OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

Emily Suzanne Johnson

Portrait of Emily Suzanne Johnson

Emily Suzanne Johnson is an assistant professor of History at Ball State University in Muncie, IN. Johnson’s research focuses on gender, sexuality, religion, and politics in the twentieth and twenty-first century United States. She is the author of This Is Our Message: Women’s Leadership in the New Christian Right (2019). This book provides the first in-depth study of many nationally prominent women who helped to shape the modern religious right during its ascendancy in the 1970s and 1980s. It features analyses of the lives and work of evangelical sex advice author Marabel Morgan, anti-gay-rights activist Anita Bryant, Concerned Women for America founder Beverly LaHaye, and televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker; it ends with an examination of the more recent political campaigns of Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann. Through the perspective of collective biography, the book demonstrates how women’s national leadership was essential to building this profoundly significant and often explicitly anti-feminist movement. Johnson’s work has been featured in popular forums such as Religion & Politics, Nursing Clio, and the Washington Post. She is currently working on a project aimed at building an archive of oral histories related to the LGBTQ+ history of Muncie, Indiana. She is also working toward a second book project, with will examine the cultural history of Satanism and “Satanic panics” in the United States from the 1920s to the present.

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

The modern religious right in the United States has always centered on issues related to sex and gender, yet the importance of women's leadership in this movement is often overlooked or misunderstood. This lecture examines the lives and work of prominent women--including Anita Bryant, Phyllis Schlafly, and Beverly LaHaye--who helped to build the New Christian Right during its ascendancy in the 1970s and 1980s. It examines the complexities of gender politics in this movement, which made women's leadership an essential component of its success.
In the late 1970s, gay-rights activists faced off against evangelical pop singer and Florida orange juice spokeswoman Anita Bryant. Their boycott against Florida Orange Juice has become the stuff of legend among LGBTQ+ activists and conservative Christians alike. But archival research contradicts popular narratives about the boycott's success. This talk examines the relationship between mythmaking and history, and demonstrates how a story can wield its own power and make real change.
In November 1985--when news coverage of the emerging AIDS epidemic was still shallow--televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker interviewed an HIV-positive gay minister named Steve Pieters on her international television network. The interview was surprisingly positive; Bakker did not condemn Pieters, but she did admonish her (largely conservative, evangelical) audience to do more to support people with AIDS. The hell-and-brimstone rhetoric of men like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson became the lasting image of conservative Christian responses in the early years of the American AIDS epidemic. The Bakker-Pieters interview offers another perspective, highlighting the potential for political diversity that existed within the New Christian Right in the 1980s while also clarifying the limits of political divergence in this movement.