God in America
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Interview: Randall Balmer

Randall Balmer

Balmer is a professor of American religious history at Barnard College, Columbia University. He is an editor at Christianity Today and author of several books, including God in the White House. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted on May 10, 2010.

... It's like the religious nature of the country is almost a part of the physical landscape.

... As I travel around the country, what fascinates me is the way in which religion helps to mark various regions. You've got the Mormon corridor in the Rocky Mountain West for example. You have New England with its very distinctive religious culture dominated these days -- or the past century or so -- by Roman Catholicism.

“Americans have a sense of their destiny as a nation. They have a sense that America occupies a unique niche in the divine economy. I don't see that abating any time soon.”

You've got the South where, as Bill Moyers said, "There's more Baptists than there are people." It's a fascinating sort of tableaux to be able to chart these various regional distinctions within North America through the prism of religion. …

And what's particularly striking to me over the last 30, 40 years is that since changes to the Immigration Laws in 1965, the religious landscape of North America has quite literally been transformed. There are Sikh gurdwaras, and Muslim mosques and Hindu temples in places that I never thought possible because of the changing complexion, quite literally, of Americans.

How is it changing? How does that change this country?

The immigration that we've seen in American society since the mid-1960s has made us gradually -- and somewhat grudgingly at times -- a more tolerant nation.

We have come to accept other people from other religious and ethnic backgrounds. Again, somewhat reluctantly, but for me, the genius of America is that Americans always sooner or later rise to their best instincts. ...

... The marketing of religion you don't see so much in [other] developed countries. What's particularly American about that?

I think the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, where the amendment reads, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," really sets up [a] religious marketplace. ...

That means that you have religious entrepreneurs, to expand the metaphor, who are constantly vying for a popular audience. They're always competing with one another in that marketplace, and that has lent vitality to religion in America that is unmatched anywhere in the world.

It takes expression in the physical landscape with church buildings, with religious structures of various kinds that are trying to bring people into that venue. It takes material form in signs, in advertising on media.

It's part of consumer culture. And we Americans are nothing if not good consumers. We're always shopping for the best deal, and I think that includes the religious marketplace.

... Los Angeles, [1949]. A young preacher is a part of this movement. Set the stage for us.

... Billy Graham heads west to Los Angeles in 1949, and it's a time for him personally of a great deal of a kind of existential anguish.

Graham had been for several years one of two evangelists for an organization called Youth for Christ International. The other was a Canadian, a remarkable man by the name of Charles Templeton. ... They met in New York City at the Taft Hotel, as they did from time to time as their paths crossed, to talk with one another. And Templeton said to Graham: "I'm going to go to seminary ... and Billy I want you to come with me. We need to have a strong intellectual foundation for our preaching, for our ministry." …

Graham was troubled by this. He had already met with a great deal of success as a preacher -- in part because of his charisma, in part because he was just simply a gifted preacher -- and he didn't see any reason for him to complicate his preaching with all these theological niceties. And I think he was afraid at the root that having this sort of education would compromise his ability to communicate with the masses. ...

So Graham is churning these things over in his mind. He goes out to a retreat center in the San Bernardino Mountains of Southern California, and he wrestles with what to do about Charles Templeton's challenge to him to go to seminary. He's walking and praying there in the mountains, and there's a monument in the place where he finally comes to the decision simply to cast aside intellectual doubts and preach the Gospel.

Charles Templeton [said] this was, for Graham, "intellectual suicide." But for Graham and for his many followers, they see this also as an important turning point where Graham made the right choice to keep preaching a very simple Gospel message to the masses. ...

... Up on that mountaintop ... does he have some sort of personal revelation? What actually did he do?

Graham understood that experience in the mountains of Southern California as a confirmation, a divine blessing on his course of preaching, his course of action. So he felt confident at that point to reject Templeton's challenge to attend seminary. And what happens, quite literally, is that he comes off the mountain and goes down into Los Angeles for his famous 1949 crusade. ...

Set the stage for the crusade. ...

In many ways, [it] was the coming out party for Billy Graham as a national figure and as a renowned evangelist. …

The revival, which he calls a crusade, was planned by various entities including Graham's own organization. They constructed a tent on the corner of Washington and Vine streets in downtown Los Angeles, which the press quickly called the "Canvas Cathedral." And Billy Graham began preaching for night after night after night for several months. ...

Talk about President Eisenhower and his own faith.

Dwight Eisenhower was actually reared by parents who were Jehovah's Witnesses. And in the 1952 campaign, it somehow emerged that Dwight Eisenhower himself had never been baptized, and he was confronted with this in the course of the campaign. And his response was something to the effect that: "Well I've been pretty busy lately. As soon as things settle down, I'll get around to it."

To my knowledge, and I think historians concur on this, Eisenhower is the only president to have been baptized while in office as president. ...

Do you want to speak to what [Eisenhower] said about religion? They made a commercial about how people should go to church, and he was saying that no matter what church you go to, just go. What was that message intended to do?

... [Eisenhower] in some ways is the embodiment of this sort of white, middle class, respectable, suburban Protestantism that emerges in the 1950s. ...

On Oct. 12, 1958, he delivers a kind of paean to America, America's religiosity, and how religion and America are virtually indistinguishable. And this reinforces in the public this sense that we Americans are religious, that America would be less a nation if it were not for the faith of its citizens, and this permeates postwar America in the 20th century. ...

Do we know whether Eisenhower really believed it?

I'm not sure Eisenhower really believed it. I think he was more concerned about other things. I'm always reluctant to make judgments into the spiritual lives of others, but I think there's nothing really in Eisenhower's life that suggests a deep faith or piety. ...

Let's go back to Billy Graham. Why did he plan this big crusade in NYC? ...

Ever since the late 19th century, on the part of American evangelicals there'd been a fairly strong suspicion of the cities, of urban areas, and that has to do with the waves of immigration in the late 19th century, particularly Catholics and Jews coming from Europe for various reasons, settling in the Lower East side of Manhattan in these tenement buildings and so forth.

At that time the locus for Protestant activity, particularly evangelical activity ... moved away from the cities toward rural areas, less urban areas in America. So the city came to be associated with all the evils of society, non-Protestant values, people who didn't share Protestant scruples about temperance, for example. ...

So when Billy Graham announces in 1957 that he wants to conduct a ... crusade in New York City, he actually likened New York City to Sodom and Gomorrah, which was not something that New Yorkers liked to hear very much. And Billy Graham embarks on this very famous Madison Square Garden crusade that lasts for nine weeks in the summer of 1957. …

He decides in the planning of this crusade to cooperate with the New York City Ministerial Alliance, which included many theologically liberal ministers. More conservative evangelicals -- we would call [them] fundamentalists -- have never forgiven him for that. To this day, many of those who are still around would insist that Billy Graham is a flaming liberal for having cooperated with theological liberals in the 1957 Madison Square Garden crusade.

Why would they be so upset? What was the split about at the time?

... Fundamentalists were defined by a series of pamphlets published between 1910 and 1915 called The Fundamentals, that affirmed basic, very conservative Christian doctrines: the authenticity of miracles in the New Testament, the virgin birth of Jesus, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, the inerrancy of the Bible -- because the Bible is completely free from any error or misrepresentation -- and looking for the return of Christ at any moment.

Those who did not subscribe to those doctrines were considered by the Fundamentalists themselves to be outside the pale of Christianity. They would put it in these terms.

So when Billy Graham in 1957 cooperates with those theological liberals -- who were also called modernists in the 20th century -- he earns the wrath of these fundamentalists. People like Bob Jones Jr., for example, Carl McIntire ... and others probably lesser known, to the end of their lives insisted that Billy Graham had betrayed the faith in 1957.

What about Graham personally? Did that split pain him?

Billy Graham made a decision early in his career that he would forsake the narrow, sectarian fundamentalism of his childhood in favor of a broader, more inclusive evangelicalism.

And so throughout his career, he was able to cooperate across many theological divides, and even later in his career across religious divides. He cooperated with Jews in the latter part of his career in ways that would have been inconceivable for someone of his stature and calling earlier in his career. ...

How significant was that crusade for him as a national figure? Did it solidify his position?

The 1957 crusade in Madison Square Garden ... was in some ways the other bookend for the Los Angeles crusade in 1949, really solidifying Graham's national reputation.

By this time [he had] begun to make an international representation for himself. He was on the cover of Time magazine in that interval, for example. He's getting a lot of favorable press coverage, not only here in the United States, but around the world.

The simple message ... was there something that was kind of shallow about it all?

... What Graham was offering ... was a kind of entry into the faith, into Christianity, into Protestantism, that was fairly undemanding. To hear Graham tell it, all you had to do to get to heaven was to make a decision for Christ. And that's a pretty simple message that many Americans, many people throughout the world, responded to throughout Graham's remarkable, storied career.

I think if you press Graham, he would have said, well that's just the beginning. Then you kind of move into what he would call a deeper relationship with Christ through Bible reading and church attendance and so forth.

But at least on the face of it his critics probably had a point, that what he was offering was maybe not all that substantive, all that demanding, especially in the postwar era. ...

... Something happens [with Billy Graham] in '53. He incorporates himself? What's going on there?

... He decides to incorporate his operation as the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, or the BGEA. In doing so, he appropriates all of the corporate business models that were very much in vogue in American society.

He also decides at that point to go into media in a big way with his Hour of Decision radio broadcast. Also later on by televising his crusades and then even going into motion pictures. …

What his handlers do, or the people he calls his team, is that they exploited these media technologies brilliantly over the course of the 1950s and beyond to make Billy Graham into a household name.

Did he make a lot of money off of it?

One of the reasons that Graham incorporated his operation was to avoid any hint of scandal or impropriety. Throughout the remainder of his life, he took from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association a set salary, not a percentage of offerings or a percentage of revenue into the organization, and that was one of the things that he was very clear about. He wanted to avoid any sort of tinge or hint of financial or any other sort of impropriety.

Let me ask you about the intersection of politics and religion [and the] 1960 campaign. What's different about that campaign?

In 1960, for only the second time in American history, we had a Roman Catholic who was a major party candidate for president. ... In the course of that campaign, [Democratic nominee] John [F.] Kennedy recognized that he, at some point, would have to address the so-called religion question, or the religious issue as it became known. ...

On Aug. 10, 1960, Billy Graham sent a letter to John F. Kennedy saying that he had no intention of raising the so-called religion issue in the 1960 campaign. Eight days later in Montreux, Switzerland, Billy Graham convened a meeting of Protestant leaders ... for the purpose of discussing how they could ensure that John Kennedy would not be elected as president of the United States in November.

The follow-up of that meeting was still another gathering of Protestant clergy in Washington D.C. at the Mayflower Hotel just after Labor Day. It was a closed-door meeting. … Billy Graham was not there. … Afterwards the leaders of the gathering, including Harold John Ockenga from Park Street Church in Boston and Norman Vincent Peale from New York City address the press and they tell the press that the purpose of the gathering was to sound the alarm: that "We think it is dangerous to elect a Roman Catholic as president of the United States." …

The consequence of the meeting in Washington at the Mayflower Hotel was that … on Sept. 12, 1960, at the Rice Hotel in Houston, Texas, John Kennedy gets up before about 300 Protestant clergy -- this was not a friendly audience by any stretch of the imagination -- and delivered his speech about the separation of church and state, which I think is a classic speech on that topic, in which he argued that people of faith should effectively bracket out a candidate's faith when they make considerations about who to vote for president, and by extension any other political office. I think that speech was so effective that it helped Kennedy to win election several weeks later. ...

... [In his letter], Billy Graham tells John Kennedy what?

... It was a very cordial, congenial letter, as you might imagine, and Billy Graham says to Sen. Kennedy -- I'm paraphrasing - I recognize that there are a lot of rumors out there that I intend to introduce the so-called religion issue in the fall campaign. He said, I will probably vote for Vice President Nixon, which was no surprise to anyone, but I assure you, Sen. Kennedy, I have no intention whatsoever of raising the religious issue in this campaign. ...

... Does he ever actually say, ''We think that ... a Catholic should not be president?'' Has he ever articulated that publicly? If not, what does that tell us about him?

... He's careful throughout most of his career to avoid the appearance of partisanship. At the same time, he often worked behind the scenes. ...

In 1960, I think it's fairly clear that he had strong reservations about a Roman Catholic being president of the United States. Now, whether it was because it was Kennedy himself that he objected to, or it was merely the idea of a Roman Catholic ... the record is not entirely clear about that.

But just before the election, he was drafting a column, a letter, for Time magazine explaining why he was supporting Nixon in that campaign. He decided at the last minute not to have that published before the campaign because he wanted to maintain at least this veneer of nonpartisanship.

Do you want to speak to what that tells you about his character?

... He always saw himself as being above [the political fray], or at least he tried to be above that throughout his career. I think the reason for that is that Billy Graham really did understand his mission as preaching the gospel of the New Testament, the Gospel of Jesus Christ as he understood that.

He acknowledged at various points in his life that he let other things distract him during his career, but I think for the most part he managed to rise above the fray.

What was his relationship like with Martin Luther King?

Graham's relationship with Martin Luther King is a source of some disagreement. A lot of people who were insiders claim that he was quite close to Martin Luther King and, in fact, in the 1957 crusade in Madison Square Garden, he invited King to give a prayer at one of the meetings of the crusade. ...

Graham, however, never came out fully in support of the civil rights movement. ... Graham, for his part, insisted that King told him not to become involved in such an overt way. I think the record is unclear on that. …

I think it was in Graham's nature to be cautious and careful, and in civil rights terms he would be called a gradualist, arguing for: "Let's go slowly. Let's take incremental steps, rather than pushing for everything that should be done in the arena of civil rights." ...

To Switzerland again in the early 1970s. This guy, Francis Schaeffer, who is he and what's he doing there? ...

Francis Schaeffer is a fundamentalist and ... what [he] provides for American evangelicals in the 1970s is a kind of intellectual ballast for their faith.

American evangelicalism since the Scopes Trial of 1925 really has been tarred with this brush of anti-intellectualism ... but Schaeffer comes along and he provides what seems to be for a lot of evangelicals a real intellectual foundation for the faith. ...

I remember, for example, when I was in college at an evangelical school in the early 1970s, Francis Schaeffer's works were kind of all the rage, and he would visit occasionally these various schools and give lectures, speak in chapel and so forth.

Here you had this kind of funny-looking guy with long hair and goatee and wearing knickers and knee socks and so forth and he was, for many evangelicals, especially the younger generation, kind of the embodiment of the counterculture, at least he seemed to be. And in that sense, he was a very important figure at a critical time in the development of American evangelicalism.

... What were his arguments? What was the intellectual foundation?

Schaeffer took it upon himself to demonstrate the truth of Christianity, as he would refer to it, to demonstrate the intellectual reasonableness of Christianity. ...

What made Schaeffer doubly important was that he sought to translate that into society, into social issues and eventually into political issues by saying that the Christian perspective -- or as he sometimes called it, the Judeo-Christian perspective -- is important and foundational for society. And once we begin to lose those moorings as a people, as a culture, as a society, then we will end up in all sorts of places that Schaeffer thought were not very good.

His foil was always secular humanism. Once you surrender to humanism, he would argue, then all values in society would be up for grabs and we'd have moral decay in society.

For a people, America's evangelicals, who were just then coming out of their what I call subculture -- that is, their own little separate world -- and trying to reengage once again in the larger culture, his ideas were enormously influential.

Did he see some kind of decline in society because of secular humanism?

Schaeffer saw secular humanism being at the root of abortion, for example, rising abortion rates in the 1970s. He predicted that euthanasia wouldn't be far behind, and then infanticide, all because of secular humanism. ...

Is this somehow [because] the ''God is Dead'' idea [is] still very much alive, and he's reacting to that?

He's reacting in part to the ''God is Dead'' theology that is popular in the '60s, and he's saying in effect that if God is dead, then anything goes.

This was also at a time when America is coming out of the counter culture from the late '60s, early '70s. You have the Vietnam War, which shakes American confidence in itself and its institutions and its moral rectitude. You also have the Watergate scandal, which is enormously troubling to a lot of Americans.

And people like Francis Schaeffer, he's one of the people that comes along and says: ''Look, this is what's happening in American society and here's the reason. The reason is we're turning our back on the Judeo-Christian tradition, we're embracing secular humanism, everything is going to hell and moral decay is inevitable in this sort of situation.'' ...

By the late 1970s, Schaeffer discovers that he'd really garnered quite an audience among American evangelicals, and he begins to try to propagate his ideas a little bit further. With the collusion of his son, Frank Schaeffer, they produce a couple of film series, How Shall We Then Live and then, Whatever Happened to the Human Race. And the series are shown particularly with evangelical audiences really around the country.

Schaeffer becomes even more of a celebrity in evangelical circles, and this is where he begins to hammer away at the issue of abortion as being a symptom of America's moral decay, and this is how the abortion issue is popularized, at least in part, among American evangelicals in the late 1970s.

And what kind of films are they? Does his audience usually go to films? ...

I think part of the attraction of these films was that in the late 1970s ... many evangelicals look down upon theater and cinema. This is part of a longstanding suspicion of popular entertainment and Hollywood and even the Red Scare of the 1950s.

So for this series of films to come into a city and to be shown in theaters ... there was kind of a forbidden pleasure in going to a theater and seeing something on the screen. And then to have the message of that series to be something they considered very good and godly and helpful to American society, that was very encouraging to them, and it was very comforting to them in some ways.

Was it galvanizing?

I think it galvanized the movement in some ways, because here you had somebody that they considered to be a solid intellectual. I think whether or not he was -- I think a lot of people would dispute that -- but the perception was that here's somebody with a sterling, first-class intellect who is explaining the faith to those who don't understand it.

He's also calling us, people of faith, to action in the political and social and cultural arena. This is somebody who had the image of being very respectable, very culturally savvy. He listened to rock music, he was able to derive meanings. ... He paid attention to art, he paid attention to film. ... It was very effective.

And does that happen? Did people become politically active?

... The rise of the religious right in 1978, 1979, has to be identified with Schaeffer, although he's not entirely responsible for that. The religious right really gets its impetus from a court decision. It was not Roe v. Wade in 1973, as is sometimes presented. It was a ... case called Green v. Connally. ...

The Internal Revenue Service had issued an opinion that said any organization that engages in racial segregation or racial discrimination is not by definition a charitable organization, therefore it has no claim on tax-exempt status.

The District Court, District of Columbia, on June 30, 1971, upheld the Internal Revenue Service in that opinion, and by November of that year, the Internal Revenue Service began to enforce that ruling, threatening and then later withholding or rescinding the tax-exempt status of those institutions that persisted in racial discrimination and racial segregation.

One of the schools in the crosshairs was Bob Jones University, [a] fundamentalist school in Greenville, S.C., which until 1971 did not admit African Americans to the student body, [and] until 1975, out of fears of racial mixing, did not admit unmarried African Americans to the student body.

The IRS came after Bob Jones University, along with other schools ... and after years of warning, finally on Jan. 19, 1976 rescinded the tax exemption of Bob Jones University.

That was the catalyst. That was the trigger for evangelical ministers and others to come together as a political movement in order to try to resist the Bob Jones ruling. ...

Talk a bit about Jerry Falwell. He initially thinks that he should stay out of politics.

Jerry Falwell is an independent Baptist minister in Lynchburg, Va., the founder of the Thomas Road Baptist Church. Throughout his career up until the late 1970s, he is resolutely apolitical. He delivers a famous sermon in 1965 called "Of Ministers and Marchers," in which he says that it's the duty -- I'm paraphrasing -- it's the duty of ministers simply to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, not to become involved in civil rights reforms, not to become involved in anti-communism or anything else.

A decade later, he changes his tune rather dramatically and says that he has to become involved in political issues. He has to become involved in what he considers to be moral issues. And this provides the foundation for the Moral Majority, which is incorporated in June 1979.

But why is it that he felt so strongly that he had to stay out of politics? Was it a fear of losing that voice?

Ever since the Scopes Trial in 1925, America's evangelicals had really retreated from the larger society, and they constructed this vast, elaborate network of institutions to essentially protect them from the larger society. Congregations, denominations, Bible institutes, Bible camps, colleges, seminaries, missionary societies, publishing houses -- this was an alternate universe, and that's why I call it a subculture, within the larger American culture or society.

And it was possible in the middle decades of the 20th century, and I can attest to this personally, to grow up within that world, within that subculture and have very, very little commerce with anyone outside of that world.

Jerry Falwell is very much a product of that. His own school, Liberty Baptist College, which is now Liberty University; Thomas Road Baptist Church, that's very much part of that subculture. And it was a protective device to shield evangelical kids in particular from the corrupting influences in the larger culture.

So for about 50 years from the Scopes Trial in 1925 until, I think, Jimmy Carter's campaign for the presidency beginning in 1975, evangelicals are not involved in politics. Many of them are not even registered to vote because politics is dirty and unseemly, and besides, Jesus is coming back at any time to get us out of this mess, so why should we worry about the temporal order? And that was a very, very real sentiment among America's evangelicals for the middle decades of the 20th century.

What happens with Jerry Falwell and these other evangelical ministers is the Bob Jones case kind of startles them. ... They interpret that as federal government intervention into their affairs, even though they don't accept any federal funds, and that's what galvanizes this as, first of all, a resistance movement, and then later in the 1970s as a political movement. ...

So it's the anti-discrimination ruling and the application of that ruling that motivates them personally, but that's not the way they present it to the wider public.

Right. ... Falwell and others present the issues as opposition to the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution ... trying to put public prayer in public schools, opposition to abortion ... opposition to the federal Department of Education, and kind of a generalized ... opposition to gays and lesbians. This all becomes part of the kind of matrix in the agenda of the religious right in the late 1970s. ...

Once Falwell was comfortable with this role ... what kind of impact does he have?

... I think what he's able to do so effectively ... is to articulate a kind of rhetoric of victimization. "We Christians, we evangelicals, we fundamentalists are marginalized in American society," he argues. "It's our values [that] are under attack. We are the ones who are really suffering in this new sort of multicultural, pluralistic culture." ...

All the way from Falwell to James Dobson, they present themselves as these marginal figures, when in fact they have enormous political clout and political influence. So it's contrary to the facts, to the real situation, but it's still very effective.

And [do] he and his followers feel like they are getting results?

There's no question they have results. Falwell boasts of registering millions and millions of voters. Perhaps some of that's a bit exaggerated, but I think it's certainly the case that he registers voters to vote [for] the causes that he thinks are important.

Falwell had a little slogan or motto: "Get 'em saved, get 'em baptized, get 'em registered," and he would follow that or at least try to follow that with his preaching, not only in his local congregation, but by means of television throughout the country.

Polls showed by the late '80s or so he was one of the most disliked men in the country.

Falwell thrived on being disliked to some degree. I think he enjoyed that sort of thing: He liked being at the center of controversy, and he knew how to stir it up. ...

[Did the] rise of [Falwell] and the Moral Majority have an impact on the way evangelism was seen in this country? ...

What people like Jerry Falwell and others did so very effectively was to exploit the media to their own advantage, so that by certainly the early 1980s -- arguably even as early as the late '70s -- many Americans thought that all evangelicals or at least most evangelicals were politically conservative, were voting Republican in straight-line sorts of tickets.

In fact, there is within evangelicalism a left wing, people like Jim Wallis and Sojourners, Tony Campolo, many others, whose understanding of the faith, understanding of the teachings of Jesus, understanding of the New Testament, their understanding of evangelicalism throughout American history, actually points them toward the left of the political spectrum.

The problem is that none of these individuals has a media empire even close to what Falwell and Pat Robertson and others have at their disposal. At the height of his influence, James Dobson, Focus on the Family, out of Colorado Springs, Colorado, was heard on something like 600 radio stations every day. And that is a kind of media wattage that those without that sort of media access simply can't match. ...

[What is the story of Pat Robertson and the Christian Coalition?]

As the 1988 presidential election approached, there was no incumbent running for office, for re-election. And in the Republican field, it was wide open. Televangelist Pat Robertson out of Virginia decides that he's going to make a run for the presidency. ...

Pat Robertson, many people forget, finished ahead of George H. W. Bush in the Iowa precinct caucuses that year, just behind Robert Dole from Kansas. And of course Bush became the nominee ... but Robertson finished ahead of him in the Iowa caucuses.

And then after that campaign, Robertson decides the way to keep going.

Right. During the inaugural festivities for George H. W. Bush in January [1989], Pat Robertson meets a young political Republican activist by the name of Ralph Reed, who had been head of a group called College Republicans. …

Robertson expresses to Reed the desire to capitalize [on], or to perpetuate the grassroots network that he had assembled when he was running for the Republican nomination in 1988. Reed responds with this multipage, single-spaced memorandum that becomes the blueprint for Pat Robertson's political organization, Christian Coalition.

So in 1989, the Christian Coalition takes shape. Ralph Reed is the one who's really operating this, and he's very savvy politically, and he's able to make the Christian Coalition into a very potent political force. ...

But their tactics are very different from Falwell's. In fact, they would even say Falwell failed, because he didn't adopt the right organizational tactics.

Reed's approach to political activism, unlike that of Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority, was to work at the grassroots, to work from the level of school board elections, the so-called stealth candidates who would be typically members of an evangelical congregation, or a megachurch, or something of that sort, who would ... simply rely on the votes from the evangelical grassroots. And they would be elected to school boards, or city council, or whatever it might be. ...

How effective was that?

It was very effective, certainly at the local level. ... Thousands of school boards across the country had conservative, fundamentalist, religious right majorities in the 1990s because of Ralph Reed and [the] Christian Coalition.

Let me just touch on Reagan as the president, because he had support from ... the ministers. ...

In preparation for the 1980 campaign, the religious right ... really were looking for a candidate. They settled somewhat improbably on the former governor of California, Ronald Reagan.

The reason it was improbable was by that point, the religious right had identified abortion as one of their issues that they were going to campaign on. ... Ronald Reagan, as governor of California in 1967, signed into law one of the most liberal abortion bills in the country.

The other thing that made Ronald Reagan an improbable choice on the face of it was the fact that he was divorced and remarried. ...There was a real stigma attached to divorce among evangelicals until the late 1970s. I think in many ways Ronald Reagan changes that. Once the leaders of the religious right anointed him as their political savior, then they had to kind of rejig their understanding and their position on the issue of divorce. ...

What they did was, effectively, they sought to locate sin as they understood it outside of evangelicalism by identifying it with abortion and with homosexuality. Of course, that was not entirely outside of evangelicalism by any stretch of the imagination, but that was a kind of political or at least rhetorical ploy on their part.

Ronald Reagan played the part beautifully, and I'm not trying to be dismissive here, but he understood what he had to do, what he had to say in order to garner these votes from the evangelical community, from the religious right. ...

He energized these politically conservative evangelicals by persuading them that he was one of them, he shared their values, and he would prosecute their agenda as president of the United States, including a constitutional amendment to ban abortion.

Let's jump ahead to the '90s: [The] Christian Coalition was getting a lot of attention ... Republicans [are] taking control of the House, they're active in the impeachment against President Clinton. What are they doing? How effective are they being, and what's their ultimate goal? ...

... The religious right interpreted the results of both the 1992 and 1996 elections ... as a kind of interregnum. The Clinton-Gore ticket had interrupted their access to the White House, their political power, and so they did everything in their power to resist them.

Jerry Falwell distributed a videotape called The Clinton Chronicles that accused Bill Clinton of all sorts of crimes and unsubstantiated charges against the president. And when they had an opening with the Monica Lewinsky scandal, of course, they rushed in to try to remove Clinton from office.

I think the fact that the Senate refused to vote for conviction in the Articles of Impeachment was a bitter pill for a lot of leaders of the religious right. ...

So there's a time of soul searching on the part of at least some leaders of the religious right. What happens is that by the 2000 election, they decide to enter once again into the political arena in order to try to reverse the effects of the Clinton years and defeat Al Gore in the 2000 election with George W. Bush.

And what kind of candidate was he from their perspective?

... George W. Bush presents himself as an evangelical, born-again Christian, and his narrative is very persuasive to a lot of evangelicals, in part because they recognize it. One of the characteristics of evangelicals is this emphasis on coming out of this kind of sordid or dissolute past.

In the case of George W. Bush, [it was] a kind of feckless young adulthood when he was addicted to alcohol or at least consumed alcohol at levels that probably were beyond the range of social respectability, and he decides, after a drunken stupor in Colorado, to give up alcohol, to embrace Jesus as his savior. ... His story resonated with a lot of them.

At the same time, the Democratic Party seemed uncomfortable talking about faith. ...

I think in 2000, and certainly again in 2004, the Democratic Party and the Democratic candidates for president were not terribly comfortable talking about their faith, whereas George W. Bush was very comfortable talking about that and did so at regular intervals in the course of those campaigns.

The takeaway for the Democrats in 2004 was that they had to learn to speak this language of faith and piety. ...

... By the end of the Bush presidency, a number of his religious supporters become disillusioned, [not] just with him, but also it seems with their own involvement with politics. ...

By the 2008 presidential election, a lot of evangelicals are looking back over the previous 30 years when they've really been quite effective politically, and they're beginning to assess: "What have we gained from this? Have we really reoriented ourselves? We recast ourselves as political activists after many decades of being utterly inactive politically. We elected Ronald Reagan in 1980. We reelected him. We elected George H. W. Bush in 1988, again, George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004. What do we have to show for it?"

I think it's a fair question. All of these Republican politicians, these aspirants for the presidency, promised to outlaw abortion, and yet none of them made a serious effort to do so. ...

I think the other thing that happens by the 2008 presidential election is that many evangelicals, particularly younger evangelicals, are beginning to question the whole political agenda of the religious right. They're beginning to say, "Look, there's a broader spectrum of moral issues than simply abortion and homosexuality. The environment is a moral issue." ... And many of them went a different way in 2008. ...

With the explosion of different religions within the culture as a whole ... how do we see evangelism fitting with the wider religious marketplace as we go forward?

One interpretation for the rise of the religious right was that it was a reaction to the changing complexion of American culture. ... And the religious right comes along and says, "We want to go back to this sort of idealized, earlier time. ...

I think more recently ... what these evangelicals or other evangelical leaders are recognizing, is that we have to be adaptable to this changing marketplace. We're not going to be able to turn back the clock. We're not going to make America into the Eisenhower 1950s America again. We have to find ways to reach out into these new communities if we want to maintain our relevance.

And they've done fairly well in recasting their message to these new Americans. Whether it's Hispanic immigrants, Asian immigrants -- evangelicals are finding ways to market themselves to these new communities.

Do you think religion will remain as central to the American identity as it has in the past?

I think what we've seen in the last couple of years is indications of a kind of slight downturn in religious adherence in America. More people are saying, "I'm spiritual, I'm not religious." And what I interpret that to mean is that, "I have a suspicion of institutionalized religion." ...

Part of the reasons for the slight downturn in religious life ... is that there's been a disillusionment with a lot of the overt political activity of religious groups, particularly the religious right, but other groups as well. I think that's the reason that you see this sort of surge in what I call the secular fundamentalists -- people who are arguing that religion is bad and so forth.

But if history is any indication, and as a historian I tend to think it is, we Americans will continue and persist in being a religious people.

Do you think the sense of America as a providential nation will remain as strong?

The sense of America as a providential nation has been with us for a very long time. I kind of like to chart it through the centuries. In the 17th century you had John Winthrop's notion of a "city on a hill," being a beacon to the rest of the world. In the 18th century, you had the sacred cause of liberty where America was engaging in its revolt against Britain for religious reasons in the eyes of many Americans. In the 19th century, manifest destiny; 20th century, making the world safe for democracy was kind of the slogan.

In the 21st century, who knows? It probably hasn't emerged quite yet. But Americans have a sense of their destiny as a nation. They have a sense that America occupies a unique niche in the divine economy. I don't see that abating any time soon. ...

What's going on in the broader society [in the late 1940s]? When you hear some of Graham's preaching from the time, he sees moral decay. Are they concerned about returning servicemen who are prophesying what they've been through? ...

I think any evangelist in any period of time can find moral decay if he looks hard enough. ... Graham found it as well in the servicemen returning from overseas, having been exposed to whole new worlds that were very much unlike what they had experienced before their military service.

He was eager to kind of capture them, and to make sure that they had a moral grounding, a moral foundation, and could be re-integrated into American life in a fairly easy and painless way.

How is Graham and Youth for Christ different from other evangelicals at the time or previously?

... What Youth for Christ was trying to purvey was a sense of cultural relevance. They did a lot with the recruitment of athletes, for example, to make Christianity attractive to younger people. The trotting out of sports heroes -- some of them very accomplished and world-class athletes -- to lend a credibility to the faith. And then Graham would come on stage, or Charles Templeton, or someone else, to close the deal and to try to bring about these evangelical conversions. ...

In the previous couple of decades, some studies have shown that church attendance had gone down. ...

Historians have sometimes characterized the 1930s, 1940s as a time of spiritual depression. We Americans were preoccupied with other things: The Great Depression itself, certainly World War II zapped a lot of energy and intention.

So the postwar resurgence of evangelicalism that in many ways is embodied by Billy Graham ... comes to the fore at a time when Americans are seeking to re-engage with the faith. They're trying to assert themselves as being people of faith, as opposed to the godless Communists who were our foil. ...

[Was Graham hitting a plateau in terms of his success at the time of his crusade in L.A.? Did that crusade help propel him onto a greater stage?]

... He gets to Los Angeles and you have this remarkable confluence of circumstances that really provide him with credibility and introduce him to a national stage.

You have Los Angeles itself, which is of course the city of stars, and he's able to bring in some rather remarkable folks, many of whom claim to have some sort of life-changing spiritual experience as a result of these crusades.

You also have the newspaper magnate, William Randolph Hearst, who likes Graham. He particularly likes Graham's anti-communist rhetoric, and he instructs his newspapers to "puff Graham," two of the most famous words in all of American religious history; and this really rockets Graham onto the national stage, and he becomes a national figure. ...

By the time he's come to L.A., he's no longer with Youth for Christ. Why is he stepping out on his own? What's that about?

... He wanted to seek another calling to kind of reach a higher level. One of the things that's characteristic about Graham, I think throughout his career, is that he wants approbation, he wants the approval of the elites. It's very important for him to have the approval or the assent of say, the Hollywood crowd; that was important to him. ...

What's behind that? ...

Billy Graham is a very admirable man with a lot of wonderful qualities, and one of the characteristics of him is that he wants to be liked. The ... impulse to strike out on his own with his own organization, I think, is an expression of that. He didn't want to be tethered any longer to Youth for Christ. ...

So when he really melds anti-communism with his own gospel message ... is he using the threat of the Cold War to bring people to Christ? What's his strategy?

Graham, throughout his career, has shown a remarkable ability to speak the idiom of the culture and to express the anxieties of his audiences. ... I think he too, as most Americans, [was] quite afraid of godless communism and the threat of the Soviet empire. But he's able to meld that with his evangelical message in the postwar period, and it's a powerful combination and it works very well for him.

His deeper motivation is to what? Fight the Communists or to bring people to Christ?

Graham would insist that his real motivation was to bring people to Christ, and he was not afraid to invoke anti-communism, use anti-communist rhetoric as a way of providing himself a larger stage and, of course, providing the gospel a larger stage. ...

When [Graham] emerged in the late 1940s ... he gave America hope. ... Here, we have this good, decent, young man who grew up on a dairy farm in North Carolina, and somehow he's gonna help us get through these tough years in the postwar period. Part of his appeal was his ability to both articulate and to assuage the anxieties of an entire generation.

When Eisenhower ran for president ... [he] consults Billy Graham at some point during the campaign. ... Why is it that a politician like Eisenhower would need to reach out to him in a way that is palatable?

After Los Angeles, Graham becomes a national figure. He's very quickly on the cover of Time magazine and he's come to be seen as this sort of repository of wisdom in the eyes of a lot of people -- so much so, that even Dwight Eisenhower consults with him in the course of the 1952 campaign.

Here you have the former commander of the forces in Europe who feels it necessary, apparently, to consult with this brash, young evangelist. But it's precisely because Graham had been so successful in drawing crowds, been so successful in articulating various issues that were important to Americans at that time, that a politician feels obliged to consult with him during the campaign.

From Graham's perspective at this point, he began cultivating politicians [several years before].

Absolutely. ... As soon as he hits the big time, and as soon as he becomes a national figure, it's almost a desperate campaign to curry favor with those in political power. ...

Beginning with Truman, well into the 21st century, Graham is trying to ensure his own access to the White House, to make himself important, or to be seen as a major religious and cultural figure in American society. ...

In the '50s, when he's with Eisenhower, what's he doing with that access? Is he trying to spark a religious revival? ...

... Graham himself would say that he's hoping in some way to advance the cause of the gospel in any way that he can, and that includes being visible on the public stage. ...

There is some evidence that during some administrations, particularly the Eisenhower administration for example, he volunteers to intercede on diplomatic matters for the president, and so he's hoping to somehow advance the cause of the nation, and I'm sure he would say the faith, in so doing.

... [Graham] talks to the press outside the White House and says he thinks the conditions are right for a fourth, great spiritual awakening in this country, and that he's told [President Eisenhower] we need to help foster this. What's he talking about there? ...

... Throughout his entire career, Graham is always predicting the next, great religious revival, and he also believes that it will be generated right here in America. ...

Probably he believed it entirely. That was his mission. That is how he defined his entire life, as being a catalyst for this great religious awakening, and he was willing to do whatever he could do to try to bring that about, from these massive stadium crusades to his personal relationships and encounters with people of power, including presidents of the United States. ...

... [Graham] seemed to be wanting to reach people who were not necessarily evangelically minded or religious at all, and trying to kind of connect. ...

One of the bedrock convictions that Graham has always had is that the Gospel is for everyone, and so his preaching seeks to reach everyone. ... So you have this effort, or even a myth sometimes, that Graham was reaching to all levels of society.

I think he was especially interested in the people who are at the upper echelons of society, particularly in terms of their cultural influence. ... He thought that if he could convert certain individuals who were very prominent, well-known, that that would have a greater effect in terms of bringing others into the kingdom; that would make the Gospel more palatable to others, whether it's an athlete or an entertainer or a politician.

Throughout his life he was constantly badgering Richard Nixon to make a public declaration of the faith that Graham was persuaded was there inside of Richard Nixon. Because he believed that if Nixon came out and made a public declaration of faith, others would be encouraged to do so also. ...

... Toward the end of the whole [New York City] crusade, there's this extraordinary event at Yankee Stadium. ... A hundred thousand people. ... If he's looking for the spiritual awakening, you can't help but think he probably saw it there. ...

The Yankee Stadium event must have been extraordinary for him. ... At the very least, it was an affirmation of Graham himself, the extent to which he had become a public figure. People would take some pains to go and visit him, hear what he had to say. ...

He uses that spectacle to align himself with Vice President Nixon. What's he doing with that? And what's Nixon doing?

Nixon in 1957, of course, is already thinking about the 1960 presidential election. He's Eisenhower's vice president. He had forged, by all accounts, a very good and a strong friendship with Billy Graham going back to 1950. So Nixon has an opportunity, then, at this Yankee Stadium rally in 1957 to be introduced to the crowd by none other than Billy Graham.

So, for Nixon this was a very, very powerful moment, I'm sure, very opportune moment to present himself as being aligned with [Billy Graham].

For Graham, on the other hand, it's a chance to show that he has credibility with someone in the White House, the vice president of the United States. And so, it was a mutually beneficial arrangement, I'm sure, for both of them. ...

Let's move forward to 1960, the campaign. What would be helpful is to frame this campaign from Graham's perspective. ...

... As the summer begins to unfold and it becomes more and more clear that Kennedy will be the Democratic nominee, Graham starts to figure out what he can do as a person who clearly has a good bit of influence on American society. ...

Kennedy is running against Richard Nixon, who Graham thinks is a kind of an exemplar of Protestant values, Christian values. He makes a great deal out of Nixon's family background, the Christian home, coming out of a Quaker background, and so forth. ... And he takes a very active role in trying to determine the course of the fall election. ...

What's clear looking back on the 1960 campaign is that Graham is very concerned about the prospect of a Roman Catholic in the White House. And he resolves at some point, probably early in August, to do something about it. But he's cagey enough to remain on the sidelines. ...

And once Kennedy's in office, Graham reaches out to him.

After Kennedy's election, of course, Graham wants to maintain his access, his proximity to power and in particular to the presidency. And so there's a meeting that is arranged between the two of them before Kennedy even takes office. So Graham already is trying to make inroads into the Kennedy administration, even though he had worked very hard, albeit silently, to derail Kennedy's election in 1960.

I want to flash forward quickly and summarize Graham's relationship with presidents. ...

...There's a span early on when it's clear to me that Graham is trying to curry favor with these various presidents. He comes to Nixon, which in many ways is Graham's Waterloo, because he is so tied with Nixon ... and then the whole Nixon administration and Nixon presidency implodes, leaving Graham looking very bad because he had so aligned himself with a man who turned out to be a failed president. ...

What happens after that is that Graham is more cautious. He pulls back a little bit. And then what happens is very interesting to me. Graham, as he emerges as a sort of elder statesman himself, you have presidents trying to curry favor with Graham, rather than the other way around ... because they recognize that he's really an iconic figure in American society. And to the extent that they can align themselves with him in the public perception, it will do them good politically. And Graham tends to cooperate when this happens. ...

... I want to talk about how Martin Luther King related to power.

What I find remarkable about Martin Luther King is that ... he was willing to cooperate with politicians, most significantly with Lyndon Johnson, in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And yet, King was able to maintain his distance, his prophetic distance from power and from the lures of power. ...

Even though King had cooperated with Johnson with the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, not quite two years after that -- April 4, 1967 -- King stood up in Riverside Church and issued a blistering denunciation of the war in Vietnam, Johnson's war in Vietnam.

I take that as an illustration of King's ability to use the political system, but not to allow himself or to allow the faith to become co-opted by politicians, to become corrupted by access to the councils of power. ...

On a fundamental level, their approaches were very different: Graham trying to change society by changing one person at a time, whereas King challenged society as a whole.

... King is really a product of the social gospel movement, part of the social gospel tradition, which emerged in American culture around the turn of the 20th century, that said that the Gospel has the power to redeem not only sinful individuals but sinful social institutions as well.

So this is in large measure what animates the civil rights struggle in Martin Luther King Jr., because he believes that the Gospel has something to say about segregated busing. He believes the Gospel has something to say about voter registration. He believes the Gospel has something to say about the conditions of poverty that overwhelmingly and disproportionately afflicted African Americans in this nation.

Whereas Billy Graham had his approach throughout his career that said that the way to change to society was to change individual hearts. And that only the aggregate effect of enough conversions would bring about meaningful social change. ...

I just want to [explore] this theme of different approaches to power ... [particularly] the relationship that some of the Christian right leaders had with power compared to Graham and King. It seems like they are a cautionary tale.

Billy Graham, having learned his lesson from his close association with Richard Nixon, was very clear in the early years of the religious right as it began to emerge in the late 1970s, that he didn't think it was a good idea.

He thought that this mixture of religion and politics as perpetrated by people like Jerry Falwell and James Dobson and Chuck Olson and so forth, was a dangerous mix, and he recognized that it was dangerous to the integrity of the faith. ...

Falwell and Dobson, they didn't agree with him?

No.

Were they just: "We won't fall into that trap?" Or: "This is a different time?" ...

Jerry Falwell and James Dobson took a different view from Graham on that matter. They thought that they could engage in political activity and overt partisan activity and still somehow maintain the integrity of the faith.

I think the lesson of the religious right -- kind of [the] 30-year history of the religious right from 1978 to 2008 -- is that they were not able to do that. That the seductions of power were so great, that it forced far too many compromises on their part in the course of their political engagement.

What kind of lessons do you draw from that on a deeper level in terms of the relationship between religion and power in this country?

I think the cautionary tale of the religious right is something that I find consistent throughout all of American history and American religious history, and that is that religion always functions best from the margins of society and not in the councils of power.

Because once you begin to hanker after power and political influence, inevitably you compromise on the faith, because you try to soft pedal it or you lose your prophetic voice. ... The religious right was unwilling to take prophetic stands against certain policies and certain politicians because they had access to power.

The best example I can think of was when I was writing a book in 2004-2005, I asked eight religious-right organizations to send me a copy of their group's position on the use of torture. [I got] only two responses out of those inquiries, neither of which was willing to distance itself from the Bush administration policies on torture.

I think that's a clear example of how religious groups, when they curry favor with politicians, when they seek access to the corridors of power, eventually -- even inevitably -- compromise the faith and lose the prophetic voice. ...

... Did Schaeffer provide the intellectual underpinnings for Falwell to make [the] decision to get into politics?

... He gives them credibility, and even though Falwell was certainly no thinker -- and I say that [in a] neutral way, I'm not condemning him for that -- the fact that he could draw on Schaeffer and say, "Here we have somebody who is a thinker who can help us to discern and also to warn against what we consider to be these pernicious influences in society," that for Falwell was very important as he laid out his framework, his groundwork for the religious right.

Falwell and others had felt like they shouldn't get into politics, and Schaeffer was making the case that you can do that, in fact, you have a duty as Christians to do that. ...

Schaeffer comes along and he makes the case that not only should evangelicals consider entering into the political arena to keep at bay all these pernicious influences in society, but they have an obligation to do so. And if they don't, that American society and Western culture in general will begin to decay and ultimately to collapse.

... The Moral Majority has been founded, Reagan's running for president in 1980. ... What can we say about what the Reagan campaign was doing with this new group? ...

... I happen to think that the turning point of the 1980 campaign was an event down in Dallas, Texas, organized by the religious roundtable called a National Affairs Briefing. And as the event unfolds, you have all these preachers, these stemwinding preachers who get up and decry the moral decay in America and so forth.

Then at the end of the speeches, Ronald Reagan, the Republican nominee -- who had been very carefully briefed about how he should respond before the event took place -- he gets up and he says, "I know this group can't endorse me, but I want you to know that I endorse you and what you're doing."

[He] brought down the house and I think sealed the campaign for Reagan, over Jimmy Carter, an evangelical Christian.

That's the great irony of the 1980 campaign. ... Arguably the man with the slimmest hold on that label, Ronald Reagan, is the one who harvested the majority of evangelical votes in 1980. ...

Do we think he believed, though?

No, I don't. I was never persuaded [of] that.

... A couple of years into the Reagan presidency, there's a lot of Americans, religious or not, who are finding the [newfound] influence of the religious right kind of disturbing, uncomfortable. Can you articulate that view for us? ...

... I think a lot of Americans coming out of the 1980 election were wondering what had happened. Reagan was a very attractive candidate, and it was not so much that they were disputing or necessarily uncomfortable with the outcome of the election itself, but here you have this new political force that is making itself felt in American society, in American politics, in ways that they hadn't done, arguably, at any other point in American history.

And not only had they helped to deliver the election for Ronald Reagan in 1980, but they were also visible in the Reagan administration: the appointment of C. Everett Koop as surgeon general of the United States, for example, an evangelical Christian opposed to abortion. The various lower-level appointees in the Reagan White House clearly were making their presence felt, and so Americans generally were quite anxious about what was going on with the religious right. ...

I want to ask you about [Reagan's] "city on the hill" speech. ... It's kind of like validating the conservative evangelical view of American history by melding his political vision with their religious vision.

Reagan was a master of political symbolism. ... Another thing that Reagan does very effectively is use the metaphor of the "city on a hill." And even though he had used that for a long time throughout his career, it's not clear to me that he meant anything more than a secular vision of what a city on a hill might be, and how America fits into that image.

Yet when he uses that speech as president, he's able to bring together that imagery, that language, with this newfound political activism from the religious right, from people like Falwell and others who are talking about city on a hill, and what they mean by that is very much a religious vision. ...

And their vision is a truly Christian vision from that?

Absolutely. Their vision of a "city on a hill" is a Christian place, just as John Winthrop meant it when he first preached the sermon aboard the Arabella on the way over to the New World in 1630.

So when Falwell hears city on a hill, what he means is, or what he hears is, that this is going to be a Christian nation, we're going to try to propagate this Christian vision of politics and religion, not only in America, but more broadly throughout the world.

By the end of the Reagan administration, Falwell was one of the most unpopular men in America, and Reagan's distancing himself. What's going on there? ...

... Falwell continues to exert his political muscle. He's an early supporter of George H.W. Bush for the Republican nomination in 1988 to succeed Reagan, and I think Falwell probably had a good bit of influence in making sure that it went in that direction.

But you'll find Reagan himself late in his administration trying to put some distance between himself and Falwell and some of the other leaders of the religious right, because of some of the things that they had done, some of the associations that they were beginning to have, that didn't look very good in the eyes of many Americans.

... Talk about the explosion of the religious marketplace in the beginning of the Immigration Act of '65 through the '70s, '80s and '90s. Where do the evangelical megachurches fit within that?

The megachurches are in many ways an embodiment of this religious marketplace in that they tap into it so very effectively. They do so by positioning themselves usually in the suburbs, and they speak the language of suburban America. ...

They use corporate language to talk about themselves. Willow Creek Community Church, for example, in the suburbs of Chicago, talks about its entire range of programs -- the youth programs and everything -- as their product. They use this language of consumerism, and so in many ways, the megachurches embody this consumerist ethic in American society.

What I worry about is, in playing to this marketplace, whether or not they maintain their fidelity to the Gospel, to the faith that they are trying to propagate. Or does it become so watered down and so anodyne in order to appeal to popular taste that there's really not much content, not much substance to it at all. ...

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