The Real Origins of the Religious Right

Bob Jones University

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

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.

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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.

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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.

In May 1969, a group of African-American parents in Holmes County, Mississippi, sued the Treasury Department to prevent three new whites-only K-12 private academies from securing full tax-exempt status, arguing that their discriminatory policies prevented them from being considered “charitable” institutions. The schools had been founded in the mid-1960s in response to the desegregation of public schools set in motion by the Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954. In 1969, the first year of desegregation, the number of white students enrolled in public schools in Holmes County dropped from 771 to 28; the following year, that number fell to zero. Continue reading “The Real Origins of the Religious Right”

France Rises Up After Police Beat Black Man

In Paris and other cities in France, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets on Saturday, November 28, to demonstrate against the government’s proposed law to restrict freedoms and protect the cops.

On Saturday, November 28, dozens of demonstrations took place across France to denounce the Emmanuel Macron government’s new security bill, which would seriously curtail freedoms in the country, and against a new case of police violence in which three cops brutally beat a Black music producer. The mobilization in Paris was particularly large. More than 100,000 demonstrators marched from the Place de la République to the Bastille. Protesters came from the entire political and trade union Left, and included an important contingent from the New Anticapitalist Party (NPA). Several groups that fight police violence were also present, including the Justice and Truth for Adama Committee.[ . . . ]

Continue reading at LeftVoice: France Rises Up After Police Beat Black Man

“Comprehensive security” law: 133,000 demonstrators according to the interior ministry, 500,000 according to the organizers

A Paris, où d’après le ministère de l’intérieur 46 000 personnes se sont rassemblées, quelques affrontements ont opposé manifestants et forces de l’ordre, contrastant avec un défilé calme [ . . . ]

Continue at: “Comprehensive security” law: 133,000 demonstrators according to the interior ministry, 500,000 according to the organizers

Kamala Harris knows things no vice president has ever known

Men in power might sympathize with women’s issues, but Kamala Harris knows them by heart.

By Monica Hesse | Washington Post

In the week before the country potentially elects its first female vice president, I’ve been trying to write a sweeping essay about progress and trailblazers and glass-breakers and what it all means. But what I keep thinking about is this: At some point in Kamala Harris’s life, someone has instructed her to carry her keys like a weapon when she walks to her car. Someone has said, Get them out of your purse even before you leave the grocery store. Arrange them between your fingers, and if someone attacks you, aim for the face

How do I know this? Because this is Woman 101. It’s the first page of the instruction manual teaching us how we’ll need to navigate the world. I have never met a woman who hasn’t heard this piece of advice. And I doubt that in 232 years of male leadership there’s ever been a sitting president or vice president who has.

I keep thinking about how, at some point in Kamala Harris’s life, she has painstakingly reviewed her office wardrobe with the understanding that the difference between “slut” and “feminazi” is a few inches of worsted-wool hemline. At some point, she has approached a stranger in a public bathroom because the Tampax machine is broken again, and she has said, I’m so sorry, but do you have — and then she didn’t have to finish the question because women in bathrooms know that there is only one end to that question.

Continue reading “Kamala Harris knows things no vice president has ever known”

Cardinal Dolan’s public flattery of Trump forgets a few things

I wonder whether the U.S. Catholic bishops have crossed a sort of Rubicon recently.

When their Roman predecessor, the general Julius Caesar, brought his army illegally over the Rubicon River, he set in motion the events that ended the Republic and saw him presented with a crown. “The die is cast,” he is reputed to have said as he marched his army toward Rome: there was no going back. What he had done could not be undone and it would change the shape of history.

I do not think that New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan is in any danger of being crowned emperor (or, anything else). But I do believe that his public flattery of President Donald Trump from the pulpit of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and on Fox News may prove to be a moment from which American Catholicism cannot turn back.

Smart analysts have interpreted the cardinal’s blandishments as a savvy effort to smooth-talk the president into devoting stimulus funds to help Catholic schools that, no doubt, will struggle in the post-pandemic environment. Maybe that is what the cardinal thinks he is doing. Maybe it even looks smart from one point-of-view. But it seems to me that we have to overlook a lot to see how smart the cardinal is being.

Dolan praised Trump’s sensitivity to the “feelings of the religious community” on Fox News. Think about that.

Cardinal Dolan’s homily praising Donald Trump

Then, think about this. “I think Islam hates us,” or, “The children of Muslim American parents, they’re responsible for a growing number for whatever reason a growing number of terrorist attacks,” or think about what Trump said after the Supreme Court struck down his first travel ban that fulfilled his campaign promise of a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the U.S.” — “Put a commission together. Show me the right way to do it legally.”

Continue reading “Cardinal Dolan’s public flattery of Trump forgets a few things”