Alexandria Digital Research Library

The Decline of Moral and Political Authority: Mainstream Protestants in McCarthyite America

Shedd, Kristen Abigail
Degree Grantor:
University of California, Santa Barbara. History
Degree Supervisor:
Nelson Lichtenstein
Place of Publication:
[Santa Barbara, Calif.]
University of California, Santa Barbara
Creation Date:
Issued Date:
Religion, History of. and History, United States
Stephen Fritchman
Cold War
Bishop G. Bromley Oxnam
Dissertations, Academic and Online resources
Ph.D.--University of California, Santa Barbara, 2013

The early Cold War in the United States had a religious dimension, but not merely between "Godless Communism" and the Judeo-Christian West. Equally important, and of continuing significance, this era marked an internal battle within the American mainstream churches, a political and theological conflict that weakened the Social Gospel tradition and opened the door to the revival of a highly nationalistic and evangelical Protestantism. The mainline Protestant elite was surprised to find its loyalty questioned and reacted by distancing itself from its more radical adherents. Because of its very prestige and establishmentarian character in American politics, it adapted less effectively in the Cold War context than did Catholics, Evangelicals, and Fundamentalists, who organized as outsiders seeking political influence. This dissertation examines this paradox: how a liberal Protestant establishment that believed it still held cultural and political authority nevertheless felt forced to demonstrate its national loyalty in competition with other religious groups.

During the first decade of the Cold War the domestic definition of acceptable religious belief and practice became entwined with that of national loyalty, and thus subject to intense national debate. Church membership grew rapidly after 1945, as did public religiosity, symbolized by the 1954 insertion of "under God" into the Pledge of Allegiance. Political leaders encouraged attempts to define America as a religious nation, and to link its founders and democratic political system to Christian doctrine. This effort to make religious belief a bulwark of patriotic loyalty in an era of expanding religious pluralism challenged the traditional status of many liberal Protestants. These individuals faced scrutiny for having previously embraced social action, as well as their past critiques of American capitalism, cooperation with Popular Front radicals, and defense of the New Deal state and its labor partisans. By the mid-1950s, denunciations of "Reds in the Churches" had taken a toll on the moral authority and social prestige of even the most influential and established U.S. churches.

Physical Description:
1 online resource (338 pages)
UCSB electronic theses and dissertations
Catalog System Number:
Inc.icon only.dark In Copyright
Copyright Holder:
Kristen Shedd
Access: This item is restricted to on-campus access only. Please check our FAQs or contact UCSB Library staff if you need additional assistance.