If 1976, America’s Bicentennial year, was “the year of the evangelical,” what will 1977 be? That was the question many Christians across the land began asking as they surveyed results of the national elections.

Jimmy Carter, the man who probably did more than anyone else to put “born again” back into popular usage, took the biggest prize of all, the lease on the White House for the next four years. Incumbent Gerald Ford, friend of many evangelicals but less vocal than Carter about his own faith, prepared to turn over the key to his successor.

Carter, the Southern Baptist deacon and Sunday-school teacher, put together a campaign that drew support from a wide spectrum of Americans inside and outside the evangelical community. Some of his strongest opposition near the end of the race came from Christian leaders. Despite their efforts in the last days of the campaign to cast doubts on his ability to put his faith into practice, Carter got the electoral votes of the Southern “Bible belt” states. He also carried Massachusetts, Maryland, Rhode Island, Louisiana, and other states with substantial Catholic populations.

The same voters who opted for a fresh face in the White House re-elected many members of Congress, even returning most of those who have recently been implicated in scandals. Independent-minded voters also turned a deaf ear to the counsel of churchmen on such referenda as the ones allowing casino gambling in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and voiding Sunday blue laws in the Maryland counties adjacent to Washington.

The presidential campaign was a heated one in its final days, with veteran pollsters calling it a toss-up until election eve. Keeping the pot boiling were late appeals by both candidates to various religious groups. ...

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