IN A RECENT interview, Wendell Berry reiterated how perplexed he was that many Christians who are guided by a deep love for God can participate so willingly in an economy that is rapidly devastating God’s creation. In his new book One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America, Princeton historian Kevin Kruse offers a narrative that sheds light on how our churches got into the mess that Berry bemoans. As the book’s subtitle indicates, the primary story that Kruse traces is that of the genesis of “Christian America,” which unfolded not in the era of the Founding Fathers, as David Barton and other conservative Christians contend, but rather in the mid-20th century with industrialists who rallied churches to oppose FDR’s New Deal.
Kruse’s story began in the 1930s with the decision of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) to invest in “spreading the gospel of free enterprise” and its alliance with an organization called Spiritual Mobilization, which carried NAM’s message of libertarian politics and free enterprise to churches across the United States. These efforts to promote the synergy of Christian faith and big business picked up steam in the 1940s and blossomed in the 1950s, finding an ally in the White House in Dwight Eisenhower. Symbolic of this movement’s successes were the inclusion of the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance (1954) and the adoption of “In God We Trust” as the official motto of the U.S. (1956), both during the Eisenhower presidency.