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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

SoCal Crucible

Anyone interested in the history of the Christian Right–and given its continuing power in the conservative movement and the GOP, that should include readers of this site–is encouraged to take a look at my latest book review for the Washington Monthly. It’s a review of From Bible Belt to Sun Belt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism, by Purdue University historian Darren Dochuk.
It’s a complicated book, but well worth the effort. Dochuk convincingly argues that much of what later became the Christian Right was first incubated not in the Deep South, but among southern transplants in the Los Angeles area. In the cultural maelstrom of southern California in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, an impressive array of evangelical ministers who combined rigidly conservative theology and politics with a highly adaptive institutional style pioneered a variety of innovations that later “went national,” including close cooperation with corporate leaders, joint Protestant-Catholic initiatives, parachurch organizations, school textbook and curriculum wars, the “Jesus Movement,” neo-pentecostalism, and even megachurches. All this happened long before the southern-led Moral Majority organization helped elect the favorite politician of SoCal evangelicals, Ronald Reagan, as president.
Dochuk’s book is also a good primer on the post-WW2 history of La-La-Land itself, with its rapidly expanding defense industry, its land use battles, its labor and racial conflicts, and the search of many of its citizens–particularly white working-class migrants from Oklahoma, Texas and Arkansas–for certainty amidst radical cultural and economic change.
You’ll learn a lot about California history, but even more, about California’s influence on the country as a whole, even now.

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