Magazine article Newsweek

The Editor's Desk

Magazine article Newsweek

The Editor's Desk

Article excerpt

Byline: Jon Meacham

Thirty years ago, almost to the week, NEWSWEEK published a cover story calling 1976 "the year of the evangelical." In the presidential campaign, Jimmy Carter's born-again faith was bringing new attention to theologically conservative Christians. At the time, evangelical political engagement was rarer than it is now, partly because of an old religious tradition that eschewed the pursuit of temporal power. "Put not thy trust in princes," the Psalmist had said, and, much later, Jesus told Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world."

In the middle of the 1970s, however, many American evangelicals decided the world required their attention. In 1965, after Bloody Sunday in Selma, Ala., Jerry Falwell advised ministers to stay away from civil-rights marches, but he soon came to see things differently. "I preached in my early ministry that involvement should be shunned, and urged the pastors not to march, just to preach the Gospel, because that is what I was taught in an evangelical college," Falwell told me in an interview last summer. "It was only after the early '60s, with the court rulings outlawing voluntary Bible reading and school prayer, and [then] Roe v. Wade, that I became convinced that my position was now wrong ... and I did an about-face and spent the last 30 years forming the religious right."

After Carter helped make "evangelical" a mainstream term, the movement Falwell was talking about accelerated with Ronald Reagan's election in 1980. But for many Americans, the presidency of George W. Bush has generated the most sustained fears of theocracy, as though the White House were plotting to plant Gideon Bibles in every home.

What's the truth? In a cold-eyed survey, Debra Rosenberg reports on what conservative Christians have gotten for their votes, from abortion rights to federal judgeships. …

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