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George Marsden

The Sword of the Lord

How "otherwordly" fundamentalism became a political power.

The most striking feature of the fundamentalism since the 1970s that distinguishes it from its forebears is its deep involvement in mainstream national politics. This point must be stated carefully. Fundamentalism has always had political implications. One of the several dynamics shaping early fundamentalists was a sense of alarm over the demise of a Christian culture. National revival, they urged, was the only adequate response. Salvation of souls, they affirmed, would restore righteousness to the culture. Born-again people, they at least implied, would choose upright leaders who honored God's laws.

Occasionally the movement did have some explicitly political components, best exemplified in the crusades against godless evolutionism and godless Bolshevism, but its political interests were haphazard. Prior to World War I, most of fundamentalists' immediate precursors stayed away from most direct political involvement. The premillennial revivalist movement that revered Dwight L. Moody was invigorated by a militant sense of cultural crisis, but the primary response was to mobilize an army of evangelists. The major exception was Prohibition, but that had its roots in the old post-millennialism evangelicalism of the 19th century and was as much a mainline Protestant and Progressive cause as a revivalist concern. In the era that followed the 1920s, in the mid-decades of the century, fundamentalism was even less involved in direct political action. After World War II anti-communism became a conspicuous theme but its major function was as a prelude to the old call for national revival, as it was for Billy Graham, as a way urging individual conversions and enlisting support for evangelism and missions. Some evangelists, such as Fred Schwartz, Carl McIntire, and Billy James Hargis, specialized in anti-communism, and paved the way for the Religious Right. Yet their efforts did not result in large-scale political mobilization and they seemed marginal to the national scene. Through ...

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