On taking the political initiativeThe Supreme Court, like a place-kicker in football, serves a function in public life that Americans ignore until, in the most crucial of situations, its performance makes or breaks outcomes. The Courts of the 1960s and 1970s certainly scored wins for the left. In an unprecedented series of legal assaults against the ramparts of the American Constitutional tradition, the Court eradicated “Almighty God” from education with Engel v. Vitale, conjured up a vague right to privacy with Griswold v. Connecticut, and legalized abortion with Roe v. Wade. These headliners, combined with a broader left-wing legal and legislative blitz, ripped down the cultural scaffolding of the United States.
Conservatives of the era rightly perceived that the Court would not only alter the Constitutional order, but also the trajectory of our civilization. Looking back, it’s hard to dispute that the alarm was unjustified. Birth rates, family formation, and church attendance collapsed in the decades following the wreckage of the Warren and Burger Courts. The old sacraments fell away and the new sacraments of secularism, divorce, abortion, and nihilism now sit on the high seats in the temple of our civilization.
How did this happen? Malaise, that defining characteristic of the 1970s (and perhaps our own decade as well), seeped into every corner of American cultural, economic, and ultimately spiritual life. Protestant Churches strained through the cultural headwinds of the 60s and 70s, tacking unsurely in an age of revolution. A series of controversial Southern Baptist Conventions fiercely debated abortion throughout the 1970s. Previously stalwart Christian publications ran pro-choice editorials and clergy waffled. It was, in fact, seven Protestant Justices who ruled for Roe. It was, in fact, a failure of Protestant mobilization and leadership that allowed these winds to permanently alter America’s course.