“The church needs women like you,” my youth minister told me as he pressed a pair of tickets into my sweaty, seventh-grade palms. The tickets were for a speech that Phyllis Schlafly was going to give later that week at Coral Ridge Presbyterian, the church I had attended since, well, birth. Coral Ridge was mega-church of sorts, one of the large, politically engaged churches that had once formed the Moral Majority, though it lacked some of the hallmarks of “megachurches”; these churches took themselves too seriously, for example, to have coffee shops in their lobbies; were too focused on their spiritual and political missions to use wishy-washy words like “welcoming”; and were, above all, too traditional for women to have any leadership roles.
Schlafly was the exception. She had come to Coral Ridge—a blocky white modernist cathedral that towered over South Florida with its impossibly tall steeple—on the invitation of Dr. James Kennedy, who had founded the church decades before. With his good looks, serious voice, and a long list of degrees, Kennedy was one of the intellectual leaders of the Moral Majority; both church and minister were ready-made for television. On his weekly show, The Coral Ridge Hour, he effortlessly intertwined conservative politics and hard-line religious doctrine.