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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