Moral Combat

How Sex Divided American Christians and Fractured American Politics


By R. Marie Griffith

Formats and Prices




$25.99 CAD



  1. ebook $19.99 $25.99 CAD
  2. Hardcover $32.00 $42.00 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around December 12, 2017. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

From an esteemed scholar of American religion and sexuality, a sweeping account of the century of religious conflict that produced our culture wars

Gay marriage, transgender rights, birth control — sex is at the heart of many of the most divisive political issues of our age. The origins of these conflicts, historian R. Marie Griffith argues, lie in sharp disagreements that emerged among American Christians a century ago. From the 1920s onward, a once-solid Christian consensus regarding gender roles and sexual morality began to crumble, as liberal Protestants sparred with fundamentalists and Catholics over questions of obscenity, sex education, and abortion. Both those who advocated for greater openness in sexual matters and those who resisted new sexual norms turned to politics to pursue their moral visions for the nation. Moral Combat is a history of how the Christian consensus on sex unraveled, and how this unraveling has made our political battles over sex so ferocious and so intractable.



WHEN THE US SUPREME COURT released its 5-4 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges finding a constitutional right to marriage for same-sex couples, the national reaction was as polarized as the court itself. Most progressives and liberals celebrated the outcome as a long overdue affirmation of equality for gay, lesbian, and bisexual people, while many conservatives condemned the decision. Some Christian traditionalists blamed the ruling on “the emotional terrorism of the left” and identified it as a dire blow to religious liberty and the nation’s welfare. Religious leaders on the right admonished their flocks that, as a Family Research Council official put it, “the truths of Scripture regarding human sexuality are not malleable” and that “neither the rulings of a court nor the pressure of secular culture should sway their allegiance to clear and authoritative biblical instruction on men, women, family, and marriage.” The influential Catholic lawyer Robert P. George, past chair of the National Organization for Marriage, a group opposing same-sex marriage, wrote that Obergefell should be regarded much as Abraham Lincoln viewed the Dred Scott decision in 1857: as an “anti-constitutional and illegitimate ruling in which the judiciary has attempted to usurp the authority of the people.”1

The Obergefell decision, released on June 26, 2015, made same-sex marriage into settled law. But it hardly stemmed the attempts to shun, restrict, and even outlaw such marriages. Within weeks, Kim Davis, a county clerk in Kentucky and a conservative Pentecostal Christian, became a media sensation and a heroine to the grassroots right for going to jail to avoid authorizing same-sex marriage in her jurisdiction. Others sought exemption by refusing such services as wedding cakes to same-sex couples, hoping the judicial system would support their religious freedom to do so; indeed, courts will be hearing cases related to the ruling for years.

Such fiery emotions and legal wrangling have not been restricted to the issue of same-sex marriage. Shortly after the 9/11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon, a prominent fundamentalist Christian leader appeared on national television and blamed the terroristic violence on “the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle… all of them who have tried to secularize America.”2 Another blamed a mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado, on “a sin problem” that he saw embodied in the permissibility of abortion and similar signs of an ungodly nation.3 Still another attributed the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting to the effect of atheism, abortion, and same-sex marriage, saying, “We have killed fifty-four million babies and the institution of marriage is right on the verge of a complete redefinition.… I think we have turned our back on the Scripture and on God Almighty and I think he has allowed judgment to fall upon us.”4 Over and over, America’s “sexual depravity” and embrace of various types of sexual “immorality” have been held liable for horrific acts of violence that God has ostensibly refused to prevent.5

Why do these sexual issues provoke such fervent and enduring debate in the United States? Why have our public debates over sex and sexuality been so numerous, so ferocious, so religiously inflected, and so immune to definitive resolution? The answer is not simple, and many of the common ideas about the origins and nature of our current impasse over sexuality—the virtual civil war that has come to seem such a disheartening and permanent part of our nation’s social and political fabric—are simply incorrect. Some argue that this impasse results from fissures that opened after the sexual revolution of the 1960s, but conflicts like these have a far longer history. Many see the conflict as pitting religious people against sexual freedom, and some religious people similarly see a secular crusade against religious liberty. But neither explanation really illuminates the ferocious controversies over issues ranging from birth control to same-sex marriage.6

To fully comprehend how we got to this divisive and seemingly intractable culture war over sexuality, we have to come to terms with a deeply historical religious preoccupation with sex and understand how it has shaped subsequent American political debates over women’s rights, gender roles, and sexual mores. That preoccupation emerged out of the long history of Christianity and was made all the more powerful by entrenched notions, both overt and unspoken, that Christian morality should provide the basis for our nation’s law and politics. Certainly, religious leaders outside Christianity have also been involved, sometimes deeply, in these huge debates over morality, sexual behavior, and gender roles. But for most of US history, until quite recently, Christians played a dominant role in American life; so too Christians, across the Protestant-Catholic divide and the full range of traditionalist to progressive, have predominated as those most vigorously connecting sex and politics and waging the most passionate battles in this arena. Many citizens have believed that sexual morality consists of a system of values that must be guarded and preserved for the greater social good, but whether those values focus on obedience to traditional family norms or on freedom of sexual expression and relations has grown into a source of profound division, even within American Christianity itself. Indeed, by the time the Obergefell decision came down, the rupture between Christian antagonists in the sex wars felt irremediable: one could plausibly argue that American Christianity had flat out split into two virtually nonoverlapping religions.

Moral Combat tells a story of the steady breakdown, since the early twentieth century, of a onetime Christian consensus about sexual morality and gender roles and of the battles over sex among self-professed Christians—and between some groups of Christians and non-Christians—that resulted. That consensus was both Christian and national, as Christians overwhelmingly dominated the nation numerically and in terms of influence for most of its history. Up through the end of the nineteenth century, whatever else Americans disagreed about—slavery, states’ rights, urbanization, immigration, labor laws—most accepted, and took for granted as natural, a sexual order in which men were heads of households, wives were to submit to husbands’ authority, and monogamous heterosexual marriage was the only sanctioned site for sexual relations. Those who broke the rules were punished or shunned, as when early New England courts prosecuted sodomy, adultery, and divorce; or when communities rejected groups that forswore monogamous wedlock in favor of communal celibacy (Shakers), polygamy (some Mormons), complex marriage (the Oneida community), or free love (various associations others deemed “cults”).

The modern women’s rights movement—above all, the push for women’s right to vote—prompted a crisis for those shared assumptions. Slowly but relentlessly, the old unanimity splintered, with some Christians embracing new ideas regarding women’s rights and roles and others redoubling their efforts to preserve the old sexual order. Women’s increasing presence in the workforce and growing access to contraceptive technologies further sundered this consensus. Again, many Christians staunchly resisted change; others hailed it as a step on the long march to justice. Like the wider populace, American Christians—who remain profoundly influential a century after suffrage, notwithstanding the growth of religious diversity and secularization—are a great deal more divided over sex than a hundred years ago. And with each side claiming God’s blessing in pursuing its moral vision, this division has helped lead to deep, thoroughgoing cleavages in our politics.

Claiming God’s blessing in political debates was not new to twentieth-century America. In fact, one of our nation’s most ingrained impulses, going back to some of the early colonial settlers, has been the presumption of speaking in the name of God, willing as God wills, doing as God would have us do. But as a result of the fracturing Christian consensus, the period covered here did witness a new sort of enthusiasm for such claims by both advocates of the old sexual order and sexual progressives or reformers. Just as God-talk, broadly defined, framed countless political debates over the Revolutionary War, Manifest Destiny, and slavery and abolitionism, so too would it later underlie the political rhetoric on issues of sex and gender. Feminists supporting women’s right to vote and anti-feminists calling on women to stay home and focus on their children, white supremacists fighting for a racially pure America along with traditional gender roles and civil rights workers demanding justice for African Americans and the poor, pro-life activists picketing abortion clinics for the sake of the unborn and pro-choice marchers invoking women’s health and rights: citizens on all sides of these and other bitter political fissures have claimed godly righteousness for their cause.

For those who worked to sustain the old sexual order and resisted models for sexual relationships and behavior outside traditional marriage, a driving force has been fear. That is, fear of certain kinds of changes has aroused passionate defiance, motivated acts of resistance, and galvanized political support for the anti-change side. In the warfare over sex, the fear is typically one of three kinds: fear of increasing women’s freedom, especially freedom over their own bodies as well as the ways that women’s sexuality might call into question their dependence on men; white Protestant fear of encroaching religious or ethnic “others,” a fear that long manifested against Catholicism and Catholic power and would later manifest against African Americans, “Muslims” writ large, and more; and a widespread and easily stoked fear that America is a once great nation now pitched into grave decline, largely because of the evil activities (very often, evil sexual activities) of some of its own citizens. So women, nonwhites, and homosexuals and other “nonnormative” sexual actors (the transgendered, the fluid, the flagrant) have repeatedly represented something like the enemy within, shredding the sacred fabric binding together a God-blessed nation.

In an important way, then, debates around sex can be characterized broadly as a conflict between change and tradition, at least in a very specific sense: those who oppose changes in the norms governing social expectations and legal frameworks for regulating sex and gender versus those who are comfortable with at least some of those changes or who grow comfortable in time. Those who call themselves (and whom I will call) traditionalists or conservatives tend to be of the first mindset. Progressives or liberals, from the moderate middle to the edge of the spectrum, tend to be of the second and value changes perceived to be inclusive, that is, those that expand access to power and influence for persons once excluded, marginalized, or stigmatized for behaving outside the norm. These labels—traditionalist, conservative, progressive, and liberal—are imprecise and imperfect modifiers, to say the least, subject to caricature and lumping people together who do not always wish to be so lumped. But Americans have employed them for a long time, and they work reasonably well to convey particular attitudes toward change and tradition when it comes to sex and gender, as I am using them here. This “two camps” model is not to suggest that there are only two singular and coherent attitudes toward sexuality—there have always been many whose position on some issues might lean conservative and on others liberal, and plenty of people have stood somewhere in the ambivalent middle of the far poles. But our political culture, rightly or wrongly, has made it difficult to break out of these either/or options, not least when it comes to sex and gender. On any given sexual issue at any given time in the history I recount, the overall clash has ultimately crystallized into two sides: those favoring, to varying degrees, change and progress versus those keen to preserve order and tradition.

Over time, these two attitudes toward sex and sexual morality became aligned with two increasingly divergent and oppositional outlooks on modern life itself. One was eager to be open to modern ideas, inclusive of eclecticism and expansive diversity, and relatively accepting of women’s equality and changing roles; the competing outlook longed for traditional order, resisted many changes to the status quo, and remained consistently wary of shifting gender norms and changing attitudes toward sexual morality. Doubtless these divergent attitudes toward change and tradition have been rife in many historical times and places; at least in the US context, however, such attitudes were once less widely aligned with opinions regarding sexual morality. More and more over the course of the twentieth century, attitudes toward sex signaled attitudes toward modernity itself: openness to changing sexual norms bespoke openness to other modern cultural and social changes, whereas resistance to such norms accompanied resistance to—and fear of the effects of—many other forces of modern change. One’s stance on sex, then, has increasingly over time become shorthand for an attitude toward contemporary challenges to tradition.

As the following chapters illustrate, these competing outlooks shaped and fed on each other in a sort of dialectical process over time. Progressive gains in liberalizing or legalizing certain practices—birth control, say, or sex education in public schools—served to confirm their conservative opponents’ sense that modernity was sinful; in turn, conservative efforts to fight back and restore the old values confirmed progressives’ sense that sexual liberation was utterly crucial to progress. In other words, the rival attitudes of the traditionalists and the progressives have been, in crucial and persistent ways, mutually constitutive of one another; and each side has galvanized supporters with narratives of nightmare scenarios sure to occur in the absence of immediate action. Politicking for causes has always worked this way, of course; rousing adherents via doomsday threats is nothing new. But we cannot understand our own debates—over LGBT rights, trans-friendly bathrooms, abortion, marriage, sex education, chastity, sexual harassment, even religious exemptions for health-care coverage of contraception—until we go back to the past and attempt to understand this specific dialectical trajectory concerning sex.7

AT THE HEART OF THE twentieth-century conflict over sexual morality were debates over the very meaning of sex, gender, and sexuality. At the turn of the twentieth century, the prevailing view across the religious and most of the political spectrum was that male and female were fixed categories, the differences in reproductive organs proof that these divisions were part of biological nature and/or God’s created order. Inextricably bound to these natural categories were the social and cultural meanings, expectations, and public as well as domestic roles that defined and separated men’s activities from women’s. Hence, these roles and meanings, too, were presumed fixed and not simply proper but, indeed, normal. If male and female were divinely fixed categories, embodied in men’s authority over women and fulfilled in female chastity followed by marriage and childbearing, then any sexual relationship outside of monogamous, procreative, heterosexual wedlock was—especially for women—beyond the pale.

Over time, these premises—most particularly the relation between biological sex and the social roles ascribed to men and women—were contested and increasingly reconceived. By the end of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, growing numbers of Americans were comfortable with a relative separation between biology and culture, or a division between “sex” and “gender”; increasingly, many came to see both gender and even sex itself as fluid manifestations across a spectrum of possibilities: open to modification, creativity, and choice rather than binary or complementary classifications of male/female. And this shift inevitably accompanied new ways of thinking about sexuality. Many others, however, resisted these changes and their implications for role norms in the family and workplace, relationships such as marriage, and identities such as transgender or intersex. These critics did not necessarily want to see, for instance, gay, lesbian, or bisexual identities accepted as regular and normal variations on heterosexual ones or public restrooms welcoming transgender persons to freely follow their identity over perceived biology. The history this book recounts is the long story of growing conflict and divergence between these points of view.

Gender, sex, and sexuality have very much been political issues: in countless ways over the decades since the early 1900s, Americans have battled out their views in the ballot box, the lawyer’s office, and the courtroom. How people have thought about the core definitional questions pertaining to sex and gender—natural or constructed, fixed or fluid—has had crucial ramifications for their political reasoning about a range of issues that attach to these categories. Notably, from the beginning of these debates, the concept of women’s rights in elite circles clearly referred chiefly, if not exclusively, to white women. This history, then, is inextricably interwoven with America’s racial history and the realities of intersectional identity that, for years, resulted in women of color creating their own activist organizations with only internittent collaboration with whites.

The politics of sex took on new urgency amid the push for women’s rights that accelerated in the late nineteenth century and begat sweeping new changes in the twentieth, beginning with the right to vote. The suffrage movement arose in 1848, when the first women’s rights convention took place in Seneca Falls, New York. But it only became a major political force decades later, as American women increasingly chafed at their disenfranchisement and correlative lack of political influence. By the 1910s, millions of women and men were active in the movement through its two major organizations: the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), headed by Carrie Chapman Catt, and the National Woman’s Party, led by the more radical Alice Paul. In June 1919, the US Congress passed the Nineteenth Amendment, granting women equal voting rights; it was then sent to the states for ratification. In August 1920, after decades of hard work by many thousands of Americans, women in the United States—white women, that is, shored up by racism that refused to grant rights to black women—won the legal right to vote in all state and national elections.

The suffrage victory stimulated further determination among those who, for various reasons, resisted women’s equality. There had always been antagonism to women voting from some factions.8 Many argued that granting women full citizenship would damage their reproductive organs and hence threaten the sacred role of mother to which women were born. In 1905, former US president Grover Cleveland himself had argued against women’s suffrage in Ladies’ Home Journal, insisting the vote would destroy “a natural equilibrium, so nicely adjusted to the attributes and limitations of both [men and women] that it cannot be disturbed without social confusion and peril.” Cleveland here repeated and expanded upon a sentiment he had already expressed in that same periodical, that good citizens need not fear suffrage’s impact upon the country but rather “its dangerous undermining effect on the characters of the wives and mothers of our land.” In other words, “Women change politics less than politics change women.”9 The specter of changing women—hardening their soft edges, coarsening their character—was a frightening one, indeed.

The suffrage opposition included a great number of women too, women who believed truly terrible changes would result from female suffrage. The National Association Opposed to Women’s Suffrage, formed in New York in 1911 and led by fervently traditionalist women, published a journal originally called The Woman’s Protest that in 1918 became The Woman Patriot, subtitled “A National Newspaper for Home and National Defense Against Woman Suffrage, Feminism and Socialism.” The group claimed a membership of 350,000 people across the United States and sought to paint suffragists as mannish sensualists who put an unfeminine love of self above love of country. They and other anti-suffragists argued that granting women the vote would not increase but in fact reduce women’s influence in the political sphere, destroy home life by producing women greedy for commercial employment and aloof to family, diminish women’s interest in charitable and civic activities, and, by ending many of the protections enjoyed by women, encourage men to divorce and leave penniless their wives—thus forcing women to work outside the home. Even when the suffrage amendment succeeded, a considerable number of Americans held some version of this view.10

The greatest hostility to suffrage came from the Jim Crow South, where conservative ideas about gender roles blended with an old states’ rights suspicion of any federal political action, most especially action that might expand the franchise to black women as well as white. It had only been a few years since Kentucky-born filmmaker D. W. Griffith had adapted a novel by the Southern Baptist minister Thomas Dixon into a blockbuster film, The Birth of a Nation, which thundered against the concept of racial equality by conjoining it with black men’s purported lust for white women (the fearsome specter of black-on-white rape permeates the film). Many white Southerners invoked similar themes as the suffrage battle raged: Virginia legislator Hugh White, for instance, argued that female suffrage and black suffrage were essentially the same issue and that both threatened white supremacy, a basic Confederate value that remained defiantly alive. Mildred Rutherford, president of the Georgia United Daughters of the Confederacy, warned her state legislature that women’s suffrage “comes from the North and West and from women who do not believe in state’s rights and who wish to see negro women using the ballot.” South Carolina senator Benjamin “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman repeatedly argued that female suffrage would have a major impact on the nation’s rate of births, deaths, infidelity, and divorce: just as women’s rights had led to the downfall of the Roman Empire, so too would the affliction of suffrage “usher in another thousand years of moral blight, sexual depravity and degradation,” annihilating America. The equation was clear: women’s rights would trigger both rights for black people and sexual degradation, resulting in not the birth but the effective murder of a nation.

Opponents of women’s political equality—defenders of the status quo in politics, religion, and society—had more to worry about than suffrage alone, both before and after the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. In 1920, Americans still shook in the aftermath of World War I and the vast societal shifts of recent decades, when the United States had rapidly transformed from a predominantly agricultural and rural economy to one more industrial and powered by cities. Reverberations from this change were still felt in labor strikes and battles over working conditions in mills and factories, as well as through elevated poverty and unemployment statistics. High rates of immigration frightened many urban residents, and worries grew about the spread of Communism, anarchism, and other radical philosophies in America. The so-called Red Scare of 1919–1920 witnessed the deportation of thousands of foreigners believed to be importing these seemingly corrupt beliefs into the United States, and the resultant phobia encouraged legislators to craft the Quota Act limiting immigrants to 350,000, passed in 1921, and the far stricter National Origins Act, passed in 1924. Alcohol use had been greatly curbed by the Eighteenth Amendment, which took effect in January 1920, but the illegal activities spawned by Prohibition inflated organized crime, another menace to dread. For Americans trying to make their way in the early twentieth century, these were tumultuous times.

The achievement of national suffrage for women also took place amid larger challenges to old ideals and hierarchies of race and gender. An ethos of freer sexual expression burgeoned in this era, particularly in urban areas, as an underground gay culture flourished and more women donned short “flapper” dresses, bobbed their hair, and in other ways flaunted their disdain for the Victorian morality embedded in social norms and the law. For critics, the menace of the “New Woman” now coming into her own could wreak havoc on the nation’s morals, despite the obscenity statutes sustained by threats of imprisonment. Meanwhile, if an African American man was imagined, rightly or wrongly, to have had so much as a fleeting lustful thought about a white woman, prison was the least of his worries; instead, he could be lynched: publicly hanged (and often mutilated) while jeered by raucous mobs ostensibly protective of white women’s honor. Conservative forces retrenched through mechanisms such as fundamentalist churches and the reorganized Ku Klux Klan, an organization for native-born white Protestants that agitated against people of color, immigrant Catholics and Jews, and others deemed threatening to white supremacy. Progressives were likelier to partake in the popular eugenics movement, which promoted many of the same race-based theories under a different guise but with the same hope of bettering a pure white race while containing the proliferation of black and brown bodies.

Efforts to buttress the old order took place on many fronts, but none were more vigorous or enduring than the endeavors that focused explicitly on reproduction, motherhood, and sex. The arguments fueling these efforts echoed the suffrage crusade, with one side demanding women’s rights and their opponents casting such demands as the product of selfish ambition, debauchery, and anti–family values. The more that traditionalists fought against women’s rights on these terms, the more liberal supporters worked to expand their base of support and fortify those rights, deepening the fault line that divided two increasingly antagonistic frameworks for construing women’s roles and gender more broadly. As we will see, debates on social concerns ranging from birth control to same-sex marriage spring from these same seeds.

In short, the intermixing of religion, sex, and politics took on a specific sort of urgency after the failure of anti-suffrage efforts in 1920, and, for progressives no less than traditionalists, the urgency of these issues has only escalated through the decades. As the fissures deepened, the stakes seemed ever higher: by the late 1960s, a fight over sex education had become, at least for the most ardent participants, an urgent struggle for the fate and future of America. When issues like abortion and gay rights moved to the center of the nation’s politics, conservatives and progressives alike increasingly viewed the stakes in terms of national destiny: whether, for conservatives, the nation would embody traditional Christian values and whether, for liberals, the traditional privilege accorded to white hetero-male authority would be dismantled or sustained. If sex and gender alone have not encompassed all the issues dividing us—and they emphatically have not—they have nonetheless been key points of conflict in our public life from the time when women got the vote. Moral Combat begins at that crucial historical moment and narrates what has transpired since.



  • "[Griffith] shows that at every turn in the culture wars of the last century or so, religious leaders have battled to obstruct gender, sexual, and racial equality.... The juxtaposition of deep dives and aerial views makes...a propulsive read. As do the wrinkles that complicate any easy political assumptions."—Laura Kipnis, New York Review of Books
  • "Magisterial...Griffith's observations are eerily prescient...Moral Combat is an impressive history of a massive fault line running through American history and politics: namely, sex."—Washington Post
  • "Moral Combat is a vivid illustration of a principle that liberals understand well and that religious conservatives usually do not: Culture precedes politics."—Wall Street Journal
  • "Marie a century's worth of American cultural conflict over sexuality, fueled by a growing divide between religious subcultures. Readers will benefit from her clear presentation of the longer history and larger significance of our sexual conflicts."—Christianity Today
  • "Griffith has undoubtedly performed a great service in documenting the influence of these largely forgotten reformers and ecumenical bodies. Her book is deeply researched, nuanced in its portrayals of activists on both sides, and thoroughly entertaining to boot."—Los Angeles Review of Books
  • "The story Griffith tells is crucial.... Her contribution is part of a much-needed sex education, and like all good teachers she presents it vividly."—Linda Gordon, New Republic
  • "Highly informative."—The Gospel Coalition
  • "[An] exceptional cultural history...Griffith's remarkably comprehensive book will be of interest to scholars and lay readers alike."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
  • "Griffith offers a carefully reasoned examination of the century-long political and religious controversies over sexuality that color our national character. Given the passions engendered by these controversies on both sides--conservative and liberal--she demonstrates that comity and compromise are perennially elusive, while consensus seems to be a word in an incomprehensible language. Happily Griffith brings welcome clarity and light to what otherwise might have been impenetrable murkiness."—Booklist
  • "Thoughtful study of the great schism between religious conservatives and progressives about women's control over their own bodies."—Kirkus Reviews
  • "Takes the reader through a history of sexual politics since 1920 focusing on this ongoing struggle for women's rights, and with a special emphasis on the part religious faith has played in all of it.... Highly recommended."—Decatur Daily
  • "Griffith...dissects the sweeping cultural change that tweaked religious and well as secular morality in America."—Washington Times
  • "An in-depth history of how American Christians have divided into two warring factions...and how the impassable divide between these two groups created the 'culture wars' of today."—Book Riot
  • "The strength [of Moral Combat] is a coherent narrative that seeks to understand the history of legislating sex through Christianity... This book will appeal to a range of readers seeking an entry point into the historical and religious context of today's high-stakes political struggles."—Library Journal
  • "Moral Combat is a momentous book about the deep, irreparable divisions that the politicization of sex has inflicted on our society for the past century. Loaded with memorable characters and keen insights, Marie Griffith's elegantly written account of the culture wars' most heated flashpoint is both absorbing and sobering. And it is required reading for anyone trying to understand the fiercest political agitations of our day."—Darren Dochuk, author of From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism
  • "Moral Combat ably examines the sharp intra-Christian divisions of opinion on twentieth-century flashpoints of controversy over contraception, obscenity, interracial sex, sex education, abortion, sexual harassment and same-sex marriage. By tracing these divergences to their embeddedness in differential responses to feminism and women's self-determination, Marie Griffith supplies an analysis needed to understand the conflicts and blind spots in sexual attitudes today."—Nancy F. Cott, author of Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation
  • "With grace and insight, Marie Griffith has taken on one of the most intractable and enduring issues in American life and faith: that of the role sexuality plays in our religion and in our politics. A force of division and of fascination since Eden, sex is a perennial theme in the human story, and Griffith's intelligent, sober, and illuminating book offers us new ways to think about the most ancient--yet urgent--of questions."—Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Destiny and Power
  • "For those of us wondering how the United States got to be the way it is today--religiously, sexually, and politically--Moral Combat is essential reading. R. Marie Griffith, a distinguished historian of American religion, shows that the fierce and bitter contests among Christians in the twentieth century over good religion vs. bad religion, good sex vs. bad sex, have been and remain at the core of the most explosive issues of American public life. Women's health, African American civil rights, marriage, the cruel fantasy of white supremacy, workplace behavior, the public reputation of science, and more--God and sex are implicated in all of them. The United States is not a God-obsessed nation, as some would have it; it is a God-and-sex-obsessed nation. And the stakes are high: at the heart of this brilliant work of religious and political history is the question of the future of American democracy itself."—Robert A. Orsi, author of History and Presence

On Sale
Dec 12, 2017
Page Count
416 pages
Basic Books

R. Marie Griffith

About the Author

R. Marie Griffith is the John C. Danforth Distinguished Professor at Washington University in St. Louis, where she directs the Danforth Center on Religion and Politics. She lives in St. Louis, Missouri.

Learn more about this author