The God Strategy: How Religion Became a Political Weapon in America

The God Strategy: How Religion Became a Political Weapon in America

The God Strategy: How Religion Became a Political Weapon in America

The God Strategy: How Religion Became a Political Weapon in America


In The God Strategy, David Domke and Kevin Coe offer a timely and dynamic study of the rise of religion in American politics, examining the public messages of political leaders over the past seventy-five years--from the 1932 election of Franklin Roosevelt to the early stages of the 2008 presidential race. They conclude that U.S. politics today is defined by a calculated, deliberate, and partisan use of faith that is unprecedented in modern politics.
Sectarian influences and expressions of faith have always been part of American politics, the authors observe, but a profound change occurred beginning with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. What has developed since is a no-holds-barred religious politics that seeks to attract voters, identify and attack enemies, and solidify power. Domke and Coe identify a set of religious signals sent by both Republicans and Democrats in speeches, party platforms, proclamations, visits to audiences of faith, and even celebrations of Christmas. Sometimes these signals are intended for the eyes and ears of all Americans, and other times they are distinctly targeted to specific segments of the population. It's an approach that has been remarkably successful, utilized first and most extensively by the Republican Party to capture unprecedented power and then adopted by the Democratic Party, most notably by Bill Clinton in the 1990s and by a wide range of Democrats in the 2006 elections.
"For U.S. politicians today, having faith isn't enough; it must be displayed, carefully and publicly. This is a stark transformation in recent decades," write Domke and Coe. With innovative, accessible research and analytical verve, they document how this has occurred, who has done it and why, and what it means for the American experiment in democracy.


On the evening of July 17, 1980, in Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena, Ronald Reagan delivered his acceptance speech for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination. Addressing a crowd of typically raucous delegates and a national television audience, Reagan was approaching the end of his speech when he departed from the prepared remarks he had supplied to the news media, a move certain to capture journalists’ attention. Reagan abruptly said: “I have thought of something that is not part of my speech and I’m worried over whether I should do it.” He paused, then continued:

Can we doubt that only a Divine Providence placed this land,
this island of freedom, here as a refuge for all those people in the
world who yearn to breathe freely: Jews and Christians enduring
persecution behind the Iron Curtain, the boat people of Southeast
Asia, of Cuba and Haiti, the victims of drought and famine in Africa,
the freedom fighters of Afghanistan and our own countrymen held
in savage captivity.

He went on: “I’ll confess that”—and here his voice faltered momentarily— “I’ve been a little afraid to suggest what I’m going to suggest.” A long pause ensued, followed by this: “I’m more afraid not to. Can we begin our crusade joined together in a moment of silent prayer?” The entire hall went silent, and heads bowed. Reagan then concluded: “God bless America.”

It was grand political theater. It was a moment when religion and partisan politics were brought together through mass media as never before. It was a moment when religious conservatives became a political force in the United States. It was, simply put, a moment when a new religious politics was born.

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