Bryan was worried that the theory of evolution was making grounds not
only in the universities, but also within the church itself. Many
colleges were still church-affiliated at this point. The developments of
19th century liberal theology, and higher criticism
in particular, had left the door open to the point where many clergymen
were willing to embrace the theory of evolution and claimed that it was
not contradictory with their being Christians.
Determined to put an end
to this, Bryan, who had long served as a Presbyterian elder, decided to run for the position of Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the USA, which was at the time embroiled in the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversyhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fundamentalist-Modernist_Controversy. (Under Presbyterian church governance,
clergy and laymen are equally represented in the General Assembly, and
the post of Moderator is open to any member of the General Assembly.)
Bryan's main competition in the  race was the Rev. Charles F. Wishart, president of the College of Wooster,
who had loudly endorsed the teaching of the theory of evolution in the
college. Bryan lost to Wishart by a vote of 451-427. Bryan then failed
in a proposal to cut off funds to schools where the theory of evolution
was taught. Instead, the General Assembly announced disapproval of materialistic (as opposed to theistic) evolution.