God in America
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God in America: "Of God and Caesar"

NARRATOR: As religion and politics were becoming more closely linked in the decades after World War II, one religious group stood apart. They were conservative Protestants, evangelicals and fundamentalists who had felt scorned by the big city press during the infamous Scopes evolution trial.

Rev. RANDALL BALMER, Professor of American Religious History: Ever since the Scopes trial in 1925, America's evangelicals have really retreated from the larger society. And they constructed this vast, elaborate network of institutions to essentially protect them from the larger society.

STEPHEN PROTHERO, Professor of Religion, Boston University: They're operating their own churches, mostly white, many of them in the South. They're operating their own Bible colleges, which are actually very important institutions where young people can go and get an education very much in the evangelical Christian idiom. They're not seeking public power, they're seeking sort of to be left alone and to do their own thing.

Rev. RANDALL BALMER: Many evangelicals were 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." That was a very, very real sentiment among America's evangelicals for the middle decades of the 20th century.

This was an alternate universe within the larger American culture. It was possible, 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.

NARRATOR: One of those conservative evangelical enclaves was the Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Rev. JERRY FALWELL: Good morning. I'm Jerry Falwell, pastor here, and it's a real joy every Sunday morning over this station at this time to share with you our morning worship service. Isn't it grand to be a Christian?

Rev. RANDALL BALMER: Jerry Falwell, throughout his career, up until the late 1970s, is resolutely apolitical. He delivers a famous sermon in 1965 called "Of Ministers and Marchers" in which he says 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.

NARRATOR: Falwell's associate pastor at Thomas Road Baptist was Ed Dobson.

Rev. ED DOBSON, Moral Majority executive, 1979-'87: Jerry Falwell was anti-political involvement at that time. As I recall, he had spoken against Martin Luther King, Jr., and the marching, though he was against discrimination. But he just felt that Christians had, quote, "a higher calling," and that higher calling was to preach the Bible and love people.

Rev. PAT ROBERTSON, Christian Broadcasting Network: Jesus said render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God what's God's.

NARRATOR: Pat Robertson was another young conservative televangelist who had rejected political engagement.

Rev. PAT ROBERTSON: The big thing that we as evangelicals had to consider was our allegiance was to Jesus Christ. We represented eternity. We weren't- we couldn't give our wholehearted allegiance to any particular political figure, however holy or righteous he might have been, because these are temporal things and we were dealing with eternal things.

STEPHEN PROTHERO: Evangelicals saw the United States as a Christian country the United States, established by Christians as a project of God. And all of a sudden, the '60s happened.

Rev. PAT ROBERTSON: The secular forces in our nation had invaded the province of the church. We had the Vietnam war and the student rebellion and hippies and flower children and lots of drugs. And so what the evangelicals were essentially saying, "We don't want you imposing your values on us. We don't want you taking our children away from us and imposing on them a secular worldview that is contrary to what we believe as Christians."

NARRATOR: The threat of a more secular America would eventually drive conservative evangelicals out of their isolation and back into politics. The intellectual catalyst for that change was Francis Schaeffer, an American fundamentalist theologian working in Switzerland.

FRANK SCHAEFFER, Francis Schaeffer's Son: Dad was a pastor, had pastorate of several small churches in the States, and really was a very obscure, marginal figure. No one knew about him. He was just another guy going off to Europe, in his case, to work with young people, and founded L'Abri Fellowship at a little chalet on the edge of the Swiss Alps.

And essentially, the mission was a place that opened the doors to young people who would come through and ask this American pastor questions about meaning and faith and the Bible and all these things. And then it grew from there, until Dad was an internationally known evangelical leader and writing books. And I would look across the dining table and see Billy Graham, or you know, Gerald Ford's kids, or whoever it might be.

Rev. RANDALL BALMER: Francis Schaeffer was this kind of funny-looking guy with long hair and a goatee and wearing knickers and kneesocks, and so forth. And he was for many evangelicals, especially the younger generation, kind of the embodiment of the counterculture. 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.

Rev. FRANCIS SCHAEFFER: Christianity is intellectually viable. Christianity is intellectually salable to our generation. Christianity covers the whole spectrum of life. You need never be ashamed of it.

Rev. RANDALL BALMER: 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 his son Frank, they produce a couple of film series, shown particularly with evangelical audiences. And his foil was always secular humanism.

Rev. FRANCIS SCHAEFFER: The consensus of our society no longer rests upon a Christian basis but upon a humanistic one. Humanism is man putting himself at the center of all things, rather than the creator God. Having rejected God, the humanist-

Rev. RANDALL BALMER: Once you surrender to humanism, he would argue, then all values in society would be up for grabs and we'd have moral decay.

NARRATOR: The event that would propel Schaeffer and evangelicals into political action was the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. But at first, it was the Catholic church that led the opposition.

AMY SULLIVAN, Time Magazine: It was Catholic leaders more than evangelical leaders at the beginning who were most concerned about Roe v. Wade. In fact, Pat Robertson kind of famously said after the decision was issued that it wasn't necessarily a big concern of his. And there were Southern Baptist leaders who said that they didn't necessarily have a problem with the decision.

NARRATOR: Francis Schaeffer also resisted taking up the cause until, his son says, he persuaded his father to join the fight.

FRANK SCHAEFFER: I said to Dad, "Let's really make a stand on it, like the Roman Catholics are doing, and really get out there and tell people we've got to do something about it." That was the beginning.

NARRATOR: In his next film series, Schaeffer joined the abortion resistance with a direct call to evangelicals to get back into politics.

Rev. FRANCIS SCHAEFFER: If in these last decades of the 20th century the Christian community does not make a determined stand on the issue of each individual to have a right to live and a right to be treated as made in the image of God, rather than as a machine, I believe we have failed in the greatest moral challenge of this century. The choice is yours to make.

Rev. RANDALL BALMER: Francis Schaeffer makes the case that not only should evangelicals consider entering into the political arena, but they have an obligation to do so.

FRANK SCHAEFER: Dad is the one who talked Jerry Falwell personally into taking a stand on abortion. Before that, Jerry Falwell said, "That's a Catholic Issue. It's nothing to do with us. Why would I want to take a stand on that? I'm just a preacher. I want to talk about the gospel."

Rev. JERRY FALWELL: Abortion is not a Roman Catholic issue, it is a moral issue.

NARRATOR: In 1978, Falwell delivered his first sermon condemning abortion.

Rev. JERRY FALWELL: -an issue that concerns the human rights of unborn babies who by the hundreds of thousands are being murdered in these United States of America.

NARRATOR: In Washington, Francis Schaeffer brought his anti-abortion message to conservative Republican leaders.

FRANK SCHAEFFER: Dad was very persuasive, and the word began to spread. But then we also made some converts to our cause who were in positions of influence- for instance, Congressman Jack Kemp, who then invited us back to the Republican Club in an evening hosted by him and Bob Dole. And then soon after that, Dad met with Ronald Reagan and talked about this. They began to see it as a way to win elections. We began to see winning elections as a way to make our country a better moral place.

E.J. DIONNE, The Washington Post: A lot of smart conservatives realized that with the rise of issues like abortion and school prayer, there were all these evangelical Christians kind of on the loose in politics. They were historically Democratic, a lot of them, but a lot of them were quite conservative. And so they set out to organize them. And they found Jerry Falwell.

NARRATOR: In the summer of 1979, Falwell, at the urging of conservative operatives, launched a political organization he called the Moral Majority to bring evangelicals back into national politics.

Rev. ED DOBSON, Moral Majority Executive 1979-'87: We were desperate to have our voice heard and concluded that one way to get it heard was to register a bunch of people who had never registered and encourage them to vote. The idea was we need to, quote, "save the country."

Rev. JERRY FALWELL: I'd like to say there is no Bible Belt in America. There's a Bible cloak in America that covers the whole blooming republic, and they're everywhere ready for the leadership preachers that you and I can offer them, and let's give it to them!

NARRATOR: In only a year, Moral Majority had organized in 47 states, aiming to mobilize 10 million evangelical voters for the next election. In his 1980 campaign, Ronald Reagan set out to capture their votes.

E.J. DIONNE: You know, it's fascinating because Reagan was not particularly church-going himself. But I think as a very smart politician, he understood this movement as having great potential.

STEPHEN PROTHERO: That's what's funny about Reagan. You have these sort of great champions of religion in American life, like Dwight Eisenhower, you know, who really is seen as a big figure behind the religious revival of the 1950s, and Reagan behind this political push in the 1980s. But neither was particularly religious.

NARRATOR: During the campaign, Reagan arranged to speak at an evangelical convention, where he made a dramatic gesture.

RONALD REAGAN, Presidential Candidate: Now, I know this is a non-partisan gathering, and so I know that you can't endorse me. But I only brought that up because I want you to know that I endorse you and what you're doing.

Rev. ED DOBSON: We had been on the fringes of the culture. Evangelicals were considered obscurantist, sweat-drenched Appalachian hillbillies. And for someone running for president to affirm us was very significant. I think evangelicals, once that was said, lined up behind Reagan en masse.

PRAYER: -going to put this man into office because he says all this in Jesus' name. Amen.

ROBERT SHRUM, Democratic Political Strategist: Reagan- embracing the Christian right helped him immensely in 1980 against Carter. I mean, look, the economy was in terrible shape. The hostages were in Iran. Carter was going to lose. But this was a piece that came into the Reagan coalition and helped turn that election into a virtual landslide.

Pres. RONALD REAGAN: -preserve, protect and defend-

WARREN BURGER, Chief Justice: -the Constitution of the United States-

Pres. RONALD REAGAN: -the Constitution of the United States-

Chief Justice WARREN BURGER: -so help me God.

Pres. RONALD REAGAN: -so help me God.

Chief Justice WARREN BURGER: May I congratulate you, sir.

Rev. ED DOBSON: I remember when Ronald Reagan became president. And that afternoon, I noticed Falwell all alone and he was listening to the radio. And he kept saying, "I can't believe it. They're giving us credit for electing Ronald Reagan." And I think he was partly shocked and partly thrilled.

NARRATOR: In Reagan's Washington, one of the key lobbyists for the evangelical movement was Richard Cizik.

Rev. RICHARD CIZIK, National Evangelical Assn., 1980-2008: What I had previously seen as the irrelevance of American evangelicals all of a sudden turned, and they became relevant. These folk, who had previously considered politics dirty and not worth soiling their hands over, moved into the center of the debate.

Pres. RONALD REAGAN: Let me thank you, first of all, for that ad. But more than that, I know what you've been doing yourself on the radio and everything else in support of us, and I really want to tell you how grateful I am.

NARRATOR: To the evangelicals, Reagan seemed ready to put their social agenda into action.

Pres. RONALD REAGAN: Our positive stance on family and children is consistent with our heartfelt convictions on the issue of abortion. Here again, we are not jut against an evil. We are not just anti-abortion. We are pro-life. In the meantime, we in government will see to it that not one tax dollar goes to encouraging any woman to snuff out the life of her unborn child.

NARRATOR: In the campaign, Reagan had advocated a constitutional amendment banning abortion. And in office, he proposed an amendment to reinstate prayer in public schools.

Rev. JERRY FALWELL: The president just gave to us the final wording of the constitutional amendment regarding voluntary prayer in public schools.

Pres. RONALD REAGAN: No one will ever convince me that a moment of voluntary payer will harm a child or threaten a school or a state. But I think it can strengthen our faith in a creator who alone has the power to bless America.

Rev. JERRY FALWELL: I don't know what a human being could do more rapidly and more intelligently and more accurately, and in keeping with his promises, than Ronald Reagan has done. I give him A-plus on everything.

Rev. RICHARD CIZIK: And it was heady stuff. I attended those Rose Garden meetings with the president and the briefings in the White House and the rest and saw how the evangelicals had soaked up their newfound relevance. Unfortunately, with it came the arrogance that "We're right and everybody else is wrong."

Rev. RANDALL BALMER: I think a lot of Americans coming out of the 1980 election were wondering what had happened. Here you have this new political force that is making itself felt in American society, in American politics, and so Americans generally were quite anxious about what was going on with the religious right.

NARRATOR: In 1983, Senator Ted Kennedy came to Jerry Falwell's Liberty Baptist College to articulate that anxiety and to caution evangelicals about the dangers of allowing religious faith to dictate the actions of government.

Sen. TED KENNEDY (D), Massachusetts: The separation of church and state can sometimes be frustrating for women and men of religious faith. They may be tempted to misuse government in order to impose a value which they cannot persuade others to accept. But once we succumb to that temptation, we step onto a slippery slope where everyone's freedom is at risk.

ROBERT SHRUM: I went with Ted Kennedy to Liberty Baptist, and the argument he made there was, number one, that you could not in essence excommunicate people from the public dialogue because you disagreed with them on the basis of religion. And number two, that you couldn't take every tenet of your religion, or even major tenets of your religion, and necessarily demand that they be written into public law, especially when there was no consensus about that.

NARRATOR: The same year Senator Kennedy warned evangelicals, President Reagan seemed to tighten his rhetorical embrace of them.

Pres. RONALD REAGAN: In the book of John is the promise we all go by, tells us that for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life. With his message and with your conviction and commitment, we can still move mountains. We can work to reach our dreams and make to America a shining city on a hill.

STEPHEN PROTHERO: With this "shining city on a hill," Reagan is really going back to the very origins of American colonialism, the British colonies, and this sermon on the Arabella that was given by the first governor of Massachusetts, where he said America will be a city on a hill. We're going to be this place that, across from Europe, they will look and they will see, "Yeah, that's how we want our society to be."

And Reagan picked up on that. And with his great sort of California, American optimistic ebullience, he added the word "shining," shining city on a hill. We won't just be the city on a hill, but we'll be the shining city on the hill. And so in that rhetoric, you get the sense of sort of religion, Bible, Puritans, tradition, that this is a religious place.

Rev. RANDALL BALMER: Reagan was a master of political symbolism. So when Falwell hears "city on a hill," 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.

NARRATOR: Evangelicals felt empowered by the support of the Reagan administration, and they intensified their critique of what they saw as moral decay in American society.

Rev. JAMES ROBISON, Televangelist: After all, if we can just keep getting more of our men to have sex with more men, we won't have to worry about babies being born! And if we can just get more women to get out there in the marketplace and start acting like men, and if we can just get other women to look at motherhood as though it is some dread terminal illness, if we can just get society so drunk and so drugged, if ever anybody does get pregnant, then we can abort the baby! That's where we are!

NARRATOR: But other American evangelicals thought that the religious right had it wrong.

Rev. JIM WALLIS, Founder, Sojourners: The evangelical movement has been hijacked by a cabal of television preachers and far-right political operatives in a right-wing political cause that bears no resemblance to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Let's take it back.

NARRATOR: Rev. Jim Wallis had created a liberal evangelical movement focused on issues of peace and social justice.

Rev. JIM WALLIS: People felt like the religious right had just taken over the country. And this is so political and so partisan and it is so much aimed at gaining political power, a lot of folks were saying, "Wait a minute. I'm a person of faith, too, and they don't speak for me."

PROTESTERS: Moral Majority, we say no! Right wing has got to go!

NARRATOR: As the religious right seemed at the height of its power, their heated rhetoric and a series of scandals involving prominent televangelists set off a backlash.

PROTESTERS: Falwell is America's ayatollah!

Rev. JERRY FALWELL: You say, "Well, I believe in freedom of choice." I do, too, but you ought to make the choice before you get in bed.

Rev. RANDALL BALMER: Jerry 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.

Rev. JERRY FALWELL: That's OK!

NARRATOR: By the late 1980s, Jerry Falwell's crusade was faltering. Public opinion polls showed that his popularity had fallen dramatically.

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

NARRATOR: And many evangelicals felt let down by President Reagan, believing he had never used his full political clout to push their social agenda.

Rev. RICHARD CIZIK: Ronald Reagan knew how to please evangelicals without giving them anything in return. Major constitutional amendments went nowhere. And the White House gave lip service to these. I know. I heard the lip service all the time. But not really. They wouldn't spend the president's capital to go to Capitol Hill and lobby legislators on behalf of these ideas, not really.

Rev. ED DOBSON: What did Reagan do for us in eight years of office? He gave us credibility, and he ultimately did nothing in terms of our long-term agendas.

NARRATOR: In the wake of the Reagan years, Jerry Falwell would disband the Moral Majority.

Rev. JERRY FALWELL: I will not be stumping for candidates again. I will never work for a candidate as I did for Ronald Reagan. I am now rededicating my life to the preaching of the Gospel.

NARRATOR: The torch of evangelical political engagement was picked up by Pat Robertson. His Christian Coalition took a different course, focusing not on presidential politics but on organizing evangelicals at the grass roots level. Robertson installed Ralph Reed, a young political operative, to lead the effort.

Rev. RANDALL BALMER: Reed's approach to political activism, unlike that of Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority, was 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 mega-church, or something of that sort, and rely on the votes from the evangelical grass roots.

PHONE BANK CALLER: Hello, Mr. Glasson. My name is Jackie, and I am with Christian Coalition, calling to thank you so much for all you've done for us and to let you know that Pat Robertson and Ralph Reed really appreciate you.

RALPH REED, Exec. Dir., Christian Coalition, 1989-'97: Religiously devout Christians are somewhere between 25 and 30 percent of the electorate. And I thought if we could figure out a way, by organizing them and mobilizing them and training them and deploying them and activating them, so that their influence and effectiveness was even proportional to their numbers, we would transform American politics.

Rev. RANDALL BALMER: It was very effective. Thousands of school boards across the country had conservative fundamentalist religious right majorities in the 1990s because of Ralph Reed and Christian Coalition.

NARRATOR: In 2000, the presidential campaign brought evangelicals new hope for success in national politics.

AMY SULLIVAN, Time Magazine: For many Evangelical voters, George W. Bush was the candidate they had been waiting for, in that he brought together the right conservative stance on issues that mattered to them, but he also had the evangelical identity.

Gov. GEORGE W. BUSH, Presidential Candidate: When you turn your heart and your life over to Christ, accept Christ as a savior, it changes your heart. It changes your life. And that's what happened to me.

AMY SULLIVAN: And so instead of having another Ronald Reagan, for example, who was a conservative but not necessarily personally religious, they finally had somebody who could share their identity and could share their politics.

Rev. PAT ROBERTSON: With the election of George Bush, it was assumed that we had accomplished our goals. And once an evangelical is in that power, he has the ability then to call the shots.

NARRATOR: As conservative evangelicals savored political victory, the country's religious landscape was shifting. The wide-open American religious marketplace was undergoing dramatic changes, changes that would carry political implications.

Rev. RANDALL BALMER: What's particularly striking to me over the last 30, 40 years is that since changes to the immigration laws of 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.

NARRATOR: No place in the country had changed more than Los Angeles, which five decades earlier had ignited Billy Graham's evangelical career.

PHILIP GOFF, Dir., Ctr. for Study of Religion and American Culture: In 1949, it was a city which was still dominated by white Protestants. Los Angeles today is the most religiously diverse city in the world. It's also the most ethnically diverse city in the world.

STEPHEN PROTHERO: Los Angeles is amazing in terms of religious choice. L.A. has hundreds of different Buddhist options, dozens of Hindu temples, all sorts of different forms of Catholicism and Protestantism.

NARRATOR: By 2000, in Los Angeles County alone, more than a million people were members of non-Christian faiths, and the metropolitan area was home to hundreds of their houses of worship.

Imam MUZAMMIL SIDDIQI, Dir., Islamic Society of Orange County: Now the community is large because many refugees came because of Iran situation, from Afghanistan, many coming from Cambodia and Vietnam, and then people from many other places. In metropolitan Los Angeles, say from San Barbara to San Diego, we estimate about half a million Muslims, maybe 30 or 40 different nationalities.

NARRATOR: In the 2000 election, a majority of American Muslims had voted for George W. Bush. And when the 9/11 attacks created intense scrutiny of the Muslim community, that support for Bush would be reciprocated.

Imam MUZAMMIL SIDDIQI: 9/11 created a lot of misunderstanding. People think that Muslims are fanatics, Muslims are not open to other people, they hate other people. But that's not what Islam is. That's not who Muslim people are.

NARRATOR: Imam Siddiqi had been scheduled to meet with President Bush at the White House on September 11th. After the terror attacks, he was invited to offer a prayer at the memorial service at the National Cathedral.

Imam MUZAMMIL SIDDIQI: We turn to you, O Lord, at this time of pain and grief in our nation. With broken and humble hearts and with tears in our eyes, we turn to you, O Lord, to give us comfort.

And the president said, "Thank you for participating in the prayer service. You did a heck of a good job." And I also gave him a copy of the Quran. I told him that, "I understand that you read the Bible every day. I hope you will read some days from this book also." And he said, "I will. I will."

NARRATOR: Bush made a public plea for tolerance of Muslims and their faith.

Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: The face of terror is not the truth faith of Islam. That's not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace.

STEPHEN PROTHERO: So it was President Bush who said, repeatedly, not "Islam is a bad religion and America is a country of Christians," but "Islam is a religion of peace." This was our evangelical president who did this. After 9/11, it became imperative to integrate Muslims because we couldn't be seen as going to war, a holy war, against Islam. That was horrible. And so we had to be seen as a country not just of Christians and Jews, but also of Muslims.

NARRATOR: Immigration was creating more religious diversity, but in cities like Los Angeles, most newcomers still were Christians.

STEPHEN PROTHERO: We often think about religious immigration as bringing Buddhists and Muslims and Hindus to America, and it has. But the largest group of people coming to America now are Catholics from Spanish-speaking countries.

NARRATOR: Hispanic immigrants were changing the Catholic church. It incorporated popular Latino religious traditions into its rituals.

ARLENE SANCHEZ-WALSH, Latino Church studies, Azusa Pacific Univ.: Latinos said, "We finally feel validated. We finally feel like we're part of the Catholic Church," because for the longest time, there's been a serious tension between the institutional church and what the institutional church teaches, and the popular church. And overwhelmingly, Latinos in this country and in Mexico are part of the popular church.

NARRATOR: While most Latino immigrants remained Catholic, many had joined Pentecostal churches, one of America's fastest-growing evangelical denominations.

STEPHEN PROTHERO: This tremendous desire to go toward this more emotional, heartfelt, personal experience, where not only is God moving in the world, but God is just moving inside you, with power.

ARLENE SANCHEZ-WALSH: It's coming into a community of like-minded people with similar experiences and saying, "At this point, you're all one because at this point, you are God's. And God can touch you, can heal you, can solve your problems." So there's this open expression of weeping, of dancing, an abandoning of the self into a larger communal presence that they do believe is the Holy Spirit and that they come away changed.

NARRATOR: The increasing number of Latino Protestants was also changing the face of evangelical politics.

Rev. SAMUEL RODRIGUEZ, Pres., Natl. Hispanic Christian Leadership Conf.: Politically, there are some serious consequences to this browning of the evangelical community. White evangelicals from 1973 after Roe v. Wade have primarily voted conservative, Republican. The brown evangelical comes along and says, "You know what? We don't want to be married to either party. We really don't. And rather than endorse a candidate we would love them to endorse our agenda." I see the Hispanic Christian community emerging as the game changers and the power brokers politically in America.

Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: [campaign commercial] We all know that the Latino vote will be deciding factor in the presidential election. When you cast your vote in November, it will be felt.

NARRATOR: In 2004, the Bush campaign targeted Hispanic voters, especially Latino evangelicals, offering support for Hispanic churches through the administration's faith-based charities initiatives and promising major reforms on a key Latino issue, immigration.

Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: I call upon Congress to enact common sense immigration reform that enforces our border, that upholds our laws, that treats people with respect and remembers the greatness of America is the fact that we've been able to come from different backgrounds, united under the common ideals of our country, and we live one nation under God!

NARRATOR: But Bush's wide-ranging pursuit of evangelical voters and the continued mixing of faith and politics by preachers and politicians was creating a backlash of its own.

STEPHEN PROTHERO: One reaction against the entanglement of religion and politics, especially for young people, has been to disengage from both political and religious institutions. There seems to be something a little unseemly about both of them. They're mistrustful of political parties, more likely to be political independents, mistrustful of religious denominations, more likely to be religiously unaffiliated.

NARRATOR: National polls showed that one in six Americans were not affiliated with any religious institution. More than half of those said they were secular, atheist or agnostic. There was also an expanding demographic who called themselves "spiritual but not religious."

STEPHEN PROTHERO: So there is this new style now, this new spiritual but not religious style that is not secular in the least, but it sees the drama of religion as going on inside the individual. This isn't that far away from Billy Graham. This isn't that far away from the revivals of the second great awakening of the 19th century. You know, these are places that say the drama of religion is the individual transformation.

Well, now we can get that individual transformation by going to yoga class. We can get that transformation by doing some Zen sitting with some cool Zen teacher down the road. I think that's very, very American.

FRANK LAMBERT, Historian, Purdue University: American religion operates in this great sphere of freedom, in this great free marketplace of religion. I mean, 90 percent of Americans say, "I believe in God." But they also reserve for themselves the right to say exactly how they believe in God, and what they mean by God. With religious liberty, there is no official church. There is no official religion. There are hundreds, and it is a matter of fact, if we count mega-churches as individual religious groups, there are thousands of religious groups in America.

NARRATOR: Non-denominational evangelical mega-churches were one of the fastest-growing phenomena in the religious marketplace.

FRANK LAMBERT: They're innovative. They're flexible. They change. They reinvent themselves. So there is something for everyone.

WORSHIPER: I'm dedicated to the cause of Christ, my family and my band of brothers.

NARRATOR: In Los Angeles and across the country, a new generation was redefining the evangelical political agenda with its own take on the Christian message.

Rev. RANDALL BALMER: 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."

E.J. DIONNE, The Washington Post: Younger evangelicals are just as pro-life, just as opposed to abortion as older evangelicals, but they also show a much greater concern about the environment and a real concern about AIDS in Africa.

Rev. RICK WARREN, Founder, Saddleback Church: I said, " God, these problems are so big, nobody's been able to solve them." Eight thousand people die every day from AIDS. Twenty-eight million people in Africa have AIDS, 40 million worldwide. Something could be done. And so I began to think, "What did Jesus do?" And I began to read through-

Rev. ED DOBSON, Moral Majority executive, 1979-'87: And there's a whole new generation, Rick Warren and others, whose list of issues includes poverty, HIV-AIDS, caring for creation, and they're much more non-political in their passion and are working to solve issues at a grass roots level.

NARRATOR: In his 2000 campaign, George Bush had courted this younger generation of evangelical voters, promising a new "compassionate conservatism." In office, he would enact policies advocated by younger evangelicals. He spoke out on the genocide in Darfur and proposed new funding to fight HIV-AIDS in Africa.

Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: Tonight I propose the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, a work of mercy beyond all current international efforts to help the people of Africa.

NARRATOR: Bush did not forget the older generation of his evangelical supporters. He signed a bill banning late-term abortions and restricted embryonic stem cell research.

E.J. DIONNE: Well, the biggest thing he did for older evangelicals was to put Justices Roberts and Alito on the Supreme Court. And in the long run, on the issues they care about, Alito and Roberts are going to push that Court in a conservative direction, and that's exactly what a lot of religious conservatives were looking for.

NARRATOR: But as the Bush presidency bogged down with the war in Iraq, it became clear that yet another Republican administration would fail to push through key parts of the evangelical agenda, including constitutional amendments banning abortion and gay marriage.

Rev. RICHARD CIZIK, National Evangelical Assn., 1980-2008: George W. Bush turned out to be a huge disappointment to evangelicals.

RALPH REED: There was a feeling that, "Hey, we worked all these years, we elected all these people, and what do we really have to show for it?"

NARRATOR: After a 30-year journey into politics, some veterans of the evangelical movement concluded their strategy had been flawed.

RALPH REED: We too often acted like just another lobby group, treating the Republican Party as synonymous with our agenda.

Rev. RICHARD CIZIK: Ultimately, it's evangelicalism that suffers. We lose our capacity to be an arbiter in society of what is moral and immoral because we've sold our birthright out to one political party.

Rev. ED DOBSON: There's a huge danger in getting too involved in the political process. You can either be a prophet who stands on the outside of culture and argues against the injustices, or you can be the king. And I don't think you can be both.

STEPHEN PROTHERO: A lot of the changes that the Christian right wanted were cultural changes - to use their own language, sort of "changes of the heart." But you can't really change that through electing presidents because by definition, it's cultural. But they did change our politics in that they brought religion and politics closer and closer together and they created a model that was effective, that the Democrats have now taken up.

NARRATOR: The Democratic Party would have its own epiphany about the role of religion in politics after John Kerry's defeat in the 2004 election.

E.J. DIONNE: You might say that Democrats discovered God in the 2004 exit polls, that they realized that whatever they were doing with religion wasn't working and they had to think about it differently.

NARRATOR: Kerry had polled well among more secular voters, but lost heavily to President Bush among those who attended church regularly. A Roman Catholic, Kerry had been criticized by some church leaders for his stand on abortion and had lost the Catholic vote.

AMY SULLIVAN: Very shortly after the election, John Kerry called one of his close advisers, and among the things that he wanted to talk about, kind of revisiting the mistakes that they had made, was religion and both his inability to stick up for himself when attacked over his faith, but also his campaign's unwillingness to really target religious voters. And he said, you know, "I got the religion thing wrong, didn't I? " and his advisers said, "Well, yes, sir, you did."

NARRATOR: Jim Wallis had been working for years to persuade the Democratic Party to reach out to religious voters. After Kerry's defeat, he saw attitudes begin to shift.

Rev. JIM WALLIS, Founder, Sojourners: The first call I got from a Democrat was from Ted Kennedy, who said, "I think we've, as Democrats, as a party, maybe lost our ability to speak in the language of faith and moral values and why we believe what we do, what our foundations are." He said, "Maybe I need to find a way to be more expressive of my faith while still protecting the separation of church and state."

NARRATOR: The Democrat who most boldly embraced that new attitude about religion was also the party's rising star.

E.J. DIONNE: Barack Obama had a very different take on religion than John F. Kennedy did. And so he was basically arguing to liberals that liberals had to be open to the idea that, yes, religious people will bring their religious beliefs to the public square.

Sen. BARACK OBAMA (D), Illinois: [June 2006] But what I am suggesting is this. Secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square. Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Williams Jennings Bryan, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, the majority of great reformers in American history, were not only motivated by faith, but they repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause.

So to say that men and women should not inject their, quote, "personal morality" into public policy debates is a practical absurdity. Our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it which is grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Moreover, if we progressives shed some of these biases-

E.J. DIONNE: Obama really is trying to reintroduce Civil Rights Christianity, strains of tough-minded liberal Protestantism, a little bit of the old social gospel. But above all, he has spoken with the very respect that a lot of religious folks felt they hadn't gotten from liberals when the religious right was first formed.

NARRATOR: But Obama also criticized the religious right for the way they had argued political issues.

Sen. BARACK OBAMA: I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, to take one example, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I can't simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God's will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.

E.J. DIONNE: Obama has been trying to make a quite consistent argument that separating church and state is not the same as separating religion and politics, that you can respect religious liberty and respect religion itself, and that those two things go together.

Pres. BARACK OBAMA: -preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States-

JOHN ROBERTS, Chief Justice: -so help you God,

Pres. BARACK OBAMA: -so help me God.

Chief Justice JOHN ROBERTS: Congratulations, Mr. President.

NARRATOR: Nearly 60 years had passed since Billy Graham linked faith with patriotism at the dawn of the cold war. After decades of struggle over the separation of church and state, and the rise of religion in the political movements of Civil Rights and the Christian right, Barack Obama had tried to articulate a new political consensus about the relationship between faith and power in America.

AMY SULLIVAN: We've kind of come full circle in American politics, not back to the point where religion wasn't an issue in electoral politics and particularly in presidential politics, but to the point where neither party is necessarily seen as having an advantage over the other when it comes to values issues or morality, or even the ability to reach out to religious voters.

Pres. BARACK OBAMA: The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit, to choose our better history, to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea passed on from generation to generation, the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness!

Rev. RANDALL BALMER: The sense of America as a providential nation has been with us for a very long time. 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 in its revolt against Britain In the 19th century, manifest destiny, 20th century, making the world safe for democracy. And 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.

Pres. BARACK OBAMA: We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this earth. And because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass, that-

NARRATOR: In the summer of 2010, political controversies about the president's personal faith, plans to build an Islamic center near Ground Zero and threats by a Florida pastor to burn copies of the Quran would all be reminders that the struggle for religious liberty and the country's religious identity is an enduring American story.

STEPHEN PROTHERO: This is this great conversation we've had from the very beginning of American life. We've had this notion that this is a special place, and what makes it special is that we have some kind of special relationship with God. The exact parameters of that have always been up for debate. And exactly who's included has always been up for debate.

And what's happened over time is more and more and more people have been included. This moment in American religious life really is about pluralism. We just keep making the space bigger, you know, extending the sacred canopy over more and more people.

So how important is religion going to remain? Are we going to remain both the most modern country in the world and also one of the most religious? We don't really know. We don't have a narrative yet for that. And one interesting thing to see in coming years is, will we come up with one? What's the story going to be?

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Major funding for God in America provided by the Pew Charitable Trusts and the John E. Fetzer Institute, Inc.  Additional funding provided by the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations. God in America is produced for PBS by WGBH Boston.
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Published October 11, 2010

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