Bush and Reagan. The Houston venue gave Bush a hometown advantage. Although he was trailing badly in delegates won thus far, he was fresh from an upset victory in the Pennsylvania primary, and there was a fighting chance that he could take the contest all the way to the Republican convention in Detroit. That plan required a good showing at the debate in Houston and momentum to be gained from a win in his home state primary on May 3.

Reagan’s success in winning the Republican nomination that summer and his victory that fall in the general election fueled continuing discussions about the role that the Religious Right may have played. The question gains traction when Reagan’s decisive victories across the Bible Belt and in the South against a self-proclaimed born-again evangelical southern incumbent are considered. It acquires further credence in view of the National Affairs Briefing in Dallas and the outspoken support Reagan received from Robison, Criswell, Falwell, and others. The contest in Texas permits the question to be considered where the Religious Right’s impact can be assessed most clearly. By the general election, many pundits considered it almost a foregone conclusion that Reagan would win, but the primary contest between Bush and Reagan was harder to predict.103

The path to the Houston debate began years earlier for both candidates. Having been the first Republican to win a congressional seat from the seventh district, in which Houston was located, Bush was reelected in 1968 and became known as a staunch conservative supporter of the Nixon administration. After losing in the 1970 senatorial race to Democrat Lloyd Bentsen, Bush served as ambassador to the United Nations for two years, chaired the Republican National Committee for a term, was an envoy to China, and spent a year as director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Reagan’s time in public office began in 1966 when he ran successfully for governor of California after making a name for himself by campaigning for Goldwater in 1964. As a contender in the 1976 Republican primary against Ford, Reagan campaigned successfully in Texas for a victory that observers suggested encouraged his entry into the campaign four years later.104

The differing roles that religion would play in the Bush and Reagan campaigns were evident in the two candidates’ opening campaign announcements. Bush announced his candidacy on May 1, 1979, in a brief, thousand-word statement that (p.363) reflected his all-business approach to the campaign and that some observers saw as a reflection of his restrained personal style as well. Reagan’s formal announcement came six months later on November 13, 1979, in a style honed through his years in Hollywood and as governor of California.

Bush’s announcement made no mention of religion, focusing instead on inflation, taxes, the budget deficit, and foreign policy. Implicitly it signaled that Bush was a moderate, middle-of-the-road Republican who hoped to appeal to independents and conservative Democrats as well as to Republicans and who might be counted on to implement selected progressive policies such as greater opportunities for women in the labor force and a middle way between untrammeled individualism and social welfare programs. The Republicans he named as role models were Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Dwight Eisenhower.105

Reagan’s announcement—a thirty-seven-hundred-word speech delivered on television with inimitable poise from a comfortable wood-paneled study—struck analysts as emphasizing the same themes they had heard in his 1964 “Time for Choosing” speech for Goldwater. Reagan hammered, as Bush did, at the need for lower taxes, only more emphatically by identifying federal welfare policies as the chief culprit. Deriding the “arrogance of a federal establishment,” he championed states’ rights, called for more domestic oil and gas production, and argued for strength against the Soviet Union. Unlike Bush, he mentioned religion directly. Seeking to unleash the nation’s great strength by removing governmental roadblocks, he said, was something he would do “with God’s help.” The speech was devoid of arguments against abortion and homosexuality that religious conservatives might have been eager to hear. But Reagan asserted that the nation hungered for a “spiritual revival,” pledged that “government cannot be clergyman,” and concluded by referencing John Winthrop’s sermon to the pilgrims in 1630 promising God that New England would be a city on a hill for the eyes of all people to behold.106

The Houston debate focused on foreign policy toward the Soviet Union and Iran and on economic issues involving questions about federal spending, inflation, and gasoline prices. Both candidates argued for tax cuts, but Bush favored a modest proposal of limited tax reductions and spending cuts that would balance the budget while Reagan argued for more extreme measures that he was certain would stimulate the economy despite Bush’s criticism that these policies would hike inflation and worsen the federal deficit. Both agreed that President Carter was ineffective in ending the hostage crisis in Iran, and both argued that military action was probably necessary.107 Polls conducted nationally and in Texas showed that these were indeed the issues uppermost on voters’ minds.

That religion may have played a role in the Texas Republican primary is suggested by the results of county-level comparisons. Multiple regression analysis shows that counties in which larger proportions of total Protestant membership were composed of evangelical Protestants were significantly more likely to vote for Reagan than for Bush, controlling for a number of other factors including (p.364) the proportion who were African American, Hispanic, poor, urban, and college educated. On average, for every 5 percent of Protestants who were evangelical, Reagan won an additional 1 percent of the vote. With a victory of fewer than eighteen thousand votes—a margin of only 3.4 percent—this much of an effect from religion could have been the decisive difference, especially because other factors such as the percentage of the population who were college educated benefited Bush.108

The possibility that religion played less of a role than the statistical results suggest is plausible as well. For example, the relevant variables for the two most populous counties in the state suggest that the Houston area in Harris County was nearly indistinguishable from Dallas County in many respects: nearly two-thirds of Protestants in both counties belonged to evangelical denominations, nearly half of Protestants in both counties were Southern Baptists, a fifth of the population in both counties was African American, one person in ten was below the poverty line, and nearly one adult in four was college educated. Reagan beat Bush by 1 percent of the vote in Dallas, but Bush’s hometown advantage gave him a 26-point win over Reagan in Houston.

Other factors must be considered as well, especially that of Governor Bill Clements. Clements’s relationships with Bush and Reagan were complicated enough that his support could have gone to either candidate. As fellow leaders in the Texas oil industry, Bush and Clements had led rival companies but at one point had also been partners in a venture in Kuwait. In 1964 Clements recruited Bush to run for the Senate against Yarborough, and Clements served as Bush’s statewide finance chair in that campaign. Both held positions under the Nixon and Ford administrations, and Clements’s 1978 campaign for governor included support from Bush. But Clements was ideologically closer to Reagan than to Bush. In 1976 Clements and his wife Rita, a state Republican chairperson, supported Reagan’s bid against Ford, and in 1978 Reagan campaigned on behalf of Clements. The campaign seized on Carter’s unpopularity and focused on curbing federal government expenditures, reducing taxes, and helping the oil and gas industry, as well as opposing the Equal Rights Amendment and abortion. During the 1980 Republican primary, Clements officially remained neutral, but his neutrality was interpreted by some of the state’s leading Republicans as a lack of support for Bush. That interpretation seemed to be confirmed at the Republican National Convention when rumors spread that Clements was working to get Ford on the ticket as vice president instead of Bush. When Reagan selected Bush, Clements voiced approval, but of Reagan as much as of Bush. As the fall campaign got under way, Clements donated to Reagan’s campaign and loaned Reagan a farm in Virginia adjacent to the home of John Warner and Elizabeth Taylor, which Reagan used as his East Coast headquarters for preparing his debates with Carter.109

An Episcopalian, Clements had no particular religious affinity with evangelical Protestants, famously declaring on one occasion when asked if he was born (p.365) again, “No thanks, once was enough.” The bond between Clements and Reagan was better described as small-government fiscal conservatism. Clements’s closest allies fell into that category as well. In the 1978 campaign Clements’s state campaign chair was George W. Strake Jr., the son of one of the state’s wealthiest oilmen. A devout Catholic whose father had been a leading philanthropist of Catholic institutions in Texas, Strake was a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and Harvard Business School. He was an alternate delegate in 1976 when the Texas Republicans pledged their support to Reagan, became Clements’s secretary of state from 1979 to 1981, and with Nelson Bunker Hunt and Phyllis Schlafly became active in the conservative Council for National Policy.110

Another ally of Clements who supported Reagan was Eddie Chiles, the conservative radio commentator whose “mad as hell” broadcasts aired in fourteen states by the late 1970s. Other than helping Robison, Chiles was more interested in defending free enterprise than in promoting religion. He did, however, gain the attention of popular evangelical writer Keith Miller, who in 1981 coauthored With No Fear of Failure with Houston waste management millionaire Tom J. Fatjo, which featured Chiles, Norman Vincent Peale, and Billy Graham as self-help role models.

Through Clements and fellow Dallas oilman Ashley Priddy, along with Houston journalist and conservative political activist Clymer Wright and Dallas Republican Women’s Clubs leader Barbara Staff, a statewide network of supporters formed who had favored Reagan in 1976 and who were eager to see him win the nomination in 1980. In Dallas alone, more than two hundred contributors donated more than $125,000 to Reagan’s primary campaign committee. Many of the contributors listed their occupations as oil and gas producers, petroleum engineers, geologists, oil investors, stock brokers, and real estate owners.111

Reagan held other advantages over Bush as well. Having campaigned for Goldwater in 1964, and having served as governor of California from 1966 to 1975, Reagan was a national figure in the Republican Party. As the state’s early favorite for the presidential bid in 1976, he campaigned in Texas three times that year and received extensive media coverage. In Clements’s 1978 campaign, Reagan lectured to enthusiastic crowds in Dallas, Houston, Austin, and San Antonio, demonstrating his capacity to raise funds and hinting that he might consider becoming a presidential candidate in 1979. Reagan repeatedly drew applause with arguments against the federal bureaucracy, high taxes, and welfare spending, and in favor of states’ rights.112

Reagan’s edge in the primary contest was thus a combination of several factors. It included not only the evangelical religious tilt evident in county comparisons but also the support of several leaders associated with conservative churches. Barbara Staff, for example, was active in Criswell’s church, as were several others who contributed to the Reagan primary campaign. At the same time, the small-government fiscal conservatism that attracted contributions and votes was hardly limited to the Religious Right.113

(p.366) Public Religion Redefined

The wider significance of the Religious Right outside of Texas and even beyond the political dynamics of the 1970s and early 1980s remains a matter of scholarly investigation. But one of the conclusions about which there is general agreement is that religion in the United States somehow became more public as a result. It shifted from being as focused on private belief and personal morality to being more about politics and the collective affairs of the nation. That shift can be interpreted as a reversal of long-term secularizing processes in which religion became less and less central to the functioning of major social institutions. Or it can be regarded as something ephemeral. Regardless of the specific interpretation, the question of how exactly this apparent reinsertion of religion into the public sphere happened is worth considering.

Among the various processes involved, one that deserves further consideration is the redefinition of some parts of the religious community from being essentially about solace to being more about empowerment and indeed the legitimate claimants of respect. In simplest terms, this is a redefinition of religion’s personal as well as its ceremonial roles in the community from one that speaks to the downtrodden and gives special comfort when things go badly toward one that argues in effect that the underprivileged have new opportunities to gain power and respect. Religion played this role in the civil rights movement for African Americans, and it served similarly in parts of the Chicano power movement. It did so not only by offering idioms of empowerment and resources in the form of venues for meetings and leaders to organize those meetings; its role involved leaders who personally linked religious meanings with public political activities. In the same way, leaders of the Religious Right did that for believers who for the most part were white Protestants and Catholics with conservative religious and political views.

There is no evidence that leaders such as Roloff, Robison, Criswell, or Falwell contemplated the activities of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference or Raza Unida and gleaned ideas for engaging in political activism. The point is not about emulation but similarities of opportunity and strategy. The Religious Right came at a time when many of the white American population had moved squarely into the middle class and were restive about government intrusion, which they saw as unnecessary to their own well-being or as a threat because of school integration, fair housing and employment laws, and regulations of the environment and workplace. The civil rights movement, sexual revolution, urbanization, rising levels of education, increasing inclusion of women in the paid labor force, and new understandings of gender roles contributed to the awareness as well. The connection with religion was that the most conservative fundamentalist Protestant and traditional Catholic groups embraced beliefs and practices that were sometimes understood by their detractors as backwater ideas. (p.367) Fundamentalist and traditional teachings could provide otherworldly comfort and thus appeal to the marginalized but were out of step with the aspirations of forward-thinking people. The Religious Right challenged that view.

The best way to show that a marginalized group has more clout than anyone may have realized is to take on something or somebody with power. Roloff and Robison did that by challenging the power of the government to regulate what they were doing. Neither was well educated, and both spoke of the same old-fashioned sin and salvation that revivalists had featured in the nineteenth century. The difference was that converts could now imagine themselves as a population not only embattled, as they always had been by the forces of secularity and apostasy, but standing firmly enough to have power.

Criswell demonstrated that fundamentalism was powerful in a different way. With educational credentials, personal brilliance, and an extraordinary gift for retaining knowledge and speaking about it, he personified the idea that someone could be a fundamentalist and be respected at the same time. The result depended not only on personal talents but also on the reality of First Baptist Church. It commanded five blocks of high-end property in downtown Dallas, was regarded as the nation’s largest church whether that was literally true or not, and counted as members some of the wealthiest persons in the state. Whether someone attended there, was a Southern Baptist in a community quite different from Dallas, or was a believer who held similarly conservative views, it was now possible to be proud as a fundamentalist, traditionalist, or evangelical.

Although the term evangelical became more prominent on the national stage after Carter’s election in 1976, it is notable that in Texas and throughout much of the South, this was not the label that gained the greatest popular salience. Nor was it quite the case, as scholars would later argue, that evangelicals were distinguished from fundamentalists by virtue of better education and more active engagement in social and political affairs. That may have been the distinction characteristic of fundamentalist Bob Jones as opposed to Jerry Falwell, but Falwell still called himself a fundamentalist and so did Criswell. The more salient category among church leaders and journalists in Texas was conservative. Being a conservative implied that a person was on the fundamentalist side of Southern Baptist politics and against the ERA and abortion on social issues. It also meant that one was for Reagan, Clements, and other fiscal conservatives in electoral politics.114

As a symbolic boundary, conservatism in effect drew a line between white churchgoers and black churchgoers who generally held similar religious beliefs and opinions about moral issues but who voted for different political candidates and aligned themselves with different political parties. White conservatives in 1980 were seldom overtly racist in the way that earlier generations were. Indeed, like Criswell and other conservative Southern Baptist leaders, they were on record as being in favor of racial equality and participating in congregations that did not overtly exclude African Americans. Racial inclusiveness was evident even (p.368) at the Pro-Family conference in Houston and at the National Affairs Briefing in Dallas, where a few black leaders were among those in visible roles.115 It was just that most conservatives were white and attended white churches. The outsiders about whom they expressed concern were not explicitly African American or Hispanic, only liberals whose voting ranks happened to include larger numbers of African Americans and Hispanics and poor people who aroused conservative sentiments about promiscuity, abortion, and the costs associated with public welfare. White conservatives were able to attend middle-class churches that reinforced respectability through good preaching and high moral standards.

It was possible not only to feel that one’s faith convictions were respectable. It was also possible to be a Republican. However deeply tied to the Democratic Party one’s ancestral family may have been, a conservative person of faith knew that Republicans were now the ones who offered respect. They conferred respect by demonstrating that a person could be a reasonably well-educated member of the middle class who was making it on one’s own without a government handout and held firmly to a set of moral principles. Little wonder, then, that the crowd at Reunion Arena applauded wildly when Reagan said, “I want you to know that I endorse you.”

Notes:

(1.) Sam Attlessey and Helen Parmley, “Reagan Vows He’ll Reinstate Moral Values,” Dallas Morning News, August 23, 1980; CBS News/The New York Times, CBS News/New York Times Election Day Surveys (Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research, 1984), electronic data file; the survey was conducted as an exit poll on November 7, 1982, among 2,044 Texas voters who were asked who they voted for in the 1980 presidential election; the 84 percent who voted for Reagan refers to the responses given by 514 white voters who identified themselves as Protestants and conservatives; among all respondents, 53 percent said they voted for Reagan, closely resembling the actual vote; among all white Protestants, 64 percent voted for Reagan, as did 64 percent of white Catholics; among black Protestants, 13 percent voted for Reagan; and among Hispanic Catholics, 18 percent did.

(2.) Among the most useful discussions of the Religious Right are William Martin, With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America (New York: Broadway Books, 1996); and Daniel K. Williams, God’s Own Party: The Making of the Christian Right (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).

(3.) Pamela Colloff, “Remember the Christian Alamo,” Texas Monthly (December 2001), http://www.tfn.org; one of the general accounts that mentions Roloff, although briefly, is Lew Daly, God’s Economy: Faith-Based Initiatives and the Caring State (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009), 121.

(4.) Frank X. Tolbert, “Deep in Pines a New College Is Shaping Up,” Dallas Morning News, November 16, 1968; Maury Darst, “Radio Evangelist Entangled in Web of Controversy,” Galveston Daily News, May 21, 1983.

(5.) Bill Kenyon, “Ambassador College Texas Branch Closing,” Dallas Morning News, May 20, 1977; the Worldwide Church of God retained the campus until 2000, when it became the International ALERT Academy for Christian training in affiliation with the ministry of evangelical leader Bill Gothard.

(6.) “Christ Is the Answer,” Corpus Christi Caller-Times, October 24, 1959; in the mid-1980s faith healers Gloria and David Farjardo acquired the building at 3401 South Alameda near the Driscol Children’s Hospital as headquarters for their local ministry, Christian school, and international television broadcasts.

(7.) For example, as quoted in an advertisement for services at the Baptist Tabernacle in the Danville Bee (Danville, VA), September 19, 1970.

(p.562) (8.) “Free Speech Challenged in Radio Court Decision,” Valley Morning Star (Harlingen, TX), October 29, 1972.

(9.) “Rebekah Home Alumnae Throw Support to Roloff,” Dallas Morning News, July 17, 1973.

(10.) “Lester Roloff Ordered Out of Jail,” Dallas Morning News, February 13, 1974; Stewart Davis, “Water Plan Passed, but Child Home Bill Tabled,” Dallas Morning News, April 18, 1975.

(11.) “Roloff Wants Candidate Mark White Defeated,” Paris News, July 14, 1982.

(12.) George Kuempel, “Clements Sees Tax Reduction of $1 Billion,” Dallas Morning News, November 23, 1978; Steve Blow, “Despite Lack of Funds, Roloff Wants to Buy East Texas Campus,” Dallas Morning News, November 25, 1978; Christi Harlan, “Rebekah Rejects,” Dallas Morning News, November 24, 1980.

(13.) Doug Swanson, “Brother Roloff Is Not Dead,” Dallas Morning News, November 6, 1982; “God Will Punish Texas Because Boys Home Ordered Closed, Director Says,” Galveston Daily News, May 22, 1986; “Grand Jury Looks into Alleged Abuse at Children’s Home,” Kerrville Daily Times, May 15, 2000; Colloff, “Remember the Christian Alamo”; Joanna Hannah, “Roloff Evangelist,” http://www.baptist.org, January 17, 2011.

(14.) William Martin, “God’s Angry Man,” Texas Monthly (April 1981), 152–57, 223–35; Steve Blow, “East Texas Campus Given to Hurst Evangelist,” Dallas Morning News, October 20, 1978. The anticipated donor was Virginia businessman F. William Menge, a Robison supporter who hoped to make the campus into a self-contained Christian city; however, the deal fell through; “Armstrong Church May Face Suit,” Dallas Morning News, February 16, 1979.

(15.) Helen Parmley, “Youthful Evangelist Wins Souls to Christ,” Dallas Morning News, September 13, 1970; “Noted Evangelist Will Appear Here in One-Night Rally,” Winnsboro News, February 14, 1974.

(17.) “Ex-Sinner T. Cullen Davis Now Part of Moral Majority,” Galveston Daily News, November 23, 1980; Beth Pratt, “Cullen Davis Tells of Life Changes,” Lubbock Evening Journal, September 12, 1983; “Cullen Davis Destroys $1 Million in Art Objects,” Paris News, January 11, 1983.

(18.) “Evangelist’s TV Show Reinstated by Channel 8 Following Statements,” Dallas Morning News, May 28, 1977.

(19.) Perspectives on the Save Our Children campaign are included in Anita Bryant, The Anita Bryant Story: The Survival of Our Nation’s Families and the Threat of Militant Homosexuality (New York: Revell, 1977); Dudley Clendinen and Adam Nagourney, Out for Good: The Struggle to Build a Gay Rights Movement in America (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999); and Fred Fejes, Gay Rights and Moral Panic: The Origins of America’s Debate on Homosexuality (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2008).

(20.) General Social Survey, 1976, conducted by the National Opinion Research Center, University of Chicago, electronic data file, with nationally representative results from 1,400 respondents, including 179 white southern evangelical Protestants.

(22.) Bill Kenyon, “Robison Mounts Media Blitz,” Dallas Morning News, July 8, 1978.

(23.) Helen Parmley, “Homosexuality Remarks Kill TV Program,” Dallas Morning News, March 3, 1979.

(p.563) (24.) Robison quoted in ibid.

(25.) Helen Parmley, “Evangelist Considering Suit,” Dallas Morning News, March 6, 1979.

(26.) Virginia Lucas Nick and Mary Wall, “Shocked at TV’s Ban on Robison,” Dallas Morning News, March 10, 1979.

(27.) Campbell B. Read, “Everyone Has to Obey Fairness Ruling,” Dallas Morning News, March 15, 1979.

(28.) Helen Parmley, “Robison Case Gets Attention of Racehorse,” Dallas Morning News, March 15, 1979.

(29.) Helen Parmley, “Flap Leaves Robison ‘Scared,’” Dallas Morning News, April 1, 1979; “Lawyer Joins Team for Evangelist Robison,” Dallas Morning News, April 18, 1979; “Tom Landry to Serve on Robison Funds Panel,” Dallas Morning News, April 28, 1979; Helen Parmley, “Robison Says Miss Bryant to Miss Rally,” Dallas Morning News, May 15, 1979.

(30.) “Plea for Freedom to Preach,” Dallas Morning News, June 6, 1979.

(31.) James Robison, “Remembering Reagan,” James Robison Weekly Commentary, June 8, 2004, http://archives.jamesrobison.net.

(32.) These results are drawn from analysis of county-level data for 1980 religious adherence by denomination and census data for median household income, urban population, and population change from 1970 to 1980.

(33.) Membership data and Sunday school enrollment figures are from the Annual Church Profile for Southern Baptist Convention Churches—Sunday School, 1980, electronic data file, courtesy of the Association of Religion Data Archives, University Park, PA, http://www.thearda.com.

(34.) Joel Gregory, Too Great a Temptation: The Seductive Power of America’s Super Church (Fort Worth, TX: The Summit Group, 1994), 37.

(35.) W. A. Criswell, quoted in Blow, “Religion, Politics Mix in Criswell Philosophy.”

(36.) “Baptists Form Group Defending Carter,” Big Spring Herald, October 25, 1976; “‘Vicious’ Reaction Is Noted,” Brownsville Herald, October 24, 1976.

(37.) Donald Shriver quoted in “Religion in Politics Stirs Critics of Race,” Corsicana Daily Sun, May 28, 1976.

(38.) Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma executive director Joe L. Ingram as quoted in “Criswell Warns of Evil Forces Attacking U.S.,” Lubbock Avalanche Journal, November 26, 1976.

(39.) Kathleen Carroll, “Criswell Dynasty at First Baptist in Dallas Is Legendary,” Paris News, August 29, 1979.

(40.) D. Michael Lindsay, Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 11–12; and D. Michael Lindsay, “Evangelicals in the Power Elite: Elite Cohesion Advancing a Movement,” American Sociological Review 73 (2008), 60–82.

(41.) Charles Tilly, Durable Inequality (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), 10.

(42.) Helen Parmley, “Reagan Reaps Bible, Cap,” Dallas Morning News, August 23, 1980; “‘Here’s Life’ Receives $60.4 million in Pledges,” Dallas Morning News, May 22, 1979; Dr. B. Clayton Bell and Highland Park Presbyterian Church are described in William Martin, “In the Beginning,” Texas Monthly (May 1979), 193–96.

(p.564) (43.) Nancy Tatom Ammerman, Baptist Battles: Social Change and Religious Conflict in the Southern Baptist Convention (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1990), 132–33; quote from an interview with Reverend Steve Dominy, First Baptist Church of Gatesville, conducted by Libby Smith, January 15, 2004.

(44.) Pressler quoted in Jeff Robinson, “Paul Pressler: Conservative Resurgence Was Grassroots Movement,” Baptist Press, March 30, 2004, and further details discussed in Paul Pressler, A Hill on Which to Die: One Southern Baptist’s Journey (Nashville: B&H, 2002).

(45.) Janet Warren, “Baptists Stand by Bible,” Dallas Morning News, May 23, 1979; Helen Parmley, “Conservative Baptists Give Rogers Office,” Dallas Morning News, June 13, 1979.

(46.) Michael Foust, “Adrian Rogers, Longtime Bellevue Pastor and Leader in Conservative Resurgence, Dies,” Baptist Press, November 15, 2005; Helen Parmley, “Irregular Voting by SBC Revealed,” Dallas Morning News, September 19, 1979.

(47.) Ammerman, Baptist Battles, 144, based on responses to a question that asked, “Admittedly, categories do not tell everything, but most of us think of ourselves more in some terms than in others. When you think about your theological position, which word best describes where you stand—fundamentalist, conservative, moderate, or liberal?”

(48.) Ibid., 136, from repercentaging the middle panel of table 5.2, which shows theological category by education rather than education by theological category.

(50.) National Election Survey, 1980, electronic data file, courtesy of the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research, University of Michigan, responses from 161 interviewees who indicated their religion as Southern Baptists; although 40 percent claimed some training beyond high school, only 9 percent had college degrees; in comparison, 34 percent of Presbyterians, 18 percent of Methodists, 14 percent of Catholics, and 32 percent of Jews had college degrees. Another way of identifying evangelicals in the survey was a question asking opinions of the Bible, showing that 9 percent of those who regarded the Bible as God’s completely true word had college degrees compared with 23 percent of those who considered the Bible inspired but containing errors; in the 1964 National Election Survey, 5 percent of those giving the more conservative response had college degrees compared with 20 percent of those giving the more liberal response. Identifying evangelicals in a 1978 Gallup survey through a question about the Bible and two other questions, Hunter showed that 9 percent of evangelicals had college degrees compared with 14 percent of nonevangelical Protestants and 14 percent of Catholics; James Davison Hunter, American Evangelicalism: Conservative Religion and the Quandary of Modernity (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1983), 54. Other relationships between rising levels of education and religion in this period are discussed in Robert Wuthnow, The Restructuring of American Religion: Society and Faith since World War II (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988), 167–72.

(52.) W. A. Criswell, Why I Preach That the Bible Is Literally True (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1973).

(53.) U.S. Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 1971 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1971), 104 and 212.

(p.565) (54.) My analysis of Texas results from the 1970 U.S. Census, Public Use Microsample, electronic data file, courtesy of Steven Ruggles, J. Trent Alexander, Katie Genadek, Ronald Goeken, Matthew B. Schroeder, and Matthew Sobek, Integrated Public Use Microdata Series: Version 5.0 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2010).

(55.) Sherilyn Brandenstein, “Texas Equal Rights Amendment,” Handbook of Texas Online, 1983, http://www.tshaonline.org.

(56.) Mark Chaves, Ordaining Women: Culture and Conflict in Religious Organizations (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997), provides a valuable analysis of the relationships between questions about women’s ordination and wider cultural controversies as well as references to many of the empirical studies.

(57.) Ammerman, Baptist Battles, 91–102; “Baptist Woman’s Group President Endorses ERA,” Dallas Morning News, October 20, 1976.

(58.) One of Criswell’s most pointed statements on the topic was in a 1984 sermon in which he argued that feminism was undermining the family and urged women to stay in the home, where God intended them to be; W. A. Criswell, “Woman’s Work in the Church,” October 21, 1984, Criswell Sermon Library, http://www.wacriswell.org. Criswell’s opposition to the ERA is discussed briefly in James McEnteer, Deep in the Heart: The Texas Tendency in American Politics (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2004), 162.

(59.) National Election Survey, 1976, conducted by the Center for Political Studies, University of Michigan, electronic data file, courtesy of the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research, University of Michigan.

(60.) My results based on logistic regression analysis of the responses of women in the 1976 National Election Survey with approval of the ERA as the dependent variable and age (18 to 30 vs. older), college degree, working, Republican, South, black, weekly religious attendance, and feeling close to conservatives as the independent variables; similar results with somewhat stronger effects were evident in logistic regression analysis of responses to the question about women’s liberation.

(61.) Abe Stroud quoted in Nancy Roberts, “Stroud Raps Equal Rights Amendment,” Corsicana Daily Sun, April 11, 1975.

(62.) Lottie Beth Hobbs continued to be active in efforts to oppose the Equal Rights Movement and related gender-equality measures, including helping to convene events in 1979 related to the International Year of the Child and a Pro-Family Forum in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1984; Robert E. Hooper, A Distinct People: A History of the Churches of Christ in the 20th Century (West Monroe, LA: Howard, 1993), 250–51; excerpts from Hobbs’s flyer and quotes from an interview are included in Judith N. McArthur and Harold L. Smith, Texas through Women’s Eyes: The Twentieth-Century Experience (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010), 246–50.

(63.) Sharon Cobler, “Anti-ERA Movement Goes National,” Dallas Morning News, November 27, 1975.

(64.) Jane Ulrich, “Battle Lines on ERA Drawn,” Dallas Morning News, December 6, 1974.

(65.) Andujar Glasgow, “In Memory of Bill Hilliard,” Senate Journal of Texas, May 25, 1982.

(66.) Bonnie Pritchett, “Fort Worth Church Produced Baptist Leaders,” Southern Baptist Texan, October 22, 2010.

(p.566) (67.) Texas state representative Bill Hilliard quoted in Nene Foxhall, “ERA Opponents State March,” Dallas Morning News, February 19, 1975.

(68.) David W. Brady and Kent I. Tedin, “Ladies in Pink: Religion and Political Ideology in the Anti-ERA Movement,” Social Science Quarterly 56 (1976), 564–75; quotations on p. 569; the authors note that Baptists in the group were not classified as fundamentalists, although most were probably Southern Baptist and would likely have included some fundamentalists.

(69.) Richard Morehead, “Stop-ERA Faction: A Political Force,” Dallas Morning News, April 20, 1975.

(70.) Phyllis Schlafly quoted in Nene Foxhall, “ERA Funding under Fire,” Dallas Morning News, March 16, 1976.

(71.) Thomas E. Cavanagh, “Changes in American Voter Turnout, 1964–1976,” Political Science Quarterly 96 (1981), 53–65; and related evidence on labor-force participation and women’s interest in political issues in Kristi Andersen, “Working Women and Political Participation,” American Journal of Political Science 19 (1975), 439–53.

(72.) My analysis of results in the 1976 National Election Survey, electronic data file, logistic regression analysis with having voted or not voted in the 1976 election as the dependent variable and age, college education, working, weekly church attendance, feeling close to conservatives, Republican, South, and black as the independent variables. Of course opposition to the ERA was not the only issue mobilizing conservatives, but when responses to the ERA were included in the analysis along with the conservatism and other variables, the odds of having voted in 1976 were still approximately 20 percent higher among opponents and among proponents of the ERA.

(73.) CBS Election Day Survey, conducted November 7, 1978, among 8,808 exiting voters, electronic data file, courtesy of the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research.

(74.) Donald T. Critchlow, Phyllis Schlafly and Grassroots Conservatism: A Woman’s Crusade (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005), 70, 246–47; Schlafly quotation on pp. 247–48; sign about repentance quoted in “Thousands Protest Conference,” Victoria Advocate, November 20, 1977.

(75.) Jane J. Mansbridge, Why We Lost the ERA (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986).

(76.) Gladys R. Leff, “Opening Legal Doors for Women: Hermine Tobolowsky,” in Lone Stars of David: The Jews of Texas, ed. Hollace Ava Weiner and Kenneth D. Roseman (Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press, 2007), 233–38; “Hermine Tobolowsky: An Inventory of Her Papers, 1932–1995,” Texas Archival Resources Online, http://www.lib.utexas.edu; Sarah Weddington, A Question of Choice (New York: Penguin, 1993), 18; Sharon Cobler, “Crusaders Never Kick the Habit,” Dallas Morning News, July 13, 1975.

(77.) An example of arguments that the National Women’s Year conference and ERA were not antifamily is Linda J. Westerlage, “It’s Possible to Be Pro-Family and Pro-ERA,” Galveston Daily News, December 2, 1977, with the political cartoon labeled “Help! (Glub) Help!” on the same page.

(78.) National Election Surveys, cumulative electronic data file, including results from 1976, 1978, and 1980.

(79.) “Commander Rejected in Court Plea,” Dallas Morning News, May 17, 1964.

(p.567) (80.) “Alger Says Morality in Office Sank,” Dallas Morning News, October 24, 1964.

(81.) Harry McCormick, “Abortions Easy to Obtain, Law Hard to Enforce,” Dallas Morning News, March 20, 1965.

(82.) The German measles epidemic of the early 1960s also played an important role, as argued in Leslie J. Reagan, Dangerous Pregnancies: Mothers, Disabilities, and Abortion in Modern America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010).

(83.) Francis Raffetto, “City Birth Control Eyed,” Dallas Morning News, February 25, 1965.

(84.) Sue Connally, “Updating Urged for Abortion Law,” Dallas Morning News, April 16, 1966.

(85.) Joseph Fletcher, Situation Ethics: The New Morality (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1966), became a widely discussed treatise in seminaries and divinity schools.

(86.) Reverend John A. Matzner quoted in “Editorial Raps Bill on Abortions,” Dallas Morning News, January 14, 1967.

(87.) Quoted in George Dugan, “New York Catholics Urged to Fight Legalized Abortion,” Dallas Morning News, February 13, 1967.

(88.) Sue Connally, “TMA Rules Abortion Bill Unacceptable,” Dallas Morning News, May 6, 1967.

(89.) Stewart David, “Child, Parents Hold Rights, Court Rules,” Dallas Morning News, October 5, 1967; the case involved suit for wrongful death of an infant born two or three months prematurely as the result of an automobile accident; the ruling overturned previous cases in which life for the purpose of establishing rights was generally considered to begin only after a child was born and established an independent existence through respiration and independent circulation.

(90.) These connections were clearly implied in an editorial titled “Illegitimacy,” Dallas Morning News, October 1, 1968.

(91.) “Mail Hits Bill for Abortion,” Dallas Morning News, February 18, 1969.

(92.) Marquita Moss, “Sponsor Concedes Abortion Bill Dead, Attacks Catholic Opposition,” Dallas Morning News, March 20, 1969.

(93.) Marquita Moss, “Is Fetus Human? Is Abortion Murder?” Dallas Morning News, March 24, 1969.

(94.) James T. Towns III, M.D., “The Case for Legalized Abortion,” Dallas Morning News, April 9, 1969.

(95.) “Baptists Endorse 1-Day Closing Law,” Dallas Morning News, November 7, 1969.

(96.) Earl Golz, “Suits Challenge Abortion Laws,” Dallas Morning News, March 4, 1970.

(97.) Jan Jarboe, “Catholic Reaction Strongest,” San Antonio Light, February 22, 1974.

(98.) “Area Minister Hits Abortion,” Victoria Advocate, March 15, 1974.

(99.) “Stand on Abortion Due Airing,” Big Spring Herald, June 13, 1974.

(100.) John Falke, “Concerned,” El Paso Herald Post, August 27, 1976.

(101.) “Delegates Push Reagan in El Paso,” El Paso Herald Post, August 9, 1976.

(102.) General Social Survey, electronic data file, survey conducted among a representative national sample of adults in 1978.

(103.) An early poll in January 1980 showed Bush as 35 percent of registered voters’ first choice for the Republican nomination, with Reagan coming in second at 32 percent. In a (p.568) face-off with Carter, though, the poll suggested that Bush would lose by 21 points and Reagan by 33 points. Survey conducted for Time magazine by Yankelovich, Skelly, and White, January 23 and 24, 1980, in telephone interviews among 1,227 registered voters; courtesy of the Roper Center Public Opinion Archives. The polls suggested, nevertheless, that Reagan had two advantages. When asked about Bush, a significant number of voters said they were unsure or not familiar enough with him to judge whether he would be acceptable as president or capable of winning against Carter. Reagan was better known. The other advantage was Reagan’s personality. A poll in March 1980 showed that 56 percent of the public rated Reagan’s personality as good or very good, while only 33 percent said that about Bush. Another poll showed that 56 percent of the public agreed that Reagan “has a highly attractive personality and would inspire confidence as president,” compared to 43 percent who thought the same about Bush. In the Time/Yankelovich survey, 21 percent were unsure how they would vote in a race between Carter and Bush, compared with only 11 percent with Reagan against Carter; and when asked about Bush’s acceptability as president, 34 percent said they were unsure or not familiar enough to have an opinion, whereas only 7 percent gave the same responses for Reagan; conducted shortly after the Iowa caucus, the poll also showed that when asked how the caucus had affected their opinions, 40 percent said they still had no opinion of Bush, while only 29 percent said that about Reagan. The questions about personality were asked in a Yankelovich, Skelly and White Poll conducted March 29 and 30, 1980, and in an ABC News Louis Harris and Associates Poll, conducted April 26 to 30, 1980. The other difference between Bush and Reagan was that only 11 percent of registered voters who thought Bush would be acceptable as president worried that he would be too conservative, while 34 percent thought that about Reagan. But in Republican primaries Reagan’s perceived conservatism worked to his advantage, helping him both to cultivate stronger support among conservative Republicans than Bush and to differentiate himself more sharply from Carter. That advantage was evident in another poll that asked Republicans who supported Reagan over Bush their reasons for doing so. Besides saying they knew more about him, the top reason was that he was more conservative. Cambridge Reports Research International Survey, conducted in January 1980 through 1,500 personal interviews, 67 percent of whom said they were Republicans; courtesy of the Roper Center Public Opinion Archives.

(104.) Gilbert Garcia, Reagan’s Comeback: Four Weeks in Texas That Changed American Politics Forever (San Antonio: Trinity University Press, 2012).

(105.) George H. W. Bush, “Presidential Announcement Statement of Ambassador George Bush,” George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, May 1, 1979, http://www.4president.org.

(106.) Ronald Reagan, “Announcement for Presidential Candidacy,” November 13, 1979, http://www.reagan.utexas.edu; video at http://millercenter.org.

(107.) Partial video of the debate is at http://www.ourcampaigns.com.

(108.) For these comparisons, I obtained the county-level Republican primary results from Rhodes Cook, United States Presidential Primary Elections, 1968–1996: A Handbook of Election Statistics (Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2000), and merged the electronic data files with 1980 county-level statistics on religion and the relevant census variables from electronic data files compiled by Social Explorer. The evangelical Protestant variable in the Social Explorer data is a standard code known in the sociology of religion literature as “reltrad,” which (p.569) categorizes denominational membership by major denominational traditions. In these data for Texas, approximately two-thirds of the evangelical Protestants were Southern Baptists, and the remainder was members of smaller denominations such as Assemblies of God and independent Baptists. Calculating evangelicals as a percentage of Protestants is necessary to adjust for varying proportions of counties who essentially are not eligible to be conservative Protestants because of being Catholics or Jews. The percent of total population that was African American was included as a control variable to take into account the possibility that the white residents who made up nearly all of voters in the Republican primary may have been influenced by living in counties with larger black populations. The percentages that were Hispanic, below the poverty line, and urban were included as control variables for similar reasons, while the percentage of persons age twenty-five and older who had at least four years of college was included to see if the presence of more of these relatively well-educated, middle-class voters might result in elevated voting for Bush as the more moderate candidate. The standardized multiple regression coefficients for the effect of each variable on the percentage of total votes in counties cast for Reagan were 0.152 for percent of Protestant adherents that were evangelical (significant at the 0.02 level and an unstandardized coefficient of 0.179), −0.252 for percent of 1980 population that was black (significant at the 0.001 level), and −0.218 for percent of persons age twenty-five and over with at least four years of college (significant at the 0.01 level); the coefficients for percent Hispanic, percent urban, and percent below the poverty line were not significant. Alternative models in which the percent of Protestants who were Southern Baptists was included instead of the percent evangelical variable and in which median family income was included instead of the poverty variable produced nearly identical results (tests for multicollinearity showed that the poverty variable and median household income should not be included in the same models).

(109.) Douglas Harlan, “The Party’s Over,” Texas Monthly (January 1982), 114–19; Harlan’s account also describes the more complicated relationships between Bush and Connally and Clements and Tower, which factored into the 1980 campaign; Sean P. Cunningham, Cowboy Conservatism: Texas and the Rise of the Modern Right (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2010), 195–200.

(110.) “George W. Strake Jr.,” http://www.muckety.com.

(111.) The names, dates, and amounts of donations as compiled by the Federal Election Commission are listed at http://www.city-data.com; in Houston more than 250 contributors donated $136,000 to Reagan’s primary campaign.

(112.) “State GOP Takes in $1.3 Million at Big Ford-Reagan Fund-Raiser,” Paris News, September 13, 1978; Carolyn Barta, “Reagan ‘Anti-DC’ Speech Electrifies ‘Clements Convoy,’” Dallas Morning News, October 20, 1978.

(113.) My analysis of data from the CBS News/New York Times Election Survey conducted in November 1980 among 15,201 voters, electronic data file courtesy of the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research at the University of Michigan, shows that the odds of voting for Reagan were 32.5 percent higher among self-identified “born-again” voters than among non-born-again voters, controlling for race, gender, age, education, and region; however, among only the 2,735 white southern voters, the coefficient for born again was not significant; a different conclusion emerges, though, from comparisons among these voters (p.570) with how they recalled voting in 1976; in that election, 47 percent of white southern born-again voters opted for Carter, while only 35 percent of white southern non-born-again voters did; the decline in votes for Carter in 1980 compared with 1976 was 9 points among born-again white southerners but only 2 points among white southern non-born-again voters.

(114.) In the 1980 CBS News/New York Times election survey, logistic regression analysis among southern voters of the odds of identifying as a conservative yielded odds ratios of 1.906 for white and 1.818 for born again, controlling for gender, age, and having any college education; among southern voters the odds of having voted for Reagan were nearly thirteen times greater among whites than among blacks, taking account of differences in age, education, and gender.

(115.) At least one African American state legislator was among the speakers at the Pro-Family conference in Houston, and African American pastor E. V. Hill from Los Angeles addressed the crowd at the National Affairs Briefing in Dallas.