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"Super Successful People": Robert Schuller, Suburban Exclusion, and the Demise of the New Deal Political Order
Master of Arts (M.A.)
Year Degree Awarded
Month Degree Awarded
evangelical Christianity, Orange County, postwar suburbs, postindustrialism, conservatism
Between 1955 and 1984, the Reverend Robert Schuller’s Garden Grove Community Church in Orange County, California, blossomed into a ten-thousand-member congregation of regional and national prominence. Straddling the line between evangelical and mainline Protestantism, the church was emblematic of conservative American Christianity in the second half of the 20th century. Likewise, Orange County was the quintessential sprawling, decentralized, postindustrial suburban region. Garden Grove Community Church and Orange County grew together at an exponential rate in the postwar era. Through participation in the devotional, social, and organizational activities of the church, Schuller’s congregation actively constructed their personal and collective identities. They made meaning out of their suburban lives in ways that had long-term political and economic implications for the county, the region, and the country.
The church offered cultural, spiritual, and ideological coherence to a community of corporate, white-collar transplants with few social roots. The substance of that coherence was a theology conflating Christianity with meritocracy and entrepreneurial individualism. The message resonated with “Sun Belt” suburbanites who benefited from systemic class- and race-based metropolitan inequality. Schuller’s message of self-reliance and personal achievement dovetailed with a national conservative repudiation of the public sector and collective responsibility that originated in the suburbs. This drive to eviscerate the American New Deal political order state was nearly unstoppable by the early 1980s, and it received theological aid from institutions like Garden Grove Community Church.