Moral Majority

Acronym/Code: MM

Updated: 3/90


Background: Although generally considered a fundamentalist Christian organization, the Moral Majority was created in 1979 by the wizards of the New Right, Richard Viguerie, Paul Weyrich and Howard Phillips. The goal of the Moral Majority was to politicize and unify the frustrated and fragmented conservative, fundamentalist religious community and mold it into a political voting block. While the Moral Majority appealed mainly to Christians, it invited all "morally conservative" Americans who believed in its tenets, including orthodox Jews, Mormons, and evangelical Protestants to join in its political battles. From the beginning Moral Majority set a political platform that addressed a broad range of issues. The group opposed abortion, equal rights for homosexuals, sex education in the schools, pornography, and the Equal Rights Amendment. It spoke in favor of a strong national defense, and prayer in the schools, was strongly pro-Israel, and stridently anticommunist. (1,2) Another stated goal, which made the Moral Majority popular with conservative corporate America, was "to defend the free enterprise system, the family and Bible morality."(13)

For tax purposes, the Moral Majority established several different organizations. The tax-exempt Moral Majority Foundation was set up as an educational group focusing on voter registration; the Moral Majority Political Action Committee was the branch that raised money for candidates; the Moral Majority Inc. was the lobbying group for influencing legislation at all levels; and the Moral Majority Legal Defense Foundation was set up to counter the influence of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). (8,14) Although the national Moral Majority (headed by Falwell) was very visible and outspoken, it had a very loose and uncoordinated structure. It functioned primarily as an extensive mailing list of individuals and groups that shared similar fears and hostilities about the changes in our society. (2) It reached out to people who have often been thought of as "outsiders" or disenfranchised, and helped them to feel more a part of the system. (14)

Independent chapters that set their own agenda were established in every state. They often worked in concert with Right-To-Lifers and other conservative political action committees to defeat "liberal" candidates and address local issues of concern. (1)

The Moral Majority is not a religious group, but a political group with a broad focus. Although the basis for its initial appeal and strength lay in its diverse agenda, that same multiplicity of issues eventually led to its demise. (2,5,19) Fundamentalists and conservatives with narrower interests became increasingly frustrated with the Moral Majority’s diffuse platform and its numerous political outbursts and embarrassments (see Comments). (2,5) One by one they left the Moral Majority to form more focused splinter groups, such as Operation Rescue and Focus on the Family. These groups–using the direct mail tactics learned from the Moral Majority to raise money and promote their causes–drained the membership and resources of Moral Majority until Jerry Falwell closed its doors in 1989. (2)

Funding: The Moral Majority was funded by contributions. The amounts of money reportedly raised by the Moral Majority vary widely. Some sources say at its peak the Moral Majority raised a millon dollars a day, while others claim the organization brought in up to $500 million a year. (1,13)

Activities: The Moral Majority was primarily a direct mail organization. Falwell claimed that the organization mailed out 600,000 copies of The Moral Majority Report monthly to its supporters. (6) Falwell claimed that the Moral Majority sent out 500,000 letters a week to funding targets drawn from his pool of 4. 5 million names. (21)

The Moral Majority, claiming a constituency of 50 million, was very active in the 1980 elections. The Moral Majority, along with the Christian Voice, the National Conservative Political Action Committee, and others, targeted liberal incumbents for defeat, including Senators George McGovern (D-SD), Frank Church (D-ID), John Culver (D-IA), and Birch Bayh (D-IN)–all of whom lost their elections. (8) The Moral Majority packed the Republican caucus in Alaska and won all nineteen delegates to the national convention for Ronald Reagan. Similar victories were achieved in Iowa and Alabama. (1) Falwell estimated that the Moral Majority efforts added 3 to 4 million registered voters to conservative efforts in 1980 and raised $11 million for lobbying efforts in 1984. (6)

In 1979 fundamentalists in the U.S. became strong supporters of Israel, seeing the Jews as important in the fulfillment of their vision of armageddon. Falwell and the Moral Majority became outspoken supporters of Israel. Falwell said "To stand against Israel is to stand against God."(8) Prime Minister Begin of Israel called on Rev. Falwell in 1981 after the Israeli bombing of an Iraqi nuclear facility to rally a favorable response from the American public. Falwell gave a sermon on behalf of Israel and asked the most influential of the 80,000 preachers associated with the Moral Majority to do the same. (12) In 1982 Ron Godwin announced that the Moral Majority was going to lead tours to Israel "to transform as many concerned American citizens into well-informed, educated friends of Israel as possible." In February of 1985 Falwell led a group of nearly 1,000 to Israel where, among other activities, they met with prominent Israeli leaders including General Ariel Sharon. Falwell and the Moral Majority also encouraged U.S. citizens to register for the 1984 elections and to vote for legislators who strongly supported Israel. (12)

On the domestic front, the Moral Majority’s "Top-Secret Battle Plan for 1982" outlined a campaign against homosexual influence in state and municipal government and on TV; a strategy for passage of a Human Life statute and/or a Human Life Amendment to the Constitution; a strategy to counter the influence of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU); a national conference on pornography for district attorneys, prosecutors, sheriffs, and police chiefs; an anti-ERA strategy coordinated with Phyllis Schlafly and Eagle Forum; and a major push for the Family Protection Act. (13)

At a meeting set up by the White House, Falwell, Pat Robertson and Secretary of the Interior James Watt met in 1982 with Francisco Bianchi, chief adviser to President Efrain Rios Montt of Guatemala. (16)

In 1984, the Moral Majority was among the groups of the New Right that presented a plaque expressing appreciation for "continuing efforts for freedom in the face of communist aggression" to the ultra-rightwing Salvadoran leader Roberto D’Aubuisson. (9)

Throughout the mid-1980s the Moral Majority worked on anticommunist campaigns and policies and for a clear-cut victory for the Central American policies of the Reagan administrat

ion. Ron Godwin, executive director of the Moral Majority, in 1983 served on the Citizen’s Commission on the Crisis in the Americas, a 12-member conservative alternative to the Kissinger Commission. The Kissinger Commission (the National Bi-partisan Commission on Central America) was established by President Reagan to assist in establishing the administration’s Central American policy. (10) In 1985 Falwell established the Liberty Federation which was to focus on "possible communistic takeovers" and other international issues. (14) Some sources stated that the Liberty Federation was an umbrella group that included the Moral Majority, another stated it was the new name for the Moral Majority, and others listed it as a separate organization. (19) The Liberty Federation had a political and educational arm called the Liberty Alliance. (22)

In 1988 the Moral Majority tried to rally its ranks against the Civil Rights Resoration Act, warning that the act could force churches to hire "a practicing homosexual drug addict with AIDS to be a teacher or a youth pastor."(2) This distortion even drew a comment on the Senate floor from conservative Senator Alan Simpson (R-WY) who accused the Moral Majority of conducting a "massive misinformation campaign."(2)

In 1988, Falwell attempted to muster a rally of rightwing groups in Atlanta to remind those attending the Democratic Convention of the Moral Majority’s values and power. The rally,"Focus on the Family," was able to preregister only two dozen groups, and Falwell had to make personal appeals to pastors to gather enough people to hold the rally. (2)

Government Connections: Robert Billings was religious adviser to President Ronald Reagan. (1)

Private Connections: Jerry Falwell is a fundamentalist who believes in the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy. He is the founder of the 21,000 member Thomas Road Baptist Church and the "The Old Time Gospel Hour" TV show (a taping of the 11 o’clock Sunday service at the Thomas Road Baptist Church) which at its peak was broadcast to hundreds of TV and radio markets around the country and reached audiences of millions–estimates range from 7-10 million up to 115-130 million. (4,13,20) Falwell never reached the national popularity of the evangelical electronic ministers like Pat Robertson or Jimmy Swaggart, but his show reportedly brought in millions (reports on income range from $30 million to $300 million annually) in the mid-1970s. (2,7) In 1987, the reported income of Falwell’s TV hour was $91 million. (4) Falwell also started and runs the Lynchburg Christian Academy, a K-12 Christian day school, and the Liberty Baptist College, which now has some 8,000 students. All of his educational institutions maintain a strictly fundamentalist curricula. Falwell also owns and operates a home for alcoholics, a children’s summer camp, and a Bible institute and correspondence course. (2) All of his operations are located in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Falwell was on the initial board of the Religious Roundtable, a group headed by Ed McAteer, that brought together ultraconservative "moral Americans" from business, church, evangelical organizations, synagogues, and civic leadership committed to moral change in the U.S. (14) Falwell participated in the Religious Roundtable’s 1980 political action seminar and rally in Dallas, Texas. Speakers at this seminar included presidential candidate Ronald Reagan, Senators Jesse Helms (RNC) and William Armstrong (R-CO), former Texas governor John Connally, Phyllis Schlafly, and evangelists James Robison and Pat Robertson. (13)

In 1987, Falwell took over the beleaguered PTL television ministry of Jim and Tammy Bakker. This move compromised him with his religious base of fundamentalism, which considers itself quite apart from the pentecostal evangelicalism of groups like the PTL. Falwell stepped down from PTL leadership in 1988, saying he wanted to devote more time to his Lynchburg church. (4)

Falwell had some connections with the Unification Church of Rev. Sun Myung Moon. He endorsed The Washington Times, the Unification Church-owned paper begun in 1982 and served on the initial board of the Coalition for Religious Freedom (CRF) in 1984. (8,16) Falwell resigned from the CRF in 1985 citing financial irregularities, but spoke on behalf of Moon, who was in prison for tax evasion, at a CRF conference in 1985. (8)

Falwell served on the board of the Council for National Policy, an elitist rightwing policy formation group which served as a link between the Christian Right and other rightwing groups. (11,15)

Falwell was the driving force behind a 1988 campaign to collect 2 million signatures for a pardon for Oliver North. He requested assistance from 32,000 Baptist pastors from around the country. (17)

Ron Godwin left the Moral Majority in 1986 to become the business manager for Rev. Moon’s Insight magazine.

Tim LaHaye was the founder and leader of the American Coalition for Traditional Values. (8)

Robert J. Billings headed the rightwing National Christian Action Coalition before becoming executive director of the Moral Majority. (14) Billings was the legislative director of the American Conservative Union in 1988. (17)

Misc: Author John Saloma wrote in Ominous Politics that the New Right, including the Moral Majority,"have become ‘the enemy’ for Democratic liberals, organized labor, blacks, the women’s movement, gay activists, teachers’ unions, environmentalists, and the political left in general." "Many liberals," he continues,"fail to perceive the interconnections among the New Right, the old right, and Republican Party organizations… More important, they fail to see the mutually supportive roles of the conservative political action groups, think tanks, and other sectors like the corporate community."(13)

Haynes Johnson of The Washington Post concluded after a 1980 national survey that Falwell’s followers "have great organization, commitment, desire, hunger, and the absolutely unshakable faith that they are correct. And they want to impose it on the majority."(13)

Comments: On more than one occasion the organization’s loose structure led to embarassment for the national chapter. In New York the Moral Majority director made an anti-Semitic comment about the "almost supernatural ability" of Jews to make money and another chapter made headlines by picketing a bakery that sold sexually explicit cookies. (1) Falwell created a political uproar when after a 1986 trip to South Africa he called South African bishop Desmond Tutu "a phony."(18) These, among many other unsophisticated and divisory actions by Falwell and local chapters, prevented the Moral Majority from achieving what Falwell wanted–an institutional place in the higher ranks of the Republican party.

Falwell built a vast empire. It is difficult to determine which activities he conducted as the head of the Moral Majority and which as the electronic minister and head of a Christian empire in Lynchburg, Virginia."Falwell stepped seemingly at will across the line between religion and politics, addressing moral issues as a preacher, advancing his political platform as a lobbyist and endorsing candidates as a private citizen."(21) However, without the contacts and the publicity he received from his position in the Moral Majority, it is unlikely that Falwell would have stayed on top of the conservative Christian movement for as long as he did. His ministry suffered from massive debts–he went to court over back taxes in 1981, floated an illegal bond issue, and was forced to borrow $6. 5 million to stay afloat.

Principals: Jerry Falwell, Robert Billings, Paul Weyrich, Richard Viguerie, Howard Phillips, and Ed McAteer were involved in founding the Moral Maj

ority. (1)

The original board of directors included Charles Stanley of the First Baptist Church of Atlanta; Greg Dixon of Indianapolis’ Baptist Temple; Tim LaHaye from San Diego, California; and James Kennedy from Coral Gables, Florida. (8)

Falwell was the president; Ronald Godwin was the initial vice president; and Robert Billings was the first executive director. (1,8) Roy Jones was the legislative director of the Moral Majority. (3) Cal Thomas was the vice president for communications in 1981. (8) Ron Godwin was the executive director of the Moral Majority in 1983. (10)

Sources:1. Frances FitzGerald,"A Disciplined, Charging Army," The New Yorker, May 18, 1981.

2. Gustav Niebhur,"Why ‘Moral Majority,’ A Force for a Decade, Ran Out of Steam," The Wall Street Journal, Sep 25, 1989.

3. David Shribman,"Religious Right Drops High Profile Tactics, Works on Local Level," The Wall Street Journal, Sep 26, 1989.

4."Jerry Falwell is Not Just Another Baptist Minister, Christianity Today, Mar 18, 1988.

5. Group Research Report, Vol. 28, #3, Fall 1989.

6. Group Research Report, Vol. 28, #2, Summer 1989.

7."From Hemispheric Police to Global Managers," NACLA Report on The Hemisphere, Vol. XV, No. 4, July/Aug 1981.

8. Sara Diamond, Spiritual Warfare (Boston, MA: South End Press, 1989).

9. Joanne Omang,"D’Aubuisson Honored by Conservatives at Capitol Hill Dinner, The Washington Post, Dec 5, 1984.

10. Joanne Omang,"Right Plans Assault on Latin Policy," Aug 22, 1983.

11. John Kelly,"Extracurricular Aid to the Contras," unpublished paper, Feb 14, 1985.

12. Ruth W. Mouly, The Religious Right and Israel: The Politics of Armageddon (Chicago, IL: Midwest Research, 1985).

13. John Saloma III, Ominous Politics (New York, NY: Hill and Wang, 1984).

14. Dr. Peggy Shriver,"The Religious Right: Its Agenda, Influence and Relations with the New Right," Clergy and Laity Concerned, CALC Report, Dec 1986.

15. Thomas Bodenheimer and Robert Gould, Rollback! Right-wing Power in U.S. Foreign Policy (Boston, MA: South End Press, 1989).

16. Jon Lee Anderson and Scott Anderson, Inside the League: The Shocking Expose of How Terrorists, Nazis, and Latin American Death Squads Have Infiltrated the World Anti-Communist League (New York, NY: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1986).

17."A Pardon for North?," USA Today, Apr 12, 1988.

18. Michael D’Antonio,"The Christian Right Abroad," Salt & Light, Fall 1987.

19. Richard John Neuhaus and Michael Cromartie, eds, Piety and Politics: Evangelicals and Fundamentalists Confront the World (Washington, DC: Ethics and Public Policy Center, 1987).

20."God and Money: Sex Scandal, Greed and Lust for Power Split the TV Preaching World," Newsweek, Apr 6, 1987.

21. Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman, Holy Terror: The Fundamentalist War on America’s Freedoms in Religion, Politics and Our Private Lives (New York, NY: Delta, 1984).

22. Murray Waas,"Falwell’s New Name," The New Republic, Mar 31, 1986.

The underlying cites for this profile are now kept at Political Research Associates, (617) 666-5300.