Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Lynee Lewis Gaillet

Second Advisor

Michael Harker

Third Advisor

Elizabeth Sanders Lopez


Expanding present research in religious rhetoric, the following primary-source study helps explain how dogmatic intractability and cultural insularity have lead to precarious rhetorical positioning and uncertain rhetorical effectiveness in light of questionable appeals to moral imperative, defined herein as things that should intentionally be done or not done based on a rhetor’s perceived shared morality with an audience. The project interrogates two Baptist media outlets at two points in history roughly marking each end of the American Temperance Movement, revealing several of the ways in which these appeals were affected by historiographical and cultural contexts. Viewing selected moral-imperative-focused Baptist polemics through a lens informed by David Barton’s “ecology” theory of literacy, which focuses on a reciprocal relationship involving linguistic connections to the psychological, the social, and the historiographical, this investigation uses a discourse analysis methodology to analyze the polemic content of six months’ worth of 1881 issues of The Christian Index, a Georgia Baptist Convention-published Christian newspaper, and three months worth of transcripts of 1942 Baptist Hour radio broadcasts (a Southern Baptist Convention production), identifying trends and patterns that indicate how moral imperative appeals were handled in each source, whether or not the Temperance Movement affected this treatment, and what role rhetor and audience perception of language may have played. Two coding categories emerged: those dealing with temperance and those dealing with war (the lingering effects of the American Civil War and the beginnings of U.S. involvement in World War II). Analyzed in light of these central elements (along with factors dealing with several ancillary themes that appeared in the data), this study’s major findings show that the 1881 Baptist newspaper polemicists were more sure of their interpretation and application of Biblical principles to issues of the day like temperance and resentment over Reconstruction, while the 1942 Baptist radio preachers were more open and self- and audience-aware, preferring a tone of comfort and unity to one of stark, quick judgment. Ultimately, the study concludes that the extreme divergence between each era’s dominant culture and the insular Baptist denominational culture was likely the preeminent inhibitor of Baptist rhetor consistency and innovation.