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Foy Dan Valentine. A native of East Texas, Valentine was among the most influential figures in shaping an independent political agenda for Texas Baptists throughout the 1970s and 1980s, a time when most Southern Baptists were becoming strongly identified with right-wing politics. Image courtesy of www.ChristianEthicsToday.com, which Valentine helped found in 1995. An Alternative Politics: Texas Baptists and the Rise ofthe Christian Right, 1975—1985 Blake A. Ellis* ON THE EVE OF THE 2OO4 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION, NEWS COVERAGE focused on the importance of evangelical Christians to the electoral chances of the Republican candidate, George W. Bush. One Southern Baptist pastor summed up the feelings of many conservative Christians about the election: "I see it as a spiritual divide between true believers and seculars. I think we as a nation are more divided than we were before the Civil War . . . Those who pray a lot tend to vote Republican; those who don't tend to vote Democrat."1 One of the most basic facts in recent American political campaigns has been the strong Southern Baptist support for Republican candidates. The nation's largest Protestant denomination was heavily Democratic throughout much of the twentieth century, but a shift toward the GOP began in the late 1970s and grew stronger during the next two decades. During the 1980 presidential election, Southern Baptist pastors favored Republican Ronald Reagan over Democrat Jimmy Carter by a margin of 56 to 42 percent, which closely mirrored the national vote. In 1996, Southern Baptist ministers preferred Republican Bob Dole over Democrat Bill Clinton by a margin of 80 percent to 14 percent in an election easily * Blake A. Ellis is a native Arkansan who has also lived in Louisiana and Texas. He earned a Bachelor ofArts degree from Louisiana College and a Master ofArts degree in history from Baylor University. He is currently enrolled in the Ph.D. program in U.S. history at Rice University. He would like to thank John Boles and Kimberly Kellison for reading the article several times and offering helpful criticism. The fine archivists at the Texas Collection ofBaylor University were also instrumental in the research for diis article. Finally, this work would not have been possible widiout financial assistance from the Baylor Institute for Oral History, and the staff diere deserves immense credit for supporting diis project in a variety ofways. 1 David D. Kirkpatrick, "Batde Cry of Faithful Pits Believers Against Unbelievers," The New York Times, Oct. 31, 2004. For odier examples of such coverage, see Robert D. McFadden, "On die Final Sunday, Sermons Pulse widi die Power of Spiritual Suggestion," The New York Times, Nov. ? , 2004; Anne Saker, "Moral Values Propelled Bush; Views on Abortion, Marriage Echoed widi White Evangelicals," The News and Observer (Raleigh, N.C), Nov. 7, 2004; "Focus on Moral Values Tipped Vote for Bush," The Washington Times, Nov. 4, 2004. Vol. CXII, no. 4 Southwestern Historical QuarterlyApril 2009 362Southwestern Historical QuarterlyApril won by Clinton.2 The alliance between the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and the Republican Party is such an integral aspect of contemporary politics that observers might be forgiven for not knowing that it is a relatively recent political development. The increasing affinity of Southern Baptists for the Republican Party since 1 980 is part of a larger historical trend: the rise of the Christian Right as a force in American politics.3A recent proliferation of scholarly work on the origins of the movement has deepened our understanding of it. Most of these works have examined its religious and political impulses, attempting to explain how the movement came into existence and what its goals are for the United States. These works have demonstrated that the political involvement of religious conservadves was the result of deeply held religious beliefs about controversial social issues. Without question, the most important of these issues was abortion, which they stridently opposed. Opposition to gay rights, support for organized prayer in public schools, opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment and concern about sex education also defined their agenda .4 Southern Baptists have been a crucial component of the Christian Right from its earliest days. Several books have addressed the importance of Southern Baptists to the growing power of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1558-9560
Print ISSN
0038-478X
Pages
pp. viii-386
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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