Prof says group gets more credit than it deserves

(Ball State Daily News; Page 1 – June 28, 1989)


The Moral Majority received more credit for political impact than it deserved, said Steve Johnson, professor of sociology.

Jerry Falwell, leader of the Moral Majority disbanded the organization June 11 after taking credit for successfully helping elect President Bush, according to the Associated Press.

“Falwell called it ‘mission accomplished;’ my position is that it was mission aborted,’ Johnson said.

Reagan’s margin of victory would have been larger in 1984 if the moral majority didn’t exist, Johnson said. Reagan won because of economic issue instead of religious moral issues.

Johnson appeared on national radio last Wednesday to discuss his surveys of voters in 1980, 1984 and 1998 as a part of the continuing Middletown Studies.

The studies are based on the assumption that Muncie is representative of the average American town and have been widely accepted for decades.

The surveys are published in The Political Role of Religion of the United Stateswhich was co-edited by Joseph Tamney, professor of sociology.

The results of the survey showed that religion had very little effect at the voting booth, Johnson said.

Supporters of the Christian right tend not to vote. The supporters also were less educated, more likely to be elderly and more politically conservative than the majority of the populace, he said.

“A typical Christian rightist thinks homosexuals have way too many rights, thinks a woman;s most important role is that of a mother and housekeeper and watches a lot of religious television.” Johnson said.

The popularity of he Christian right is not high, Johnson said. His data shows the public agreement with the Moral Majority peaked around 20 percent. At that time 40 percent of voters were against Jerry Falwell’s organization. Johnson noted that the endorsement Reagan received from the Moral Majority in 1984 actually caused more people to vote for Walter Mondale.

“Falwell and Robertson appealed to people who really don;t give a rip about actually voting,” Johnson said. “People were scared of Pat Robertson and his ultra-conservative supporters.”

Susan Klingel, instructor of speech communication, theorized that the Christian right movement failed to get his message across effectively.

“They could have done things to be more successful. They were hitting so many areas they could have had a large impact, but didn’t have the power to hold the attention of the public,” Klingel said.

The Moral Majority was too negative and their comments and concepts were too narrow to appeal to the public at large, Klingel said. Falwell’s organization was a rule-oriented type of structure and operated under a “thou shalt not” doctrine, she added.

The Christian right could have been more successful if it communicated to the public more like the Christian left, Klingel said.

Johnson said the Christian left, headed by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, focuses on the broad issues of helping the disadvantaged, working for broadened civil rights and eliminating the arms race. He added, the Christian left would like to meet with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to discuss arms reductions on a moral high ground.

Although Jackson has a larger base of supporters, his association with religion is a liability, Johnson said.

“Americans don’t want religious principles in the political arena. Americans believe in the separation of church and state. The church rules in Iran. Look at the mess there.” he said and then asked, “If religion gets into American politics, whose are we to use> Jerry Falwell’s? Pat Robertson’s? What about the Jews?”

The reason for Jackson’s success compared to Pat Robertson in 1998 was because Jackson didn’t wear his religion on his sleeve, Johnson said. Robertson, unlike Jackson, gave political speeches with every other reference to the Bible.

“You can’t have a political debate when the Bible is constantly brought up,” Johnson said.

Jackson has never held an elected office and needs to get practical experience like the mayorship of Washington, D.C., Johnson said. Jackson would have been more successful if he had spent a few years in congress.

Bill Gray, the House of Representatives’ Democratic Whip. who is also a minister has a bright future, Unlike Jackson, Gray focused his political career on holding elected office, Johnson said.

Religion has had little impact on politics in the 1980s, but it has had impact in the past, he said. In the 1960s, Martin Luther King, Jr. accomplished his civil rights victories by mobilizing black churches.

Still, people don’t want to be preached at from the White House, Johnson said. “Americans view religion as a private part of their lives, not something to vote on.”