One Nation Under God
The contentious role of Christianity in politics
By Dennis Covington
March 6, 2017
The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America by Frances FitzGerald; Simon & Schuster, 752 pp., $35
While reading Frances FitzGerald’s new book, The Evangelicals, I remembered a summer night in Alabama when my wife and I stopped by my parents’ house for a visit. Dad was standing in front of the TV struggling with the channel selector, a new gadget he had yet to master. On the screen, Tammy Faye Bakker’s mascara was running down her cheeks while her husband, Jim, was trying to squeeze money out of poor Southern whites like us.
Dad didn’t have any use for the Bakkers. “What do they have to cry about?” he’d ask. Hadn’t the Bakkers run into a rich boy named Pat Robertson, a Virginia senator’s son who had failed his bar exam but had enough money to buy a TV station and hire the Bakkers to host a children’s show? Robertson even let Jim Bakker co-host The 700 Club. When all the crying and carrying on brought in more money than either Robertson or the Bakkers could have imagined, Jim and Tammy Faye broke off to start their own network, PTL, and then built a Christian-themed amusement park in South Carolina that became the third-most-visited amusement park in the country in the 1980s.
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Dennis Covington is the author of six books, including Salvation on Sand Mountain, a finalist for the National Book Award. His most recent book is Revelation: A Search for Faith in a Violent Religious World. He is a professor of creative writing at Texas Tech University.