The New Deal to the Cold War, and beginnings of the “Old” Religious Right
(This part of a growing series: Children of a Lesser God– Dominionism and Christian Nationalism Heresy Exposed )
The turmoil of the Great Depression, the undying sympathy for the KKK and Roosevelt’s New Deal finally shattered Rev. Roger Williams mantra of clergy neutrality, when a few political, business and Christian leaders began to publicly oppose Roosevelt’s New Deal in the mid 1930s and carried that fight through the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s. They saw them both as part of the same evil…. and began to find each other. This new movement coalesced and found its greatest steam with new and clearer theology just after WWII during the Cold War. In 1949 while the world was still soured by the stench of the Nazi’s we saw Stalin detonate Russian’s first atomic bomb which had enormous effect on America. The threat of world-wide thermonuclear destruction and Communist expansion and the Civil Rights Movement created a climate of fear that was deeply enormously ripe for new influences. Into that fear eventually walked Rev. Billy J. Hargis, dragging Klan theology along with him, but he had some help…
Father Coughlin Radio Show
Father Coughlin was an acerbic and controversial Catholic radio personality during the entire 1930s who reached an astonishing 10 million weekly listeners at his peak. Completely changing his political views after 1934 he went from fan almost overnight becoming the most vocal critic of Roosevelt’s New Deal. He soon added to his political opinions staunchly Anti-communist, Anti-Semitic, Anti-immigrant, isolationist and even anti-democratic ideals (sound familiar?). Soon he was openly pro-fascist and pro-Nazi and saw a strong leader like Hitler as the only way to enforce moral conduct and ensure prosperity. He was responsible for popularizing the anti-Semitic Nazi propaganda that Communism was a front created by Jewish Bolsheviks (a false Nazi propaganda that still endures to this day). His show secretly received funding from the Nazi propaganda machine that tried to keep the US neutral during WWII. Inaccurately, Fr. Coughlin’s pro-Nazi sympathies are falsely extrapolated to paint all Catholics of this era as pro-Nazi. In reality German Catholics died for opposing Nazism at a rate of over 800x greater than German Protestants during WWII which is astonishing considering their minority status. Additionally many US Catholic priests and leaders were horrified with Fr. Coughlin’s pro-fascist and openly pro-Nazi stance, and some tried to silence him in vain. Coughlin’s political ideals were sometimes contradictory and frequently inflammatory, but he broke the long-held standard of political neutrality by Church leaders held since the late 1600’s and Roger Williams. He was in simplest terms the “Rush Limbaugh” of his day.
Faith and Freedom and Christian Economics Newsletters in the Cold War
The organization Spiritual Mobilization (SM) was founded in 1935 by the Rev. James Fifield, University President Donald J. Cowling, and later joined by well-connected religious elites and pastors like Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. From the beginning Spiritual Mobilization openly mixed political and religious ideas in not only opposing Roosevelt specifically but all government actions in general. They were also anti-immigrant and anti-communist and were openly pro-Libertarian, inspired by atheist libertarian economist Albert J. Nock in both ideals and strategy. Their post-War magazine Faith and Freedom was distributed directly and deliberately to 20,000 clergy for 10 years starting in the late 1940s, notably to R.J. Rushdoony (more later). Nock’s strategy to expand Libertarianism was to influence the influencers, and SM followed it to the letter by targeting clergy. As his organization floundered due better funded but similar competition, founder James Fifield eventually put his efforts into expanding the John Birch Society (JBS) in Southern California (see below).
Dr. Norman Vincent Peale also lent is his efforts to Rev. Howard Kershner, who founded Christian Freedom Foundation (CFF) and their magazine Christian Economics (CE) in 1950. Like Faith and Freedom before CE was distributed directly and free to 200,000 Protestant ministers for almost 25 years based in Nock’s strategy and goals. Kershner, like Fifield and Father Coughlin before him was also an opponent of Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s. Funding was generous and most notably by philanthropist J. Howard Pew (who would also fund Christianity Today). Kershner cross pollinated and gave voice to authors like T. Coleman Andrews, who later helped found the John Birch Society. Christian Economics like Faith and Freedom carried a mix of political, anti-government, anti-socialist economic articles mixed with a sermon outlines every week for its primary audience of clergy. It’s mast head stated “We stand for free enterprise- the economic system with the least amount of government and the greatest amount of Christianity” and Kershner said, “The laws of economics are part of the laws of God.” and “The cold truth is that Socialism–… is a reversal of God’s plan for man”.
To the CFF the efforts of Church and politics were united on the battle ground between Christian good and socialist /liberal/Communist evil, and any government action was a direct attack on the Protestant church, especially the Civil Rights Movement. The CFF was openly racist and pro-segregation with strong KKK sympathies, with Kersher stating “the Negro race was 300,000 to 400,000 years behind the white race in its development”. They called all social justice and Civil Rights movement in the church “essentially Marxist”. In a study of Pastors at the time, 15% of respondents heavily relied on Christian Economics for information on social, economic and political issues, and 85% reported they read it at least occasionally. Kershner would later semi-retire and pastor at Rev. James Fifield’s (see previous paragraph) church in California. (The Conservative Press in Twentieth Century America, Lopez, et all, pg 155-167).
Billy Graham’s 1949 Los Angeles Crusade
Surprisingly, the Rev. Billy Graham also entered the picture. His first crusades during 1949 in Baltimore and Pennsylvania were by his admission mostly failures. In Los Angeles later that year Billy Graham took up the mantel of a staunch anti-Communist for the first time. He loudly (he was literally yelling if you watch the video) painted Christianity and the US as a moral fighting force of good battling the evils of communism. Media magnate and staunch anti-communist William Randolph Hearst was listening and immediately ordered all his newspapers and radio stations around the entire US to extensively “puff” Billy Graham up, and overnight Hearst put him on the front page of half the papers in the US. The LA Crusade attendance then exploded and 300,000 people attended and it was extended 8 weeks. The previously unknown Billy Graham overnight was the second most famous preacher in the world after his soon to be friend, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. Billy would later repent however return to being politically neutral in the early 1960’s, but Dominionist ideals would pop up in him throughout his life in small ways and today dominate his children. Billy’s non-biblical anti-Communism pitch struck a cord in an era of fear. Anti-communism and fear of thermonuclear war was strongest uniting chorus and selling point of the early Dominionism movement and Billy Graham for a short time, very publicly lead the choir. Billy’s 1949 LA anti-Communist speech and his resulting popularity would inspire others to found Dominionist and Christian Nationalist organizations or join the effort, but most importantly Billy J. Hargis. Although by the 1960’s Billy would repent and renounce Dominionism and partisanship and renounce the movement in an interview in 1981, his children Franklin and Anne would grow up to be staunch Dominionists, and Billy would lead the Dominionist National Prayer Breakfast for decades. In taped conversations with Richard Nixon, Billy would also later reveal strong Anti-Semitic sentiments. As repentant Dominionist Billy’s record will always be tragically mixed.
Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, America’s Most Well-Known Pastor
It’s not widely known that Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, America’s most well-known Pastor in the Post WWII era, was an early Christian Nationalist and Dominionist who served on many boards, advising leaders, and donating but also using his many contacts for greater influence. Peale in his 1952 best-selling book The Power of Positive Thinking claimed that all of life’s problems were in the mind, and that everyone can find success by simply changing our thoughts from negative to positive ones. You can see that in context of his Libertarian political views that Peale believed that Government wasn’t necessary, because all human issues were not social in nature, or even spiritual in nature, they were found in and self-treated simply with nice thoughts. This belief still drives the huge Libertarian arm of the Religious Right today, but it denies both the problem of Sin the Gospel of Christ.
Peale’s work would inspire the secular “Self-help Movement” as the Heresy of Prosperity (misnamed the Prosperity Gospel). Peale’s book The Power of Positive thinking was a huge religious influence that still drives Conservative and Libertarian thought and issues today,. Its notable that Norman Vincent Peale’s beliefs and books were widely condemned as heretical for a variety of reasons, but Dr. Peale was tragically never ex-communicated and he continued to preach his entire life. A young Donald Trump attended Peale’s church in NYC, and considered him to be a great speaker, and his writings an enormous influence. For more on Dr. Norman Vincent Peale and his support of Billy Graham, and tragic legacy of his heretical theology on Evangelicalism see here.
Rev. Sun Myung Moon and the Unification Church
Strangely one of the earliest theological voices of American Dominionism came from Korean Rev. Sun Myung Moon in 1946. He saw Korea’s struggle against Japan during WWII similar to the struggle of the Jews against Hitler, and saw the United States not only as Korea’s savior but also as the “new” Israel that God would use to bring his kingdom on earth to save the world. Rev. Moon was staunchly anti-Communist, pro-Israel, pro-American and very pro-gun. He created his Unification Church to not only unite Jews and Christians together, but to unite religion and government into one organization. His vision of a future millennial Kingdom of God was a pure theocracy run by men that would bring forth the Kingdom of God. Unlike other Asian “gurus” of this era, Moon was a staunchly conservative, with an enormous emphasis on the sanctity of marriage and the value of family as a way to restore God’s intent’s in the Garden of Eden.
Touring and speaking in the US many times since the mid 1960s some of his rally’s around the US were attracting up to 300,000 people by the early 1970s. By the late 1970s the Unification Church reached a peak of up to 3 million members. After becoming Korea’s first billionaire he relocated to the US in 1971, Rev. Moon would soon meet his hero President Nixon at the White House. Moon founded the arch-conservative Washington Times newspaper in 1982 (still held by his family). The Unification Church pumped about $2 Billion dollars over the years into the Washington Times before they became profitable in 2016. Let this sink in for a moment: one, that the Unification Church had $2 billion to easily throw around, and two, they thought that money well spent.
Despite being ex-communicated from the Presbyterian church in 1948 for heresy, and in 2004 declaring himself as the second coming of Christ, many of Moon’s beliefs can not only be found today in Dominionist and even Evangelical Churches today, but actually growing. Rev. Moons beliefs on many topics paralleled those of the later Dominionist Rev. R.J. Rushdoony, who would often share many authors like John Lofton, who wrote easily for both Moon’s Washington Times and R.J. Rushdoony’s publication Chalcedon Report. Moon formed the earliest Dominionist and Religious Right theology on the “sanctity of marriage”, a family morality, the Evangelical love of guns, the 2nd Amendment and tireless support for the modern nation of Israel. This inspiration was returned by Jerry Falwell Sr. who become one of Moon’s greatest defenders when he was tried for tax evasion. Unknown to most Evangelicals many of their strongest held beliefs and tenants have their roots directly from Moon. (Introvigne, 2000,)
Rapidly Growing Pentecostal Movement and their Emphasis on the End Times
The American post war years also saw the expansion of the suburb, and into those suburbs the new Charismatic/ Pentecostal movement was exploding. As Pentecostalism began to enter the main stream they popularized Apocalyptic view that the world as at its end, which seemed even more real when Russia detonated an atomic bomb in 1949. To Charismatics the creation of the nation of Israel in 1947 was proof the we had entered the “Last Days” and Christ’s return was imminent in only 30 years as we were the last generation (it’s been revised a few times it seems). Palatable fear drove this Apocalyptic interest and opened the door to false teachings of various kinds, but most importantly it popularized a new version of millennial eschatology with a focus on Christ’s thousand year reign (we will go more into this later).
Billy J. Hargis: The Christian Crusade and Christian Coalition
Evangelist Billy J. Hargis inspired by Billy Graham’s 1949 Los Angeles crusade and new anti-Communist popularity began his “Christian Crusade” starting around 1950. The John Birch Society would soon have a close association with Hargis, and they openly borrowed from each other in fundraising, members, methods and goals.
Hargis’ radio program was broadcast nationwide from over 500 stations. He was the very first Televangelist and was by the early 1950s broadcast on 250 TV stations in the US, and would write over 100 books. His diatribes expanded from beyond opposing Communism and Civil Rights movement, but talking on their “godless allies” such as labor unions, main-line protestant Churches, Martin Luther King, sex education in schools, and most entertainment and rock music but especially the Beatles. In the early 1920’s Evangelicals left Fundamentalism, but it was Billy who brought fundamental and legalistic beliefs back into the Evangelical movement. Billy believed there was an epic battle of good and evil going on, and the US was on God’s side and Satan and Communists were on the other, and the US to survive had to beat them with force if needed. His newsletter Christian Crusade clearly evoked the theocratic war the Catholics waged during the Dark Ages and his belief of he was doing the same. Anything labeled “Crusade” is openly theocratic in its intent.
If you have not heard of Rev. Billy Hargis you may know some of his infamous accomplishments: Hargis with Rev. David Noebel created the false and racist teaching that rock music was demonic simply because Africans used drums, which still endures today and would spur the mass album burnings into the 1980s. Billy Hargis famous political rants on his radio show inspired the famous Johnson Amendment of 1954 limiting the political actions of non-profits. Billy Hargis was defrocked by his Disciples of Christ denomination in 1957 for both his theology and his attacks on other Pastors (who were not as zealous as him in rooting out Communism), but his radio show and was bringing in over $1 million a month in donations, so what did that matter? Billy like so many other Evangelicals was eventually brought down by a sex scandal, as Billy sexually assaulted both male and female students of his “Christian” college in the early 1970’s, and while his choir was on tour. So not only was Billy the first Televangelist, he was also the first to be caught in a sex scandal. He was also the first to start the Evangelical persecution complex with his belief that his accusers were Communists out to get him. His false teaching and infamous accomplishments last longer than his now sullied name.
Hargis said, “I am under the conviction … that God ordained segregation.” And once asked what he stood for, Hargis responded that he was, “anti-communism, anti-socialism, anti-welfare state, anti-Russia, anti-China, a literal interpretation of the Bible and states’ rights.” If that sounds like the Religious Right today, he its official founder. You don’t hear Billy J. Hargis name today because the Religious Right doesn’t want to remember its founder was both openly and boldy racist and….
The John Birch Society
The John Birch Society (JBS) was formed in 1958 by candy magnate Robert W. Welch who was helped by many others in earlier Dominionist/Christian Nationalist circles. The famous Koch family were huge early supporters and financiers (although they eventually left JBS). When I was college in the late 1980s, they were always touting some crazy conspiracy theory on campus trying to woo students especially in law and business. Their theory at that time was that the environmental movement, the Book of the Month Club, the United Nations and fluoridated drinking water (no, I am not joking) were working together with John D. Rockefeller to bring Communism to the US to usher in a “New World Order”. JBS is the creator of many conspiracy theories and they invented fake news even today. They replaced JD Rockefeller with George Soros as their villain of choice so most Soros “rumors” you hear today probably have JBS behind it. JBS was anti-Communist, anti-UN, anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic, anti-Civil Rights, anti-Immigration, anti-school busing and anti-NATO and favored isolationism and Libertarian policy. They made fake news a staple and their conspiracy theories reached the main stream and still linger today (see this recent article for the crazy JBS influence still holds today). The JBS has shifted to be less religious today to attract more atheist’s, and tolerant of Catholics but is remains quasi-religious and they still emphasize the 10 Commandments, which is a basic evidence of Dominionism influence. If you take about 80% of the KKK, add in the Book of the Month Club as sworn enemy of righteousness, you have the JBS.
The Dominionism and Christian Nationalism in the US had its roots in the ideals and theology of the 1920s KKK and the anti-New Deal efforts of the mid-1930s. But it found wind and fire in the anti-communist and anti-Civil Rights movements of the 1950s by exploiting the fear the atomic bomb and what blacks would do in the south. In size and influence the movement exploded in the 1950s and 60s and they leveraged that to reach even more people. The early Dominionism are like fascism in that they were driven more by at what it was against than what it was for. Starting with hating Communism and Socialism, they soon added Civil Rights, sex education, unions and Catholicism into their list of fears to play on. They were pro-Libertarian and segregationist even if it struggled to define what their new world or policy looked like. The Christian Economist newsletter deliberately targeted clergy and reached 200,000 of them monthly for over 25 years, the JBS targeted mainly college campuses and businessmen and lawyers, but both attempted to quietly influence influencers in different spheres using the strategy inspired by their Libertarian hero, Albert Jay Nock, on reaching the “remnant”. Each decade seemed to add to this movement their own contribution as opportunities arose. But they needed inspiration of what they were for not just what they were against, and they found that soon in Franklin Hall, Oral Roberts and R.J. Rushdoony.
Next: You probably have never heard of Rev. R. J. Rushdoony, but he inspired the Homeschool Movement that swept the US in the 1990s and still going strong today. Like other Dominionists the legacy of his actions are far more well-known than his name… for reasons we will soon learn.
Coming Soon: Reverends Oral Roberts, Franklin Hall, and R.J. Rushdoony
The Unification Church Studies in Contemporary Religion, Massimo Introvigne, 2000
The Religious Right: A Reference Handbook, Utter & Story; 2001;