A once popular bumper sticker read, “The Moral Majority is Neither.” The fact that there was a bumper sticker criticizing the Moral Majority, measures how large of an impact they once had in politics in America. Led by Reverend Jerry Falwall, the Moral Majority was an ultra-conservative group that aimed to incorporate politics with strong conservative religious views. The mission itself was controversial which made their political agenda criticized even more. Falwell and the rest of the Moral Majority believed that American society was headed into the wrong direction, and viewed modern lifestyle as being immoral and independently pleasure seeking. With a strong financial backing from the start, the Moral Majority was able to make their voice heard throughout the nation, which made them extremely appealing to conservative Christians, as well as very conservative people in general. The group dissolved in 1989 after Jerry Falwell claimed that the group fulfilled its mission and completed all their goals. The Moral Majority may have fulfilled their mission, but Jerry Falwell had an agenda of his own that was ultimately not satisfied.
Controversy surrounded Jerry Falwell well before the founding of the Moral Majority. The origins of the social group trace back to 1976. Prior to the official establishment of the Moral Majority, Jerry Falwell held a series of “I Love America” rallies across the nation in which Falwell raised awareness of social issues important to him. With a mix of religion and patriotism, Falwell believed that the lack of Christian morality in the nation was causing a decay in general morality in America. The “evils” that were producing this decay included the Equal Rights Amendment, homosexuality, pornography, women’s liberation, and abortion. The only way the country could be healed of these evils listed was through Christian morality. The “I Love America” rallies were extremely provocative because it was uncommon for religion and politics to be associated during this time in America. The message of these rallies was contradicting to the traditional Baptist Church principle that religion should never be incorporated with politics.
In the sermon given by Falwell on July 4th, 1976, he said, “The idea that religion and politics don’t mix was invented by the Devil to keep Christians from running their own country.” Jerry Falwell strategically used the Bicentennial to stage the “I Love America” rallies. At a time where patriotism was flowing through the veins of all American citizens, Falwell was easily able to demonstrate that his views were in the best interest of America. With a great deal of media coverage, the rallies exposed the “silent majority” and caused many Christian conservatives to come out of the shadows and voice their opinions. The rallies provided a snowball effect in the amount of Christian ministers who were voicing their opinions. To the disapproval of traditional Baptists, the “I Love America” rallies revolutionized politics by making it acceptable to incorporate religion and politics. (Hale 273) The Moral Majority successfully made it common for fundamentalists to be involved in politics.
Prior to the formation of the Moral Majority, there was a strong notion that church and politics should be separated. This was emphasized when Catholic John F. Kennedy was elected in 1968. A 1968 Gallup survey found 53% of Americans believed that churches should keep out of politics (Taylor 4). This emphasis by Kennedy along with the traditional Baptist principle made most fundamentalists stray away from politics. Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority successfully changed this phenomenon and significantly impacted presidential elections in the 1980’s. After an abysmal presidential term by Jimmy Carter in the view of the Christian right, the Moral Majority gave Ronald Reagan full backing during the 1980 presidential campaign. Reagan’s eventual victory was monumental for the Moral Majority because Reagan appointed Reverend Robert Billings to a position in the Department of Education.
This was significant because the Moral Majority believed that creationism should be taught in schools. In 1984, the Moral Majority perhaps had a negative effect on the reelection of Ronald Reagan. Even though Reagan was reelected, statistics show there were more anti-Moral Majority votes than actual Moral Majority votes. The 1988 election perhaps highlights the point where Jerry Falwell’s own agenda got in the way of the Moral Majority’s. Jerry Falwell’s rival and fellow televangelist Reverend Pat Robertson was up for the Republican nomination. Robertson was naturally the type of candidate that the Moral Majority would support, but instead they endorsed George Bush (Wald). The tension between Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson was one of many challenges to the Moral Majority. The late 1980s marked the beginning of the end of the Moral Majority. The Moral Majority was in trouble because even some evangelical leaders such as Bob Jones opposed the group.
Bob Jones was known to criticize the Moral Majority by saying the organization was an instrument of Satan (Wilcox). Since Bob Jones was opposed to the organization, Baptists in the state of South Carolina also opposed the group. Formed by Norman Lear, People of the American Way opposed the Moral Majority on all political issues. The opposition, financial problems, and loss of support were the causes behind the dismantling of the Moral Majority. The rivalries that Falwell had between Robertson and Jones were instrumental on why the Moral Majority did not continue. Without the backing of fellow evangelists, there was no chance that the Moral Majority could have enough support to make more of an impact on politics in America (Wilcox). In 1989, Jerry Falwell ironically announced the disbandment of the Moral Majority in Las Vegas. When announcing the dissolution, Falwell claimed “Ten years later. We’ve come here to announce mission accomplished.”
Falwell’s reasoning was, “I feel that I have performed the task to which I was called in 1979. The religious right is solidly in place and like the galvanizing of the black church as a political force a generation ago, the religious conservatives in America are now in for the duration” (Associated Press). Religion was now relevant in politics thanks to Falwell and the Moral Majority. Falwell was the Isaiah of fundamentalist conservatives in this country, and opened the door for other fundamentalists to voice their opinions on politics. Although Falwell was unable to provide a definite figure, he claimed that, “Moral Majority was responsible for registering several million voters” (Associated Press). It is safe to say that the Moral Majority’s mission to make it acceptable for traditionalists to be involved in politics was successful, but in regard to Falwell’s personal agenda, the United States was not headed into the right path. Issues such as same sex marriage, stem cell research, and abortion are still on today’s political agenda. .
In Jerry Falwell’s perfect world, issues like these would have been resolved by now but in reality, some of these political issues are not going the way he intended. This may be the reasoning behind the revival of the Moral Majority in form of the Moral Majority Coalition in 2004. The Moral Majority Coalition’s aim was to persuade over 10 million people to register to vote against the previously stated issues. The forming of the Moral Majority Coalition is a sign that Falwell’s personal goals for America were becoming more and more out of reach. If things keep going the way they are in politics today, Falwell’s own agenda would not be considered accomplished. Since his death in 2007, states such as New York have legalized same-sex marriage. In regards to the issue of abortion, in recent polls a majority of states support pro-choice as opposed to pro-life.
For those that support pro-life, they may not support it to the extent Falwell did. Falwell along with the Moral Majority supported pro-life to the most extreme extent. Falwell believed that even in cases when a mother could potentially die from birth, an abortion would still not be the morally right decision. To Falwell’s dismay, women have been making a significant impact in politics today. When Hillary Clinton was running for the Democratic presidential nomination, Falwell controversially said, “I hope she’s the candidate, because nothing will energize my constituency like Hillary Clinton. If Lucifer ran, he wouldn’t.” It would be interesting to hear what Falwell would have to say about the 2008 Presidential election where Sarah Palin was the Republican candidate for Vice President (Phan). It is truly ironic that Jerry Falwell was the leader of a group called the Moral Majority.
Like the bumper sticker, Falwell was neither moral nor a representation of the majority of Americans. It seems as though at every significant event that happens in America, Falwell always has the complete opposite view on the event than the majority of Americans. For example, during the Bicentennial Falwell criticized our country while most other people were celebrating everything the country stood for. That was not the last instance.
While on the show “The 700 Club” on CNN, Falwell controversially said, “I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way — all of them who have tried to secularize America — I point the finger in their face and say ‘you helped this happen’.” Some people living in the Bible belt may agree with this statement, but the Majority of Americans were certainly outraged with Falwell’s opinion. At a time where most of America was in the process of healing and coming together, Falwell was not doing either.
Associated Press. “Moral Majority Being Disbanded.” Herald-Journal [Spartanburg] 11 June 1989, Vol. 59 No. 162 ed.: A5. Print. “Exposed!:
Unmasking the Agenda of the Radical Religious Right: Dismantling the Constitution of the United States of America.”Rainbow’s End Portal. Web. 17 Nov. 2011. . Hale, Grace Elizabeth. A Nation of Outsiders: How the White Middle Class Fell in Love with Rebellion in Postwar America. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2011. Print. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson Blame 9/11 on Organizations Like People For the American Way [Video]. (2001) Retrieved November 16, 2011, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kMkBgA9_oQ4 Phan, Katherine T. “Falwell Seeks to Enlist One Million Members for ‘Moral Majority Coalition’, Christian News.” Christian News, The Christian Post. 24 Nov. 2004. Web. 17 Nov. 2011. . Taylor, By Paul. “Rev. Falwell’s Moral Majority: Mission Accomplished?” Pew Research Center. Web. 17 Nov. 2011. . Wald, Kenneth D. Religion and Politics in the United States. Washington, D.C.: CQ, 1997. Print. Wilcox, Clyde. God’s Warriors: the Christian Right in Twentieth-century America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1992. Print.