Red State Religion: Faith and Politics in America's Heartland

Red State Religion: Faith and Politics in America's Heartland

Red State Religion: Faith and Politics in America's Heartland

Red State Religion: Faith and Politics in America's Heartland


No state has voted Republican more consistently or widely or for longer than Kansas. To understand red state politics, Kansas is the place. It is also the place to understand red state religion. The Kansas Board of Education has repeatedly challenged the teaching of evolution, Kansas voters overwhelmingly passed a constitutional ban on gay marriage, the state is a hotbed of antiabortion protest--and churches have been involved in all of these efforts. Yet in 1867 suffragist Lucy Stone could plausibly proclaim that, in the cause of universal suffrage, "Kansas leads the world!" How did Kansas go from being a progressive state to one of the most conservative?

In Red State Religion, Robert Wuthnow tells the story of religiously motivated political activism in Kansas from territorial days to the present. He examines how faith mixed with politics as both ordinary Kansans and leaders such as John Brown, Carrie Nation, William Allen White, and Dwight Eisenhower struggled over the pivotal issues of their times, from slavery and Prohibition to populism and anti-communism. Beyond providing surprising new explanations of why Kansas became a conservative stronghold, the book sheds new light on the role of religion in red states across the Midwest and the United States. Contrary to recent influential accounts, Wuthnow argues that Kansas conservatism is largely pragmatic, not ideological, and that religion in the state has less to do with politics and contentious moral activism than with relationships between neighbors, friends, and fellow churchgoers.

This is an important book for anyone who wants to understand the role of religion in American political conservatism.


Several years ago, I pulled my faded pink and brown Story of Kansas from the shelf and read it with considerably more interest than I had in seventh grade. the state’s history is replete with tales of bloodshed and sacrifice. John Brown takes his place alongside General Jim Lane and John J. Ingalls. Sockless Jerry Simpson joins Carry Nation and William Allen White. the hall of fame includes Amelia Earhart and Dwight David Eisenhower. Pioneers, farmers, country lawyers, teachers, and merchants settled the heartland. But there were also itinerant preachers, traveling evangelists, priests, nuns, and freethinkers. Mennonites, Quakers, Dunkards, Swedish Lutherans, German Baptists, and vegetarians established colonies. Townspeople built churches by the thousands. People of faith struggled to make their state what they thought it should be. There was no mention of them in the Story of Kansas.

Who, then, would have guessed that Kansas would become a leading player in national controversies about religion and politics? Who would have thought that its churches would encourage thousands of protesters to blockade abortion clinics? That its clergy would work for a stiff constitutional ban on same-sex marriage? That its board of education would be embroiled in controversies about evolution and intelligent design? Or who would have guessed that churches played a different role in the famous Brown v. Board of Education case? in staging civil rights demonstrations? in advocating populism and opposing war? the fact that textbooks said little about religion made it hard to understand these developments.

The thought that someone must have dealt with these topics led me to some interesting discoveries. One of the state’s most distinguished historians, Kenneth S. Davis, wrote a wonderful novel, The Years of the Pilgrimage, dealing extensively with religion. But the subject barely comes up in his beautifully written Kansas: A

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