The Orange Wave

Using Orange County, CA as a prism, Dr. Bradley Onishi traces the rise of the Religious Right through homegrown activism, local politics, presidential campaigns, billionaire donors, megachurches, media empires, and autocratic regimes at home and abroad. Combining personal storytelling with scholarly research and interviews with leading scholars, the Orange Wave unpacks the inner workings of the Religious Right’s approaches to masculinity, apocalypticism, authoritarian rule, and conspiracy theories.

Interviewees: (in order of appearance)

Dr. Randall Balmer, John Phillips Professor of Religion at Dartmouth College 

Dr. John Compton, Associate Professor of Sociology at Chapman University

Dr. Gerardo Marti, Professor of Sociology at Davidson College and Editor of the Sociology of Religion Journal 

Anne Nelson, Author of Shadow Network and Faculty at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University 

Sarah Posner, Author of Unholy: Why White Evangelicals Worship at the Altar of Donald Trump

Dr. Kristin Kobes du Mez, Associate Professor of History at Calvin University 

Dr. Kristy Slominski, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies and Classics at Arizona University

Dr. Chrissy Stroop, Freelance Writer and Co-Editor of Empty the Pews 

Scott Okamoto, Writer and former faculty at Azusa Pacific University 

Dr. Julie Ingersoll, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Florida 

Episode 10: The Orange Curtain

In the series finale, Brad reflects on his departure from Orange County and evangelicalism. This provides a jumping off point for reflecting on what we’ve learned through the series, and, perhaps most importantly, how Orange County’s politics and culture provides a window into the contemporary moment.


Episode 9: This is How it Ends

Some just want to watch the world burn. But for others, the end of the world is an opportunity to rebuild it in their image. In this penultimate episode, Brad explores how global kleptocrats, Donald Trump, and Christian Reconstructionists all view the end of the world as a chance for power and control. It is the simplest and scariest explanation of why the Religious Right continues to support the 45th president–they both want to destroy the world. This episode contains an interview with Prof. Julie Ingersoll, author of Building God’s Kingdom: Inside the World of Christian Reconstruction.

Interviewee: 

Dr. Julie Ingersoll, Professor of Religious Studies, University of North Florida. Author of Building God’s Kingdom: Inside the World of Christian Reconstruction (Oxford University Press 2015). Her writing can be found at Religion Dispatches, Huffpost, and The Conversation.

Download Transcript Here

Suggested Reading: 

Dr. Julie Ingersoll, Building God’s Kingdom: Inside the World of Christian Reconstruction, (Oxford University Press 2015), Chapters 1-3 .


Episode 8: Old School

If you want to take the country back for God, if you want to have dominion over every level of society, if you want to ensure a white Christian patriarchy rules over the land–you have to start with the children. Christian school movements are part of the fabric of the Religious Right. In this episode, Brad examines why the Christian schooling movement–including homeschooling–took off in the 60s, how it has shed government oversight, and what effects its having on our public education system and our public square.

Interview: 

Dr. Chrissy Stroop, freelance writer, public speaker, and commentator on religion and politics, the US Christian Right, Russia, and foreign policy. Senior Researcher with the Postsecular Conflicts project directed by Kristina Stöckl at the University of Innsbruck. Co-editor of Empty the Pews: Stories of Leaving the Church (Epiphany 2019)

Scott Okamoto, freelance writer, musician, and former faculty at Azusa Pacific University.

Download Transcript Here

Suggested Reading: 

Dr. Julie Ingersoll, Building God’s Kingdom: Inside the World of Christian Reconstruction, (Oxford University Press 2015), Chapter 4.


Episode 7: Sexless Ed

You might be surprised to learn that the history of sex ed in the USA is a religious history. Christians were not always the enemies of science-based sex education programs. But during the 1960s, the Religious Right began a war against comprehensive sex education. Since then, it has been able to implement abstinence-only sex ed programs through tens of millions of dollars in federal funding. Where did this war start? Who are its major players? And why are evangelicals so afraid of condoms? This episode include an interview with Dr. Kristy Slominski, Assistant Professor of Religion, Health, and Science at Arizona University, and the author of the forthcoming book Teaching Moral Sex: A History of Religion and Sex Education in the United States.

Interviewee: 

Dr. Kristy Slominski, Assistant Professor of Religion, Health, and Science at Arizona University, and the author of Teaching Moral Sex: A History of Religion and Sex Education in the United States (Oxford University Press 2020).

Download Transcript Here

Suggested Reading: 

Dr. Kristy Slominski, “How Religion Made Sex Ed,” at the Immanent Frame. 

Dr. Sara Moslener, Virgin Nation: Sexual Purity and American Adolescence (Oxford University Press, 2015), Chapters 1-3.


Episode 6 : Non-Biblical Christian Manhood

Since the mid-twentieth century, evangelicals and others on the Religious Right have looked to Hollywood, rather than the Bible, to construct their visions of “cowboy masculinity.” It started with John Wayne and Ronald Reagan, then moved to Mel Gibson and others. On the political side, tough guys like Barry Goldwater and Donald Trump were favored over more reflective leaders like Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama. Conservative women, such as Phyllis Schlafly and Maribel Morgan, provided the tools to construct a corresponding submissive femininity. The militant masculinity of the Religious Right is a key component to their love for strongmen leaders, willingness to engage authoritarianism over democracy, and desire to return the country to a white Christian patriarchy. This episode features an interview with Dr. Kristin Kobes du Mez, the author of the new book: Jesus and John Wayne: How Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation.”

Interviewee: 

Dr. Kristin Kobes du Mez, Professor of History at Calvin University. Kristin Du Mez’s research areas focus on the intersections of gender, religion, and politics in recent American history. She is the author of Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation (Liveright 2020), a study of white evangelical views of masculinity from the Cold War to the present, culminating in the election of Donald Trump. Coverage of Jesus and John Wayne can be found at NPR, Vox, and The Boston Globe. Her first book, A New Gospel for Women: Katharine Bushnell and the Challenge of Christian Feminism (Oxford 2015) traces the remarkable life and innovative theology of Katharine Bushnell (1855-1946), an intrepid social reformer and anti-trafficking activist.

Download Transcript Here

Suggested Reading: 

Kristin Kobes du Mez, Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation (Liveright 2020).


Episode 5: Putin’s Russia: City on a Hill

Brad explores the alliance between the alt-right and the Religious Right in and through Trump’s presidency. In tracing this story, he uncovers how and why the Religious Right now looks to Putin’s Russia, Orban’s Hungary, and other autocratic regimes as the City Upon a Hill that the USA used to be. This episode features an interview with the renowned journalist Sarah Posner, author of Unholy: Why White Evangelicals Worship at the Altar of Donald Trump.

Interviewee: 

Sarah Posner is a reporting fellow with Type Investigations. Her investigative reporting has appeared in Rolling Stone, VICE, The Nation, Mother Jones, The New Republic, HuffPost, and Talking Points Memo. Her coverage and analysis of politics and religion has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The American Prospect, Politico, and many other outlets. She graduated from Wesleyan University and has a law degree from the University of Virginia. Her story “How Trump Took Hate Groups Mainstream,” published before the 2016 election, won a Sidney Hillman Foundation Award.

Download Transcript Here

Suggested Reading: 

Sarah Posner: Unholy: Why White Evangelicals Worship at the Altar of Donald Trump (Penguin Random House 2020


Episode 4: It’s Not Democracy. It’s War.

In the wake of the 1964 Goldwater campaign, three young men decided to start the Council for National Policy in order to take back the country for God–and themselves. They joined forces with an army of clergy, big donors, and media moguls in order to take back America. This “shadow network,” as the journalist Anne Nelson calls it is the secretive, but pervasive force that has overtaken the GOP and infiltrated every level and every corner of this country’s politics. Interview: Anne Nelson, author of Shadow Network, and faculty at Columbia University

Interviewee: 

Anne Nelson has written extensively on media, conflict, and human rights. She was a war correspondent in Latin America, and reported from Eastern Europe and Asia, with work appearing in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Harper’s, BBC, CBC, NPR and PBS. Her writing has won six awards, including the Livingston Award for international reporting. Nelson is a widely-produced playwright and screenwriter. Her 2001 play, “The Guys,” deals with the post-9/11 experience and has been produced throughout the United States and in fourteen countries. Her screenplay became a 2002 feature film starring Sigourney Weaver and Anthony LaPaglia, which received the National Board of Review award for Excellence in Filmmaking. Her play “Savages,” based on the true story of war crimes during the U.S. occupation of the Philippines, was produced off-Broadway in 2006 and published by Dramatists Play Service. Nelson is a graduate of Yale University, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and the recipient of a 2005 Guggenheim Fellowship for work on media and Nazi Germany.

Download Transcript Here

Suggested Reading: 

Anne Nelson, Shadow Network: Media, Money, and the Secret Hub of the Radical Right (Bloomsbury 2019)

Samuel Perry and Andrew Whitehead, Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States (Oxford University Press 2020)


Episode 3: From the Goldrush to the Tea Party

In the wake of the 1964 Goldwater campaign, three young men decided to start the Council for National Policy in order to take back the country for God–and themselves. They joined forces with an army of clergy, big donors, and media moguls in order to take back America. This “shadow network,” as the journalist Anne Nelson calls it is the secretive, but pervasive force that has overtaken the GOP and infiltrated every level and every corner of this country’s politics. Interview: Anne Nelson, author of Shadow Network, and faculty at Columbia University

Interviewee: 

Dr. Gerardo Marti is a L. Richardson King Professor of Sociology at Davidson College, President of the Association for the Sociology of Religion (2021-2024), Editor of Sociology of Religion: A Quarterly Review (2012-2021), Chair of the Religion Section of the American Sociological Association (2019-2021), Co-Chair the Religion and Social Science Program Unit of the American Academy of Religion (2009-2016), and Executive Council of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion (2007-2010).

Download Transcript Here

Suggested Reading: 

Darren Dochuk, From Bible Belt to Sun Belt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism (WW Norton: 2010)

Gerardo Marti, American Blindspot: Race, Class, Religion, and the Trump Presidency (Rowman and Littlefield 2019).
 
Lisa McGirr, Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right (Princeton University Press 2015)


Episode 2: Every End is a Beginning

Brad traces two intertwined histories. First, the Sun Belt Migration, which led to a massive westward population shift in the 1950s and 1960s. The Sunbelt Migration turned Orange County into the nation’s hub of defense production. This led in turn into an evangelical wave in Southern California. He interviews Professor Gerardo Marti of Davidson College about this story. Second, Brad examines the decline of the Mainline Protestant denominations during the same time period. The breaking of their cultural and political authority opened a space for the Religious Right to rise. Brad discusses this with Dr. John Compton of Chapman University.

Interviewees: 

Dr. John Compton is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Chapman University. In 2012, he was awarded the Law and Society Association’s annual dissertation prize.  His first book, The Evangelical Origins of the Living Constitution, was published by Harvard University Press in 2014.  In 2015, he received the Cromwell Book Prize for excellence in scholarship in the field of American legal history by a junior scholar (for Evangelical Origins).  Dr. Compton’s articles have appeared in the Review of Politics, American Political Thought, and the Journal of Supreme Court History. His most recent book is The End of Empathy: Why White Protestants Stopped Loving Their Neighbors (Oxford University Press, 2020).

Dr. Gerardo Marti is a L. Richardson King Professor of Sociology at Davidson College, President of the Association for the Sociology of Religion (2021-2024), Editor of Sociology of Religion: A Quarterly Review (2012-2021), Chair of the Religion Section of the American Sociological Association (2019-2021), Co-Chair the Religion and Social Science Program Unit of the American Academy of Religion (2009-2016), and Executive Council of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion (2007-2010).

Download Transcript Here

Suggested Reading: 

John Compton, The End of Empathy: Why White Christians Stopped Loving Their Neighbors, Chapters 7 and 8. 

Darren Dochuk, From Bible Belt to Sun Belt

Lisa McGirr, Suburban Warriors 


Episode 1: Oranges and Peanuts 

The Religious Right has not always existed. White evangelicals have not always been the guardians of far-right immigration policies and patriarchal models of the family. In the 19th century, they were often progressive activists fighting for labor rights, abolition, and women’s suffrage. As the example of Jimmy Carter shows, they were a visible and influential part of American politics into the 1970s. How did they transform into the scions of Christian nationalism? Brad explores this history with Professor Randall Balmer of Dartmouth College on the initial episode of The Orange Wave: A History of the Religious Right Since 1960.

Interviewee: 

Randall Balmer is the John Philips Professor of Religion at Dartmouth College. A prize-winning historian and Emmy Award nominee, Randall Balmer holds the John Phillips Chair in Religion at Dartmouth, the oldest endowed professorship at Dartmouth College. He earned the Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1985 and taught as Professor of American Religious History at Columbia University for twenty-seven years before coming to Dartmouth in 2012. He has been a visiting professor at Princeton, Yale, Northwestern, and Emory universities and in the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He was a visiting professor at Yale Divinity School from 2004 to 2008.

Download Transcript Here

Suggested Reading: 

Randall Balmer, Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter (2014)

Randall Balmer, Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America (2006), Chapter 1.


Mark Noll, The Expansion of Evangelicalism: The Age of Wilberforce, More, Chalmers and Finney, Chapters 6 and 7.

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