The Moral Majority
What is the Moral Majority?
The Moral Majority was a prominent American political organization associated with the Christian right. It was founded in 1979 and dissolved in the late 1980s.
The origins of the Moral Majority can be traced to 1976, when Jerry Falwell embarked on a series of “I Love America” rallies across the country to raise awareness of social issues important to Falwell. These rallies were an extension of Falwell’s decision to go against the traditional Baptist principle of separating religion and politics, a change of heart Falwell says he had when he perceived the decay of the nation’s morality.
Through hosting these rallies, Falwell was able to gauge national support for a formal organization and also raise his profile as a leader. Having already been a part of a well-established network of ministers and ministries, within a few years Falwell was favorably positioned to launch the Moral Majority.
The Moral Majority was formally initiated as a result of a struggle for control of an American conservative Christian advocacy group known as Christian Voice during 1978. Robert Grant, Christian Voice's acting President, stated in a news conference that the Religious Right was a "sham... controlled by three Catholics and a Jew." Paul Weyrich, Terry Dolan, Richard Viguerie (the Catholics) and Howard Phillips (the Jew) left Christian Voice. During a 1979 meeting, they urged televangelist Jerry Falwell to found Moral Majority (a phrase coined by Weyrich). This was also the beginning of the New Christian Right.
Establishment and organizational activity
Falwell and Weyrich founded the Moral Majority in June 1979. The Moral Majority was a southern-oriented organization of the Christian Right, although the Moral Majority’s state chapters and political activity extended beyond the South. After the Moral Majority’s establishment, the state chapters grew quickly, with organizations in eighteen states by 1980.
The variety of resources available to the Moral Majority at its founding facilitated this rapid expansion, which included Falwell’s “Old Time Gospel Hour” mailing list. In addition, the Moral Majority took control of the “Old Time Gospel Hour’s” publication, Journal Champion, which had been distributed to the show’s donors. Falwell was the organization's best known spokesperson throughout the 1980s. By 1982, Moral Majority surpassed Christian Voice in size and influence.
The Moral Majority’s headquarters were in Lynchburg, Virginia, the same city where Falwell was the presiding minister of the nation’s largest independent Baptist church, Thomas Road Baptist Church. Virginia has been a seat of Christian Right politics, being the state where the Christian Coalition’s first headquarters were established.
Falwell was at the head of the Moral Majority and maintained an advisory board, constituting the organization’s primary leadership. This leadership was drawn heavily from Falwell’s fellow members of the Baptist Bible Fellowship. Falwell insisted the Moral Majority leadership also include Catholics and Jews, although not all members of the leadership approved of this inclusion.
The Moral Majority was an organization made up of conservative Christian political action committees which campaigned on issues its personnel believed were important to maintaining its Christian conception of moral law, a conception they believed represented the opinions of the majority of Americans (hence the movement's name). With a membership of millions, the Moral Majority was one of the largest conservative lobby groups in the United States and at its height, the Moral Majority claimed over four million members and over two million donors.
These members were spread out over about twenty state organizations, of which Washington State was the largest. The Moral Majority was incorporated into the Liberty Federation in 1985, remaining a distinct entity but falling under the Liberty Federation’s larger jurisdiction. By 1987, Falwell retired as the formal head of the Moral Majority, although he maintained an active and visible role within the organization.
By the end of Ronald Reagan's presidential administration, Christian Right organizations were generally in a phase of decline. After Reagan’s two terms in office, donations were decreasing, possibly because after eight years of Christian Right-supported leadership, the nation did not appear to donors to be in the same state of moral peril as they perceived it to be when Reagan first took office.
The Moral Majority’s financial base seriously eroded when it became part of the Liberty Federation and financial difficulties ultimately were a major factor in the decision to disband the organization. Falwell, though, gave a more optimistic public opinion about the Moral Majority’s dissolution. Announcing the disbandment of the Moral Majority in 1989 in Las Vegas, Falwell declared, “Our goal has been achieved…The religious right is solidly in place and…religious conservatives in America are now in for the duration.”
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