Here is a new study of powerful female voices of conservative Christianity in the pre- and post-Reagan period. The book is This is Our Message: Women’s Leadership in the New Christian Right (Oxford University Press) by Emily S. Johnson. The publisher tells us that the book adopts an “evenhanded and respectful tone” as to its subject. That’s a very positive quality, of course. For any serious scholarly study.
“Over the past 50 years, the architects of the religious right have become household names: Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, James Dobson. They have used their massively influential platforms to build the profiles of evangelical politicians like Mike Huckabee, Rick Perry, and Ted Cruz. Now, a new generation of leaders like Jerry Falwell Jr. and Robert Jeffress enjoys unprecedented access to the Trump White House.
What all these leaders share, besides their faith, is their gender. Men dominate the standard narrative of the rise of the religious right. Yet during the 1970s and 1980s nationally prominent evangelical women played essential roles in shaping the priorities of the movement and mobilizing its supporters. In particular, they helped to formulate, articulate, and defend the traditionalist politics of gender and family that in turn made it easy to downplay the importance of their leadership roles. In This Is Our Message, Emily Johnson begins by examining the lives and work of four well-known women-evangelical marriage advice author Marabel Morgan, singer and anti-gay-rights activist Anita Bryant, author and political lobbyist Beverly LaHaye, and televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker. The book explores their impact on the rise of the New Christian Right and on the development of the evangelical subculture, which is a key channel for injecting conservative political ideas into purportedly apolitical spaces. Johnson then highlights the ongoing significance of this history through an analysis of Sarah Palin’s vice presidential candidacy in 2008 and Michele Bachmann’s presidential bid in 2012. These campaigns were made possible by the legacies of an earlier generation of conservative evangelical women who continue to impact our national conversations about gender, family, and sex.”