by Matt Sutton
Dan Williams’ highly anticipated and excellent new book God’s Own Party: The Making of the Christian Right is now out from Oxford University Press. This book—along with Darren Dochuk’s forthcoming From Bible Belt to Sunbelt—sets a new standard for interpreting the relationship between modern American politics and evangelicalism.
Williams argues that the 1980 election was a pivotal event for Christians. “Evangelicals,” he explains, “gained news coverage during Ronald Reagan’s campaign not because they were speaking out on political issues – they had been doing this for decades – but rather because they were taking over the Republican Party. The history of the Christian Right is thus a story not only of political mobilization, but also of party takeover. And that was an event that was more than fifty years in the making.”
Furthermore, for those of you religious-right lovers, the story continues. Williams makes a powerful and well documented case that “Evangelical leaders and their political organizations will come and go, and their political styles will change, but the underlying rationale for their political campaigns is not likely to go away. . . . Though they have largely succeeded in turning the GOP into ‘God’s Own Party,’ they have not yet been able to make America God’s own nation. Their ninety-year quest continues.” Somewhere Ralph Reed and his tea-panty friends are laughing menacingly.
To make his arguments, Williams’ book spans over ninety years. He does an excellent job of highlighting the political and religious differences and similarities among evangelicals in the north and south and shows how by 1980 true believers from different parts of the country finally put aside regional sympathies and came together to transform American politics and culture.
Buy the book. Read the book.