The Gospel According to George McGovern

WHEN MOST PEOPLE remember George McGovern, the longtime South Dakota senator who passed away in 2012, they probably don’t think first of his evangelical Christian background or see him as a model for evangelicals today.

But McGovern, the Democratic nominee who ran against President Richard Nixon in 1972, actually serves as a worthy exemplar of evangelically rooted social action.

The source of McGovern’s progressive and moral political views may be surprising to some. He was a son of the evangelical church. His father, Rev. Joseph McGovern, was an ordained minister of the Wesleyan Methodist Church (now the Wesleyan Church). It was founded in 1843 as a protest movement against the larger Methodist Episcopal Church. Simply put, they thought slavery sinful and left the denomination to make clear their moral opposition to the “peculiar institution.”

George McGovern enjoyed a good relationship with his father. His childhood was shaped by the rhythms of church life—three or four services on Sunday, prayer meeting on Wednesday night, and daily prayer and Bible readings. The annual family vacation was a two-week campout at nearby Mitchell Holiness Campground. Revival services were conducted nightly.

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