ZENAF Arbeits- und Forschungsberichte : (ZAF)
- 2006, 1
Religion, the Cold War State, and the Resurgence of Evangelicalism in the US, 1942 - 1990
Axel R. Schäfer
- Although many observers consider the Bush administration’s “faith-based initiative” a unique breach in the wall of separation between church and state, close ties between the federal government and religious agencies are no novelty in the history of American public policy. Since the end of the Second World War, billions of dollars of public funds have been made available to religiously-affiliated hospitals, nursing homes, educational institutions, and social services - institutions which were regarded as vital to Cold War preparedness. By the same token, government use of religious foreign aid agencies, the donation of surplus land and military facilities to religious charities, and the funding of the chaplaincy in the armed forces have undergirded Cold War foreign policy goals. Based on the principle of subsidiarity, post-war public policy thus integrated religious groups into the framework of the welfare and national security state in ways which underwrote both the expansion of the federal government and the growth of religious agencies. Crucially, public funding relations involved not only mainline Protestant, Jewish and Catholic organizations, but also white evangelicals, who had traditionally been the most outspoken opponents of closer ties between church and state. Cold War Anti-Communism, the fear of Catholic or secularist control of public funds, and pragmatic considerations, however, ushered in the gradual revision of their separatist views. Ironically, the programs of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, so vilified by the Christian Right, pioneered many of the funding streams most beneficial to evangelical providers. Considering that since 1945 the sprawling and loosely organized evangelical movement has become the largest single religious faction in the US, and that conservative Protestants now form the most strongly Republican group in the religious spectrum, these findings are of particular importance. They suggest that Cold War state-building and the resurgence of Evangelicalism mutually reinforced each other in ways which have been largely ignored by scholarship on conservatism and its focus on the “backlash” against the political and cultural upheaval of the 1960s. Based on newly accessible archival materials and a comprehensive review of secondary literature, this paper suggests that the institutional and ideological ties between evangelicals and the state, which developed in the aftermath of the Second World War, are as important in understanding the political mobilization of conservative Protestants as the more recent “culture war” sentiments.