With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America

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The rise of the Religious Right is one of the most important political and cultural stories of our time.  To many, this controversial movement threatens to upset the nation's delicate balance of religious and secular interests.  To others, the Religious Right is valiantly struggling to preserve religious liberty and to prove itself as the last, best hope to save America's soul.  In With God on Our Side --the first balanced account of conservative Christians' impact on post-war politics--William Martin paints a vivid and authoritative portrait of America's most powerful political interest group.

Although its members now number between forty and sixty million people, the Religious Right has not always carried the tremendous--and growing--political clout it enjoys today.  A hundred years ago, scattered groups of conservative Christians worked fervently to spread the Gospel, but their involvement in politics was marginal.  Early in this century, however, a series of charismatic and ambitious leaders began transforming the movement; by the election of John F. Kennedy as our first Catholic president, the Religious Right had found its voice.  Politics and religion began mixing as never before.  From Richard Nixon's strategic manipulation of Graham's religious influence in the 1970s, to Ronald Reagan's association with Falwell's Moral Majority in the 1980s, to the Christian Coalition's emergence as a slick, sophisticated political machine, the line separating the pulpit from the presidency became increasingly blurred.  Now, preachers such as Graham, Falwell, and Pat Robertson preside over ministries so vast and well organized that most politicians can ill afford to ignore their views--or lose their votes.

In recent years, the Religious Right's political influence has propelled it into spheres beyond pure politics.  Race relations, abortion and reproductive rights, school curricula, the nature and role of the family--conservative Christians have embraced all of these socially charged issues, and their activism has irrevocably altered the way America confronts its thorniest problems.  How does a free society draw the line between Church and State without removing religious conviction from public life? What motivates individual Americans to do battle in the culture wars? Most importantly, when politicians and religiously motivated activists join forces, who holds the reins?

Drawing on over 100 new interviews with key figures in the movement, William Martin brilliantly captures the spirit of the age as he explores both sides of this dramatic debate.  Written in conjunction with the producers of the public television series of the same name, this landmark book is essential reading for all Americans--conservative and liberal, fundamentalist and atheist--who care about the spiritual health and political future of our country.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Required reading for anyone seeking to understand the rise of the Religious Right . . . nothing has been published that can match Martin’s book in sweep and substance.” —Christian Century

“Martin’s extraordinary primary research even-handedly catalogs all the contradictions that sprang up when the supposedly outsider Christians linked themselves with the country’s most powerful leaders . . . [A] masterful history of the American religious right.”—New York Newsday

“The most complete and sympathetic treatment so far of this genuinely American conundrum.”—Dallas Morning News

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The confluence of politics and religion in American life is explored with insight and style in this important new book from Martin (A Prophet With Honor), a professor of sociology at Rice University. Focusing on the modern era, the author analyzes the significance of church and clergy in the tradition of social action, from the civil rights movement through the growth of the Christian Coalition. In a blend of fast-paced journalism and in-depth scholarship, the text incorporates numerous interviews with, and personal accounts by, key figures, weaving together many frayed threads of meaning in contemporary American political life. Scrupulously fair, pointing out what he sees as the media's biases and double standards, Martin details the events and personalities that have infused our politics with religious fervor. From JFK's Catholicism to Billy Graham's flirtation and subsequent disillusionment with politicians; from Jimmy Carter's born-again candidacy to the rise of evangelical political action groups; from Ronald Reagan's courtship of the Moral Majority to the current configuration of the surprisingly diverse religious right, Martin deftly guides the grand tour, putting the fiery social issues of our timesabortion, homosexuality, public education, AIDS and gun controlin the context of the conservative Christian agenda. Martin concludes with a masterful essay on the subtle interpretation of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison regarding separation of church and state, affirming their non-ironic proposition that the health of America's religious communities derives from being apart from the corrupting power of politics. Photos. Author tour. (Sept.)
Library Journal
Martin (Prophet with Honor: The Billy Graham Story, LJ 11/1/91), an authority on the history and sociology of religion, is well-qualified to examine the phenomenon of the religious right. Starting with an excellent summary of American religious history, he goes on to devote the bulk of his book to developments in the last 50 years. Martin puts his emphasis on the political and social influence of such groups as the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition. He explains the importance of such famous figures as Billy Graham, Pat Robertson, and Ralph Reed. Martin also examines the "culture wars" that fuel the struggle. There is a wealth of information and thoughtful analysis here that brings the reader's understanding down to the immediate present. Martin clearly understands the political danger of a powerful religious Right, which seeks to stifle all dissent. He fails, however, to acknowledge the equally heavy-handed agenda of the humanist Left, which, in part, has given rise to the problem. Recommended for public and academic libraries.-C. Robert Nixon, M.L.S., Lafayette, Ind.
Kirkus Reviews
Published to coincide with a PBS series of the same title, this is a richly detailed, objective account of Christian fundamentalism in the last 50 years and its increasingly organized efforts at shaping public policy.

With extensive interviews and research, sociologist Martin (Rice Univ.; A Prophet With Honor: The Billy Graham Story, not reviewed) sets out to track the transformation of Christian conservatives from quiet, God-fearing Americans into one of the most potent political forces of the 1990s. He starts by revisiting the career of Billy Graham, then traces the ideas and careers of Graham's successors, including Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and Ralph Reed, and the major fights over public policy that their movements have been involved in. Weaving together revealing details and first-person accounts, Martin recreates a number of important conflicts, including the sex education battles in Anaheim, Calif.; the Kanawha County, W.Va., textbook wars; the debate over how to treat AIDS patients; and the fight concerning Amendment 2, Colorado's overturned anti-homosexual law. Martin provides thorough reports but rarely offers pointed morals. He does, however, skewer hypocrisy where he finds it, as in his tracing of the racism evident in Jerry Falwell's early career and his subsequent disingenuousness about it. He also strays repeatedly into political history, such as chronicling presidential races. But the digressions are so well rendered that the reader shouldn't mind. Overall, Martin leaves one with heightened concern for the future of religious tolerance in America. He warns that "the level of religious conflict appears to be rising and the historically unprecedented extent of religious freedom may be in some danger."

Both reformers and religious conservatives should find in this penetrating narrative some incentive to work to maintain "the pluralism that has served us so well."

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780767922579
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 6/7/2005
  • Pages: 464
  • Product dimensions: 6.13 (w) x 9.15 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

William Martin
William Martin

William C. Martin, a writer, teacher, and counselor, lives in Otter Rock, OR. Dan Millman is the author of Way of the Peaceful Warrior.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 9, 2002

    Good, but neglects important facts

    This is a good study of the history of the religious right in America, but it avoids a thorough examination of the valid and justified criticism that has increasingly been leveled at the religious right. For balance, readers should also read A Pilgrim's Path, by John J. Robinson, and/or Real Prophecy Unveiled, by Joseph J. Adamson. The redeeming thing about Martin's book is that he includes the Jeffersonian view, which, by the way, refutes Pat Robertson's claim that the founding fathers would approve of what he is doing. In fact, Thomas Jefferson would frown on the political activity of the religious right of today, just as he did in his day. And, to be blunt, Jesus would once again rebuke hypocrites who claim to do many wonderful works in the name of the Lord but instead work iniquity. Fortunately, when real prophecy is fulfilled, the proud will be brought low and the meek shall inherit the earth.

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