S6:E2 Harold Ockenga – Can Christians Unite?

S6:E2 Harold Ockenga – Can Christians Unite?

From Decline to Unity: Evangelicals Embrace the Youth Culture Revolution – Joel Carpenter

Does this sound familiar? As an evangelical leader, have you been told that the key to reaching today’s youth culture is to simply preach louder and hold more events? But despite your efforts, do you find that young people are still disengaged and uninterested in your message? The pain of investing time, energy, and resources into ineffective strategies can be disheartening. But what if there was a better way? By understanding the historical ties between evangelicals and the Republican Party, exploring the impact of the Scopes trial, and learning about the challenges and opportunities of connecting with youth culture, you can gain valuable insights and discover new strategies for effective outreach.

My special guest is Joel Carpenter

Renowned historian Joel Carpenter joins Chris Staron in this episode to provide expert insights into the relationship between the evangelical movement and youth culture. With his extensive knowledge and research, Joel offers a deep understanding of the historical context and challenges faced by evangelical leaders in engaging with young people. As the author of the influential book “Revive Us Again,” Joel’s expertise in the subject matter is unparalleled. His analysis sheds light on the dynamics within the evangelical movement, highlighting the need for a renewed focus on outreach to effectively connect with the youth of today. Listeners can expect a thought-provoking discussion as Chris and Joel explore the complexities of the evangelical movement’s interaction with youth culture, paving the way for a unified movement and a renewed commitment to reaching out to the younger generation.

The weird duality of separating oneself while also feeling wounded by the culture at large. – Joel Carpenter

In this episode, you will be able to:

  • Understand the historical ties between evangelicals and the Republican Party, and how these connections have shaped the political landscape.
  • Explore the impact of the Scopes trial on the fundamentalist movement and gain insights into the ongoing tensions between science and faith.
  • Learn about the challenges and opportunities of connecting with the youth culture as an evangelical leader, and discover new strategies for effective outreach.
  • Gain a deeper understanding of the formation and influence of the National Association of Evangelicals, and its role in shaping the evangelical movement.
  • Examine the reasons behind the evangelical shift towards the Republican Party, and uncover the implications of this alliance on both religion and politics.

Historical ties between evangelicals and the Republican Party
Historically, evangelicals have had a complex relationship with the Republican Party in the U.S. Initially, key figures in the evangelical movement, such as Harold Ockenga, did not feel the necessity to align solely with a single political party. However, as the counterculture and student protests of the 1960s and 70s unfolded, the anxieties and fears regarding youth culture pushed evangelicals towards a refocused Republican Party.

The resources mentioned in this episode are:

  • Start at the beginning of season six: After listening to this episode, the host encourages listeners to go back and start at the beginning of season six to fully understand the context and background of the topic being discussed.
  • Check out the book Revive Us Again by Joel Carpenter: The host mentions Joel Carpenter, author of the book Revive Us Again, which provides insights into the history of evangelicalism. Interested listeners are encouraged to check out this book for a deeper understanding of the subject matter.
  • Become a patron on Patreon: The host mentions that there is a special bonus episode about Herbert J. Taylor, the president of a Chicago aluminum company, available for patrons on Patreon. Interested listeners are invited to become patrons to gain access to this exclusive content.
  • Visit trucepodcast.com: The host encourages listeners to visit the official website of the Truce Podcast, trucepodcast.com, where they can find additional information, resources, and episodes related to the topics discussed in this episode.
  • Listen to the episode about Harold Ockengay: The host mentions that there is an interview with Harold Ockengay available, but due to audio quality issues, an actor recreated the conversation.


  • “Revive Us Again” by Joel Carpenter
  • “The Evangelicals” by Frances Fitzgerald
  • Interesting article about the American “Religious Depression”
  • “The Surprising Work of God” by Garth Rosell
  • “After the Ivory Tower Falls” by Will Bunch
  • “Reaganland” by Rick Perlstein
  • Bill Graham’s Sermon “The Flames of Revolution”
  • The National Association of Evangelicals “The New Treason”

Discussion Questions:

  • The episode starts by recapping the Scopes Trial. What are your thoughts about that event?
  • Do we as Christians define ourselves by our wounds? Is that good or bad?
  • Do you define yourself by your wound?
  • Does it make sense for evangelists to target the youth? What was the effect in the 1940s and 50s?
  • How did the GI Bill impact college education?
  • Does it bother you that kids going to colleges that were partially funded by the GI Bill then went on to lead the counterculture movements of the 1960s?

Transcript (generated by AI)

This episode is part of a long series exploring how some evangelicals tied themselves to the Truce Podcast in the United States. It can stand on its own, but when you’re done, go back and start at the beginning of season six. This is Harold Akingay and the National Association of Evangelicals. Last season, I covered the history of fundamentalism up through 1925, and in this season, I’m going to spend most of my time in the 1960s. There are a lot of years left out, like 35.

So in this one episode, we’re going to try to catch up. Let’s begin where I left off in season five. Here we go. In 1925, do you believe Joshua made. The sun stand still?

Two lawyers squared off in a large, hot courtroom in Dayton, Tennessee, to try a case in which a young teacher was accused of breaking the law by teaching evolution in a public school. It was the first complete American trial ever broadcast on radio. I believe what the Bible says advertised as a battle of the Giants, science versus religion, ending in an embarrassing moment when a lawyer from the prosecution, William Jennings Bryan, was called to the stand. And they did not come here to try this case. They came here to try revealed religion didn’t do so well.

At the time, the case seemed like a draw. Nobody won. Nobody lost. But in the following decades, the 1930s story grew, and the legend of the Scopes trial turned into a defeat for fundamentalism in the public imagination. Fundamentalists lost in the denominations.

Remember, they didn’t die out. They went underground. That will be important later on. When fundamentalists come out of the woodwork in the 1970s and surprise the culture, fundamentalism was anything but unified. Some denominations divided and others didn’t.

Most fundamentalists stayed put, opting for unity. In the 1930s, historian Joel Carpenter, who we’ll hear from in just a moment, wrote this even when fundamentalists have expressed their alienation toward American cultural trends and advocated separation from worldly involvement, their words have been more those of wounded lovers than true outsiders. That’s something to look out for this season, the weird duality of separating oneself while also feeling wounded by the culture at large. Like a middle schooler who sits alone, joins no clubs, plays no sports, and wonders why they’re barely in the yearbook at the end of the year. Why is the culture we don’t engage with moving away from us?

They will have spent decades in their own Christian bubble when they suddenly start getting involved in politics in the 1970s. And speaking of the Christian bubble, it was about to get a lot bigger. As the scope of the American government grew, it went to war in a foreign nation. Then students protested, and Christian leaders, the same ones who tried to evangelize to young people, questioned the activism of the 1960s. They struggled to unify but failed, and then learned to fear the very kids they tried to reach.

You’re listening to the show that uses journalistic tools to look inside the Christian church. We press pause in the culture wars in order to explore how we got here and how we can do better. I’m Chris Staron, and this is truth.

On December 1741, the US Naval base at Pearl harbor was bombed along with a bunch of other places, and the US was at war. For evangelical Christians who stayed home, there was a renewed sense of purpose. The previous World War had left in its wake an age of flappers, illicit booze, new forms of music, and waning interest in Christianity. Instead of pushing people into churches, the Great Depression drove them away, what some have called the American religious depression. The term is disputed because some denominations grew in that period.

Mainline or theologically liberal churches faced incredible losses, but conservative and fundamentalist churches actually grew. Yet church attendance overall in the 1930s was on the decline. As morals loosened, evangelical clergy wanted to turn the tide. Here is Joel Carpenter, author of the book Revive Us Again. The term juvenile delinquency was probably invented in the early 40s, books coming out about the national youth problem.

So focus on youth. And of course, the war did that, too. All the young people serving, young people moving to factory towns to get jobs. And so the nightlife scene all of a sudden is filled with teenagers. As Pastor Tori Johnson put it, America cannot survive another 25 years like the last 25.

If we have another lost generation after this war, like at the close of the last war, America will be sunk. The quote is from the first ever annual convention of Youth for Christ in 1945. YFC in the 1940s may have been the most effective organization at reaching young people, though it certainly was not the only one more followed in the 1950s. Like fellowship of Christian Athletes, some leaders of those organizations are going to be important as this season goes on. From YFC’s Billy Graham, who gets mixed up with Nixon, to campus Crusade’s Bill Bright rallying for votes in the 1980 election, this will come up again.

At this stage, all these organizations, and there were a bunch of them, focused on two goals, evangelism of young people and discipleship. Several were financed by the same guy, Herbert J. Taylor, the president of a Chicago aluminum company. Patrons of the show can hear a special bonus episode about him@patreon.com. Truce Podcast so there was a real concern for the youth of America in the 1940s, and a group of young preachers rose up to meet the challenge.

They preached to big churches, and small stood in open fields. And soon these young preachers came to trust each other. Youth for Christ was one of the organizations that brought them together, led by Tori Johnson. He was a very winsome, zippy with it. Pastor of a Midwest Bible church on Cicero Avenue, west side of Chicago.

Chicago is such a powerhouse, and Johnson is such a great organizer that he’s the one who kind of builds a national network of these pop up, locally supported youth rallies around the country, and he forms Youth for Christ International. I think what changed is sort of a generational change in fundamentalism. Here’s a second generation. These are the people who don’t necessarily remember the scopes trial. They don’t remember as Christian leaders the humiliation of losing battles for orthodoxy and the denominations.

They in many respects are reverting to D. L. Moody’s style of evangelicalism. DL Moody Being maybe the most famous American evangelist in the 18 hundreds, his model was important to what would become Christian fundamentalism, essentially grow the kingdom using any method possible. Print media, organize events, start schools, found conferences, be everywhere, win the world for.

Christ, find Winsome ways to do that, speak the language of the people of our day. So as a major innovative surge that’s going on using pop culture, Jack Wurtson played saxophone in a dance band before he got saved. Sorry, I know this is a lot of names. He’s doing things that kind of shock and alarm people, like putting gospel songs to swing dance band tunes and rhythms, wearing loud socks. And some of his gospel musicians are actually more stand up comedians.

So it’s really a fresh wave of revivalism that seems much more with it than the older fundamentalist preachers. If you look at charts of church attendance in the 19 hundreds, you see a spike in the 1950s. This was due in part to citywide evangelism campaigns like those of Billy Graham. Church attendance went from 43% before the war to 55% in 1950 and 69% in 1960. But the precursor to those massive events was the youth rallies of the 1940s.

Even among fundamentalist groups, there was a desire to distance themselves from some of their fundamentalist past, a call to unity. But while also maintaining the authority of the Bible, they wanted an organization to present their cause before people of power. The NAE was sparked by the fact that the Federal Council of Churches put out a code in which the regular broadcasting should be confined to those people who were recommended by the Council of Churches. In 1979, Harold Ockengay sat down for this interview. I can’t play it for you because the audio quality is somewhat diminished and difficult to understand.

So I had an actor recreate it. In the 1940s, radio was king. New units sold even during the Depression. And evangelists were some of the first people to adopt the new technology. As time went on, though, there came a need to regulate the airwaves.

The Federal Communications Commission governed licensing of radio, and there were very strong efforts by the mainline denominations, the Federal Council of Churches, to say, you don’t want crazy sectarian dudes dominating the radio. Work with us FCC to get the networks to go for non paid representative radio broadcasts, and we Federal Council people will provide those for you. The Federal Council of Churches was a mainline group of largely theologically liberal churches. When you hear the word mainline, don’t confuse it with mainstream like I used to. Instead think liberal in their theology, a less literal interpretation of the Bible.

Perhaps they considered that Jesus wasn’t God, but simply a nice teacher, that kind of thing. Radio airwaves belonged to the public, and so the public good had to be served. Some stations opted to use preachers to fill that obligation. The Federal Council of Know that represented liberal and mainline churches became the go between. Who decided who got to be on the radio for free and who didn’t?

That’s a lot of power for a single organization, especially one with an agenda. And of course, fundamentalists, other Pentecostals, other kinds of evangelicals were all over the radio, and they saw this as a big threat, an attempt to put them off the air. So they said, no, we have to have our lobbying efforts, too. In the 1940s, a syndicated radio show meant reaching a huge percentage of the population. If modernists controlled the airwaves, then the God talked about would be the liberal vision, not the literal biblical one.

What theological conservatives needed was an organization that could represent their side to the Federal Communications Commission. Evangelicals also lacked representation as military chaplains. That, too, would need to be addressed. Enter Harold Ochenge. And his name may sound familiar.

He’s kind of coming back into the conversation. Akenge serves as a handy contrast to some of the people we’re going to cover later this season. Jerry Falwell, Phyllis Laughley, Patton Robertson, those people. Akenge was a guy with strong religious conviction and a desire to have influence in politics, but one who didn’t feel the need to honor a single political party. Okay, so who was Harold Akingay?

Harold and his cohorts came onto the scene in the midst of the youth revivals of the 1940s. He was kind of rough as a young man and was maybe a little too anxious to get married. He proposed to a woman the very first time they met after one of his mentors recommended her. Surprise, surprise, that didn’t work out. Akane preached over 400 times before even leaving seminary.

He first went to Princeton, and then, when they turned modernist, went to the New Westminster Theological Seminary. Even in those early days, you can see his opposition to modernism. One of his professors was a big name in the modernist fundamentalist debate. But the cultural appetite for the old fundamentalist battles was waning. Well, people were tired of the fundamentalist withdraw, both political and economic and social scene.

This again is an actor recreating a recording of Harold Ockengay and also the. Ecclesiology the fundamentalists had of a pure church and dividing every denomination if they didn’t have a, quote, pure church, and so on, and felt that we ought to take more of an active part in the fray. So I remember in 1947, I coined the word neo evangelical. I felt we needed a new evangelicalism to enter again into all areas of life, the academic, the social, the political, the economic, the ecclesiastical realms, and take a strong stance for the movement. Instead of being like the fundamentalists and withdrawing and allowing the endowments and the controls and the bureaucracy and everything going to the liberals.

His nickname was Mr. Evangelical. We did embrace, I think quite fully the fundamentalist theology. The movement embraced fundamentalist theology, where neo evangelicals like Akanke differed from other fundies, was on separation. They thought you should work within the denominations.

Infiltrate was the word they used, and make change within the existing structures rather than splitting. We thought that the organization should be, the NAE should be the means of bringing that about. The aim of the National association of Evangelicals at its founding was unity among Christ followers. The organization was still going to duke it out with modernism. How they would do that was still yet to be decided.

One big question was whether or not the NAE should allow Pentecostals to join. Akenge, thanks to his personal holiness, background, was open to the idea, and the NAE eventually welcomed them. One historian wrote, given the fact that. Modern Pentecostalism and its charismatic offspring represents the largest and fastest growing movement in the history of the Christian Church, with a worldwide membership of nearly 600 million after only a century of existence, makes one wonder where evangelicalism would be without it. This is a vital move.

Pentecostals were not yet part of the inside crowd of evangelicalism. Mid 19 hundreds. They were outsiders. By allowing Pentecostals into a national movement. They were essentially given a place at the table in Christian culture.

Decades later, as we’ll see, Pentecostals played a big role in tying evangelicals to the Truce Podcast. One, Pat Robertson, even ran for president. Others used their television ministries to rally for Ronald Reagan. In the 1970s and 80s. They were huge in the they were on the outside looking in.

Inviting them to the NAE meant legitimacy, and the NAE needed their muscle again. The goals of the new group were to gain access to free radio waves and also represent evangelicals to the government, seek representation as military chaplains, and Unify Christ followers. And of course, this being the 1940s, Akengay’s opening speech at the first national meeting also punctuated the need to oppose communism. He was such a powerful speaker that he was nominated for the position of President of the NAE. Yet Akengay’s vision for the NAE, which he shared with Billy Graham, was never fully accomplished.

The golden age of the evangelistic movement simmered down by the end of the 1950s. Part of that goes back to the old battles between fundamentalists and modernists, but also because the new evangelicals tended to start their own organizations rather than work within existing structures, as Akanke envisioned. Still, these guys transformed the country in the 1940s and 50s, welcoming Pentecostals and focusing on reaching young people. But they couldn’t have foreseen the tide of countercultural changes that was headed their way. Revival started in the youth, but so would upheaval.

I’ll continue the story after these messages.

In 1932, at least 20,000 American veterans marched on Washington, DC. They set up camps and occupied government buildings. After the Great War, they’d been promised a bonus, cash set up by the Congress to be paid out in 1945, literally decades after the final battle. Then the Great Depression hit, and veterans needed the money twelve years early. So they set up camps and demanded early payment.

The ensuing battle to shoe them away was a national embarrassment. So when World War II happened, the US government did not want a repeat. They passed the Servicemen’s Adjustment act of 1944, also called the GI Bill, which eventually paid for 2.2 million members of the armed forces earn a college degree. By World War II, only 5% of Americans had a bachelor’s degree. Compare that to 37% today.

A huge jump. Partially thanks to assistance to veterans, a veritable gold rush emerged to accommodate all the new students, largely men, and this being the 1940s, most of them white. Then came the war in Vietnam. Student protests of the war gotten national attention as they increased, leading into 1965 when the US began bombing in earnest, not to mention people of college age, had the most to lose with at its peak, 40,000 young men drafted every month, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Came out against the war, highlighting that African American men were disproportionately dying in Vietnam while also being harassed here at home. In 1968, many Americans turned against the war due to the Tet Offensive, which was a series of coordinated attacks that the Communist north took on the South. Targeting areas where American presence was concentrated. It demonstrated that the north was not as weak as the Johnson administration had said they were. This conflict, as you know, created tension.

Student protests grew severe. This placed evangelical leaders in a tight spot. By 1967, around 15,000 young Americans were dead and over 109,000 wounded. If the Vietnam War was a mission of God, as some had claimed, how could you justify bombing the stuffing out of a poor, small country to protect an economic model? Because, you know, it was a battle between communism and capitalism.

As I said earlier in the 1940s, Revival started with young people. 20 years later, it looked like they would rip the country apart. Billy Graham, who had risen to prominence as an evangelist to the youth on his 1966 and 1967 radio program, Hour of Decision, featured sermons like a nation rocked by crime or flames of revolution. He sermonized on how peace efforts through organizations like the United nations were a sign of the end times and that the only peace we can have on this earth is through Jesus Christ. To be fair, Graham had always used current events to create a sense of immediacy in his sermons.

Here are just a few clips from his 1969 sermon, can America Survive? I’ll play a few selections because, as per usual, it’s hard to put Graham in a box. America is involved in two Revolutionary wars, one in Vietnam and the other here at home. The Vietnam War gets bloodier and bloodier as AmericA finds itself the only nation in the world which has ever purposely fought a no win war. Hold on now.

Billy Graham described Vietnam as a war we couldn’t win in 1969. That may surprise you. It surprised me. The other war is just as complicated and perhaps even more serious. The President’s Commission on Riots and Disorders has bluntly warned that we may be in for anarchy, insurrection and revolution within a few months unless immediate emergency action is taken to solve the problems of the ghettos.

There was real concern about what these protests over race feminism in Vietnam would lead to. Were they legitimate or were they started by Communists? In a series of surprise moves, he warns about demagogues using this moment to gain power, hiding behind our suburban wealth and comfort consumerism on TV, saying that people will want to vote for the presidential candidate who panders to them. Thus this fall they are going to be tempted to vote for the man that promises them the most, whether he can deliver it or not. And a small minority are going to burn, loot, steal, and even kill to get what they think is theirs by right.

Scary stuff. My heart races just listening to him, even though this was 50 years ago. And rather than knocking liberals, he credits. Them, many liberal writers and intellectuals, a warning that America may be headed toward a left wing or a right wing dictatorship. His warning in this sermon is classic Graham look to Jesus to solve your deepest problems.

But clearly he wasn’t keen on protests. Neither were others. A 1966 resolution by the National association of Evangelicals, Remember them? Spoke out against the rage coming from young people. It’s really short.

Here is the whole resolution believing that. The authority of the state is sanctioned by God. The NAE deplores the burning of draft cards, subversive movements and seditious utterances and prevalent disloyalty to the United States of America. By the way, those two sentences are titled the Truce Podcast. Heavy word, treason.

This is kind of an interesting example because you’ll see this as we go through the season, people calling on the authority that God gives the state when it suits them to do so, but not maybe when the state does something that offends us, like, I don’t know, charging us taxes or tells us how to run our schools. And the NAE wasn’t alone. The Southern Baptist Convention echoed their concerns in 1971 of the major shifts in this era was a loss of trust for the American government as new truths came to light. Atrocities committed in Vietnam, spying on Americans, shiftiness in our leaders. The other big change is distrust of young people, as there were real concerns about the outcome of these protests.

Where would these battles over gay and lesbian communities, women’s rights, and African Americans lead us? Changing attitudes towards economics and taxes in the 1940s and youth ushered in an era of revival and prosperity in the white middle class of the United States. Then in the 1960s and 70s, some of the same religious leaders who helped in the viewed young people with growing concern. I wanted to start the season with Harold Akingay because he’s a fun mix of things, a theological fundamentalist and someone who sought unity even to the point of opening the door to mainstream acceptance of Pentecostal believers. I also want to highlight a reality.

The NAE didn’t unify evangelicals. Ultimately, it would be our common social and political fights that would do that. But you gotta love the impulse of the early NAE. It’s also important to touch on these student led protests, because what follows won’t make sense in a vacuum. As conservatives witnessed their country being challenged by students whose college educations had been paid for with taxpayer money, their attitudes towards taxation and education would change, too.

Youth, in their mind, could no longer be trusted. To recap after the Scopes trial, I believe what the Bible says, American fundamentalists went underground. Young people coming back from World War II were evangelized heavily. Church attendance in the 1950s and 60s skyrocketed. Young people were the key.

Repent for the day of the Lord approaches. Then those young people and their kids took part in the GI Bill. After the World War, Korean War, and Vietnam, they sought out higher education. And soon those colleges became hotbeds of protest, which national celebrity preachers like Billy Graham didn’t quite know how to respond to. Repent for the day of the Communist approaches.

Through the NAE, evangelicals tried to unite, even with Pentecostals. Repent and be baptized in the Holy Spirit. But they failed. The NAE didn’t do the trick. It wasn’t until the 1970s that evangelicals found common cause.

This time around politics and battles over morals, that stuff was kicked off when evangelicals panicked about the behavior of the youth. Was the country backsliding? Even though it had only been, what? Forward sliding? It had only been increasing in its religion for a short time.

Take note of that. The glory days that a lot of Christians look back on were not a sure thing. In the early 1940s, evangelicals were legitimately concerned that Christianity in America was about to disappear 80 years ago. Instead of simply lecturing young people, they shared the gospel, even if it meant wearing colorful socks. This era reminds me of today when so many evangelicals.

My people are terrified of the youth. And I get it. I drive a school bus. They’re intimidating. But what if we took all of our fear and anxiety and turned it to outreach, as the preachers of the 1940s and 50s did?

This middle period that we’re so quickly jumping over here between seasons five and six is fascinating. You can hear about the negative side, the fear of communism and socialism, our efforts to take resources in the Third World, and evolving ideas about the role of religion in America by listening to season three. But this period was also defined by that can do spirit of evangelism and hope. What would it take to let go of our wounds of the Scopes trial, past inabilities to unite, and the fear of the youth culture in order to do the right thing. That loving drive of the 1950s became anxiety in the 1960s and 70s, opening new wounds that pushed evangelicals into a radically refocused Truce Podcast.

But let’s end on hope. Could we prayerfully see that our hope doesn’t come from opposition, but from sharing the simple message of salvation and in the process, just maybe find unity among fellow believers?

Special thanks to everyone who gave me their voice for this episode, including my friend Chris Staron and Marcus Watson of the Spiritual Life and Leadership podcast. As usual, you can find a full list of my sources on the website@Truce Podcast.com or in your show notes. In particular, I benefited from the books the Surprising Work of God by Garth Roselle, the Evangelicals by Francis Fitzgerald, and an interview with Harold Ockengay that resides at the Wheaton Archives. Thanks to Emily Vanis of the Buswell Library Archives for her help. I’m also indebted to Joel Carpenter, author of the book Revive Us Again.

It does a great job of filling in the gaps between last season and this one. Truce is listener-supported. It takes so many hours to do this show. I’m doing it while also driving a school bus, which is my full-time job. If you’d like to hear more truce, consider giving a little each month by Check, PayPal, Venmo or Patreon.

Details are in your show notes or trucepodcast.com donate for this series, I’m breezing through the 1940s and 50s, which means I’m skipping over important topics like McCarthyism, fear of Soviets that we took as permission to ruin the Third World, tying Christianity to capitalism, and Eisenhower’s social religion. I covered that stuff in season three of this very podcast. My Christian films Bringing up Bobby and Between the Walls are streaming for free on Hoopla, YouTube, and Tubi. Check them out. They are a fun and cool way to talk to your friends about Jesus.

Send me your comments or follow the show on social media. God Willing, new episodes of Truce will drop every two weeks. Like and subscribe so you to every new episode as it’s released. Truce is a production of Truce Media, LLC. I’m Chris Staron and this is Truce.

S6:E1 Prelude – What is Biblical?

S6:E1 Prelude – What is Biblical?

What do we mean by the word “biblical”?

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Thomas McIntyre stood before the US Congress to deliver a moving speech. The man was being hounded by a fringe movement known as the New Right. The movement came from the work of men like Paul Weyrich, Howard Phillips, and Richard Viguerie. Their goal was to disrupt the Republican Party. They wanted to do away with much of the federal government and program to help the poor while simultaneously cutting taxes and increasing the military. They hoped to accomplish this by controlling direct mail. Direct mail! It sounds silly, but by inundating voters and congressional offices with bulk mail they could control the story.

The New Right

Men like McIntyre and Senator Mark Hatfield didn’t know what to do with this influx of petty politics. Someone had even gone so far as to question Hatfield’s Christian salvation just because of how we was going to vote on the Panama Canal treaty. What does giving the Panama Canal back to Panama have to do with salvation? Almost nothing.

Today, we’re going to explore this wacky phenomenon where we call something “Christian” or “biblical” if it fits out politics not if it is addressed in the Bible. How are we being manipulated by propaganda like this? And what can we do about it?

Discussion Questions:

  • Was the United States responsible in its claiming the Panama Canal as a territory?
  • Are there things in your life that you mix with Christianity?
  • How have your politics gotten confused with your faith?
  • Does the Bible have anything to say on the Panama Canal treaty?
  • What do we mean by the word “biblical”?


Episode Transcript

MCINTYRE: “That said, Mr. President, let me now turn to my second purpose here today.”1

CHRIS: This is an actor reading from a speech given on February 28, 1978. The original speaker was a Democratic Senator from New Hampshire named Thomas McIntyre. By the way, welcome to the Truce Podcast. I know that this probably sounds stuffy, a crazy way to start a season. Where is the action? The drama? The condemnation of an enemy? No, no, no, my friend. This… this is a great speech.

MCINTYRE: “Mr. President, I believe the techniques used to exploit the issue of the canal treaties are the most compelling evidence to date that an ominous change is taking place in the very character and direction of American politics”

CHRIS: He’s in front of the Senate talking about the Panama Canal. One of the most important manmade waterways in the world. It’s about 40 miles long, traveling southeast across Panama. In debate after debate, the Senate wrestled with President Carter’s plan to give the land to the Panamanian people.

The US had been involved with the canal since 1902 with the passage of the Spooner Act. Originally, a French company tried to build there and 20,000 people died, mostly from yellow fever and malaria4. By the way, notice that the US takes over for French imperialism gone awry. The same will be true when we cover the Vietnam War.

The French gave up, so the Americans wanted a shot, guys like Teddy Roosevelt. There was just one problem: they couldn’t get a treaty with Columbia who, at the time, controlled the land. So they did what would become a defacto plan in South America – the US backed a revolution5. And guess what? The new government of Panama was far more receptive. Even more lives were lost to disease, dynamite accidents, and mudslides. But it was ours. A treaty provision allowed the US to act as it wished within a 10-mile zone of the canal, essentially, giving the US a foreign colony6.

That is what was up for debate in 1978. Should the United States return the land to the people? Or, as candidate for the Republican nomination Ronald Reagan said, “we built it, we paid for it, it’s ours”7. This speech by Senator McIntyre is about a lot more than what to do with the canal. It’s about the state of politics in the US.

MCINTYRE: But whatever the cause, Mr. President, I see abundant evidence that these “dangerously passionate certainties” are being cynically fomented, manipulated, and targeted in ways that threaten amity, unity, and the purposeful course of government in order to advance a radical ideology that is alien to mainstream political thought.”

CHRIS: In other words, the US, and the debates over the treaty, were becoming more polarized. The radicals involved were unwilling to work together, even within their own parties.

MCINTYRE: “As a result, the traditional role of the parties is slowly being usurped by a thousand and one passionately committed special interest, splinter faction, and single-issue constituencies.”

CHRIS: What’s more, the splinter groups were mobilized, using cutting-edge technology to go around traditional forms of communication.

MCINTYRE: My colleagues know what I am talking about. They know, as I know, that on any given issue someone somewhere can depress a computer key and within hours or a few days at the most we are inundated by mimeographed postcards and custom-tailored letters and telegrams that vary scarcely a comma in the message they deliver.

CHRIS: That’s true. If a member of Congress took a misstep or followed the party line instead of the opinions of these factions, their offices, those of the media, and other members of Congress were flooded with pre-printed letters demanding that they change their minds. These were not hand-written notes, thoughtfully penned and sent by individuals. No. These letters were sent to constituents through mass mailings. Then those people would sign their names and send them out without so much as an added comment. Bulk mail as a weapon. And it was taking over Congress. Some of it, in the name of Jesus.

Welcome to season six. This season we’re taking a deep dive into one big question. How did evangelical Christians in the United States get associated with the Republican Party? It’s a big story, full of surprises, interesting characters, dynamite, war, money, sexual revolution, righteous indignation, and corruption from all sides. Together we’ll track how the GOP changed from the 1950s through the 1990s, shifting from the party of Eisenhower to that of Ronald Reagan. How factions of Protestantism who rarely worked together found unity in common enemies, then invited Mormons, Catholics, and Jews to join them.

This podcast is non-partisan. Last season I covered the Democratic Party and the rise of fundamentalism, especially in regard to their complicity in Jim Crow laws. Now we’re pivoting to follow Republicans. I’m not here to pick winners and losers. Instead of summarizing a world of movements and characters in one hour, then hiding behind application points, we’re going to take our time. Our goal is to understand how we got to today, where so many evangelical Christians live in a state of constant anger and fear. And we’re going to talk about whether or not that’s what we want, and what we can do about it. I’m your tour guide. I’ve produced this show for six years. I’m an evangelical Christian who directed two gospel films, wrote evangelistic novels, has taught Sunday school. I drive a school bus. Now I’m on the hunt for the story of my people. How did we get here and can we get back to doing the work of the gospel?

Let’s find out. Together.

You’re listening to the show that uses journalistic tools to look inside the Christian Church. We press pause on the culture wars in order to explore how we got here and how we can do better. I’m Chris Staron. This is Truce.


CHRIS: McIntyre’s speech was just heating up. His seat in the Senate was under fire. His challenger, an airline pilot named Gordon Humphrey, announced his candidacy two days earlier, and would soon win. Not just on his own merits. Humphrey was backed by a new kind of political machine.

MCINTYRE: “By proceeding from the flawed premise that all of us are alike, it is easy for ideologues to conclude that we must see every issue as they see it unless there is something sinister in our motivation. And they proceed from that premise, Mr. President, with an arrogance born of the conviction that they and they alone have a corner on patriotism, morality, and God’s own truths, that their values and standards and viewpoints are so unassailable they justify any means, however coarse and brutish, of imposing them on others.”

CHRIS: The parties were radicalizing. Not working together. They hunkered down and marketed each other not as those who disagree, but as devils out to destroy the country.

MCINTYRE: “Now I want to be fair about this, Mr. President. In the particular instance of the canal treaties, I am talking about the kind of politics practiced by what has come to be known as the New Right. But I want to note that the record of extremists on the ideological left bears a remarkable, and regrettable, similarity.”

CHRIS: In this speech, he’s going to hone in on the New Right. In another year, he’d co-author a book on the subject, “The Fear Brokers”. Who was the New Right? This cabal started as a small group, so tiny they could fit in a single living room. Their ideas were radical, based on a mishmash of teachings mixed with dramatic tax cuts. They wanted to dismantle the American government, institutions like public schools and aid for the poor. Boost the military. Undo the liberalism of the 1960s. And, yes, those on the left picked up on some of their tactics. McIntyre was here to put into the public record the nastiness of the New Right.

MCINTYRE: “Last summer the national director of the Conservative Caucus, Howard Phillips…”

CHRIS: …one of the founders of the New Right…

MCINTYRE: “…said conservatives should make “a political sitting duck” of Tom McIntyre over the canal treaties and that the Conservative Caucus could, “make it a political impossibility for McIntyre to vote for that treaty.”

CHRIS: This was before McIntyre even knew which way he was going to vote. Howard Phillips and the New Right decided they would force his hand. Their people censured McIntyre, and alleged he was helping the communists if he voted to hand the canal to the people of Panama.

MCINTYRE: “Hear, if you will, the revealing words of Howard Phillips on other occasions: ‘We organize discontent. We must prove our ability to get revenge on people who go against us.・・・ We’ll be after them, if they vote the wrong way. We’re not going to stop after the vote’s past.’

CHRIS: And hear the words of another spokesman for the New Right, Paul Weyrich (pronounced Way-Rick), director of the Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress:

‘We are different from previous generations of conservatives. We are no longer working to preserve the status quo. We are radicals, working to overturn the present power structure of this country.’

Mr. President, these people are different from traditional conservatives. I know the traditional conservatives of my own State. I have competed with them in the political arena. Í have worked with them in behalf of our State. They are people of honor, civility, and decency.

The New Right cannot comprehend how people of opposing viewpoints can find common ground and work together. For them, there is no common ground. And this, in my judgment, is the best indication of what they truly are – radicals whose aim is not to compete with honor and decency, not to compromise when necessary to advance the common good, but to annihilate those they see as enemies.”

CHRIS: This movement, the New Right, would revive a failing political party by radicalizing it. They did so with the backing of big business, the help of direct mailings targeted at people most receptive, then using the money they raised to back their kind of candidates. They smeared anyone who got in their way. McIntyre wasn’t the only representative harassed by the New Right. The same was true for others like Mark Hatfield, Republican from Oregon who spoke later.

HATFIELD: “I have a few letters with me today which are replete with phrases like ‘A vote for support of the treaty is an act of treason.’ ‘You are a traitor for having indicated your support of the treaty. You are not an American.””

CHRIS: Others use anti-semitic language that I won’t repeat here. He goes on to say…

HATFIELD: “The second thing these individuals do is baptize their position with religious nomenclature. I have letters here. ‘I thought you were a born-again Christian. Now I know you are not because you support the treaty.’ They do not bother to ask my view of Jesus Christ in an effort to reach some determination of my salvation: Instead, they chose to make a judgment on my religious salvation on basis of my position regarding the Panama Canal Treaty.”8

CHRIS: Imagine that. Having your faith questioned not based on your relationship with Jesus, the gospels, salvation, your morality, whether you faith bears fruit, or if you dedicated your life to Christ… but on your opinions about the Panama Canal. The Panama Canal!

This gets at the heart of of what we’ll be talking about this season. We’re going to cover a lot of ground. Go deep into the belly of this beast. There may be times where you wonder why we’re even covering the International Women’s Year, supply-side economics, textbooks, public education or televangelists. It’s because it all ties back into what we’ve heard in this speech. Each of these pieces will take us one step closer to understanding this movement that lumps Jesus with national defense, low taxes, corporate gains, the Republican Party, and the New Right.

Before we do, I want to ask you a big big question. I want you to have it ready in your mind when we get to these big issues: what do we mean when we call something “Christian” or “biblical”? Those terms get thrown around a lot. All of the time. To the point of Congressman Hatfield having to wrestle with it on the Senate floor. But what do we mean by it?

Does something have to be explicitly discussed in the Bible to be “biblical”? Let’s use that test. Is voting for the Panama Canal to be returned to the people of Panama explicitly mentioned in the Bible?

I’ve read it multiple times. Panama is never mentioned. So, the issue fails the explicit test.

Perhaps when someone says that something is biblical they mean they’re applying existing biblical principles. Does the Bible have anything to say about handing a canal over to another nation? No. How about transferring land from one country to another? Not really. Imperialism? Not a lot. Hmm…

So what basis did the radicals of the 1970s have when questioning the actions of senators involved in the Panama Canal treaty? It doesn’t seem to have been the Bible. Perhaps they allowed themselves to get caught up in the propaganda of the New Right to the point where they couldn’t tell where the Bible ended and their politics began.

We are going to see a lot of that this season. If you’re paying attention, it’s going to happen to you. The goal here isn’t to make us feel better. It’s to understand what happened. Maybe not the best way to build an audience for a podcast, but it’s what we need to do. As per usual, I’m not going to give you easy answers. I want you to think for yourself. As we continue and evangelicals, my people, make claims that something is or isn’t biblical, ask yourself what they mean. Because we humans are fallible, we tend to bundle everything that we like together in one bunch.

Here is a lighter example. I had a former roommate make a case that Crossfit is biblical. Not exercising, or maintaining your body as God’s temple, Crossfit in particular is biblical. Does the Bible say that Crossfit is God’s exercise plan? No. Does that mean Crossfit is evil? No. It literally has nothing to say about Crossfit. Nothing. What I think happened is that, since my roommate liked it, and he was a Christian, he subconsciously made a connection. Since he, a believer, liked Crossfit, and I think his workout leader was involved in his church, it must be biblical.

That sounds funny. But we do this all of the time. All the time. That’s what that writer did when they questioned Hatfield’s decision on the Panama Canal. They took their opinion, as a Christian, and assumed that anyone who disagreed with them was not a Christian, based not on the Bible, but on their politics. Some of what we cover this season is explicitly laid out in the Bible. A lot of it isn’t. So when we get to big issues, stop and ask yourself: were the actions of the evangelicals of the 70s and 80s appropriate? What should they have done? We too are in confusing times. How can we learn from the mistakes and triumphs of this era?

How was fear used to manipulate people? Were the threats real or imagined? We’re going to have both. Is it possible that we, conservative, liberal, or centrist, American or otherwise, Christian or not, are being manipulated by our fears for the financial and political gain of a few? Will we understand that a Christian is a person who follows Christ, or will we narrow it down to the fate of a 40 mile waterway in Central America?

That’s this season on the Truce Podcast. Truce is a long-form journalism show where, frequently, I pick one big story and dive deep to uncover the the truth about some aspect of Christianity. The goal: point us back to the simple work of the gospel. Love our neighbors and love God. Many of us have never examine the things that cling to our beliefs, the barnacles on the boat, as it were. Together, we’re going to explore how the support of one political party in the United States had affected us. Always asking, is this who Jesus calls us to be? If so, great. If not, how can we make the necessary changes before these barnacles damage our testimony to the world?

I hope you’ll join us.

Thanks so much for listening. From here on out, God-willing, I’ll be releasing new episodes every two weeks with some breaks for holidays. If you’re new to the show, welcome. Please like and subscribe so you get every new episode as it’s released. Also, you’ll notice that I ask for financial help at the end of most episodes. Money requests make some of us uneasy. This is not out of greed. It’s my hope to do this show full time, which would mean more episodes for you and a healthier work-life balance for me. Right now I’m doing this show while holding down a full-time job driving a school bus. There is no obligation to give. Nobody’s getting rich on Truce. I just need to keep the lights on in my apartment like anyone else.

For those who do want to help, visit trucepodcast.com/donate to learn about ways to give on Patreon, Venmo, by check, or Paypal. On the site you can also find sources for most episodes if you want to go deeper on your own. I first heard about this speech from Reaganland by Rick Perlstein, and I have links to the entire text of the speeches if you want to read them for yourself on Google Books.

Thanks to my friend Chris Sloan for loaning me his voice for this episode.

Truce is a production of Truce Media LLC. God willing, we’ll talk again soon. I’m Chris Staron. This is Truce.