Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Daniel K. Williams' "God’s Own Party"

Daniel K. Williams is an assistant professor of history at the University of West Georgia.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, God’s Own Party: The Making of the Christian Right, and reported the following:
Page 99 of God’s Own Party captures the central themes of the book to a remarkable degree.

God’s Own Party traces the history of evangelicals’ political mobilization for conservative causes from the early twentieth century to the present. It explains why the alliance between evangelicals and the Republican Party emerged and why it was central to the creation of a successful Christian Right. Readers who flip the book open to page 99 will find themselves in the midst of a pivotal episode in the creation of that alliance – the meetings between Billy Graham and Richard Nixon’s White House aides during Nixon’s reelection campaign of 1972.

The page begins with H.R. Haldeman questioning Graham in one of their White House meetings:
How much negative campaigning would [evangelicals] tolerate? What could Nixon do to defuse Democratic candidate George McGovern’s appeal to left-wing evangelicals who were concerned about social welfare? “Should the President attack McGovern or should he carry on the theme of ‘Bring Us Together?” Haldeman asked Graham. Haldeman also floated the idea of a more direct cooperation between the Nixon campaign and American evangelicals. Would it be appropriate, he asked Graham, for members of the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP) to work with the staff of Bill Bright’s Campus Crusade for Christ? The Nixon White House even tried unsuccessfully to secure Graham’s mailing list.
But if Nixon lived up to his image as a cynical politician, manipulating the evangelical vote for his own interests, Graham was more politically astute than his later self-characterization as a “sheep led to the slaughter” in the Nixon White House would suggest. Like other evangelicals, he longed to restore moral order in America through political action, and he decided that Nixon, who had been elected on a platform of “law and order,” was the key to realizing that vision:
In Graham’s view, an alliance between evangelicals and the president would not only advance evangelicals’ social status, but would also be the key to promoting the president’s vision of “law and order” and public morality. To achieve that goal, Graham had to convince the White House to begin looking at white evangelicals as a voting constituency, and he had to become a political strategist himself as he worked to secure the president’s reelection.
Page 99 concludes with an analysis of the way in which Graham’s fellow evangelicals viewed his relationship with Nixon. Christianity Today editorialized in March 1972:
Is not the risk far outweighed by the opportunity? Have not many evangelicals long prayed for an entrée without compromise into the affairs of state? ... In the case of Graham, there is no evidence that he has watered down his convictions to gain access to the White House.
For the remainder of the century and beyond, many evangelicals would echo Christianity Today’s sentiments. They recognized that an alliance with the Republican Party could be dangerous, yet they knew that they also needed the party’s support in order to accomplish their goal of restoring morality in the nation. The result was the emergence of the Christian Right and the evangelical takeover of the Republican Party, a development that transformed American politics and continues to influence the nation’s political debate today.
Learn more about God's Own Party at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue