- The Blessings of Business: How Corporations Shaped Conservative Christianity by Darren E. Grem
American conservatism draws much of its strength from market and Christian fundamentalism. Some historians suggest that the current alliance between economic libertarianism and evangelicalism presents a paradox; after all, the former thrives in a region—the Bible Belt—that once nurtured the Populist movement and continued to harbor virulent opposition to capitalism (or at least to large corporations) until well into the second half of the twentieth century. Other historians feel that the alliance between business and church [End Page 214] demands less explanation—if it did not come on the first ships, it was at least embedded in America's antistatist and religious DNA.
Darren E. Grem's The Blessings of Business: How Corporations Shaped Conservative Christianity is sympathetic to the natural affinities between American market and religious fundamentalisms, but it stresses that their post–World War II union required a special push from religious corporate executives and their close cousins, corporate religious executives. Grem argues that "conservative evangelicalism was formed in boardrooms and private businesses, not just in churches or communities or during political campaigns" (p. 3). In addition, "Corporate involvement in conservative evangelicalism did not begin, as is usually believed, in the lead-up to the presidential election of 1980" (p. 3). On these central points, Grem exaggerates the absence of prior studies on how businesses funded conservative Protestantism and historians' failures of periodization—though it should be noted that Kevin M. Kruse's One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America (New York, 2015), which covers similar territory, came out at essentially the same time as Grem's book.
Part 1 of The Blessings of Business details the institutions, from periodicals to youth groups to Christian businessman's organizations—emphasis on man's—that emerged to combat the New Deal and spread a "new evangelicalism" (p. 39). New evangelicalism eschewed reactionary antimodernism while fusing corporate laissez-faire economics with conservative Protestant theology. After World War II, conservative Protestant businessmen, including newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst, cookware executive Herbert J. Taylor, and oilman J. Howard Pew, bankrolled the National Association of Evangelicals, Christianity Today magazine, and the revivalist Billy Graham, who became every bit as much the Christian businessmen as his friends in the private sector. During the Cold War, several executives exported the fundamentalist-corporate matrix to the developing word.
Part 2 examines how "[c]onservative evangelicalism became big business" (p. 118). Chickfil-A—well known today for its opposition to gay marriage—typified efforts to make American corporate culture and management theory more evangelical. The 1964 Civil Rights Act's provision against religious discrimination still allowed plenty of space for religious practices in the workplace—going public, not state regulation, eventually watered down the intrafirm and public religiosity of evangelical-founded firms such as Holiday Inn and ServiceMaster. The most entertaining chapter, "Culture Industries: Heritage USA and the Corporatization of Evangelical Culture," details Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker's Heritage USA theme park and the rise of corporate Christian rock music. Grem concludes with Zig Ziglar, a motivational speaker famous in the 1970s and 1980s, whose corporate-retreat revivals emphasized that Christ wanted us all to be rich and that the righteous practiced bootstrap, limited-government capitalism.
The Blessings of Business admirably details the hybrid corporate-church money machine and persuasively, if perhaps not originally, shows that American conservatism was religiously grounded long before the post-1960s culture wars. Christianity Today is known to few historians today, but by 1980 it enjoyed a larger readership than the National Review. Moreover, many evangelicals promoted right-wing economic ideas well before the marriage of [End Page 215] convenience between social and economic conservatism solidified in the late 1970s. The study also develops several important secondary themes. First, Grem astutely shows how the state was central in shaping modern evangelical Protestantism; religious businessmen profited greatly from it despite their antistatist lip service, and evangelicals quickly learned how to...