Moral Majority Is Founded

An elite group of political strategists, headed by the evangelical minister Jerry Falwell, organized the Moral Majority to rally conservative Christian voters in support of the Republican Party and against, especially, GLBT rights.

Summary of Event

There was a time when right-wing Americans would not dare to utter the word “homosexual” in public debate. After World War II and long presidential reigns (from Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt’s four-term presidency to the end of Democrat Harry Truman’s administration in 1952), these citizens had chafed at the domination of Democrats in the White House and what they viewed as godless humanism and socialism taking over America. [kw]Moral Majority Is Founded (1979)
Moral Majority
Christian Right
Discrimination;and Christian Right[Christian Right]
Civil rights;and antigay movement[antigay movement]
Antigay movement
[c]Organizations and institutions;1979: Moral Majority Is Founded[1300]
[c]Government and politics;1979: Moral Majority Is Founded[1300]
[c]Religion;1979: Moral Majority Is Founded[1300]
Falwell, Jerry
Viguerie, Richard
Phillips, Howard
Weyrich, Paul
Billings, Robert
McAteer, Ed

The public’s attitudes about gays and lesbians changed in the period from 1947 to 1950, during the investigation and trial of Alger Hiss as a Soviet spy, with revelations that Hiss’s accuser, journalist Whittaker Chambers, had “homosexual tendencies.” Through 1954, the Hiss affair sparked witch hunts by Republican Wisconsin senator Joseph McCarthy, McCarthyism[Maccarthyism] who aimed to expose communists and homosexuals in government. Eventually, Congress ended McCarthy’s hearings, but the harm had been done. Right-wing religion could talk openly about “homosexual immorality” and link it with “red subversion.”

In 1956, Jerry Falwell, an obscure but charismatic thirty-three-year-old evangelical minister, started a church in Lynchburg, Virginia. By 1967, he had a flock of thousands and his own radio show called The Old Time Gospel Hour. Old Time Gospel Hour, The (radio show) Soon, he was preaching nationwide through radio affiliates and television. Although he was a fundamentalist Christian, Falwell became known for his willingness to make common cause with Catholics, Jews, charismatics, and Moonies.

Segments of the Christian Right were growing into a labyrinth of nonprofits, political action committees, think tanks, and lobbyist groups. Organizers were skilled with the media and excelled at long-term strategizing. Whenever they faced Internal Revenue Service regulations prohibiting political activity by nonprofits, they often started a new one. Traditional tithing (donating 10 percent of one’s income to one’s church) garnered additional millions, some of which were available for political use.

During the 1964 presidential campaign, the New Right had supported Barry Goldwater against Democratic incumbent Lyndon B. Johnson. Goldwater lost, and the 1960’s saw the United States experiencing a liberal mood and the questioning of authority. After the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion in New York City, the gay and lesbian rights movement roared into high gear. At first the New Right’s reaction to this was somewhat ad hoc. In 1977, singer and entertainer Anita Bryant Bryant, Anita led a successful attack against a gay rights ordinance in Florida, which was followed by the unsuccessful antigay Briggs Initiative (which Bryant had also supported) in California the next year. Falwell launched his own antigay career by helping Bryant.

In 1979, when the Moral Majority appeared, it constituted the first formal attack on gay and lesbian rights. Falwell is often credited with founding the Moral Majority, but the idea and the name originated with an elite in-group of strategists. After the Nixon/Watergate scandal that put Democrats back in the White House from 1977 to 1981, the New Right had been desperately looking for a new doorway back to power. Three men who had worked on the Goldwater campaign—Richard Viguerie, Howard Phillips, and Paul Weyrich—met with former White House liaison Robert Billings and Ed McAteer, the Religious Round Table Religious Round Table founder and the head of sales for Colgate-Palmolive.

This core group believed it could have a major influence on the Republican Party by capitalizing on the fears that conservative Americans of various religions had harbored since the 1940’s. Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in 1973; gay activists were getting sodomy laws struck down. The group believed that Americans who were upset about these issues would join the Republican Party and vote for Ronald Reagan. Reagan, Ronald
[p]Reagan, Ronald;and Moral Majority[Moral Majority] To achieve this goal, a new national nonprofit organization was needed. Falwell was brought into the meetings, evidently because of his ability to network other religions.

According to conservative commentator Barbara Aho,

Weyrich proposed that if the Republican Party would take a strong stand against abortion, the large Catholic voting bloc within the Democratic Party would be split.…[T]he term “Moral Majority” was coined to represent the ecumenical bloc of voters that would be led by the Rev. Falwell.…Startup cash was provided by the Coors Coors beer family family, while Viguerie, their direct-mail guru, used the old Goldwater mailing list to launch a massive fund-raising effort. Sales wizard McAteer became the head of public relations.


Initially, the Moral Majority played a prominent role during Reagan’s 1980 election, mobilizing churches and registering voters. By 1986, Falwell was claiming 500,000 contributors and a mailing list of six million. Yet the Moral Majority was just a storefront member of a bigger nonprofit with blue-chip membership and more money. This was the Council on National Policy (CNP), Council on National Policy founded in 1981. The CNP kept a low profile—no public meetings. Its secret membership, when discovered by researchers, proved to be a right-wing roster, from billionaire Howard Ahmanson to the American Center for Law and Justice. Falwell served on the CNP board for a time. Despite differences in ideologies—fundamentalist, Jewish, Catholic, Mormon, Moonie—its members worked for consensus on ways to influence policy. Stopping gay and lesbian rights was one of those issues.

The Reagan era ended amid scandal, and Falwell had run the Moral Majority and other enterprises into debt. The Reverend Sun Myung Moon Moon, Sun Myung quietly gave Falwell a $3.5 million bailout, but this could not rescue the Moral Majority. The Internal Revenue Service had revoked its tax-exempt status. Falwell closed it down in 1989, and its work was taken over by the Christian Coalition. Christian Coalition After Democrat Bill Clinton had recaptured the White House, Falwell mailed fund-raising letters to those on his old list asking whether he should reactivate the Moral Majority. The answer was evidently negative.

Through the Clinton years in the 1990’s, Falwell continued to behave as if he still ran the Moral Majority, but his homophobia grew more poisonous—even some Christian supporters of Falwell found it distasteful. Canada’s religion network, Vision TV, which carried Falwell’s Gospel Hour, started censoring his remarks. In 1999, gay clergyman Mel White tried the ecumenical approach, hoping to persuade Falwell to stop preaching hatred. At first, Falwell agreed to work with White. However, after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, September 11, 2001 this promise was conveniently forgotten as Falwell publicly accused gays and lesbians of helping to cause the terrorist attacks by “throwing God out.” In 2004, Falwell created a new organization, the Faith and Values Coalition, Faith and Values Coalition with a platform as conservative as that of the Moral Majority fifteen years earlier. Moral Majority
Christian Right
Discrimination;and Christian Right[Christian Right]
Civil rights;and antigay movement[antigay movement]
Antigay movement

Further Reading

  • Harding, Susan Friend. The Book of Jerry Falwell: Fundamentalist Language and Politics. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000.
  • Hixson, William B., Jr. Search for the American Right Wing: An Analysis of the Social Science Record, 1955-1987. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1992.
  • Shupe, Anson, and William A. Stacey. Born Again Politics and the Moral Majority: What Social Surveys Really Show. New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 1982.
  • Snowball, David. Community and Change in the Rhetoric of the Moral Majority. New York: Praeger, 1991.
  • Urofsky, Melvin I., and Martha May, eds. The New Christian Right: Political and Social Issues. New York: Garland, 1996.

March 5, 1974: Antigay and Antilesbian Organizations Begin to Form

1977: Anita Bryant Campaigns Against Gay and Lesbian Rights

November 27, 1978: White Murders Politicians Moscone and Milk

April 22, 1980: Human Rights Campaign Fund Is Founded

November, 1986: Californians Reject LaRouche’s Quarantine Initiative

March-April, 1993: Battelle Sex Study Prompts Conservative Backlash

March 7, 2004: Robinson Becomes First Out Gay Bishop in Christian History

November 29, 2005: Roman Catholic Church Bans Gay Seminarians