Skip to main content

Jerry Falwell’s Sunbelt Politics: The Regional Origins of the Moral Majority

  • Daniel K. Williams (a1)
Hide All


1. Smidt Corwin, “Born-Again Politics: The Political Behavior of Evangelical Christians in the South and Non-South,” in Religion and Politics in the South: Mass and Elite Perspectives, ed. Baker Tod A., Steed Robert P., and Moreland Laurence W. (New York, 1983), 51.

2. Kellstedt Lyman et al. , “Faith Transformed: Religion and American Politics from FDR to George W. Bush,” in Religion and American Politics: From the Colonial Period to the Present, ed. Noll Mark A. and Harlow Luke E., 2nd ed. (New York, 2007), 273; CNN Election Center 2008 (; Steven Waldman, “Evangelicals Made up a Bigger Part of the Republican Coalition This Time,” Beliefnet, 10 November 2008 (

3. For biographical information on Falwell, see Harding Susan Friend, The Book of Jerry Falwell: Fundamentalist Language and Politics (Princeton, 2000); Smillie Dick, Falwell Inc.: Inside a Religious, Political, Educational, and Business Empire (New York, 2008); and FitzGerald Frances, Cities on a Hill: A Journey Through Contemporary American Cultures (New York, 1986), 121–201. Falwell Jerry, Strength for the Journey: An Autobiography (New York, 1987), tells Falwell’s story from his own perspective.

4. For studies that emphasize the tension between business interests and social conservatives, see Frank Thomas, What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America (New York, 2004); Greenberg Stanley B., Middle-Class Dreams: The Politics and Power of the New American Majority (New York, 1995); and Dionne E. J. Jr., Why Americans Hate Politics, 2nd ed. (New York, 2004).

5. For studies that link the rise of the Christian Right to a larger white backlash, see Carter Dan T., From George Wallace to Newt Gingrich: Race in the Conservative Counterrevolution, 1964–1994 (Baton Rouge, 1996); Edsall Thomas Byrne with Edsall Mary D., Chain Reaction: The Impact of Race, Rights, and Taxes on American Politics (New York, 1991); Crespino Joseph, “Civil Rights and the Religious Right,” in Rightward Bound: Making America Conservative in the 1970s, ed. Schulman Bruce J. and Zelizer Julian E. (Cambridge, Mass., 2008), 90–105; and Ansell Amy Elizabeth, New Right, New Racism: Race and Reaction in the United States and Britain (New York, 1997).

6. For examples of this approach, see Martin William, With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America (New York, 1996); Wilcox Clyde, God’s Warriors: The Christian Right in Twentieth-Century America (Baltimore, 1992); Heineman Kenneth J., God Is a Conservative: Religion, Politics, and Morality in Christian America (New York, 1998); and Brown Ruth Murray, For a “Christian America”: A History of the Religious Right (Amherst, N.Y., 2002).

7. Miller Steven P., Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South (Philadelphia, 2009); Moreton Bethany, To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise (Cambridge, Mass., 2009); Lee Shayne and Sinitiere Phillip Luke, Holy Mavericks: Evangelical Innovators and the Spiritual Marketplace (New York, 2009).

8. Schulman Bruce J., From Cotton Belt to Sunbelt: Federal Policy, Economic Development, and the Transformation of the South, 1938–1980 (Durham, 1994), 3; Abbott Carl, The New Urban America: Growth and Politics in Sunbelt Cities, 2nd ed. (Chapel Hill, 1987), 17; Arsenault Raymond, “The End of the Long Hot Summer: The Air Conditioner and Southern Culture,” in Searching for the Sunbelt: Historical Perspectives on a Region, ed. Mohl Raymond A. (Knoxville, 1990), 192; Potter Clifton and Potter Dorothy, Lynchburg: A City Set on Seven Hills (Charleston, 2004), 105, 134–36; FitzGerald, Cities on a Hill, 144–48; Falwell, Strength for the Journey, 1–120.

9. Cobb James C., “The Sunbelt South: Industrialization in Regional, National, and International Perspective,” in Mohl , Searching for the Sunbelt, 30–32; Abbott, The New Urban America, 17; Schulman, From Cotton Belt to Sunbelt, 72, 95, 109. For additional studies of the role that industrialization and defense contracts played in the development of the Sunbelt, see Bartley Numan V., The New South, 1945–1980: The Story of the South’s Modernization (Baton Rouge, 1995); Cobb James C., The Selling of the South: The Southern Crusade for Industrial Development, 1936–1990, 2nd ed. (Urbana, 1993); and Markusen Ann et al. , The Rise of the Gunbelt: The Military Remapping of Industrial America (New York, 1991).

10. Potter and Potter, Lynchburg, 136–37; FitzGerald, Cities on a Hill, 132–34; Laurant Darrell, A City unto Itself: Lynchburg, Virginia, in the 20th Century (Lynchburg, privately printed, 1997), 94–110; Elson James M., Lynchburg, Virginia: The First Two Hundred Years, 1786–1986 (Lynchburg, 2004), 393–96; Bethany Fuller, “B&W’s Impact Has Been Far-Reaching,” Lynchburg News and Advance, 24 April 2006 (

11. FitzGerald, Cities on a Hill, 148–49; Dinesh D’Souza, “Jerry Falwell Is Reaching Millions and Drawing Fire,” Conservative Digest, December 1986, 7; Laurant, A City unto Itself, 203, 255–56. For a study of the political and social culture of the southern evangelicals who moved to metropolitan areas in the mid-twentieth century, see Dochuk Darren, “‘They Locked God outside the Iron Curtain’: The Politics of Anticommunism and the Ascendancy of Plain-Folk Evangelicalism in the Postwar West,” in The Political Culture of the New West, ed. Roche Jeff (Lawrence, Kans., 2008), 97–131; and Gregory James N., The Southern Diaspora: How the Great Migrations of Black and White Southerners Transformed America (Chapel Hill, 2005), 197–235. For Schuller, see McGirr Lisa, Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right (Princeton, 2001), 241–61.

12. Strober Gerald and Tomczak Ruth, Jerry Falwell: Aflame for God (Nashville, 1979), 31–34; Smillie, 64–66, 69–70. For televangelism during the 1950s, see Hadden Jeffrey K. and Swann Charles E., Prime Time Preachers: The Rising Power of Televangelism (Reading, Mass., 1981), 25–31; and Harrell David Edwin Jr., All Things Are Possible: The Healing and Charismatic Revivals in Modern America (Bloomington, 1975), 41–52.

13. Falwell Macel, Jerry Falwell: His Life and Legacy (New York, 2008), 5, 44–45, 55; McClellan Ruth, An Incredible Journey: Thomas Road Baptist Church and 50 Years of Miracles, 1956–2006 (Lynchburg, 2006), 85. Information on the occupational status of TRBC’s early members comes partly from Lynchburg obituaries, including obituaries for Dorothy Blanks Bruner and Minnie Storey Harris, Amherst [VA] New Era Progress, 24 July 2008 (; obituary for Fannie Lee Carey Bryant, 4 March 1999 (; and obituary for Giving Stanley Martin, 14 December 1998 (

14. McClellan, An Incredible Journey, 39–57, 92–157; Falwell Jerry and Towns Elmer, Church Aflame (Nashville, 1971), 13–20, 41, 139–55; Falwell and Towns , Capturing a Town for Christ (Old Tappan, N.J., 1973), 33; Word of Life, 10 September 1970, September and November 1971, TRBC 4-8, Liberty University Archives (LUA), Lynchburg.

15. Lassiter Matthew D. and Lewis Andrew B., “Massive Resistance Revisited: Virginia’s White Moderates and the Byrd Organization,” in The Moderates’ Dilemma: Massive Resistance to School Desegregation in Virginia, ed. Lassiter Matthew D. and Lewis Andrew B. (Charlottesville, 1998), 7; Murdock James, “New Defenders Group Will Open Campaign at Mass Meet April 1,” (Lynchburg) Daily Advance, 24 March 1959; Murdock James, “Perrow Report Called ‘Futile’ by Supt. Story,” (Lynchburg) Daily Advance, 2 April 1959; Falwell Jerry, “Segregation or Integration—Which?Word of Life, October 1958.

16. Laurant, A City unto Itself, 111–23; Hershman James H. Jr., “Massive Resistance Meets Its Match: The Emergence of a Pro-Public School Majority,” in Lassiter and Lewis , Moderates’ Dilemma, 112–13.

17. Elson, Lynchburg, Virginia, 437; Laurant, A City unto Itself, 120–21, 204.

18. McClellan, An Incredible Journey, 95; Laurant, A City unto Itself, 204; Falwell Jerry, “Ministers and Marches,” in Young Perry Deane, God’s Bullies: Native Reflections on Preachers and Politics (New York, 1982), 311–13.

19. Jerry Falwell, “Will Your Children Live Under Communism?” [1967], folder 1B, FAL 5-3, LUA; Carter Dan T., The Politics of Rage: George Wallace, the Origins of the New Conservatism, and the Transformation of American Politics (New York, 1995), 459–60; Bob Moser, “Holy War,” Intelligence Report of the Southern Poverty Law Center, Spring 2005 (; Young, God’s Bullies, 200.

20. Elson, Lynchburg, Virginia, 404–5; Smillie, Falwell Inc., 87–100; FitzGerald, Cities on a Hill, 138, 153; McClellan, An Incredible Journey, 134–36, 218; Clendinen Dudley, “Rev. Falwell Inspires Evangelical Vote,” New York Times, 20 August 1980; Jorstad Erling, The Politics of Moralism: The New Christian Right in American Life (Minneapolis, 1981), 48.

21. Martin, With God on Our Side, 58; FitzGerald, Cities on a Hill, 171; James H. Cleaver, “Moral Majority Draws Fire and Praises,” Los Angeles Sentinel, 13 August 1981; James S. Tinney, “The Moral Majority: Operating Under the Hood of Religious Right,” Dollars and Sense, June–July 1981; Henry Locke, “Reaction to Falwell,” Chicago Defender, 26 August 1985; Falwell, Strength for the Journey, 279–99.

22. Falwell Jerry, “Gumbel, Apologize for Bumble,” World Net Daily, 8 July 2000 (; Tomczak Ruth, “The Phenomenon Called Jerry Falwell,” Lynchburg, Spring 1979, 28; Hoyett Lemmon, Tabernacle Trumpet, 13 September 1978; Word of Life, January 1972.

23. Falwell and Towns, Church Aflame, 40–41; Falwell and Towns, Capturing a Town for Christ, 16; Word of Life, October 1971.

24. Woodward Kenneth L., “A $1 Million Habit,” Newsweek, 15 September 1980, 35; Word of Life, 9 October 1969; Falwell and Towns, Capturing a Town for Christ, 12–18; Mary Murphy, “The Next Billy Graham,” Esquire, 10 October 1978, 29.

25. Jerry Falwell, Transcript of Chapel Talk, Liberty Baptist College, 30 January 1980, “Falwell Sermons—1980” folder, FAL 5-3, LUA.

26. Thumma Scott and Travis Dave, Beyond Megachurch Myths: What We Can Learn from America’s Largest Churches (Hoboken, N.J., 2007), 1, 7.

27. Lynne and Hybels Bill, Rediscovering Church: The Story and Vision of Willow Creek Community Church (Grand Rapids, 1995), 41–72; Wolfe Alan, The Transformation of American Religion: How We Actually Live Our Faith (New York, 2003), 199–202; FitzGerald, Cities on a Hill, 133. For the political culture of the Sunbelt suburbs, see Lassiter Matthew D., The Silent Majority: Suburban Politics in the Sunbelt South (Princeton, 2006). For the influence of suburban political culture on evangelical churches, see Lahr Eileen, Witnessing Suburbia: Conservatives and Christian Youth Culture (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 2009).

28. Sabato Larry, Virginia Votes, 1975–1978 (Charlottesville, 1979), 13, 50, 61, 97–98; “Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections,” County Results for 1968 Presidential Election (

29. Jerry Falwell, “Strengthening Families in the Nation,” Atlanta, 1982, “Speeches 1982” folder, FAL 5-1, LUA; Falwell Jerry, “Death of America?Faith Aflame, July–August 1977; Falwell, Chapel Talk, 30 January 1980.

30. Fenton Frank, “Thomas Rd. Church Cleared of Fraud, Deceit Charges,” Lynchburg News & Advance, 10 August 1973; Falwell, Strength for the Journey, 326–33; “Politicizing the Word,” Time, 1 October 1979, 68; FitzGerald, Cities on a Hill, 176; Feldman Glenn, “The Status Quo Society, the Rope of Religion, and the New Racism,” in Politics and Religion in the White South, ed. Feldman Glenn (Lexington, Ky., 2005), 298.

31. Jerry Falwell, Moral Majority Direct Mailing [1979], “Moral Majority” folder, G. Archer Weniger Files, J. S. Mack Library, Bob Jones University, Greenville, S.C.; Jerry Falwell, Old Time Gospel Hour Direct Mailing, 5 April 1983, “Moral Majority—OTGH freeze, 4/83” folder, People for the American Way Archives (PFAW), Washington, D.C.; Falwell Jerry, “Now is the Time for All Good Conservatives to Come to the Aid of their President,” Liberty Report, January 1987, 2.

32. Martin, With God on Our Side, 203; Jerry Falwell, introductory comments to Francis Schaeffer’s address, “A Christian Manifesto,” 21 March 1982, OTGH 492, LUA; Jerry Falwell, Address to Congressional Prayer Breakfast, 27 January 1981, “Falwell Sermons—1981” folder, FAL 5-3, LUA.

33. Martin, With God on Our Side, 197; Harry M. Covert Jr. to Bill Nicholson, 8 June 1976, “6-21-76—Thomas Rd. Baptist Church” folder, Paul Theis and Robert Orben Files, box 61, Gerald R. Ford Library, Ann Arbor, “HCD” to Bill Nicholson, [June 1976], and transcript of Gerald Ford’s videotaped speech for use at Thomas Rd. Baptist Church in Lynchburg, 21 June 1976, “6-21-76—Thomas Rd. Baptist Church” folder, Theis and Orben Files, box 61, Ford Library; Atkinson Frank B., The Dynamic Dominion: Realignment and the Rise of Two-Party Competition in Virginia, 1945–1980, 2nd ed. (Lanham, Md., 2006), 441; “Moral Majority or Spiritual Minority?” Voice of Fundamentalism, September–October 1980, 15.

34. Jerry Falwell, “One Nation Under God on the Rebound,” Transcript of sermon, [July 1982], folder 1a, FAL 5-3, LUA; Falwell, “America Needs a Spiritual Awakening,” Transcript of OTGH Broadcast, 4 February 1979, OTGH 332, FAL 5-3, LUA. For American anxieties about the state of the family in the 1970s, see Zaretsky Natasha, No Direction Home: The American Family and the Fear of National Decline, 1968–1980 (Chapel Hill, 2007).

35. Falwell Jerry, How You Can Help Clean Up America: An Action Program for Decency in Your Community (Lynchburg, 1978), 59.

36. Ibid., 23.

37. Jerry Falwell, “A Vote of Confidence,” Old Time Gospel Hour transcript, 19 October 1980, OTGH 422, FAL 5-3, LUA.

38. Clendinen, “Rev. Falwell Inspires Evangelical Vote”; Falwell, Strength for the Journey, 363; Liebman Robert C., “Mobilizing the Moral Majority,” in The New Christian Right, ed. Liebman Robert C. and Wuthnow Robert (New York, 1983), 59–60, 61–67; LaHaye Tim, The Battle for the Mind (Old Tappan, N.J., 1980), 72.

39. Raines Howell, “Reagan Is Balancing Two Different Stances,” New York Times, 4 October 1980; Ronald Reagan, Address to the Religious Roundtable National Affairs Briefing, Dallas, 22 August 1980, “Family Policy Advisory Board, 1980–1981” folder, box 36, Paul M. Weyrich Papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming, Laramie.

40. Moral Majority National Issues Survey, [August 1985], “Moral Majority—MM / National Issue Survey, 8/85” folder, PFAW; Kutrow Brad, “Falwell Takes Aim at Freeze,” Lynchburg News, 16 March 1983; Toner Robin, “The President’s Allies Are Rallying Round,” New York Times, 19 December 1986; Jerry Falwell, Direct Mail, 25 March 1988 and 9 May 1988, “Moral Majority—Fundraising Iran / Contra, 1988” folder, PFAW; Walker Bill, “Falwell Defends Softened Stances,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 25 February 1982.

41. Dillin John, “U.S. Conservatives on the March: Religious Right Optimistic,” Christian Science Monitor, 19 March 1986.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of Policy History
  • ISSN: 0898-0306
  • EISSN: 1528-4190
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-policy-history
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 9
Total number of PDF views: 40 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 1035 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 18th November 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.