Jimmy Carter, the Politics of Family, and the Rise of the Religious Right

J. Brooks Flippen

A look at the seismic shift in the political landscape that gave rise to the Religious Right


"Flippen offers an exhaustive, highly documented, and fascinating account of how Jimmy Carter both helped inaugurate 'The Year of the Evangelical' in 1976 and ultimately lost the momentum of this movement to Ronald Reagan and the Republican Party."

"The strength of Flippen's book—and what makes it an important contribution to the spate of recent works on the seventies—is that it casts Carter as an active agent in the late 1970s conservative turn, even if he was not always an eager participant in developments he often could not control. . . . Flippen's work goes a long way toward clarifying Carter's role in the rise of the Religious Right."
Journal of Southern Religion

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As Jimmy Carter ascended to the presidency the heir apparent to Democratic liberalism, he touted his background as a born-again evangelical. Once in office, his faith indeed helped form policy on a number of controversial moral issues. By acknowledging certain behaviors as sinful while insisting that they were private matters beyond government interference, J. Brooks Flippen argues, Carter unintentionally alienated both social liberals and conservative Christians, thus ensuring that the debate over these moral “family issues” acquired a new prominence in public and political life.

The Carter era, according to Flippen, stood at a fault line in American culture, religion, and politics. In the wake of the 1960s, some Americans worried that the traditional family faced a grave crisis. This newly politicized constituency viewed secular humanism in education, the recognition of reproductive rights established by Roe v. Wade, feminism, and the struggle for homosexual rights as evidence of cultural decay and as a challenge to religious orthodoxy. Social liberals viewed Carter’s faith with skepticism and took issue with his seeming unwillingness to build on recent progressive victories. Ultimately, Flippen argues, conservative Christians emerged as the Religious Right and were adopted into the Republican fold.

Examining Carter’s struggle to placate competing interests against the backdrop of difficult foreign and domestic issues—a struggling economy, the stalled Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, disputes in the Middle East, handover of the Panama Canal, and the Iranian hostage crisis—Flippen shows how a political dynamic was formed that continues to this day.

Since 1970: Histories of Contemporary America

Page count: 450 pp.
20 b&w photos
Trim size: 6 x 9


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J. Brooks Flippen is a professor of history at Southeastern Oklahoma State University. He is the author of Conservative Conservationist: Russell E. Train and the Emergence of American Environmentalism and Nixon and the Environment.