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How powerful has religion been in contemporary American Politics?

How powerful has religion been in contemporary American Politics?

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Renagh Ni Mhaonaigh. Originally submitted for Contemporary American Business and Politics at Dublin City University, with lecturer Charles Laffiteau in the category of International Relations & Politics
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Renagh Ni Mhaonaigh. Originally submitted for Contemporary American Business and Politics at Dublin City University, with lecturer Charles Laffiteau in the category of International Relations & Politics

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 29, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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10/27/2013

 
How powerful has religion been in contemporary Americanpolitics?
George Bernard Shaw once said “
No man ever believes that the Bible means what it says:He is always convinced that it says what he means
”. This statement explains the manner in
which the Bible has influenced the actions of the American people throughout history. Onecan use the book to justify almost anything when interpreted in a certain manner. Of coursethere are other religious documents, such as the Koran and the Vedas for example, but for the purpose of this paper I intend to focus on the Bible, as Christianity is the predominantfaith of the United States of America. After WW2 religion and politics became moreintertwined,first with the rise of Billy Graham an evangelical minister whose ascendency wasakin to that of a modern day celebrity. Then there was the use of religion in order toencourage people to be politically pro-active in the fight for civil rights or the fight againstabortion. Leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. appe
aled to his congregation’s sense of 
entitlement and desire for equality. His case won momentum as he used language thatcreated a belief among his followers that it was their God given right to be treated as equalto white people. In more recent times we can see the influence of religion in the election of apresident. In the 2000 presidential election George W. Bush pleased the evangelicalcommunity with his conservative views. According to them he brought the correct religiousright views that mattered to them to the table. Then in 2008 the Democrats realised that inorder to win office they too would have to embrace the religious side of politics and targetreligious voters.In 1949 Billy Graham came to nationwide prominence in America as a great Evangelistleader when he took his crusade to Los Angeles. He wanted to turn sin city around and bringthe people back to God and he came in at just the right time. The Soviet Union had just
 
tested its first atomic bomb and this created huge fear among American citizens. Grahamstrategically framed the Cold War as a war between Christianity and Communism. William R.Hearst, a leading newspaper publisher at the time, took a liking to
Graham’s
views and sohis papers began to print stories in support of 
Graham’s
message, (Frontline, 2010). With
Hearst’s blessing there was no stopping Graham. He grew in popularity and became a
spokesperson for the national culture blending Christianity and nationalism, (Wimberly et al,1975). Graham wanted to expand his appeal and spread his message even further and sobegan building relations with those in politics. During the 1952 election he lent DwightEisenhower his support. Eisenhower saw the power of religion in garnering votes and sodespite not being a very religious man himself he welcomed Graham. Within two weeks of office Eisenhower was baptised and confirmed. By 1960 church attendance had reached anall time high. This was due to a number of factors, but the support religion and politics gaveeach other during this period must be accepted as a contributing factor, (Frontline, 2010).The church/state barrier was gradually being whittled away.During the 1960 presidential election Graham gave his support to Nixon as his leanings weredefinitively republican, although he did maintain a voice in the White House when Kennedycame to power, (Frontline, 2010). The election of Kennedy was a momentous occasion ashe was the first Catholic to hold the presidential seat in America. Many people, includingGraham, were very concerned about the prospect of a Catholic in office. However, Grahamwas very careful to retain a public image of indifference to the religious issue and even wentso far as to send a letter to Kennedy stating that religion would not be raised as a problem.Days later Graham convened with a number of prominent ministers to establish a method of keeping this Catholic out of office, but Graham never spoke publicly on the issue. Inresponse to this suspicion Kennedy spoke to three hundred ministers in Texas to confirm hisbelief in church/state separation and guarantee that his rule would not be Rome rule.
“I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no
Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no
 
Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or churchschool is granted any public funds or political preference; and where no man is denied publicoffice merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the
people who might elect him”
 (NPR, 2010)
In contrast to Billy Graham, during the 1960s many Evangelist ministers didn’t believe in
getting involved in any political movement. They believed that Christian ministers had ahigher power to preach the bible and love, (Schaeffer 2007). The idea of secularism wasalien to them. Their primary allegiance was to God and according to them America was aChristian nation created by him for them. These beliefs were challenged during the 1960sdue to the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement and the new drug culture coming forth.Due to these new developments some Evangelist ministers decided it was time that thestood up and be heard in politics. The major turning point for one well known minister wasthe decision of the US Supreme Court in the case of Roe V. Wade 1973. Francis Schaeffer  joined the anti-abortion cause with encouragement from his son Frank who was avehemently against abortion, (Schaeffer, 2007, p265-267). As soon as Schaeffer wasconverted to the cause he began to ask others to follow suit. Schaeffer argued that althoughthe Catholics had stood up first and denounced the decision, this was not just a Catholicissue it was an issue for all of America.Jerry Falwell
embarked on a series of “I love America” rallies in order to raise political
awareness among evangelical Americans. The Moral Majority group soon rose out of this.This was a political organisation that partook in evangelical orientated lobbying (Frontline,2010). What began as a small movement by the Christian right soon became a force to bereckoned with. The Evangelists converted some Republicans to the cause as they saw it asa way of making the country a better place by having politicians in power that understoodtheir moral concerns. The politicians saw it as a way of accessing huge numbers of votes

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