When the 1928 presidential election was heating up, H. L. Mencken made a prediction: “It will break up in a fist fight, with ears torn off and teeth knocked out. It will be a good show.” As it was in 1928, so it is and ever shall be, at every election as long as the Republic stands. And in the campaign just past, evangelical and fundamentalist Christians were in the middle of the fight.

Conservative Christians were seen early in the campaign to be a solid part of President Reagan’s constituency.

Democratic vice-presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro, then, rang the bell only for round one when she declared that she did not believe “for one minute” that Reagan was a good Christian. Fundamentalists were quite visible at the Republican Convention in Dallas. But if Jerry Falwell was a champion to the Republicans, he was depicted as an unscrupulous street fighter in Democratic television commercials that attacked the policies of “Reagan and Falwell” as if Falwell, not George Bush, were the Republican vice-presidential candidate. Roman Catholics jumped into the ring when prominent archbishops questioned the stand of Roman Catholic politicians who say they are personally antiabortion but officially prochoice. The gloves came off in September, surprising such representatives of the general press as Newsweek, which could hardly believe that “Religion? Yes, religion” was energizing a presidential campaign.

Conservative Protestants pressed two main issues: abortion and the relationship of church and state. Since political campaigns and fist fights are not noted for their decorum, we might wonder how well the Christians fared, mixing it up in the Reagan-Mondale melee. Was the fundamentalist nose bloodied, the evangelical lip split? And ...

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