A Critical Analysis of "The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America" by Frances Fitzgerald

Paper Type:  Literature review
Pages:  6
Wordcount:  1425 Words
Date:  2022-10-05


A close and more in-depth look at American history reveals just how religion and politics are intertwined. A multitudinous number of historians, journalists, authors, and academic pundits have delved into this association and origin of these religious movements as well as the roles they play, or, have played in the current political landscape in America. A diverse body of research exists out there in the form of books, articles, manuscripts and more the areas of politics and religion. The interest in trying to explain and critically dissect the two areas has been seen far and wide, giving accounts of historical religious movements, philosophies, ideologies and the extent to which they influenced the society in various ways. Core these discourses are the terms like fundamentalism, Protestantism, Pentecostalism, the Christian right and the evangelicals, among other religious concepts. Among the many authors and journalists whose works have been widely discussed is Frances Fitzgerald, an award-winning top-level journalist-historian whose book, "The evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America," has contributed immensely in understanding the association between the religious philosophies or movements and politics in America. In this book, Fitzgerald presents to the readers a distilled history of evangelism and the Christian right as well as the history of the American conservative politics. The dynamics of the political landscape in the United States subtly revolve around the evangelical Christians as they take up to a quarter of the population in the US; these include the Protestants and the Roman Catholics. The history and evolution of the Christian evangelical movements, as well as their influence in the current American political arena, are also outlined by Fitzgerald in her book. In addition to the history and dynamism of American evangelicalism, this paper explores Fitzgerald's primary concern which is the upsurge of Christian political conservatism through the Christian right movement.

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Before embarking this extensive collection of research works, it is of great importance to first understand what is meant by the Christians or religious right. The term was used in the United States in the past years to refer to the political factions of the conservative Christians who strongly supported social policies that were seen as so conservative. In this sense, the Christian conservatives continually attempted to use Christianity teachings to influence politics as well as public policies or laws of the land. Core to the coalition of the Christian right were the values of evangelical Protestants as well as those of the Roman Catholics. It is also crucial to keep in mind that evangelicalism came up as a form of Protestant Christianity.

In this book, Fitzgerald digs the history from the American past with the intention of informing the reader about the evangelical movement and its developments in the 18th and 19th centuries. She describes the evangelicals as "born again" Christians whose duties include sharing the good news to the world (FitzGerald, 2017). Her work reveals how the movement garnered a formidable political influence and power towards the end of 20th century and to the current time. Fitzgerald begins the story of evangelical history from its formation in Massachusetts in Jonathan Edward's parish in the 1730s. American evangelicalism, from the book, is born in the chapter of the First Great Awakening. The movement, as Fitzgerald puts it, was primarily theological and religious but with implicit political motives and diversity. The historical section of evangelicalism, though quite extensive, is not the heart of this book, and that is why the author moves quickly to the most recent times like the chapters on "Liberals and Conservatives in the post-civil war" (FitzGerald, 2017, p.56) and the "Fundamentalist-modernist conflict" (p.95) dominant at the beginning of the 20th century. The author places the Christian right at the center of American politics, expounding how it has influenced the political arena from the 1960s up to the 1970s including George Bush's era and then Obama's. An epitome of religion's indulgence in political matters is shown by the various televangelists who spearheaded the movement in political light and were omnipresent during the coverage of the group's scandals.

Fitzgerald lays a bold claim, and rightly so, that even though the Christian right began in the Reagan era, it suffered a decline in the 1990s before taking off again and reaching its peak at the time of President Bush whose alliance with the movement was perceived as of mutual benefit and hope for Bush and the restored Christian Americans. The author further reveals that the Christian right was dragged down by Bush's misfortunes-the Iraq debacle, poor handling of hurricane Katrina and the economic crash of 2008- in his second term as president. In her own words, Fitzgerald associates the Christian right with politics by saying the democrats, republicans and Republican leadership, as well as the white house, appeared to have become "a captive of the Christian right" (p.534). However, to many evangelicals, the Christian right had already become "a function of Republican politics" (p.534). This explains how the evangelicals began their influence in the political landscape.

Important to grasp was Fitzgerald's presentation of the dramatical split of the white evangelicals into two major groups; first the north versus the South, and later the fundamentalists versus the modernists towards the end of the century. Various aspects like the social revolution and the civil rights movement disrupted the unity of all the evangelicals. The southern part of the divide, led by Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson formed the Christian right and protested against abortion and gay rights. The author uses these ideologies to shed light on how the two major American political parties: the Democrats and the Republicans differed in their ideals and beliefs. For the southerners to stick to their conservative religious doctrines at the time of social confusion including sexual revolution and women liberation, Fitzgerald touches on the theory of fundamentalism and how it clashes with the theory of biological evolution. While the theological modernists wanted to revolutionize the traditional Christian beliefs to include social; developments like human sexuality, the Christian fundamentalists through the religious right sought to adhere to the traditional biblical teachings and interpretation into the society. These issues have followed American society, regarding politics and culture, right into the 21st century. In essence, the author is trying to say that the Christian right changed the cause of evangelicalism movement from a religious to a political path.

Fitzgerald's book covers up to 2016 presidential election and attempts to provide the underlying reasons or possibilities explaining how President Donald Trump controversially garnered more votes to clinch the top seat. She acknowledges that even though only a smaller percentage of the evangelicals identify with the Christian right, when they vote about 80 percent of the evangelicals vote Republican, dutifully, irrespective of who the aspirant is (FitzGerald, 2017).

So balanced are her views and discussions that Fitzgerald does not seem to favor any side or individual in her coverage of the religious movements, politics and the controversial individuals. She unfavorably approaches and discusses her well-researched history giving the reader non-opinionated and straightforward narrative; just the facts.

The Christian right, Fitzgerald argues, skewed the public perception regarding what evangelicalism is and what evangelicals are. Rather than a movement, the public was already convinced that the Christian right was nothing but "a faction within the Republican party" (FitzGerald, 2017, p.623). Even so, she also makes it clear that not all white evangelicals, as widely perceived, are of the Christian right. The grey aspects of the book include the detailed coverage of the Christian right but oblivious some other groups or submovements like the evangelical women organizations, the Promise Keepers apolitical submovement, and the Emerging Church movement, which all made considerable impacts even though they were not so dominant and long-lasting. A keen reader would also notice that the evangelical movements were not always so political and conservative as Fitzgerald depicts in the book.


In conclusion, Fitzgerald's book offers a comprehensive, dense and well-researched history of the American evangelicalism movements and their roles in attempting to alter the country's political arena. The Christian right movement takes center stage as the vehicle driving the change across the past few centuries up to the 21st century. The relevance of this book captures various areas of interests including the ideology and openness to human secularism discussing issues like human sexuality and liberation of women. Most importantly, it explains how Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election despite being a divisive and controversial figure. That is just how much the evangelicals, as a voting bloc, have shaped the political dynamics of the United States.


FitzGerald, F. (2017). The Evangelicals. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks.

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A Critical Analysis of "The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America" by Frances Fitzgerald. (2022, Oct 05). Retrieved from https://midtermguru.com/essays/a-critical-analysis-of-the-evangelicals-the-struggle-to-shape-america-by-frances-fitzgerald

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