The conservative political action group Moral Majority burst onto the American political scene during the campaigns and elections of 1980, when it mobilized thousands of conservative voters and augmented the Republican landslide that carried Ronald Reagan to the White House.
A group of five men—Baptist minister JERRY FALWELL foremost among them— founded Moral Majority in June 1979. Cofounder Paul Weyrich, the son of German Catholics, played an instrumental role in giving the group its ecumenical flavor by convincing fundamentalist pastors to cooperate with political conservatives from across the theological spectrum. The new group included Evangelicals, Catholics, Mormons, and even atheists—all of whom subscribed to the notion that they represented a “moral majority” among America's citizenry.
This political cooperation marked a departure for fundamentalists, who for most of the twentieth century had espoused separatism from nonfundamentalists to preserve ORTHODOXY. Whereas previous fundamentalists stressed doctrinal purity, Falwell and his “cobelligerents” temporarily set aside theological disagreements in their pursuit of the broadest possible political constituency. Televangelists like Falwell and Texan James Robison used their airtime to deliver politically charged messages to the millions of Americans who watched them each week. They also utilized their enormous mailing lists to distribute the “Moral Majority Report,” the group's newsletter.
Leaders described Moral Majority's political platform as “pro-life, pro-family, pro-moral, and proAmerican.” The group fought ABORTION, pornography, HOMOSEXUALITY, and feminism. Moral Majority endorsed the traditional two-parent family structure, a strong national defense, and American support for Israel. This final point reflected the dispensational heritage of the group's fundamentalist leaders, who believed Israel would play a critical role in the events of the end times foretold in the Book of Revelation. They supported the Jewish state enthusiastically.
Otherwise, Moral Majority concentrated its agenda on domestic (or, as they put it, “moral”) concerns. Leaders decried liberal developments—the elimination of school prayer, the legalization of abortion, and the rise of secular humanism in public schools— that threatened to destroy the United States’ “Judeo-Christian heritage.” Moral Majority poured its efforts and its money into politically conservative campaigns dedicated to stemming the tide of moral erosion sweeping the country. And the group succeeded to a remarkable extent; even conservative estimates of the Moral Majority's influence in the 1980 elections reveal massive impact at the polls. Moreover, Moral Majority managed to mobilize the vote among conservative Protestants, a group many liberal Protestants and secularists considered politically dormant (see Liberal Protestantism and Liberalism).
The heady optimism that dominated the first years of Moral Majority's existence waned, and Falwell decided to fold the organization in 1986. But subsequent developments suggested that Moral Majority had effects that lasted far longer than its seven-year lifespan. Televangelist PAT ROBERTSON made a credible run at the White House in 1988. Republicans wrested control of Congress away from Democrats in 1994 owing largely to the mobilizing power of groups similar to Moral Majority, such as the Christian Coalition. Moral Majority paved the way for conservative Protestants to embrace ecumenical cooperation in the political arena—cooperation unthinkable to a previous generation of separatists.
See also Christian Right; Dispensationalism; Fundamentalism; Politics; Televangelism