Review of From Bible Belt to Sunbelt

Randall Stephens

Books & Culture posts part of my review of Darren Dochuk's From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism. Subscribe to Books & Culture--read loads of great on-line material and receive the print version.

"The Sunbelt Coalition: Evangelicals and Politics in a New Light"

In 1968, Christian Life magazine featured a story on "The Reagans and Their Pastor." The Hollywood-star-turned-governor explained: "While prayer always has been a part of my life, I have spent more time in prayer these past months than in any previous period I can recall." He had much to pray about in that rocky election year. But when not praying, Reagan now and then slipped into jeremiad mode. Mild-mannered and affable in the eyes of many, Reagan raged at that "mess in Berkeley." The cold warrior morphed easily into the culture warrior. Civilization seemed to be collapsing. Juvenile delinquents and their liberal élite enablers wanted to wreck the Golden State. In response, Reagan promised constituents that he would stand firm against hedonism, crime, and all manner of sin. And though the situation was grave, he was not above cracking a well-timed joke. The typical campus radical or hairy young libertine, Reagan famously quipped, "dresses like Tarzan, has hair like Jane, and smells like Cheeta."

Southern California's conservative Christians, many who came out West from the southern plains, naturally took to the Gipper. He spoke their language. Darren Dochuk reflects on Reagan's popularity among those faithful in his wonderfully written and expertly researched From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism.

In the early 1970s, evangelicals halfheartedly supported Richard Nixon, who, along with being shifty, was once too cozy with silk-stocking Republicans like Nelson Rockefeller. Later in the decade, evangelicals from Atlanta to San Diego began to cast a suspicious eye on Jimmy Carter. In their view, the Baptist president from Plains, Georgia, was a liberal appeaser, soft on communism, and softer still on moral degeneracy (code for homosexuality, abortion, and feminism). Reagan, by contrast, would not vacillate on family values, thought supporters. Neither was he a seedy political chameleon. . . .

A sampling of other material in Books & Culture's Jan/Feb issue that might be of interest to readers of this blog:

Timothy Larsen
Faith Under Fire: Americans in World War I.

George Marsden
Invisible Faith: The Life and work of Henry Luce.

James L. Guth and Lyman A. Kellstedt
Why We Get Along: Religion and public life in the U.S.

John G. Stackhouse, Jr.
A Christ We Can Follow: The new kenotic theology

Robert Bruce Mullin
The First Great Schism: AD 400 to AD 600.

David A. Skeel
Emigrant Nation: Italy, giving and receiving.

Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen
The Second Sex, the Second Time Around: A new translation of Simone de Beauvoir’s groundbreaking book.

John H. McWhorter
The Sondheim Reckoning: A composer speaks his mind.

Donna Freitas
Boy Books
An endangered species?

Otto Selles
Funny Girl: A memoir by comedian Sarah Silverman.

Stranger in a Strange Land: John Wilson
The Milosz Year: Longing for "the restoration of all things."

Alan Jacobs
Recommended Reading