Bill Moyers on the Rise of the Religious Right

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This week’s episode of Moyers & Company focuses on the rise, fall — and rise again — of Ralph Reed, and his attempts to get conservative Christians to the polls in November, possibly delivering the 2012 election to Mitt Romney.

Bill Moyers traces his own education in democracy and faith back to the Southern Baptist church in Marshall, Texas, where he was baptized as a teenager. For three decades — since the days of Jerry Falwell and Ronald Reagan — he has been chronicling the trajectory of the religious right’s influence on American politics. Here’s a collection of some outstanding moments from his reporting.


In this clip from a 1980 episode of Bill Moyers Journal, Moyers speaks to televangelist Jerry Falwell at a gathering of fundamentalist Christians in Dallas, Texas. The group, most of them ministers, had convened to discuss how to mobilize their congregations for political action. Moyers asks Falwell and some members of his audience how they feel about the Equal Rights Amendment, the proposed amendment to the Constitution which would have guaranteed equal rights for women, had it passed.

At the same convention in Dallas, Moyers also spoke with Paul Weyrich, an architect of the conservative movement widely credited with coining the phrase “moral majority.” Weyrich was a founder of both the Heritage Foundation and the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.

In this clip from the 1987 documentary On Earth As It Is In Heaven, Moyers interviews Dr. R.J. Rushdoony, an early leader of the Christian homeschool movement and godfather of Christian Reconstructionism, a religious movement that believes the Bible should form the sole basis for social, political, economic and cultural order, as they believe it did in ancient Jerusalem. Rushdoony explains that it is God’s will that the United States return to the gold standard and a debt-free economy. (A call to return to the gold standard is included in this year’s Republican party platform.)

Moyers looks at a divide threatening the church of his youth in the 1987 documentary The Battle for the Bible, which tells the story of a faction of fundamentalist Southern Baptists that set out to take over the denomination. In this clip we meet Dr. W.A. Criswell, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, at the time the biggest Southern Baptist church in the world. As you’ll see at the end of the clip, when Republicans nominated President Ronald Reagan for reelection at their 1984 convention in Dallas, Dr. Criswell was asked to give a blessing.

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  • Another Bill from Marshall, TX

    I think it ironic that the very far-right ultra-religious wing of the Republican Party supposedly champions individual liberty, yet attempts to legislatively impose their religious beliefs on all. You can’t have it both ways!

  • Coventry

    These guys scare the living daylights out of me. Their absolutely certainty of their own rightness coupled with an appalling ignorance of what the Founding Fathers intended is just terrifying. They believe in individual liberty, all right–as long as you’re just like them.

  • colincr

    I am absolutely certain that Bill Maher had the correct perspective on religion when he said, “I think it’s a neurological disorder.” Put another way, everyone who “believes” (in God, Allah, Vishnu, Odin, Zeus, etc.) has a malformed brain and is, in effect, quite insane if not also moronic. They exhibit an inability to learn, let alone understand, anything and literally have no more than a severely flawed, infinitesimal capacity of reason. Every sect of every religion claims their interpretation of the Bible/Koran/Torah/etc. is correct and all other interpretations are wrong. How can that be if their selfsame “supreme being” and its dictates are “absolute?” As two earlier commentators noted, the religions’ “do as I say, not as I do” behavior should terrify, as well as nauseate, every rational being.

    Facts have no meaning or relevance to the believers, especially when they contradict their beliefs. In my 59+ years on this rock I have yet to meet even a single person of faith (in any religion) that wasn’t an out-and-out hypocrite. Indeed, it is this abject devotion to baseless beliefs and the egregious actions they’ve inspired and perpetrated that have brought all life on this planet, including our own, to the brink of extinction. At the very least, we are witnessing the incipience of the next “Dark Age”… that is, IF any of our species survives the on rush of cascading cataclysms.

  • Epar

    Christians and Christianity are a joke. They are nothing but self righteous hypocrites. They are a disgrace to all humanity. Every person deserves the same rights. It’s ok to disagree with others, but it is NOT ok to discriminate.

  • Albert Lopez

    If this ppl don’t scar the hell out off you you’ve been Brain washed
    Not by religion But by messengers like this, This right -wing nuts are
    dangerous !!

  • mtnjam3347

    When this country of ours begins its tour as a theology based government, we will have become no better, only as good as & at war with, other theology based governments.

  • S.Kate

    It has become a manipulative and cynical ploy to motivate voters on emotional points instead of using logic and reason. It could be that the republican party would have no leg to stand on if it had to rely on logic alone. I am and have always been a Christian and it offends me that the religious right has hijacked my sanctuary and cheapened it to a point of no return. How dare they!

  • Deb Mohr

    If these “gents” of the far-right wing, clothed in religiosity, grab control of the presidency AND Supreme Court, it’s good-bye, “Roe v. Wade” and hello to a vise-like grip on women and birth control. My recently published book, “The Flume Tender’s Daughter,” explores this issue. What, indeed, happened to women early in the 20th Century who attempted to teach a population–in this case poor, uneducated people–about birth control? Not a pretty picture. My book is available on Amazon and e-book.

  • Anonymous

    That is what Thomas Jefferson and James Madison tried to stop and these monsters are doing it in their names.

  • The Secular Human

    Bill. Your reporting over the years on the religious-right has been one of the reasons why I donate to my local PBS station. Thank you.

  • Jovina

    Separation of church and state or lose their status as a church. 501(c)3 or 4.

  • NotARedneck

    If some extra terrestrial power were to come to earth and eliminate all these violent imbeciles, the average IQ would increase by at least 15 points and our economy would flourish since it would no longer have them dragging us down. Instead, these are exactly the types who flourish and breed in an environment where the evolutionary controls are removed. No wonder they put their faith in creationism!

  • NotARedneck

    Churches are about as honest as Wall Street, the banksters and most members of Congress. They’ll find a way to get around any laws designed to get them to do religious charity – the only defensible reason to give them such massive tax breaks.

  • Anonymous

    How is it then that Media Matter; which is a radical left-wing media watchdog group, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization? Your threat to churches that they cease to engage in politics or else lose their 501(c)3 non-profit status is truly a clerical gag-rule that was imposed by LBJ and this clerical gag-rule has to be eliminated in any reform of the IRS.

  • Gato Pardo

    These people are haters…..They’re basically white extremists that invite minorities to their churches and use them as pets to promote their agenda…..

  • Al Dente

    As the law is interpreted now only partisan politics disqualifies an organization from tax exempt status. Churches and MM do not endanger their status unless they tell you who you should vote for. Then again, I’ve seen church “voter’s guides” that didn’t say who to vote for in so many words but made it obvious who who they favored. I agree that the law should prohibit tax-exempt organizations from participating in any politics. I would have liked to see the CoLDS loose their tax-exempt status for spending $millions promoting California Proposition 8.

  • Anonymous

    It is only a matter of interpretation about which political activity constitutes telling voters who to voter for and which political activity does not constitute telling voters who to vote for. It should not be up to the government to determine which political activity is acceptable for a “non-profit” organization and which political activity is not acceptable. This is completely contrary to true freedom of speech and association. The 501c-3 rule prohibiting partisan politics is a complete church gag-rule. It was invented for the precise purpose of shutting down church participation in politics. Media Matters and liberal universities and colleges are constantly participating in partisan politics of the hard left kind. The 501c-3 rule prohibiting partisan politics should be eliminated and Media matters, wealthy universities, and every organization constituted for political ends should be stripped of their 501(c)3 status. A university like Harvard or Princeton sitting on millions of dollars in its endowment and making millions of dollars in profit from student tuition is not a non-profit organization! The same is true for Media Matters and the other left-wing front groups.