Southern Baptists joining Reagan in speaking at the event included W. A. Criswell, Adrian Rogers, then Southern Baptist Convention President Bailey Smith, Charles Stanley, James Robison and Ed McAteer.The backstory that led up to that moment in Dallas is little known. Among the key early organizers of the Religious Right were Bill Bright, a Presbyterian, and Billy Graham, a Baptist.
In 1974 and 1975 Bill Bright convened a series of secret meetings with 20-25 key Christian Right leaders. They formed Third Century Publishers to publish books and study guides to link their political agenda with conservative Christianity. They needed a tax-exempt foundation to receive donations to help them with the for-profit Third Century Publishers. Bright with the help of Richard DeVoss, president of Amway Corp., and Art DeMoss, board chairman of National Liberty Insurance Co., took over the financially troubled Christian Freedom Foundation to solicit funds for their publishing company. They hired Ed McAteer to run it. DeMoss later publicly stated that the purpose of CFF was to elect Christian conservatives to Congress in 1976:
"The vision is to rebuild the foundations of the Republic as it was when first founded--a 'Christian Republic.' We must return to the faith of our fathers." [John Saloma, Ominous Politics: The New Consevative Labrynth(pp. 53-54).McAteer, a Baptist layman at Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis where Adrian Rogers was pastor, later founded the Religious Roundtable (1979). Both the SBC takeover movement (begun in 1979) and the Religious Roundtable gained impetus from a meeting that Bill Bright, along with evangelist Billy Graham, called at a hotel in Dallas. Among them were Adrian Rogers, Charles Stanley, Jimmy Draper, Pat Robertson, Rex Humbard, Clayton Bell (Billy Graham's brother-in-law), and James Robison.
James Robison's account of the meeting is recorded in William Martin's With God on our Side, (pp. 206-07):
"Billy Graham said, 'I believe God has shown me that unless we have a change in America, we have a thousand days as a free nation . . . three years.' Bill Bright said, 'I know. . . . I do not believe we'll survive more than three years as a free nation. It's that serious.' And Pat Robertson said, 'I believe the same thing.' Charles Stanley was standing there and I can just remember so well, he put his hand down on the table with resolve and said, 'I'll give my life to stop this. I'll give everything I've got to turn this country.' And I said, 'Me too. I'll die to turn this country. Whatever it takes. We can't lose the country.' And each man around the room said, 'we're going to get involved.' Except Rex Humbard. He said, 'I'm uncomfortable politically. I really am very uncomfortable.' And Dr. Graham said, 'I cannot publicly be involved. I can only pray. I've been burned so badly with the public relationships I've had. I can't afford it, but I care so much.'"Shortly after that meeting, Charles Stanley fulfilled the pledge he made at the gathering by inviting scores of Georgia preachers to meet at his church for a "Campaign Training Conference" where Paul Weyrich, the key organizer of the political right, told them how to get their congregations involved without jeopardizing their churches' tax exemption. Weyrich has fond memories of that meeting:
"I had [newspaper columnist] Bob Novak with me and he was absolutely in a state of shock. It was at that moment, he told me, that he decided Carter was going to lose, because minister after minister stood up and said, 'I was part of Carter's team in 1976. I delivered my congregation for Carter. I urged them to vote for Carter because I thought he was a moral individual. I found out otherwise, and I'm angry.' This was months before the election, and Novak said, 'I decided at that point that Jimmy Carter's goose was cooked because I saw the intensity of those people.'"What could have prompted such hostility to Jimmy Carter?
Paul Weyrich provides an explicit explanation:
What galvanized the Christian community was not abortion, school prayer, or the ERA. I am living witness to that because I was trying to get those people interested in those issues and I utterly failed. What changed their mind was Jimmy Carter's intervention against the Christian schools, trying to deny them tax-exempt status on the basis of so-called de facto segregation." Weyrich explained that while Christians were troubled about abortion, school prayer, and the ERA, they felt able to deal with those on a private basis. They could avoid having abortions, put their children in Christian schools, and run their families the way they wanted to, all without having to be concerned about public policy. But the IRS threat, "enraged the Christian community and they looked upon it as interference from government, and suddenly it dawned on them that they were not going to be able to be left alone to teach their children as they pleased. It was at that moment that conservatives made the linkage between their opposition to government interference and the interests of the evangelical movement, which now saw itself on the defensive and under attack by the government. That was what brought those people into the political process. It was not the other things." (With God on Our Side, p. 173)It might be helpful to remember Weyrich's explanation as you watch the video below and Robinson talks about the "principles" of the people that Reagan was talking to that day.
Baptists and the Rise of the Religious Right from Bruce Prescott on Vimeo.
Reagan stayed true to their "principles." Carter's administration had opposed Bob Jones University's policy of racial discrimination. Reagan's administration sided with Bob Jones University's attempt to maintain its tax-exempt non-profit status while discriminating on the basis of race. Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled against Bob Jones.