Monday, 8 April 2019

The Political Origins of the Evangelical Right Lay in Race not Abortion

Segregation Not Reproductive Rights was the Founding Issue of the Religious  Right

I found the two articles below fascinating for the light they shed on America’s Evangelical Right. Like many people I’ve always assumed that Protestant Christian Fundamentalists had always been opposed to abortion.  Today opposition to abortion is the litmus test of the Christian Right. However it was not always so.
The key issue for the Christian Right historically was race. However it became politically embarrassing and inconvenient from the late 1970’s onwards to wage a war against Black children and for segregation. That was the context for the move from opposition to school integration to opposition to legal abortions. 
However one should be under no illusions that Evangelical Christians, 81% of whom voted for Donald Trump, whose morality has hardly been that of a pious Christian, is still motivated by issues of race, which Trump personifies.
Ian Paisley – who waged war on the ‘anti-Christ’ as represented by the Pope
The Bible Belt and the Ku Klux Klan always overlapped. Segregation was seen as ordained by god and it was practised with an evangelical fervour by the private Christian Bob Jones University in South Carolina. The Bob Jones University, which gave an honorary doctorate to Ian Paisley, the leader of the sectarian Free Presbyterian Church and founder of the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland, was the subject of battles with the US Inland Revenue Service, which refused to grant charitable tax status to institutions which refused to admit Black students. Even when the University did begin to admit non-White students it strictly forbade interracial dating and the idea of miscegenation. 

You can see Statement about Race at BJU for the University’s explanation in 2008 recanting its past.  However its notable for its self-serving nature, blaming ‘American culture’ rather than their interpretation of the Christian Gospel. They say that:

‘For almost two centuries American Christianity, including BJU in its early stages, was characterized by the segregationist ethos of American culture.
Henrietta Hilton, front left, and her fellow students in their ninth grade classroom in Summerton, S.C., in 1954. The classroom was at the center of a controversy which led to one of four cases involving “separate but equal” facilities.

Here are some facts that might surprise you.
In 1971, two years before Roe v. Wade legalized abortion, the biggest white evangelical group in America, the Southern Baptist Convention, supported its legalization. The group continued that support through much of the 1970s. And the late Jerry Falwell, founder of the Moral Majority, did not give his first antiabortion speech until 1978, five years after Roe.
Though opposition to abortion is what many think fuelled the powerful conservative white evangelical right, 81 percent of whom voted for Donald Trump, it was really school integration, according to Randall Balmer, chairman of the religion department at Dartmouth.
The US Supreme Court ruled public school segregation unconstitutional in 1954. In 1976 it ruled against segregated private schools. Then courts went after the tax exemptions of these private all-white Southern schools, or so-called segregation academies, like Falwell’s Liberty Christian Academy.

Abortion Protesters
The late Paul Weyrich, whom Balmer called the organizational genius behind the religious right, had long tried to mobilize evangelical voters around some hot-button issue: feminism, school prayer, pornography, abortion. But nothing lit a fire like the federal government’s threat to all-white schools. Only in 1979, a full six years after Roe, did Weyrich urge evangelical leaders to also crusade against abortion, Balmer said in an interview. That was, after all, a far more palatable, acceptable crusade, one with a seeming high moral purpose, unlike a race-based crusade against black children.
I mention all this because Politico recently reported on the increasing power of religious ultra-conservatives in Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services, and what that could soon mean for further restrictions on abortion, birth control, and gay and transgender protections.
“This administration is focused on recognizing one set of religious beliefs,” Gretchen Borchelt of the National Women’s Law Center told Politico. But why the one set of beliefs so out of step with the rest of America? Though 70 percent of white evangelicals want abortion illegal, the majority of other religious groups, including mainline Protestants, black Protestants, and Catholics, do not.
This raises unsettling questions: How much of antiabortion rhetoric is really about the unborn, and how much is a convenient and even cynical cover for white evangelicals to support, as they did, a white supremacist like Roy Moore, in Alabama, or Trump himself, leader of the American birther movement and defender of neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Va.?
Balmer’s scholarship on the racial underpinnings of the religious right — and the link between the antiabortion movement and a certain political agenda — is more than familiar to a group of Americans who overwhelmingly rejected both Moore and Trump. That would be black evangelicals.
Among them is Cornell William Brooks, past national president of the NAACP and a fourth-generation African Methodist Episcopal Church minister who was arrested last year during an Alabama sit-in to protest Trump’s then nominee for attorney general, Jeff Sessions.
“For Christian conservatives who put abortion at the top of their list, the challenge becomes objecting to the loss of life in the womb but also objecting to the loss of life beyond the womb,” said Brooks, now a visiting professor at Boston University. “You cannot segregate your compassion.
Wring your hands over the child lost in the womb as well as the loss of the child Tamir Rice,” the 12-year-old gunned down by a police officer in Cleveland. “Be concerned about discrimination, immigration, police misconduct, voter suppression, misogyny on the lips of the president, black lives mattering, all lives mattering,” Brooks said.
It is worth noting that some of the same white evangelical leaders who just gave a pass to Trump for an alleged affair with a porn star either supported him or kept mum after Charlottesville and after his attacks on immigrants from what he called “shithole countries.”
Said Brooks, “We are not being candid with ourselves if we don’t admit race has a lot to do with all this.”
Said Balmer, “The religious right is coming back to the founding principles of a movement based in racism.”
Margery Eagan is cohost of WGBH’s “Boston Public Radio.”

The Real Origins of the Religious Right

They’ll tell you it was abortion. Sorry, the historical record’s clear: It was segregation.


May 27, 2014

Randall Balmer is the Mandel family professor in the arts and sciences at Dartmouth College. His most recent book is Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter.

One of the most durable myths in recent history is that the religious right, the coalition of conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists, emerged as a political movement in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling legalizing abortion. The tale goes something like this: Evangelicals, who had been politically quiescent for decades, were so morally outraged by Roe that they resolved to organize in order to overturn it.
This myth of origins is oft repeated by the movement’s leaders. In his 2005 book, Jerry Falwell, the firebrand fundamentalist preacher, recounts his distress upon reading about the ruling in the Jan. 23, 1973, edition of the Lynchburg News: “I sat there staring at the Roe v. Wade story,” Falwell writes, “growing more and more fearful of the consequences of the Supreme Court’s act and wondering why so few voices had been raised against it.” Evangelicals, he decided, needed to organize.
Some of these anti- Roe crusaders even went so far as to call themselves “new abolitionists,” invoking their antebellum predecessors who had fought to eradicate slavery.
But the abortion myth quickly collapses under historical scrutiny. In fact, it wasn’t until 1979—a full six years after Roe—that evangelical leaders, at the behest of conservative activist Paul Weyrich, seized on abortion not for moral reasons, but as a rallying-cry to deny President Jimmy Carter a second term. Why? Because the anti-abortion crusade was more palatable than the religious right’s real motive: protecting segregated schools. So much for the new abolitionism. 
Today, evangelicals make up the backbone of the pro-life movement, but it hasn’t always been so. Both before and for several years after Roe, evangelicals were overwhelmingly indifferent to the subject, which they considered a “Catholic issue.” In 1968, for instance, a symposium sponsored by the Christian Medical Society and Christianity Today, the flagship magazine of evangelicalism, refused to characterize abortion as sinful, citing “individual health, family welfare, and social responsibility” as justifications for ending a pregnancy. In 1971, delegates to the Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis, Missouri, passed a resolution encouraging “Southern Baptists to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.” The convention, hardly a redoubt of liberal values, reaffirmed that position in 1974, one year after Roe, and again in 1976.
When the Roe decision was handed down, W. A. Criswell, the Southern Baptist Convention’s former president and pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas—also one of the most famous fundamentalists of the 20th century—was pleased: “I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from its mother that it became an individual person,” he said, “and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed.”
Although a few evangelical voices, including Christianity Today magazine, mildly criticized the ruling, the overwhelming response was silence, even approval. Baptists, in particular, applauded the decision as an appropriate articulation of the division between church and state, between personal morality and state regulation of individual behavior. “Religious liberty, human equality and justice are advanced by the Supreme Court abortion decision,” wrote W. Barry Garrett of Baptist Press.
So what then were the real origins of the religious right? It turns out that the movement can trace its political roots back to a court ruling, but not Roe v. Wade.

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