Michael Olenick: Nothing Godly About Racism or Fascism: Where Evangelicals Went Way Wrong

Yves here. Michael Olenick’s post on the complicated and very much changed relationship between evangelicals and the Republican party builds on two earlier pieces: The Surprisingly Short Road from Abolitionism to Credit Bureaus and Oneida: The Victorian Free Love Commune that Changed the US.

By Michael Olenick, a research fellow at INSEAD whose recent articles can be found at innowiki.org and Blue Ocean Thinking

I normally research, write, and teach about business along with the occasional consulting gig. During my regular work, I came across a pattern that has ramifications for our modern world, the genesis of evangelical support for the Republican Party and how that’s shifted over time.

Most people know the more mundane part of the story: The Kansas-Nebraska Act became law in 1854 violating the Missouri Compromise and potentially expanding slavery into new territories. The law enraged abolitionists and also more economically-focused anti-slavery northerners leading to the formation of a new political party, the Republicans. In 1857, the Supreme Court released the Dred Scott decision effectively stripping all black Americans of rights in both the north and south. Outrage propelled Republican Abraham Lincoln to the Presidency. During the transition period, southern states ceded and civil war erupted. The North won and abolished slavery though, in an effort towards reconciliation, allowed the South to continue treating African Americans not significantly different than before the war.

What’s less discussed is the influence of evangelicals in the then new Republican party. Countless cynical articles suggest abolition was confined solely to economic issues, that northerners didn’t want to compete with free labor. Maybe that’s true for some people but my own research suggests a deeper reason: evangelicals at that time were what today we refer to as progressives with a moral imperative towards freedom and equality. They had a profound impact on Republicans, an outsized influence that remains to this day.

This strong evangelical influence remains but the evangelicals profoundly changed and the Republican Party right along with them.

Many of those mid-1800s evangelicals supported women’s rights, believed in communal living, fair wages, and good working conditions. They were anti-racist abolitionists despite the economic blowback their public stance caused them. It’s an understatement to say those early Republican evangelicals wouldn’t be impressed with their modern counterparts.

Let’s back up.

Founded upon a strict separation of church and state, to avoid the conflicts of Europe and the religious wars, early Americans kept religion largely to themselves. For the longest time, Christmas was a workday for both private businesses and government. They took the separation of church and state seriously.

In the early to mid-1800s, the US underwent a type of spiritual revival. Young Protestant Americans searched for a spirituality that was new and different. This led to various new religious groups, many which formed in the “Burned-Over District” of upstate New York. Some were largely apolitical like the Mormons, Shakers, and Spiritualists, the latter that was led by two sisters who performed mass seances. The Temperance movement was almost entirely political, working to ban alcohol. But one movement stands out from the rest blending religion, morality, and politics, the Perfectionists of Oneida.

The Perfectionists and another evangelical group, the Tappan Brothers of New York City, would go on to have ramifications on the Republican Party that reverberate to this day though their message has been largely coopted by crooks, cranks, and charlatans.

Lewis & Arthur Tappan

Lewis and Arthur Tappan ran an enormous silk trading operating in New York City. They were fervent, devout evangelical Christians. Lewis earned and lost a not-so-small fortune early in life then joined his brother Arthur’s business. The brothers eventually came to express their religion largely through a hyper-focus on the abolition of slavery. They saw slavery as an affront to God, a monumental indecency they pledged to personally stamp out. The brothers printed and mailed pamphlets around the south, lobbied other northerners, and funded the Underground Railroad. Lewis also funded and supported the successful defense of the Amistad case, where a group of kidnapped Africans revolted and killed their would-be slavers.

Their business was boycotted, their homes firebombed, and mobs of angry people followed them around threatening to kill them.

Earlier, before abolition became a central focus, Lewis created a series of morality spies around New York City to report on brothels, gambling halls, and the like. Based on the reports Lewis worked with law enforcement to shutter the dens of iniquity. A financial crisis dealt Arthur’s business a setback when many customers defaulted on credit he’d extended. After that, Lewis repurposed his morality spies to creditworthiness reporters to better manage credit risk. He systematized and expanded his network into the first national credit bureau, Dun & Bradstreet.

Tappan’s pre–Civil War reporting network were overwhelmingly abolitionists, tied together into what today might be called a conspiracy to overthrow the “peculiar institution” of slavery. Abraham Lincoln was one of Tappan’s reporters.

The Perfectionists, Oneida, and the Townerites

Led by John Humphrey Noyes, the Perfectionists were a religious utopian society.

Hayes was a wealthy and well-off American aristocrat, educated at Dartmouth and Yale where he studied law and theology. Both his father and his wife’s father were Congressmen. President Rutherford B. Hayes was his cousin. Like the Tappan brothers, Noyes could have lived a very comfortable life as an upper-class American if he’d avoided politics.

Cutting to the salacious part that grabs most people’s attention (admittedly, myself included), the Perfectionists were a nineteenth-century free love community. They openly practiced nonmonogamy during the Victorian era when adultery was a crime. New England intellectuals were unimpressed with Noyes’ “complex marriage” – where every person was “married” to every person of the opposite sex – and “a mob” forced them to flee from New Haven to upstate New York. They purchased a small farm and formed a commune, the Oneida Community.

Starting out impoverished, Oneida quickly grew into an economic powerhouse manufacturing and selling everything from animal traps to silk and, eventually, tableware. (Digression: the latter business exists to this day despite the best efforts of several private equity firms, though that’s a different issue.)

Noyes’ was an anti-slavery abolitionist but also believed marriage to be a form of ownership, which wasn’t entirely untrue as it related to early nineteenth-century women. In his theology, all forms of people ownership must be abolished.

Along these lines, Oneida believed strongly in women’s rights. Women and men held the same leadership roles, received the same education, and rotated through the same jobs. The group practiced a primitive but apparently effective form of birth control. Pregnancies were planned and children raised, after being weaned, by men and women in a children’s house. Men and women cooked, cleaned, smelted, supervised, and did everything else together without regard to sex. The only obvious major exception was higher education; smarter Oneida children were sent to Yale which only accepted men at the time so the smarter women were sent to art schools.

Both women and men can and did suggest and reject advances to sleep together. Unlike women in traditional marriages at the time, women had the right to reject advances though historical records suggest both men and women enjoyed many partners. “All men and women were expected to have sexual relations and did,” wrote Noyes. Favoring any person over any other was termed “selfish love” and was severely frowned upon.


Despite their communal ways, in which no member lived better or worse than any other, the group as a whole excelled at business and became incredibly wealthy, purchasing ever more land to expand their business empire. They were extremely selective about who could join the collective but hired many locals who were paid and treated far better than the norm at the time. Besides high salaries and excellent working conditions, Oneida provided privately-owned houses to workers on nearby farms.


Oneida as a commune fell apart after an internal revolt. Community member James W. Towner was a self-taught lawyer and Civil War officer. He joined Oneida, along with a dozen others, from the Berlin Heights Free Love community in Ohio. Noyes was apprehensive about admitting Towner and the Berlin Heights group who he believed were more into the carnal pleasure part of free love rather than the idealistic side that rejected monogamy as a form of ownership. However, many letters, several visits, and a $14,000 fee eventually gained the group entry.


Towner and his dissidents, by then a large group, left Oneida with their then sizable share of the wealth. In 1880, they settled in the Southern Californian town of Santa Ana and purchased an enormous amount of land. Soon after, Townerites convinced the southeastern corner of Los Angeles to secede into its own municipality, Orange County. Towner was appointed judge. Learning from the lessons back in New York, the relocated Oneidaites were more discreet though their reputation preceded them. “It is difficult to figure this thing out – whether it is another ‘Oneida Community’ business or a ‘Mormon outfit.’ At any rate it will be a good idea for parents to keep their eyes on their daughters and husbands on their weak wives,” wrote the Santa Ana Weekly Standard on June 9, 1882. Oneida and Townerites influenced the California way of living ever since.

Tied Together

Tappan and the Oneidians were high-profile but many abolitionists preferred to remain below the waterline. After all, pro-slavers were often crude, uneducated, and violent people (some things never change). Privacy was so guarded that many of these ties weren’t clear until recently. For example, presumably to protect the privacy of the offspring, Oneida’s records were largely closed until 2007. Most remain in dusty boxes undigitized, buried in an offsite repository at Syracuse University.

However, it doesn’t take the imagination of a Q conspiracy theorist to see the links between these groups. There is plenty of ancillary evidence that the Tappan’s and Oneida were working together and that their beliefs strongly influenced the early Republican Party. At a superficial level, Oneida was one of the core manufacturers of silk and Tappan of the leading silk wholesalers in New York. At a deeper level, there is historical record of the Tappan’s working with the “Oneida Institute” and Arthur Tappan’s daughter, Frances Antill Tappan, died at Oneida. Given that Oneida was a small out of the way village, it’d be far-fetched to believe these connections are entirely coincidental. The Townerite connection to Orange County and that County’s strong Republican bent – albeit with a California morality which didn’t at all intersect with east coast protestant Republicans – brings the Republican Party into better focus.

Modern Day

Many people argue the Republican Party began to rot with Nixon’s “southern strategy.” After passing the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act, Republicans realized they could reel-in lots of southern racists. This worked and the Republicans did indeed attract a whole lot of rot. But attributing the problems of the party solely to their affinity for wannabe Confederates understates the core problem and gives them a pass they don’t deserve. Certainly, racism is a layer of their foundation but it’s not the only layer and it’s not the oldest one.

Think about it: the Republican Party is home to a long line of miscreants who largely pre-date the Southern Strategy. There’s the corrupt Warren Harding, the incompetent Herbert Hoover, the obscene Joe McCarthy, the bloodthirsty Barry Goldwater, and the crook Richard Nixon who dreamed up the Southern Strategy. Later, we have the dishonest Ronald Reagan, the vengeful George W. Bush, and the vilest of all, Donald J. Trump. However, by the time they arrived there were already serious problems. Republican Ike Eisenhower was the exception, not the rule.

This raises the question of how a political party that had its roots in forward-thinking progressive Christian movements could turn around so quickly. Lewis Tappan advocated encouraging interracial marriage on the theory that, eventually, the descendants would all be the same race eliminating racism. The Oneidian’s were strong Christians but their worship was confined to studying and acting out a strong morality based on equality; there were no sermons at Oneida and hypocrisy was called out and stamped out.

Contrast those evangelicals with their modern-day counterparts.

Jerry Falwell, Jr. liked to watch his wife have sex with their pool boy. To each their own – Noyes would’ve shrugged his shoulders at this arrangement as long as everybody consented – except Falwell was also head of Liberty University which prohibits premarital sex, much less extramarital. Then there are the countless homophobes like Ted Haggard caught enjoying meth with male hookers. “I bought drugs and a massage from [his male escort], and he masturbated me at the end of it. That’s it,” said Haggard. Uh … ok, though “it” seems like a lot for a morality preacher who opposed gay marriage.

Despite their wealth, Oneidians all lived and ate together spreading prosperity throughout their community, including to employees. Lewis Tappan also paid his employees well, eventually retiring and turning the business over to one of them. Contrast that with the greed of today’s evangelicals. Preacher Joel Osteen lives in $10.5 million mansion, own a second $2.9 million home, and flies his private A319. Pastor Kenneth Copeland explains “you can’t talk to god while flying commercial.” Apparently, Copeland’s mentor Oral Roberts was annoyed by requests for prayers while flying with ordinary folk.

Moving On

I’m an American Jew living in France, a first-generation college student from a long line of butchers raised in Southern Indiana, a lifelong Democrat. My dad broke out of the butcher shop, went into business, and – due to dyslexia slowing things down – finally received rabbinical ordination in his 50s. All of which is to say, what I know from evangelical Christians I know from afar.

There are certainly good and kind evangelicals. When I was 13 years-old, I biked with a bunch of other teens and one adult from Bloomington, Indiana almost to Mississippi where we met up with the rest of our hippie school on the way to New Orleans. Inspired by Kerouac, our bike trip included no motors, no preplanned route, no hotels, and minimal money. Mobile phones hadn’t been invented yet.

In this context, biking with a mixed-race, mixed-sex group through the rural south, I got to meet lots of interesting people. Some weren’t so kind; when we asked a farmer if we could sleep in his barn we ended up in the local jail, albeit in the lobby rather than a holding cell. But one group of evangelical Baptists took us in, fed us, and were genuinely concerned and cared for the group of ragtag teens. Granted, they also kept me awake most of the night trying to convert me to Christianity but it was out of genuine concern for my spiritual health.

Still, more than a few evangelicals – arguably the great majority – have clearly lost their way. The hypocrisy is self-evident. They preach one thing then do another. When called out, they come up with ridiculous justifications or – if their sins are egregious enough – disappear into obscurity, their own message of forgiveness and redemption fading fast away from their former flock.

The Republican Party they support is no different. Where once they picked up on the morality of Tappan and Noyes, embracing human dignity, freedom of thought and expression, free but fair business practices, and equal treatment now they lust for tax cuts (and corporate welfare for their own businesses) with fewer business regulations. The evangelical roots that worked to destroy slavery and put down racism now embraces building a real and metaphorical wall against poor immigrants. Where Oneida embraced God and science, today’s Republican scientists include people like Rand Paul, an anti-vaxxer with an MD. Progressive Republican theologians like Noyes are replaced with holy roller hypocrites like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley.

One shining light is maybe, like a forest fire that eventually runs out of fuel, the Republican Party has run so far astray that maybe they’re ready for a reset. Maybe the evangelicals who have supported them will reassess their lives and find something better than flakes and frauds preaching the prosperity gospel or the charlatans of charismatic Christianity. Surely, there are people who realize that phonies permeated and debased their religion. It seems impossible to believe the same theology that fired up those nineteenth-century Christians also propels anybody to support the barbaric and arguably Satanic Donald Trump or any of his horrible kids or sycophants.

During the impeachment debate, Republicans argued it’s time to move on. Guess what: they’re right. But that doesn’t mean Trump or any of his henchmen and women get a free pass: just like the US should’ve thrown the book at the Confederacy after the Civil War – the entire South should’ve had two Senators, total – so too must their terrible behavior be addressed and severely punished. No, moving on isn’t something that happens with us; it’s something that happens with them. It’s time to move on from the path they’ve collectively chosen. Time to find angels in their ranks while throwing out the cranks. Time to start over.

As much as it’d delight me personally to see an entirely neutered conservative party, the lack of political diversity wouldn’t be especially healthy. For the sake of the US and for their own sake as people, the Republicans must reembrace their long distant past and grow into a new movement based on very old ideas.


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  1. Procopius

    I have to object to calling Herbert Hoover incompetent. He administered a huge humanitarian welfare program at the end of The Great War, that saved millions of people from starvation. That’s what created his world-wide reputation that caused people to elect him President. He was a mining engineer, who got rich because he was so good at his work. He did have erroneous economic beliefs, but remember he was influenced by the fabulously wealthy Andrew Mellon, a fanatical believer in the Austrian School. Most of the elite of his time believed as well.

    1. BlakeFelix

      Ya, I agree. Also he was president, not king or running the FED. The needed responses to the Depression were more Congress and the FED. Hoover tried to do the right thing, but he had neither good advice nor the necessary tools. Macroeconomics was largely invented in order to discover what the government did wrong under Hoover, and he lost power before he could learn and respond like FDR did. And FDR ran on, and practiced, austerity really until WW2. Not that Hoover couldn’t have handled it better if he had had a better understanding, but giving him that better understanding is kind of a “Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” counterfactual.

    2. flora

      Thanks for this comment. Hoover was called “The Great Humanitarian” during and after WWI for his work in feeding Belgian, Netherlands, and other European citizens caught in that horrible war. He also worked to bring leading industries’ and bank CEOs into an agreement to voluntarily keep people on the payrolls during the early Depression which all agreed to and then ignored in practice because it was only voluntary.

      You are right about Mellon – Hoover’s Sec. of Treasury, and his influence on Hoover’s thinking.

      Liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate the farmers, liquidate real estate. It will purge the rottenness out of the system. High costs of living and high living will come down. People will work harder, live a more moral life. Values will be adjusted, and enterprising people will pick up from less competent people.
      -Andrew Mellon

    3. TimmyB

      So you are saying Hoover was a victim of The Peter Principle, a concept in management developed by Laurence J. Peter. Peter observed that people in a hierarchy tend to rise to their “level of incompetence”: employees are promoted based on their success in previous jobs until they reach a level at which they are no longer competent, as skills in one job do not necessarily translate to another.

      That’s Hoover all right.

    4. Arizona Slim

      A friend of the family worked with Hoover on the Belgian Relief effort. He was worthy of every accolade he received.

        1. Big Tap

          In fact Truman selected Hoover in 1946 to repeat what he did in Belgium during WW I to help out during the post war famine years of Europe. Herbert Hoover as president was largely a failure. He did try some programs to help the economy but the Depression overwhelmed him and the world.

  2. Amfortas the hippie

    as i’ve said, i grew up in the right wing religious ferment of north houston exurbia, 70’s through the 80’s…my mom and dad weren’t religious, although my paternal grandad was a devout catholic….and i went to a lutheran school during the political split of that church in the 70’s(this was my folks hoping for a better education, no less,lol)
    so i’ve been embedded with these folks my whole life…and endeavored, from an early age, to try to understand them.
    part of that attempt was reading the bible, and studying religion.
    the disconnect between what the righty preachers and moralisers did and said, with what Jesus, himself, advocated…was stark.
    if i were a christian, i reckon i’d be angry that my faith had been highjacked in this manner.
    I’ve known a few christians who were angry about it…generally the kind of christian who works for Habitat, and the like….ie: actually “lives their faith”.
    in ad hoc political discussions on street corners, in bars and in the feedstore…when i toss out a King James quote about “the least of these”, it generally shuts right wingers up for a moment….indicating that they are aware of the contradictions. This even obtains with various extremists i’ve run across.
    with all the recent talk of “coup”, i still think the greatest Coup was the one where economic royalists managed to wholly absorb the religion of a protosocialist jewish carpenter, who preached peace and taking care of one another….and turn it into a justification for war and rapine and sticking it to the poor.
    that’s an amazing accomplishment.

  3. David Jones

    Quite why Eisenhower always gets a high mark amazes me.Just read again today he arranged for Patrice Lumumba to be assassinated on this very day.

    1. Adam Eran

      And don’t forget Ike authorizing the overthrow of Iran’s elected government in 1953 to install the Shah. Truman had refused to do this in response to Mossadegh proposing nationalizing Anglo-Persion Oil (now BP), paying that company for its proven reserves at the same per-BTU rate the Brits paid for nationalizing their coal mines.

      When the Ayatollahs took over, they disclosed that the safe houses of the Shah’s secret police (SAVAK) had ovens large enough to roast humans, and stacks of severed limbs. Gee, I wonder why Iran opposes the U.S…!

      Ike also tossed out the signed, approved U.S. end-of-WWII treaty with Vietnam to allow a plebiscite to decide who ruled that country in 1952, installing torturing tyrant Diem to run the south in the bargain. Polls said Ho Chi Minh would have won that plebiscite. Why? Because Ho would have overturned the colonial French oligarchy that kept the population as debt peons. That’s why the Vietnamese fought so hard, first against the French, then against the U.S. Oddly enough, the U.S. was OK with a debt jubilee for Japan and Germany…so it wasn’t exactly racist… maybe racist adjacent.

      Then, in 1954, Ike overthrew the elected Arbenz government in Guatemala, too.

      He was a meddler! And apparently there was a commie in every woodpile.

      In a final insult, Ike terminated the federal Reconstruction Finance Corporation, a Hoover-invented public bank that FDR used to finance the TVA and projects like the first Bay Bridge to San Francisco. The recent rebuild of that bridge was financed by Goldman Sachs, despite the presence of a public infrastructure bank in California.

  4. The Rev Kev

    Though a fascinating article, I would have thought that there would be more mention of the Christian movement after WW2 which gave birth to all those mega-churches and telly-evangelists that I saw on TV growing up, especially in the 70s. Incorporating them into the Republican party must have caused a major shift in the low-level leadership of that party surely and more so than 19th century cults-


    1. Susan the other

      Lest we forget – Little George Bush was born-again, and he played it up as best he could. Probably just keeping himself on the wagon.

    2. PlutoniumKun

      It is very interesting – on the basis of the small number of non-conforming USasians I know, those who combine their religious belief with liberal views don’t really see themselves as sharing the same belief system as the right wing evangelicals. I did know some High Church evangelicals in England, and most of them were politically Blair/Cameron types. I’ve often thought that politically centre/left but socially conservative people are one of the big overlooked political constituencies in the US and elsewhere.

      Going back in history in England and Ireland, the Society of Friends and related religions were a very important element in promoting more liberal ideas, in particular anti-slavery. Up to quite recently in Ireland, the Quakers were seen as having an influence out of all proportion to their size, mostly because of the number of wealthy and high profile business people. They did a lot of good things.

      Interestingly, the War Nerd has written quite a bit on mid-19th Century New York and East Coast politics, and has pointed out that Irish catholicism was actually a major driving force in creating a more secular legal system. The WASP religious system was very rigid and more or less designed to keep undesirables (anyone who wasn’t a WASP) out of the education system, and it was the Irish catholics who dedicated themselves to breaking that grip. Irish catholics used to be a major driving force behind the more liberal pro-worker side of the Democrats, but for whatever reason many have swung around to become solid Republicans.

      I think the way in which religions can become political is quite random. In Brazil and South America the evangelicals are very right wing – they seem the main force behind Bolsonaro. This has ironically made the catholic church seem the soul of moderation, even while it more or less purged the left wing theologians. In Asia, Korea especially, the evangelical churches are complete batsh*t crazy right wing and a very malign influence on politics there. Its the catholics (including the present ROK Prime Minister) who seem to be very powerful in the more centrist, moderately left wing political parties.

    3. flora

      Don’t completely knock the big evang churches that really grew after the start of the great auto and other manufacturers playing US cities off against each other for factory jobs in the 1970-80s; the new great migration* which increased after the off-shoring of factory work took hold in the 1990s. That was/is a time when many, many families were/are being up rooted and moving to new cities/states looking for work. The big evang churches were/are a welcoming place no matter how recently arrived, and provide a community as well as providing food pantries, day care, and other social services that local govts don’t provide.

      *thinking of the migrations of people looking for work in the Great Depression that Steinbeck used in his book “The Grapes of Wrath.”

  5. mlipow

    There was a wing of Evangelicals who participated in the Inter-Church World Movement, and who supported the strikers in the Great Steel Strike in 1919 and in the aftermath of its loss. At Encyclopedia.com there is a note, “During the strike, the Inter-church World Movement, a Protestant group committed to the liberal ideas of the Social Gospel movement, began an investigation of the steel industry and the conditions that led to the strike. Their report, released on 28 July 1920, did much to justify labor’s lost cause. In its coverage of the report, the press seized on the existence of the continued existence of the 12-hour workday even though that issue made up only an eighth of the document. Following its playbook, the industry and its paid operatives attacked the Interchurch Movement and its report as dangerously radical. Nevertheless, the report inspired follow-up reports in the press and a volume of the Interchurch movement’s field studies.”

  6. The Historian

    I live in the land of evangelical Mo’s and it is hard to believe that any of them have any connection to their founder Joseph Smith. Because I live here, I wanted to at least try and understand that religion. Believe me, there is a lot of junk out there on the LDS church written by proselytizers and by haters, but what I’ve been able to glean about their origins is this:

    Whatever you believe about Joseph Smith, whether he was a con man or a man of God, his original church was very egalitarian and was a church I would have wanted to be a part of – if I could ever become a believer. Ignore the seer stone stories – any preacher worth his salt during that time had seer stones – what made Joseph Smith different from all those other preachers was that he tried to provide a place for all of those dispossessed by American culture: immigrants and minorities, including black and women, made up the bulk of the original followers, and all, including women had a vote and a voice in that early church. And this is why he was so hated by what was considered average Americans at that time and why they were forced to move out to Utah.

    Sadly, like all religions, the original church changed and became a power base that reflects American culture more than the original movement that it started out as. I’ve had evangelicals come to my door and when I ask them what they know about the origins of their church I find out that basically they know nothing about the ‘early days’. I guess just as Catholic Church has done its best to deny Jesus – while still using his name – the LDS Church is doing its best to deny its origins. Maybe this is just another example of what power does.

    1. a different chris

      I’m glad you used the word “changed” rather than “evolved”. Because there do not seem to be any major threads in the Republican Party story above. Minor ones that somehow took over. Why was that is the question.

      And “forced to move out to Utah” is, as you know but maybe not others, quite an understatement:


      1. The Historian

        I am aware of the Mountain Meadows Massacre but that happened after the church changed and after they moved to Utah. After Joseph Smith was murdered, there was a power struggle and Brigham Young won – and he changed the church to fit his beliefs which were highly conservative. He convinced this new church that they were the new Israel and had to fight to protect themselves. He’s another example of a ‘leader’ who used paranoia and fear to maintain control – hence the murder of a wagon train load of people who really were no threat to the Mormons.

        1. Wukchumni

          Read this a couple years ago, and its the best account of 49’ers going west i’m aware of, the diary of William Swain who made it to the promised land and then went back to upstate NY where he started the journey.

          I get the feeling that the Gold Rush really made the Mormon movement work, as all of the sudden they had customers at high prices for their food, but everybody headed west pretty much took way too much stuff and really jettisoned stuff near enough to SLC, and who was there picking it all up along the way, but the Mormons.

          The World Rushed In: The California Gold Rush Experience

    2. Susan the other

      New England must have been a giddy place in the early to mid 1800s. Little George referred occasionally to the “awakening” – meaning that era of evangelicals. I remember reading up on it, can’t cite, sorry – it’s been a while – but the story I followed was out of Connecticut where they openly practiced what they called “spiritual marriages” and justified their rampant infidelities by God’s law – they really weren’t being unfaithful because their liaisons were sanctified in heaven. It was simply meant to be. Sort of convoluted rationalizing but also probably as true as anything else.

      1. The Historian

        That time – from about 1800-1835 – in American history is incredibly interesting – it is usually referred to as the “Second Great Awakening”. It was a time when America could have failed because of extreme inequality and suffering – hence the increased religiosity. I think the only thing that saved this country then was the ability of people to move west – that provided a safety valve that we no longer have.

    3. Steve from Connecticut

      I was raised in Utah in a good mormon family and absorbed the church teachings until I was 24, when I left. Even went on a 2 yr mission in early 60’s. Your description of the early church is not accurate. Smith avidly recruited white members. There were actually few blacks and at that time the Mormon theology taught that black people were the seed of Cain and were given a dark skin by God as a curse. There were no serious numbers of black and brown people in the church in the nineteenth century. They also were and are actively anti-gay.

      Women were members but were then and are today second class members. They cannot get to the mormon version of heaven without their husband. They cannot be and never were leaders or important decision makers in the church which is the right of the so-called priesthood, only composed of men. They have no voice in the important decisions made by white men. Women have always been able to vote on things proposed by church leaders but since they believe that the leaders speak for God it is a meaningless vote. I observed various votes for over 20 yrs and there was never a single hand raised to vote against what the leaders proposed. The vote is a farce.

      The mormons went to Utah for various reasons. They were in effect forced out of their last settlement at Nauvoo, Illinois. During that period, Joseph Smith had run for President of the U.S. and told his followers that God had chosen him to lead America into a new religious order. He also introduced polygamy into the church. When people found out about that the mormons had this stain because monogamy was the prevalent basis for marriage. People had a negative reaction to multiple wives for one man. I find the polygamy in the church disgusting.

      Polygamy was outlawed as a mormon practice in 1890’s and black men were allowed to be in the priesthood in the 1980’s. Twenty years after the Civil Rights Act. The mormons sadly do not deny their origins but instead celebrate them and justify the. Mormon history is actively whitewashed by a paid group. In many ways the mormons are as bad as the evangelicals.

  7. Wukchumni

    In my way of thinking, we needed a bulwark against the godless commies, and Billy Graham had movie star looks, appearing with every President for a photo-op, and like kudzu it spread from there, the current reign of dogma that thankfully is on its last legs.

  8. rowlf

    While trying to follow Shelby Foote’s advice that you can’t understand the US if you don’t understand the Civil War, I could never see what would motivate most of the south to fight to protect the rich until I ran across an article by Gordon Rhea explaining how the Southern churches were used to indoctrinate a pro-slavery point of view. I can imagine that if you had a culture that used the Christian Bible to justify slavery it would be hard to make decades of indoctrination go away.

    Why Non-Slaveholding Southerners Fought

  9. a different chris

    Good article but, alas, I find this:

    Despite their communal ways, in which no member lived better or worse than any other, the group as a whole excelled at business

    Why “Despite”? The American right wing indoctrination runs so deep thru this country apparently good people like Mr. Olenick even cough up a hairball occasionally. Most hours in the work day are of a communal effort, and jokes about “don’t let management see this and mess it up” are common. We actually don’t need a royalist hierarchy to get things done, just the opposite in fact.

  10. NotTimothyGeithner

    Southern Baptists are currently the largest Protestant denomination, and the have always been monsters and charlatans. Besides their love of that peculiar insitution of slavery, a divide with the northern baptists was the scope of the church’s responsibilitieis. My guess is institutional power of those churches directly shaped the other “Evangelical” branded churches. Especially when you have Billy Graham giving way to Falwell and Robertson types. I think Graham’s charismatic role may have shaped the idea of what church should be.

    Combined with the decline of the commons in vogue since Reagan, larger churches offer a replacement community structure and can be replicated in vaccuums.

  11. Carolinian

    So the Repubs have become corrupt and the Dems, who once were literally the slavery party, are not corrupt? I’m not sure this article is telling us something we didn’t already know which is that people and institutions have a hard time maintaining that “virtue” the founders talked about and that the universal truth is that power corrupts with very few exceptions. As far as religious corruption goes one could point to the Catholic church of the Renaissance era and hoo boy.

    But even those decadent Popes at least paid lip service to Christian ideals of charity and concern for the poor whereas our modern secular version of society has many excuses for why we shouldn’t worry about such things. Perhaps it takes a non rational belief system to jog us out of our innate selfishness. Or perhaps that 18th century Age of Reason will return and we will figure this out without supernatural assistance. But I think the current left makes far too much of religion as the source for all that is wrong.

    1. IdahoSpud

      Excellent point!
      “THAT corporate-hijacked political party over there has lost its way.” Yep. Same as the other one. Any party that puts a Kamala-type figure near the levers of power isn’t the “good guy”.

  12. Susan the other

    Just goes to show that nothing in history gets us as fired up as a common “enemy.” And it takes a continuous diet of propaganda to perpetuate it (the Cold War, IS, etc.) Since politicians are susceptible to the small insanities of their constituents, they blabber on as if they were preachers, distracting us all with shiny things. It would be like the Rapture with our living feet on the ground – heaven on earth – if we could bottle and sell that enthusiasm to use for reining in human overpopulation, repairing and maintaining a healthy environment, and organizing humanist societies. But so far all things human fluctuate back and forth with their own opposite. The awakening becomes dark. It’s one good reason to go to the very heart of the matter – money. Control the way it is spent for sustainable survival. That really can’t be argued with. And it’s one good argument for a New Capitalism. Unless you are far crazier than a Republican.

    1. Michael Olenick

      I’d press the heart icon but Yves, thankfully, doesn’t have clicky icons.

      If they could redirect their zeal to things that no sane person could believe wouldn’t improve the planet — and I agree 100% with your list — the world would be a vastly better place.

      1. we are doomed

        “i was a lifelong democrat”, yes I was too until after 2008 when Obama basically showed his true affiliation and essentially rode to the Presidency on a pack of lies bundled as hope and change, yeah right. In 2016 I was part of the FU vote for Trump, thinking that if Hillary was shown the door then maybe the DNC could have an honest reconciliation with those they always represented. The republican were always the party of the rich and you just knew that. But then I observed the last 4 years. It is disgusting to continually, see writers frame the right as fascists when the current unholy alliance between corporations, government, neocons, media and the tech giants are a text book case for fascism. We have devolved into a one party police state. The hate from the left is amazing to behold. As Biden lines up his Neocon war apparatus, I can only see this as setting up a big war war as the diversionary tactic needed to cover the supreme economic bubble that was used to loot the country. We are truly doomed.

        I may be wrong here, but it seems like the Overton window for Naked Capitalism is starting to move in alignment towards the accepted narrative. Maybe that’s my imagination, but it sure feels that way.

  13. Nice but.....

    Nice early history. Thank you for that.

    The article glossed over almost everything after 1850.

    One huge one it missed is the split in the Baptist church, with the Southern Baptists explicitly leaving in support of slavery.

  14. Steve

    As a former evangelical, the word evangelical came to be emphasized in the mid-20th century by some conservative church leaders who wanted to separate themselves from the more conservative fundamentalist leaders. Because the fundamentalists had become a laughing stock due to their anti-science stance (most famously in the so-called “monkey trial” over evolution in a Tennessee court room), and tendency to be judgmental hard-liners, the newly named evangelical movement wanted to be more mainstream and mellow. Billy Graham was among those early evangelical leaders, and was indeed more friendly with the Protestant mainstream–and became a national celebrity who befriended various presidents, mainly Republicans.
    So from the start of this particular “evangelical” movement, it had its eyes on the nation and its political leaders and policies. Indeed Graham wanted to save America through his mass evangelistic crusades, and invited presidents like Nixon and other national celebrities to share the stage with him. His evangelistic message was that the nation was in danger from communism abroad and from personal sins within; the answer was to confess their sins and accept Christ as their personal savior. Through mass conversions, America could become godly again (like their forefathers, the pilgrims and puritans) and thus be blessed by God with a strong and thriving nation.
    This evangelical evangelistic emphasis focused on Christ and his death for the sins of the world as the initial stepping stone to become faithful church members and productive national citizens. Evangelicals also focused on the authority of the bible, which turned out to be more of a focus on the national history of Israel in the Old Testament (as a model supposedly for what God’s chosen nation, America, should be now) than on the life and teaching of Jesus, and its outworking in the early churches (the focus of the New Testament).
    Just as the pilgrims and puritans had used God’s commands to Israel to drive out or destroy the original inhabitants of their promised land as justification for doing the same to native Americans, so evangelical leaders used the authority of the bible to justify the cold war expansion in Korea and Vietnam. And they used the Old Testament religious context of a great Jerusalem temple building full of Jewish masses coming to worship and give sacrifices to get forgiveness. And they used the law of Moses, the “old covenant”–that said if Israel obeyed all the commands God gave it then God would bless and prosper them in their land. Later prosperity preachers picked up on the fullest possible usefulness of that promised blessing.
    Thus current evangelicals are mostly comfortable supporting presidents who want to make America great again. While it can be embarrassing when some of the “best” presidents turn out to be vulgar individuals (as Graham felt after Nixon and Watergate), they’re always willing to remain good citizens of God’s nation, knowing that Christ’s death can bring forgiveness, and hoping to reduce certain other personal sins, especially family values issues (“correct” marriages and births).

  15. kareninca

    “Still, more than a few evangelicals – arguably the great majority – have clearly lost their way. The hypocrisy is self-evident. They preach one thing then do another. ”

    This brings to mind my ultra liberal neighbor who won’t stop yapping at me about global warming. She has a second home that is 150 miles away that she drives to most weekends in her SUV. Or my ultra liberal aunt who hates Trump beyond imagining, who just flew from MI to FL with her husband in their modest plane; usually they take the three grandkids on Disney Cruises and also go on Mediterranean cruises each year themselves. When I asked her about carbon she she said “you can’t worry about everything.”

    Oh wait, there is also the DNC – on matters of actually helping poor and black people.

    There’s a lot of hypocrisy out there. It seems to be enjoyable to find a common enemy so that one’s in-group can forget its own hypocrisy. Religion is a very popular “common enemy” at the moment.

    I am very grateful to the local giant evangelical church. They have housed the local emergency homeless shelter for a month each year for decades. The need is dire now, and so they stepped up. My liberal church couldn’t do it due to the size needed for distancing of mattresses, so they took our month, at a great deal of effort and expense to themselves (we did the food, which was still quite a task). It’s funny how every time the city wants something like this, they ask the churches. Which are dying, of course. After all, who would want to join such hateful organizations? Oddly I have not seen “Agnostics and Atheists United” step in to take over the gaps left.

    1. monkeybrains

      I am a community volunteer in a decentralized city-wide network that sprang up during COVID-19 as a civilian response. There are NGO’s and gov people and activists and just everything in between. Apolitical. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, humanists etc.

      Your question had me stumped for a moment. But then I thought “aren’t NGOs and other civil orgs the secular response filling the gaps as you say?”

      That’s at least how it appears to me. It’s just not so obviously based around ‘religious’ view, but rather social causes specifically…

      1. kareninca

        here you go: https://www.deseret.com/2017/2/1/20605260/homeless-find-rest-in-faith-based-shelters-more-than-others

        Yes, of course there are umbrella organizations. But the churches are a key part of that; they offer actual physical space and physical food and they do it in person – even now. Religious people are very involved in those sorts of organizations.

        I hope you are right that they are attracting more secular help. Most of the secular liberals that I know are very, very cheap when it comes to helping poor individuals. They pretty much never do it; they figure that it is the role of the government, even if they can see right in front of them that the government isn’t helping. They give to foundations instead. The church people I know spend and spend and spend when there is a concrete, material human need in front of them.

        I am seeing a lot more homelessness around me in Silicon Valley. Now I am seeing something new; guys in their 30s and 40s and 50s who are carrying “kits.” That is, a backpack and sleeping roll and rolled tent. These are men who ten months ago would have had a job. Again, I hope that you are right, and that these new NGOs will help these men. I am surely not seeing that now.

  16. David Green

    There is either no or precious little evidence in this article regarding the pervasiveness of “racism” or “fascism” among current evangelicals. The fact that it is simply assumed can be seen as condescending, both in relation to evangelicals and to the readers of this website. A smug attitude among liberals and secularists might therefore be counted as one of the problems that are implictly raised by this article, and by the choice to publicize it on this website.

  17. Alfred

    May I take advantage of this post to mention two books that first came to my attention on Wednesday? I have not yet been able to read either from cover to cover, but they strike me as promising. One is The Blessings of Business: How Corporations Shaped Conservative Christianity, by Darren E. Grem (2016). The other is old enough now to count as a primary source: The Fear Brokers, by Thomas J. McIntyre (1979). I’d also like to cite a third book that impressed me when I read it several years ago: White Protestant Nation: The Rise of the American Conservative Movement, by Allan J. Lichtman (2008). All three books cover the intersection of American business and religious ideas. This post and the comment have made me want to read or re-read them sooner rather than later. I suspect that others here will like me find them worth a first or perhaps closer look.

    1. Michael Olenick

      I’ll check them out – thanks for the recommendations. This line of inspiration about the influence of 1800s evangelicals on modern times is morphing from a mild curiosity into a mild obsession.

      I publish a lot of material. I have a sizable list at Harvard b-school publishing including multiple bestsellers. But writing at nakedcapitalism remains a favorite because of Yves, Lambert, and especially the comments. I get better feedback here to challenge, grow, and develop thoughts than I do from work at elite universities. It’s one of the very few areas online – the only one I can think of – where reader contributions amp up the substantive value of a piece.

      1. Mike

        To make this concise, I firmly believe that current Evangelical Thought is political and economic, not “religious”. The business and libertarian influence on this movement should be exposed, and each “preacher” leading a megachurch has ties to them that would, in my opinion, remove any religious veneer (and tax status) they have.

      2. Rudolf

        It surprises me that there is no mention of Chris Hedges’s book, “American fascists: the Christian right in the war on America.” Published in2007. Among other endeavors, Hedges is an ordained minister and graduate of the Harvard Divinity School. He knows what he’s talking about.

  18. Offtrail

    I’m an American Jew living in France. . . All of which is to say, what I know from evangelical Christians I know from afar.

    Jeez Louise, he just outed himself. All of these sweeping negative generalizations (“arguably the great majority (of evangelicals) have clearly lost their way. The hypocrisy is self-evident… ” and on and on.

    Can you imagine if an Evangelical had posted this kind of thing about Jews, untainted by personal experience?

    1. Michael Olenick

      An American Jew who grew up in Southern Indiana around plenty of evangelicals.

      As for evangelical hypocrisy, there’s a whole bunch of examples; those in the article and plenty more.

      Finally, I don’t think people who get near us Jews are “tainted.”

      1. kareninca

        That is funny; I have relatives in Southern Indiana, on the Kentucky border. They are fervent Catholics; they are in their early 60s. They grew up in a mildly racist milieu. However, they are the biggest anti-racists ever. That’s just as well, since their daughter is married to a black guy. I know that they are not Evangelicals, but I think that the same dynamic is all over. I wonder what your age is and how long it has been since you have gotten a “feel” for the area.

        I also have relatives in MI who are Dutch Reformed; they are in their 70s. They grew up in a church that taught that being gay was a sin. However, they are the biggest pro-gay people around. Also just as well, since their daughter is married to a gay guy.

        It might be best for you to make a visit to your home area when it is possible, and try to get out of the Northeast corridor mind-meld, which can itself lead to other forms of bigotry. In the meantime you could visit Evangelical churches in Southern Indiana on zoom; that would give you a real sense of the people whom you are hoping to describe.

  19. M Simon

    Yes. Of course the failed and Oh So wrong Austrians. If the recent free money causes a bout of inflation the Austrians will be popular. Again.

    After 3 or 4 cycles you begin to notice.

  20. Edward

    Both political parties have been corrupted by bribery. They aren’t that different. Not that long ago there were progressives in the Republican party, such as Dewey, who ran against Truman. I think the U.S. has a general cultural rot– its not just about the evangelists. The millennials have been trying to recapture some morality with this “cancel culture” business. This effort may sometimes be misguided, but at least they are trying.

  21. John Anthony La Pietra

    . . . the US should’ve thrown the book at the Confederacy after the Civil War – the entire South should’ve had two Senators, total. . . .

    Well, not Senators — but there is that bit in Section 2 of the 14th Amendment about taking away some of a state’s US Representatives in proportion to the share of the state’s voters whose voting rights were “denied . . . or abridged in any way”.

    1. philnc

      It’s an interesting thought though: had the former Confederacy been re-admitted into the Union as a single state…

    2. drumlin woodchuckles

      Well, no . . . . what the South should have been was “de-Confedarized”. The plantation owners should have all had their plantations taken away and then been encouraged to emigrate from the US in the strongest possible terms.

      Then the land should have been divided into equal shares between the ex-slave Black Southerners and the poor landless White Southerners. That would have kept a plutogarchic society and economy from re-emerging and would have denied people from outside the South any way to suddenly come south and make money off the reconstruction.

      I wonder what Lincoln would have wanted to do about the Slaverists if he hadn’t been assassinated.

  22. Ep3

    I was raised to start, southern baptist, which transitioned to baptist in the 90s, to nondenominational in the 00s (the church i attended made these transitions). It seemed it was all about recruiting. Saving everyone from the evils out there in the world. But once ppl were “saved” (by becoming members), it was up to them to deal with their personal problems that came up by utilizing different parts of the church. It was about growing the church body. More ppl, more money, more time/events at the church. “Alternative” things to do besides those in the secular world. I stopped by regular attendance when a BJ in the Oval Office was more of a crime than homelessness, war in bosnia, etc. It was around this time that the pastor’s family members began seeking political office. Now my dad says the church is there for businesspersons to gain new customers (he never attended). But I saw it as a right of passage. This church had grown enough in the community that it was the next step in the growth of the church. It was now time for the church to begin influencing the politics/community around it. But where was this message coming from? What was wrong with on the ground, saving the ppl, building a better community, improving ppl’s lives in their day to day?

  23. drumlin woodchuckles

    The Republicans should “do this” and “do that”.

    But they won’t.

    Okay. So now what?

  24. Craig Dempsey

    What a fascinating discussion! For anyone wanting further understanding, I recommend a new (2020) book from Simon & Schuster, WHITE TOO LONG: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity by Robert P. Jones, also author of The End of White Christian America.

    I was especially struck by Chapter 4, “Markings” which looks at the role of Daughters of the Confederacy in the erection of Jim Crow monuments across America, and the insertion of Confederate propaganda into school text books, especially in the south. Unfortunately, the Daughters were brilliant at their dastardly deeds, and modern Evangelicals mostly have no idea what hit them. Trump did not invent massive misinformation.

    I suppose I should put a disclaimer on this. I read this book in my local college-town church, which once was one of the charter members of the Southern Baptist Convention. Even though we left the SBC some years ago, it still was frequently a painful read.

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