The Fifties Illusion:

The Cultural Dry Rot that Doomed the Postwar Era “The Fifties”—broadly defined to cover the years 1946 to 1964—were on the surface “the best of times,” a golden age of religious renewal, strong families, and a vital and growing middle class. Beneath this façade, however, lurked the theological, moral, and social dry rot that would usher in “The Sixties.” Among the “mainline” Protestant churches, the post-World War II Baby Boom created a heady confidence over the success of the Christian family. After the dark days of economic depression and war, church membership lists climbed sharply while the nurseries and Sunday schools teemed with children. Despite the mainline’s embrace of birth control within marriage during the 1930s and early 1940s, completed fertility levels rose. Even the Federal Council of Churches shifted its emphasis from limiting family size to expanding it, arguing in a 1946 policy statement that “for the individual family, there is nothing more satisfying, even though it may involve real sacrifice, than to have at least three or four children.”[1] Evangelicals, meanwhile, seemed to enjoy a surge in organization, enthusiasm, and membership over these same years. New radio ministries founded in the decades before the war (e.g., Shepherd Hour and Old Fashioned Revival Hour) drew millions of listeners into an informal network of believers. In 1942, the National Association of Evangelicals took form as a vehicle for organizing conservative Protestants disillusioned with the mainline, and quickly created influential satellite arms such as the National Religious Broadcasters, while boosting the nascent Youth for Christ. The latter group launched the career of the Rev. Billy Graham, who galvanized national attention through his 1949 crusade in Los Angeles. Graham became the symbol of what some called America’s “Third Great Awakening.”[2] Through most of the 1950s, evangelical leaders remained opposed to birth control
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