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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.
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William Martin teaches sociology at Rice University, where he is the Harry and Hazel Chavanne Professor of Religion and Public Policy in the Department of Sociology as well as senior scholar at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.From 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.'' (24 pages pohotos, not seen) (Author tour) -- Copyright ©1996, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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