Moral Minority charts the rise and fall of a forgotten movement: the evangelical left. Emerging in an era when it was unclear where the majority of evangelicals might emerge politically, the evangelical left held great potential. The convergence of civil rights and antiwar activism, intentional communities, and third-world evangelicals in the early 1970s prompted the Washington Post to suggest that the new movement might “launch a movement that could shake both political and religious life in America.”
In the end, it did not. Moral Minority charts how identity politics roiled the evangelical left—and how the Democratic Party in the 1970s and the religious right in the 1980s left progressive evangelicals behind. The failure of the evangelical left, thus, was the product of a particular political moment more than a reflection of evangelicalism’s inherent conservatism. As a new century dawns, Swartz suggests that this marginalized movement could rise again, particularly if the Democratic Party reaches out to evangelicals and if Christian immigrants from the Global South are able to reshape American evangelicalism.
“David Swartz has written a book of colorfully portrayed characters and credible storyline that strikes an elegant balance between politics, theology, social history and biographical narratives.”—American Society of Church History
“Moral Minority is a vivid topography of a little-understood corner of evangelical thought.”—New York Times
“In this superbly written study, David Swartz offers an excitingly fresh and compelling look at evangelical activists who forged a different ideological path in the age of Nixon and Reagan, one that veered left, away from the rightward trends of their day. Blending big-picture perspective with the colorful insight of biography, Swartz vividly describes his subjects’ gospel of social justice and their struggles to win their church over to this progressive faith. In doing so, he forcefully reminds us that modern evangelicalism is neither monolithic nor static in its political persuasions and quest for impact. As both good history and timely observation, this is an important book.”—Darren Dochuk, author of From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism
“In this remarkably rigorous, richly contextualized, and generally exhaustive exploration of the evangelical Left, David R. Swartz returns readers to a time when theologically conservative Protestantism was ‘politically up for grabs.'”—Journal of American History
“Swartz restores the evangelical left to its important place in the annals of post-sixties American evangelicalism. A striking work of research, recovery, and analysis, Moral Minority will stand as an essential contribution to the new history of American evangelicalism.”—Steven P. Miller, author of Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South
Interviews with the author
Religion in American History (Part I, Part II)
Jared Burkholder, The Hermeneutic Circle (Part I, Part II, Part III)
Scot McKnight, Jesus Creed blog (Part I, Part II, Part III)
Marty Troyer, Peace Pastor blog hosted by the Houston Chronicle
Keith Pavlischek, Institute for Religion and Democracy (Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV)
Chuck Redfern, Huffington Post
Greg Metzger, Christianity Today
Chris Gehrz, The Pietist Schoolman
Heath Carter, Christian Century
Phillip Gollner, American Society of Church History
Tim Hoiland, “Intersections of Faith, Development, Justice & Peace”
Mark Edwards, Journal of American History
Philip D. Byers, Christian Scholar’s Review
Miles Mullin, Evangelical Studies Bulletin
Brantley Gasaway, Journal of Presbyterian History
David Warkentin, Direction Journal
Mark Lempke, Reviews in American History
Please purchase the book from the University of Pennsylvania Press, a local independent bookstore like Hearts and Minds, or at IndieBound. If you must buy from Amazon because you’re poor, click here.
13 Replies to “MORAL MINORITY”
David, I am looking forward to seeing your book. As a participant observer and long since marginalized and forgotten person from that era, I have always felt historians needed to revisit it. I hope your book will be a corrective to that awful book (published in 2011 by Eerdmans no less) by D. G. Hart, “From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin: Evangelicals and the Betraval of American Conservatism”. The only thing I liked about it was that he spent 6 pages attacking me and my book “The Unequal Yoke” (which has recently been reissued by Wipf & Stock). It never got that much attention anywhere when it first appeared back in 1970. To be sure, Billy James Hargis’ sidekick David Noebel called those of us who collaborated on “The Cross and the Flag” (also reprinted by W&S) “wells without water” and “left-leaning depth charges planted in the midst of our students.”
Cordially, Richard Pierard (emeritus of Indiana State University, living in Hendersonville, N.C.)
Hi Richard, Thanks for your message. I really enjoyed “Unequal Yoke” and “Cross and the Flag”–I cite them numerous times in the book. As an Anabaptist, I resonated with your critique of God-and-country sectors of evangelicalism. I haven’t read Hart’s book yet. I look forward to your comments after you read the book.
I look forward to reading the book because I believe that the unholy alliance between the Evangelical movement and the neo-con wing of the GOP needs to be challenged, but I’m skeptical already of the conclusion in the snippet posted on this page. Many of us who are open to moderate and even progressive ideas in many areas remain convinced that abortion is the greatest abuse of civil rights in modern America and that the right to life is fundamental. The Democratic Party can’t reach those of us who are ardently pro-life unless it radically moderates its view on that subject- and it doesn’t take a PhD in political science to know that such a change is next to impossible.
Going to buy it at amazon, I knew there has to be others who thinks like me.
I look forward to reading your book. I was a part of the Sojourner Community from 1976-1989. I am on your cover…. That is me behind Karen Grandberg-Michaelson with my hand on my forehead. Today I am a United Methodist Minister and pastor of Rising Hope Mission Church. A small congregation in a low-income section of Fairfax County, VA. Two-thirds of my congregations has been homeless and I am still fighting the good cause and bugging the local politicians.
Not so sure about the truth of the opening line here – “…rise and fall of a forgotten movement: the evangelical left.” It seems to me that quite a few people not only remember, but are actively at work in many domans, large and small, and having influence. Maybe Tim Keller at Redeemer Pres would have gotten to social justice on his own, but I am guessing that Ron Sider, Jim Wallis, John Perkins, and others in “the movement” were goads and prods that moved him along.
Maybe, one could say that “the movement”, to the degree that it ever became one, has receded from public visibility, but not entirely.
But, these are quibbles, in comparison to the vastly important service you have provided in doing the immense research [whew, almost 100 pages of notes] presented in your book.
Excellent point about Sider, Wallis, Perkins, and company prodding social action–and one that I make in the book. I guess I was referring mostly to the uninitiated non-evangelicals who have never heard of such a thing as the evangelical left. You wouldn’t believe the number of emails I get from people who say, “I never knew!”
Very intriguing remark about the “uninitiated non-evangelicals”!! Is it possible that this also applies to “uninitiated evangelicals”?? Our daughter just graduated from Wheaton College and was frequently surprised by how little many of her fellow students knew about Christian social action groups, people and leaders.
David, It was so, so good to meet you this weekend at ESA. If you ever come to Pennsylvania again, we’d love to host you here at Hearts & Minds. Sorry I didn’t promote this book sooner. Let’s stay in touch!
By the way, John Mulholland at the University of Chicago Law Library has an amazing facebook ministry of sharing articles of concern for those who do ministry in higher education, and he just linked to this site. He ordered the book from us. Yay.
Great to meet you too! Thanks so much for promoting my work.
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