What Made Evangelicals Come Out of the Closet?

by Corey Robin on May 30, 2014

In The Reactionary Mind, I briefly argued that much of the energy behind the Christian Right came not from its opposition to abortion or school prayer but its defense of segregation. Based on early research by historians Joseph Crespino and Matthew Lassiter, I wrote:

Evangelical Christians were ideal recruits to the [conservative] cause, deftly playing the victim card as a way of rejuvenating the power of whites. “It’s time for God’s people to come out of the closet,” declared a Texas televangelist in 1980.


But it wasn’t religion that made evangelicals queer; it was religion combined with racism. One of the main catalysts of the Christian right was the defense of Southern private schools that were created in response to desegregation. By 1970, 400,000 white children were attending these “segregation academies.” States like Mississippi gave students tuition grants, and until the Nixon administration overturned the practice, the IRS gave donors to these schools tax exemptions.


According to New Right and direct-mail pioneer Richard Viguerie, the attack on these public subsidies by civil rights activists and the courts “was the spark that ignited the religious right’s involvement in real politics.” Though the rise of segregation academies “was often timed exactly with the desegregation of formerly all-white public schools,” writes one historian, their advocates claimed to be defending religious minorities rather than white supremacy (initially nonsectarian, most of the schools became evangelical over time).


Their cause was freedom, not inequality—not the freedom to associate with whites, as the previous generation of massive resisters had claimed, but the freedom to practice their own embattled religion. It was a shrewd transposition. In one fell swoop, the heirs of slaveholders became the descendants of persecuted Baptists, and Jim Crow a heresy the First Amendment was meant to protect.


Politico has a great piece up this week pursuing this argument in much greater depth. Dartmouth historian Randall Balmer has immersed himself in the archives of the Moral Majority and other organizations and activists of the Christian Right, and found some fascinating details. Though abortion would come to play a role later on, it was the school segregation issue that truly galvanized the leaders and cadres of the Christian Right.

 

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.



But this hypothetical “moral majority” needed a catalyst—a standard around which to rally. For nearly two decades, [Paul] Weyrich, by his own account, had been trying out different issues, hoping one might pique evangelical interest: pornography, prayer in schools, the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution, even abortion. “I was trying to get these people interested in those issues and I utterly failed,” Weyrich recalled at a conference in 1990.


The Green v. Connally [declaring unconstitutional tax exemptions for private schools that practice racial discrimination] ruling provided a necessary first step: It captured the attention of evangelical leadersespecially as the IRS began sending questionnaires to church-related “segregation academies,” including Falwell’s own Lynchburg Christian School, inquiring about their racial policies. Falwell was furious. “In some states,” he famously complained, “It’s easier to open a massage parlor than a Christian school.”



Although Bob Jones Jr., the school’s [Bob Jones University] founder, argued that racial segregation was mandated by the Bible, Falwell and Weyrich quickly sought to shift the grounds of the debate, framing their opposition in terms of religious freedom rather than in defense of racial segregation.



For many evangelical leaders, who had been following the issue since Green v. Connally, Bob Jones University was the final straw. As Elmer L. Rumminger, longtime administrator at Bob Jones University, told me in an interview, the IRS actions against his school “alerted the Christian school community about what could happen with government interference” in the affairs of evangelical institutions. “That was really the major issue that got us all involved.”



When Reagan addressed a rally of 10,000 evangelicals at Reunion Arena in Dallas in August 1980, he excoriated the “unconstitutional regulatory agenda” directed by the IRS “against independent schools,” but he made no mention of abortion.

{ 89 comments }

1

phenomenal cat 05.30.14 at 5:27 pm

Having grown up in the deep south and attended a few so-called segregation schools this argument is interesting to me for a couple of reasons.

1. It locates the wellspring of conservative or right-wing political power within a sociological history that is coherent–racism and the over-riding desire to maintain social separation between whites and blacks at key sites, schools for example. Allowing for those whose religious conscience is well and truly pricked by what are now well known “evangelical” issues like abortion, the religious outrage and despair over the “cultural decay” of America always struck me as highly dubious–even as a kid. It seems to me that slavery, the civil war, reconstruction, Jim Crow and racism educated white southerners on one of the finer points of political practice: it’s about power. How one gets it matters less than whether one has it. Being reactionary is perfectly acceptable so long as the goal is achieved and in some ways it is preferable for then one has the energy of being aggrieved to help propel the fight.

2. Minor point but, it was by no means only “the heirs of slaveholders” who became “persecuted Baptists” in the 70’s and 80’s. Those heirs were always and everywhere a very distinct minority in the south. The reaction against desegregation which then morphed into a political-evangelical juggernaut was widespread across the social strata of southerners. Like me and mine, Falwell and his ancestors were far, far from the sphere of “gentlemen planters.”

2

DrDick 05.30.14 at 5:59 pm

Growing up in Oklahoma in the 50s and 60s (and attending segregated schools for the first few years), I remember this all too well.

3

SamChevre 05.30.14 at 6:20 pm

This argument continues to seem to me completely misguided. It’s misguided in the same way as the argument that the ACLU must be friendly to National Socialism, since it advocated for the Nazi’s right to march in Skokie. It’s entirely reasonable to say both “we aren’t segregationist” and “the government cannot allocate generally available benefits based on partisan considerations”; it’s not an unreasonable jump to say “the government can’t inquire about questions on which it is forbidden to act.”

4

Robespiere 05.30.14 at 6:36 pm

#3: but one argument is actually an excuse and the other is not.
In general, the argument “it’s none of the (federal) government’s business” can be perfectly reasonable, but it is mighty close to “states’s rights” and all that stuff.

5

Corey Robin 05.30.14 at 6:36 pm

And tell me: exactly how many major (or even minor) political parties were built on behalf of the ACLU’s position that though it did not support the beliefs of the Nazis they nevertheless had the right to march in Skokie?

6

drkrick 05.30.14 at 6:43 pm

The schools in question were losing their tax exemptions pursuant to a Supreme Court decision that declared such exemptions for schools that practiced racial segregation unlawful. In what way were those segregationist policies “questions on which [the government] is forbidden to act”?

7

SamChevre 05.30.14 at 6:57 pm

The other factor is internal to the evangelical world; that’s the influence of Francis Shaeffer. More than any other single person, he moved evangelicals to see Catholics (who were anti-abortion from the beginning) as fellow-Christians, rather than enemies. That has changed the evangelical movement hugely.

I’m pretty sure Liberty U accepted black students from the beginning, given Allen McFarland’s history (linked below).
http://www.liberty.edu/news/index.cfm?PID=18495&MID=113346

8

Dr. Hilarius 05.30.14 at 6:59 pm

I thought I was fairly well informed on the role of Evangelicals in conservative politics but did not know about their initial indifference to Roe v. Wade. The loss of white-only schools, or at least some of their economic benefits, does help explain the movement of Evangelicals into politics, something they had long disdained as “worldly” and of little importance. Thanks for this information.

9

SamChevre 05.30.14 at 7:01 pm

Corey Robin @ 4

Well, the ACLU won–so none. If the ACLU had lost, on the grounds that it was obviously required that the government forbid any public expression of minority opinions, I think both major parties would have rallied against that decision.

10

Corey Robin 05.30.14 at 7:12 pm

“I think both major parties would have rallied against that decision.”

Not what I asked: I said “built on behalf of”. The point is that even if we concede for the sake of the argument your cockamamie premise — that the Christian Right wasn’t committed to segregation so much as the procedural principle (which these histories completely show to be false) — you don’t build majority political parties on the basis of procedural principles.

Or put it this way. Had the Supreme Court in 1977 handed down the opposite decision, and had you, as a political adviser, rushed into the offices of the Democratic or Republican Party with the strategic advice that they should scuttle all their talk of the Ruskies or gay rights or whatever, and instead, that they should make the Supreme Court decision the centerpiece of their platform: well, let’s just say you wouldn’t have been in business for long.

11

SamChevre 05.30.14 at 7:30 pm

you don’t build majority political parties on the basis of procedural principles

I think that’s the core of the disagreement here. I think you can build significant political movements–big enough to move the major parties–on procedural issues. For a current example, look at the “you can’t execute people without a trial” movement; that’s procedural, and I think it’s a misrepresentation to say everyone who opposes it is either anti-Obama or anti-war.

12

SamChevre 05.30.14 at 7:31 pm

“Opposes” should be “opposes the practice”

13

heckblazer 05.30.14 at 8:00 pm

I sometimes read the liberal evangelist blog Slackivist, and it’s written a number of times on how evangelical opposition to abortion is recent. Here’s a scan of a Southern Baptist newsletter praising as advance for “the cause of religious liberty, human equality, and justice.” Something I found particularly interesting was when Slactivist pointed out that the 1977 edition of the New American Standard Bible Exodus 21:22-25 reads:

“And if men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she has a miscarriage, yet there is not further injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband may demand of him; and he shall pay as the judges decide. But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.”

but the 1995 edition changes that to

“If men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she gives birth prematurely, yet there is no injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband may demand of him, and he shall pay as the judges decide. But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.”

Among other things, that indicates to me that abortion is trailing and not driving the rise of the Religious Right.

14

heckblazer 05.30.14 at 8:01 pm

Aaaand apologies for screwing up the added emphasis in those quotes.

15

js. 05.30.14 at 9:59 pm

I think I’d gathered that the evangelical movement early on was more or less indifferent to the question of abortion, but still, reading the positively pro-Roe statements is shocking.

16

Vladimir 05.31.14 at 1:03 am

“When Reagan addressed a rally of 10,000 evangelicals at Reunion Arena in Dallas in August 1980, he excoriated the “unconstitutional regulatory agenda” directed by the IRS “against independent schools,” but he made no mention of abortion.”

Am I now supposed to believe that Reagan’s speech at the Nehoba Country Fair was not a defence of a principled position: states’ rights? Or that his support of apartheid South Africa wasn’t just about anti-communism? I really need David Brooks to help me makes sense of this.

17

Ed Herdman 05.31.14 at 5:45 am

Corey’s been on a roll lately with insightful posts that turn my understanding of some issues sideways – not upside down, but providing the context that makes these hazy issues suddenly lucid.

The underlying reality is no less striking for being almost depressingly mundane: Bigots’ worries about a financial hit to their bottom line mobilized some of the key players, instead of some arcane construction from holy writ and the bolted-on second-cousin-of-first-principles. (Thanks also to heckblazer for comparing the notes – it reminds me of another cross-translation study I happened to see about Wicca, concerning the phrasing “suffer not a witch to live,” which also appears to be a translation muddled – in this case broadened to punish anything witchy-looking by death, rather than just proscribing evil witchy doings – for the benefit of political factions).

Sam’s comments almost made more sense before reading Corey’s original post, but I think what is critical is that phrase “states’ rights” – I think this is simply special pleading, as an example of an attempt to obscure the issues like one would expect from the political leaders attempting to make their special status above all others look like a natural, God-given right.

(Is anybody going to ask “but why would they want to segregate their schools, because it would limit their pool of potential income?” Please, no…)

18

Ed Herdman 05.31.14 at 5:56 am

To be fair to Sam, now that the argument has shifted: I guess that you could say that things like disenfranchised and even deported veterans, and certainly the immigration process, seem to be procedural issues that make something at stake. I don’t see people creating gigantic political movements over something that only gets part of the air time of the immigration issue – and I don’t think death penalty worries comes close to this.

I might be wrong in my understanding of this, but what I think Corey Robin is trying to get at is the notion of people as being animated by the promise of a law-abiding, even-handed system that does not care for creating political winners. Death penalty losers (and felons in general, at least for their first 10 years) don’t have much of a political vote, do they? Insofar as some procedural issue seems to be key, we find that behind them there are groups that are interested: In the case of Corey Robin’s post, it’s the evangelical Christian elites with money and prestige (power in their own communities) at stake. In the case of immigration reform, it’s pretty obvious what’s at stake. Deporting veterans – more of the same, and here is a case where we see what looks like an innocuous case of people having to fight an apparently purely legalistic procedural system.

“The system” always makes a good bugbear because what’s immune to immediate human petitioning and pleading seems scary and remote. What’s important is to realize that not all the people fighting against the system want just to moderate outcomes for all people; their vision is not Justice blind, but justice that puts something nice right into their hot little hands.

19

bad Jim 05.31.14 at 6:29 am

Heckblazer has already been there, but here’s a link to a great article by Fred Clark: “The ‘biblical view’ that’s younger than the Happy Meal”.

Evangelicals make a great show of supporting Israel, but oddly don’t take issue with its rather practical policies regarding reproductive health.

I’m a fan, so I want everyone to go read something recent: “Anti-abortion activist says Obama’s presidential library will be just like Heaven”

So try, if you can, to imagine millions of these almost-dime-sized specters haunting a building at the University of Hawaii. They’re ghosts remember — so make them kind of white and shimmery and translucent. And since they’re ghosts, we can imagine them flying around — which is good, since they haven’t got legs and obviously can’t be walking.

That picture is still misleading in that it’s still too large and too well articulated for a great many of our millions of ghosts. That’s a picture from the end of 12 weeks, but many abortions are, in fact, performed at six weeks or earlier — so those ghosts would be even tinier, less-distinct spectral blobs.

It gets better, which is to say, in another sense, worse.

20

Sebastian H 05.31.14 at 6:56 am

“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.”

This depends on what you mean by origins. In its origins as a political force in the 1970s and early 1980s it had a mixed bag of all sorts of things that different hopeful leaders tried to use as rallying point. The question is which rallying point succeeded in actually rallying the evangelical movement into a political force? The answer was and continues to be abortion. Nothing cut across religious sect barriers like abortion, causing evangelicals to ally with Catholics and later Mormons in ways that no other issue did. You are using origin to mean “mixed in strongly with the beginning of the movement” and you rightly find the segregation issue just as you find eugenics mixed in the progressive ‘origin’.

I would use origin in that sentence to mean: what symbol or cause actually unified the messy disparate parts of the nascent movement and that is clearly abortion.

See also the influences of Francis Schaefer mentioned above and Billy Graham. You can’t talk about the modern US christian movement without them. It is like talking about communism without understanding Marx and not knowing who Lenin was. The Billy Graham crusade thing is crucial.

21

Barry 05.31.14 at 12:45 pm

Sebastian, please read the original posts, and the linked material.

22

elm 05.31.14 at 3:55 pm

Sebastian H @19: The subject is the religious right, not the “modern US christian movement” or whatever else you’d like to change it to.

Jerry Falwell is a much better example of the religious right than Billy Graham. And coincidentally, Falwell ran a segregation school.

23

bianca steele 05.31.14 at 4:26 pm

The linked article does mention abortion toward the end, and I don’t see the point of criticizing the article for not mentioning Schaeffer because it focuses on Paul Weyrich instead.

24

elm 05.31.14 at 4:33 pm

Bianca @23: A more cynical person than myself might think that the point of Sebastian’s criticism was to stop discussion of the religious right and change the topic to a less nasty group. Not that I would ascribe motives, of course.

25

bianca steele 05.31.14 at 4:51 pm

elm: I assume Sebastian is speaking for people who consider “US Christian movement” and “religious right” to be synonyms. Obviously there are leftist Christians and left Christian movements too, but the Christian right in the US seems to have succeeded in making the default be “Christian = rightwing.” The article linked in the OP seemed helpful in explaining how they succeeded in linking the two ideas. So did Corey Robin’s chapter, which in the quoted passage shows how religious freedom became linked with race-based discrimination. But Viguerie makes the cause what civil rights activists were doing; Ballmer shows how the shift in right-wing activism was organized by activists on the right.

26

ChristianPinko 05.31.14 at 5:10 pm

Simply saying that the Christian Right was motivated originally by segregation oversimplifies things. As Sebastian H noted, Francis Schaefer is an important figure in this regard. Also, from Balmer’s Politico article:

“Falwell and Weyrich, having tapped into the ire of evangelical leaders, were also savvy enough to recognize that organizing grassroots evangelicals to defend racial discrimination would be a challenge. It had worked to rally the leaders, but they needed a different issue if they wanted to mobilize evangelical voters on a large scale.

“By the late 1970s, many Americans—not just Roman Catholics—were beginning to feel uneasy about the spike in legal abortions following the 1973 Roe decision. The 1978 Senate races demonstrated to Weyrich and others that abortion might motivate conservatives where it hadn’t in the past.

“In the course of my research into Falwell’s archives at Liberty University and Weyrich’s papers at the University of Wyoming, it became very clear that the 1978 election represented a formative step toward galvanizing everyday evangelical voters.”

Balmer’s article makes it seem like segregation was necessary but not sufficient for creating the Christian Right. For me, the remaining question is what happened between 1973 and 1978 to move Christians to a point where they were receptive to an anti-abortion message.

27

SamChevre 05.31.14 at 7:54 pm

Elm,

As your link notes, LCA (Falwell’s school) was integrated by 1968; it seems unlikely that his political activities ten years later were in support of segregation, given that every institution with which he was affiliated was integrated before any case was brought proposing that segregated education institutions weren’t really educational.

28

roy belmont 05.31.14 at 8:44 pm

Any analysis of American right-wing Christianity that sees it as autonomously shaping its own political role is bound to miss any useful conclusion.
Those people were thoroughly played, just like the legitimate but unfocused and inchoate unease that produced the Tea Party was played, thoroughly.
It’s kin to the mindless insistence that a helpless dweeb like GWBush was the architect of his own presidential legacy and the damage it caused.
Nonsense, provable nonsense, but an idea that’s as common as dirt. Because it’s a lot more comfortable than considering the alternative.

29

SN 05.31.14 at 9:20 pm

Is excluding the Carter family, Billy Graham and other anti-segregationist evangelicals from the evangelical movement a bit of cherry picking?

Billy Graham is the most prominent and influential evangelical of all time.

Evangelicals seem to have had a variety of views on race going back to the Civil Rights movement at least.

30

elm 05.31.14 at 9:49 pm

SN @ 28, As noted in the first sentence, the subject is the Christian right, not the evangelical movement.

31

heckblazer 05.31.14 at 10:27 pm

SamChevre @ 26:

Here’s a quote from Wikipedia’s source on Falwell’s school desegregating two years after its founding:

“To pretend that race had nothing to do with Christian schools’ emergence would be disingenuous. These schools perpetuated the racial divide by removing white Christians from the process of public school desegregation. Parents who wanted their children’s classrooms to look similar to the racially homogenous ones they had attended found that environment in Christian schools. Christian schools, like other new private academies enrolled student bodies where whites remained firmly in the majority.”
“More important, white values and assumptions governed the curriculum and culture at these schools. Public schools emphasis on multiculturalism found little favor in the Christian academy movement . . . As the schools’ diversity increased academy proponents could deny racism played a role in the growth of their schools. Yet token integration belied the ways conservative Christians absented themselves from the larger process of desegregation taking place in public schools.”

The way I’d put it while conservative evangelicals like Falwell may not have had segregation at the top of their political agenda, they did find racism to be a handy tool for garnering converts.

SN @ 28:
The issue here is specifically the rise of politicized evangelicals like the Moral Majority. To the best of my knowledge Billy Graham (but not his son Franklin) tried to avoid partisanship. Carter meanwhile was considered an outsider to the movement despite being a Baptist and the Moral Majority specifically formed to campaign against him.

32

bianca steele 06.01.14 at 12:20 am

@28 Doesn’t “the Carter family” usually mean the musical group?

33

Sebastian H 06.01.14 at 9:52 pm

The politicized evangelicals had to draw on the larger movement. It was a sub movement. You can’t understand the sub movement if you don’t understand the movement.

34

Tabasco 06.02.14 at 12:25 am

“Had the Supreme Court in 1977 handed down the opposite decision”

Jimmy Carter won every, or nearly every, Southern state in 1976. If the Supreme Court had decided differently in 1977, could he have won in 1980?

Imagine an alternative world where Reagan did not become President. The Reagan-Thatcher capitalism era would not have happened, and who knows what would have happened in the Cold War.

35

godoggo 06.02.14 at 12:27 am

I for one don’t know what that’s supposed to mean.

36

bad Jim 06.02.14 at 7:41 am

The Soviet Union would have imploded in any case. I remember my dismay when, in the late 70’s, they announced that they’d acquired the ability to manufacture an imitation of the Intel 8080 microprocessor, an 8-bit device which needed ± 5V and12V. We were already putting 16-bit 5V devices in consumer products. Moore’s Law is relentless and exponential; the writing was on the wall. They were also still using the army to harvest the potato crop.

37

Wonks Anonymous 06.02.14 at 4:16 pm

@heckblazer, that link is interesting. It points out that Lynchburg (in contrast to other areas where segregation academies sprung up) was already overwhelmingly white.
“Especially in the years before Swann mandated cross-town bussing, white parents in Lynchburg and Raleigh, unlike those in many rural areas, did not need to be worried that their children would be “outnumbered” in the public schools. Neither LCA nor WCA emerged, then, because black majorities dominated local public schools or districts”. I haven’t found the bit which references the actual desegregation of LCA in 1970 though.

38

Douglas O'Keefe 06.02.14 at 4:20 pm

Sebastian H (#20) and ChristianPinko (#26) pin down the confusion within Corey’s notion of “the real origins of the Christian right”: the difference between the motives of the leadership (or at least good portion of it), for whom hostility to abortion was merely the means to an end, and those of the laity, or whatever you call it, who honestly seem to have come to care about the rights of first-trimester fetuses. Falwell and his cronies were motivated by financial concerns (lack of tax-exemption for racist institutions) and then fished around until they found, in abortion, an issue that would work for them in terms of clicking with their desired audience. But this revelation about the leadership shouldn’t really be so surprising–we know, more or less–that these guys are primarily power-hungry demagogues who lack serious convictions. The mystery now, for me at least, as well as for ChristianPinko, is, why did they succeed? How or why did this metamorphosis among the laity against abortion, stoked by leaders disgruntled over desegregation, occur in the 1970s? Some commenters have cited the influence of the Catholic church. It seems the result of some strange feedback loop between the leadership and the laity.

39

Corey Robin 06.02.14 at 4:31 pm

Yes, this distinction between leaders and rank and file must have been very hard to see in my original post. It’s only right there in the second paragraph that’s not a quote: “Though abortion would come to play a role later on, it was the school segregation issue that truly galvanized the leaders and cadres of the Christian Right.”

40

phenomenal cat 06.02.14 at 6:18 pm

For those interested in this history, see Susan Harding’s The Book of Jerry Falwell. It’s been a while since I read it, but it does make clear how racial anxieties motivated the political urgency of Falwell and others like him. He comes to “repent” of his racism which is documented by Harding.

One need not be mystified by the veracity of Corey’s argument (which Harding substantiates in a different register if memory serves). Racism or “separate but equal” was already not a winning argument by the early 70’s. It’s entirely consistent to say that the so-called movement leaders were initially motivated by racial anxiety–a distinctly public matter–but then pivoted to and politicized what had been in the private sphere: specifically abortion, but in more general terms the perceived cultural decadence and moral decay of America that the hard-right has been crowing about for years now.

That was really the genius of this political movement and it is very much related to the more comprehensive force of neo-liberalism. Politicize the private and privatize the public. This inversion has reconfigured political power-dynamics for two generations now.

41

Damien 06.02.14 at 9:12 pm

Once you immerse yourself in the conservative, white evangelical culture for a while, you very easily come across instances where this history shines through. For instance, I know several home-schooled people whose textbooks went to great length to paint the antebellum South in a positive light.

There is a lot more tolerance for extremist viewpoints on race and slavery than for even moderately progressive views on, say, LGBT rights or abortion. Thus, mainstream evangelical leaders like John Piper can sit down with pro-slavery apologist Doug Wilson to have a nice firechat conversation about the moral evil of abortion and homosexuality, as long as Wilson makes sure to say that he’s not a racist. He’s still a fellow evangelical because thinking that slavery was not that bad for African-Americans is just another opinion that evangelicals can legitimately hold.

42

Sebastian H 06.03.14 at 5:45 am

Corey you aren’t being published by a newspaper, you’re responsible for the title.

Additionally you don’t seem to make a distinction between what was running around at the beginning of the movement (say eugenics for progressives) and what actually made it a successful popular movement (abortion for the political valence of the evangelical movement).

Apparently you CAN ignore the fact that Roe v Wade is the successful rallying point from about 1977 – 2014. But that doesn’t mean ignoring it provides useful analysis. Any long lasting political movement has yucky things laying around. But progressive ideology isn’t ‘about’ eugenics. Yes eugenics polluted it in the beginning, but what won out was the importance of workers.

If you want to argue that venal leaders of the proto-evangelical movement cast around a lot of potential cultural levers, including racial segregation, before discovering that abortion had an enormously powerful valence, ok. But you seem to want much more than that–denying that abortion is in fact the cultural lever that ended up resonating. You haven’t come anywhere near that. Worryingly you don’t even seem to realize that it is a problem. It is like you are engaged in old style western-centric anthropology. You know the savages you want to find…

43

Corey Robin 06.03.14 at 1:19 pm

41: “But you seem to want much more than that–denying that abortion is in fact the cultural lever that ended up resonating.”

I know it’s hard to read past a headline, but if you do, you’ll see, as I said already, that in one of the two only paragraphs where I am not quoting, I do deal with the abortion issue.

But also: “you seem to want…” I’m reporting on the most recent historiography, which argues that observers of the movement have vastly overstated the role of abortion as *the* central issue. Not to say abortion didn’t matter — again from the OP: “Though abortion would come to play a role later on” — but that its role has been vastly overstated. Beyond segregation, what most historians now emphasize is the opposition to the women’s movement. Again, abortion is certainly a part of that, but not a standalone issue. So unless you have actual countervailing evidence to show that these historians are wrong — notably, you’ve yet to cite one shred of evidence showing that “abortion is in fact the cultural lever that ended up resonating” — you’re just citing the catechism.

44

Main Street Muse 06.03.14 at 2:16 pm

From OP – “’It’s time for God’s people to come out of the closet,’” declared a Texas televangelist in 1980.”

I think it is hilarious that a 1980 Texas televangelist borrows from the language of gay pride movement to make a point. (Pre-AIDS!) Christians seemed to have emerged from the Godless 1960s with more power than ever before.

Corey – thanks for the link to the Politico story – it’s fascinating. And yes, it I agree that racism is the foundation of the politicization of the Christian right. MLK’s great speech was delivered in 1963 – the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1964. The nation was pulled apart by its inability to practice the equality it boasted of offering.

After reading this post, I now want to know more about how/why abortion became a lever used by the GOP to ramp up the voters. Roe v Wade was passed in 1973. Betty Ford was a strong abortion advocate (cannot imagine ANY GOP wife publicly favoring abortion today!) As the Politico story notes, abortion was viewed by the Christian evangelicals as a “Catholic issue.” I wonder what prompted them to seize it as their own.

As governor of California, Reagan signed a pro-abortion bill into law. He came to national power in 1980 (just seven years after Roe) on an anti-choice platform and in 1988, signed a presidential proclamation declaring the right of “personhood.” What changed?

45

Main Street Muse 06.03.14 at 2:27 pm

To HeckBlazer @ 31 – Franklin Graham is excessively political as he brays to the masses from his religious organization’s bully pulpit. He reaps the benefits of massive non-profit tax breaks for his Samaritan’s Purse, earns millions as a “religious leader” – and gives Samaritan’s Purse employees the day off to push for book banning in the local HS in his town – because Isabel Allende’s House of the Spirits is so ungodly… : http://bit.ly/1kFpqtl (luckily, Graham lost that argument.)

46

Wonks Anonymous 06.03.14 at 2:36 pm

Main Street Muse, this is just speculation on my part, so no need to take it too seriously. But we can start out by remembering that conservative Catholics contributed more prominent intellectuals than evangelicals did. They have a more scholastic tradition, which plays a part in why SCOTUS has no Protestants any more. National Review was heavily Catholic, and the Mont Pelerin Society only chose that name because Frank Knight objected to naming themselves after two “Roman Catholic aristocrats” (Acton and de Tocqueville). The ecumenical divide isn’t as salient now, but it once was and that shift is part of the story.

Catholics had long had a tradition of private schools, and as discussed above integration kick-started southern evangelical interest in their own private schools (there was a time when the KKK was very pro public-schooling in order to force Lutheran & Catholic immigrants to Americanize). Then the Supreme Court rules against the tax status of such schools, and who are the intellectual leaders of a cause evangelicals have now signed on to? They start to think of themselves as less Catholic or Protestant in distinction to each other but conservative Christians distinct from secular liberalism. Evangelicals may once have been okay with abortion, but now they think “I’m a conservative Christian in favor of traditional morality and opposed to the degeneration fostered by the courts, of course I’m against abortion”. To take another example, Mormons used to be just fine with evolutionary theory. As they become more integrated into the religious right, they began to adopt the creationism of evangelicals.

47

Sebastian H 06.03.14 at 3:44 pm

Corey your links even disagree with you. They argue that some evangelical leaders got riled up over segregation and their schools, *but when they wanted to be involved in a mass movement they realized they need a different cause because segregation didn’t resonate*.

But Falwell and Weyrich, having tapped into the ire of evangelical leaders, were also savvy enough to recognize that organizing grassroots evangelicals to defend racial discrimination would be a challenge. It had worked to rally the leaders, but they needed a different issue if they wanted to mobilize evangelical voters on a large scale.
By the late 1970s, many Americans—not just Roman Catholics—were beginning to feel uneasy about the spike in legal abortions following the 1973 Roe decision. The 1978 Senate races demonstrated to Weyrich and others that abortion might motivate conservatives where it hadn’t in the past. That year in Minnesota, pro-life Republicans captured both Senate seats (one for the unexpired term of Hubert Humphrey) as well as the governor’s mansion. In Iowa, Sen. Dick Clark, the Democratic incumbent, was thought to be a shoo-in: Every poll heading into the election showed him ahead by at least 10 percentage points. On the final weekend of the campaign, however, pro-life activists, primarily Roman Catholics, leafleted church parking lots (as they did in Minnesota), and on Election Day Clark lost to his Republican pro-life challenger.
In the course of my research into Falwell’s archives at Liberty University and Weyrich’s papers at the University of Wyoming, it became very clear that the 1978 election represented a formative step toward galvanizing everyday evangelical voters. Correspondence between Weyrich and evangelical leaders fairly crackles with excitement. In a letter to fellow conservative Daniel B. Hales, Weyrich characterized the triumph of pro-life candidates as “true cause for celebration,” and Robert Billings, a cobelligerent, predicted that opposition to abortion would “pull together many of our ‘fringe’ Christian friends.”

And then on abortion as an issue, political evangelicalism gained enormous weight.

So Weyrich had been trying to find an issue for some time. He gained the support of some school owner/preachers over the school issue, but not until abortion was it a successful mass movement. Again, see eugenics and progressives.

48

Barry 06.03.14 at 6:38 pm

Main Street Muse 06.03.14 at 2:16 pm

” From OP – “’It’s time for God’s people to come out of the closet,’” declared a Texas televangelist in 1980.””

What’s important to remember is that ‘God’s People’ (white right-wingers) were always politically mobilized. Ask any non-white or liberal person in Texas as of 1980 just how in the closet those guys weren’t.

What really happened in this era was a political realignment with this demographic group becoming highly Republican.

49

JRoth 06.03.14 at 10:39 pm

Probably no point in repeating facts to Sebastian that he insists on ignoring, but:

The story that the religious right tells about itself is that Roe v. Wade created a movement. As the linked articles – and many, many pieces at Slacktivist, who is himself an evangelical, raised in the religious right during the era under discussion, so we’re talking eyewitness testimony – document, prominent evangelical leaders were not bothered by Roe v. Wade at all. Therefore, when they claim that Roe v. Wade inspired them to get political, they are… lying.

Now, lots of movements – maybe all of them – have foundational myths. But nobody looks more foolish than an adult who claims not to be a hack, yet insists that the foundational myth is literal (Gospel, if you will) truth.

So: hack, child, or fool? Your choice.

50

JRoth 06.03.14 at 10:42 pm

And it’s not as if the tight link between Southern Baptism and segregation is some weird oddity of history: Southern Baptism and the entire notion of “Biblical inerrancy” and literalism were created in the mid-19th century for the express purpose of supporting slavery. If you’re going to try to deny that, Sebastian, I’m going to have to insist that you convince Fred Clark – who knows infinitely more about it than you do – and if you do, I’ll give you a hearing. Until then, you’re trolling, obfuscating and bullshitting in order to distract from the historical record.

51

Douglas O'Keefe 06.03.14 at 11:23 pm

JROTH

Far be it for me to troll, obfuscate, and bullshit in order to distract from the historical record, but biblical literalism was not invented by Southern Baptists: wikipedia cites two scholars tracing it back to the 1600s (it came out of conflict with the new empiricism of the Scientific Revolution). The OED has the following from 1743: “The Predestinarian Figurists abandon the letter, and fall into a contrary extream from the Literalists, who reject the spiritual sense.”

And, of course, the fact that Southern Baptists in 1845 were pro-slavery is no evidence at all for anything that happened in the 1970s-80s.

52

roy belmont 06.03.14 at 11:57 pm

The carrot of greed and its promise of gratification, and the stick of the fear of indebtedness drove a lot if not most all the heinous main events of what we’re calling history at this date.
As they still drive much that is disturbing in the modern social landscape.
The Highland Clearances, the Irish subjugation.
The Opium War.
Mortgage crisis, student loan crisis.

Fear and greed, what else is there?

Slavery itself was funded, from the get, right?
You didn’t have some kind of free-range slave ships just hoping for business, sailing up and down off the coast of Africa.
They were outfitted, funded, invested in. And they weren’t being funded by racist white Southerners.
Slavery was big business.

The up-front money that initiated trans-Atlantic slave transportation was venture capital, and it was coming from the occult banking clots of Northern Europe.

This cathartic simplistical horseshit that sees dumbass rednecks as responsible for the heinous pathologies of slavery and post-slavery – exactly the way so many naive p.c. hamsters observers still see Lynndie England as the responsible initiator of Abu Ghraib heinosity – this has got to stop.
Because it is wrong-headed and an obstacle to real progress in this matter.

53

Bruce Wilder 06.04.14 at 2:20 am

. . . so many naive p.c. hamsters observers still see Lynndie England as the responsible initiator of Abu Ghraib heinosity . . .

Really!? Do you have examples, illustrative links? I would sincerely like to see them.

54

Donald Johnson 06.04.14 at 2:27 am

For the rank and file I think it was Francis Schaeffer and people influenced by him who made the difference on the abortion issue. And once it became an article of faith that the Bible clearly taught abortion was wrong, people would naturally rewrite the history, or rather, they would assume that “Bible believing Christians” had always thought the same on this subject.

On racism, I grew up around the time when huge numbers of white Southern parents suddenly decided it was important for their children to have a good Christian education at a private school–it coincided precisely with the advent of busing for racial integration, at least where I grew up. But not all white evangelicals were racist. Just a big chunk of them.

55

roy belmont 06.04.14 at 3:52 am

Bruce Wilder -
No man, sorry, I can’t supply the requested linkages. I just made that shit up for rhetorical effect.
In actual factual reality most of the p.c. hamster/observers I do run into online and in person these days never even think about Abu Ghraib at all. It’s like it never happened, or they never heard about it or something.
And if someone does force them to think about it, the only ones I’ve seen or heard respond honestly to the question generally seem to think it was plain-clothes Mossad that really instigated that whole nightmare porn-fest.

That’s the trouble with rhetorical flourishes, some right-brain bigtimer’s always waiting to bring you back down to earth.

56

Bruce Wilder 06.04.14 at 4:26 am

That’s the trouble with rhetorical flourishes, . . .

One of the many troubles. Mix your metaphors with a long spoon, but never shake.

. . . most of the p.c. hamster/observers I do run into online and in person these days never even think about Abu Ghraib at all. It’s like it never happened, or they never heard about it or something.

The memory hole is fantastically wide and deep. It is by far the largest topographical feature of our discourse, the deep and unsolid foundation of many — not just p.c. hamsters’ — ideologies and worldviews.

Anyways hooh, I do enjoy your comments.

57

Donald Johnson 06.04.14 at 11:14 am

“In actual factual reality most of the p.c. hamster/observers I do run into online and in person these days never even think about Abu Ghraib at all. “

In my experience there are two groups of people on the self-described left on the subject of US war crimes. One group thinks it was solely a Bush responsibility and Obama’s “we need to look forward and not back” was a sad concession to political reality and not a self-interested gesture by a US President unwilling to set a precedent (that US officials could be investigated and perhaps indicted for war crimes). The other group gets angry about it, but thinks it is mostly a lost cause, because there’s a bipartisan consensus to avoid prosecuting US officials. In fact, the consensus is that such a notion is unthinkable. There might be a third group, but I’m not aware of it.

58

SamChevre 06.04.14 at 12:32 pm

Donald Johnson @ 54

the time when huge numbers of white Southern parents suddenly decided it was important for their children to have a good Christian education at a private school–it coincided precisely with the advent of busing for racial integration, at least where I grew up.

It also, of course, coincided almost exactly with Abington Township v. Schempp, prior to which it was possible for children in areas where Christians were in the majority to get a good Christian education in a public school. Post hoc, ergo propter hoc is a known fallacy.

59

Bruce Wilder 06.04.14 at 2:53 pm

Donald Johnson @ 57

I think the now frequent reference on the left to the needs and doings of the “Deep State” as an explanation for the general immunity of policy and personnel from the critiques of the left indicates some residual awareness, though still no sense of responsibility for being politically impotent.

60

Wonks Anonymous 06.04.14 at 2:58 pm

JRoth, I don’t think it’s as simple as that. It’s entirely possible for evangelicals to be indifferent at the time Roe v. Wade is handed down, but the eventual result be another story. It’s just not a simple story of populist backlash at the obvious over-reach of the court, it’s one of movement building and identity realignment.

61

Barry 06.04.14 at 2:58 pm

SamChevre: “It also, of course, coincided almost exactly with Abington Township v. Schempp, prior to which it was possible for children in areas where Christians were in the majority to get a good Christian education in a public school. Post hoc, ergo propter hoc is a known fallacy.”

Good point. Is there any way to disentangle two hypotheses?

Oh, yeah – were these ‘academies’ segregated?

62

Jerry Vinokurov 06.04.14 at 3:01 pm

It also, of course, coincided almost exactly with Abington Township v. Schempp, prior to which it was possible for children in areas where Christians were in the majority to get a good Christian education in a public school.

Whoa, you mean we can’t promote religious indoctrination on the public dime now?! Just what is this country coming to?

63

Jerry Vinokurov 06.04.14 at 3:05 pm

Thinking about it a little more, SamChevre’s “description” of Schempp is so fundamentally dishonest that there’s nothing for it but to call it a complete and total lie. Here’s what the case was about:

The Abington case concerns Bible-reading in Pennsylvania public schools. At the beginning of the school day, students who attended public schools in the state of Pennsylvania were required to read at least ten verses from the Bible. After completing these readings, school authorities required all Abington Township students to recite the Lord’s Prayer.

64

SamChevre 06.04.14 at 3:17 pm

Jerry

I’m proposing that “we can’t promote religious indoctrination on the public dime now” is a perfectly sensible explanation of why people for whom religious indoctrination is important might move out of a public system and into a private one.

65

Donald Johnson 06.04.14 at 3:20 pm

SamChevre–I grew up alongside these people, so I wasn’t just making some remote statistical correlation. Growing up in Memphis in the 70’s was a great political education–I would read the letters to the editor where people would argue against busing and in favor of neighborhood schools and then I’d be around my classmates and a pretty big chunk of them would use the n word as a matter of habit. I remember being driven home from an end of the semester class party when I was in the 8th grade–busing would start for our school the following fall. The girl was saying how terrible it would be for those who stayed in public school, because the “n*****” would all be fighting all the time. That was the driving force behind the mass exodus to private schools then. Not for everyone–I don’t want to stereotype white Southerners (of which I was one) and not everyone went to private schools for racist motives. But don’t try and tell me racism wasn’t a huge factor. I was there.

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SamChevre 06.04.14 at 3:30 pm

Were these ‘academies’ segregated?

Well, it varied from academy to academy. The one that gets the most focus–LCA–was segregated the first two years, and desegregated in 1968.

67

SamChevre 06.04.14 at 3:39 pm

Donald Johnson,

I’m younger than you, and grew up in East Tennessee, not West, but I agree: racism was a major factor in the growth of private schools in the South, in the ’60’s and ’70’s.

What I disagree with is that it was a major factor in motivating the Christian Right, and particularly Jerry Falwell. He was running an integrated school and had been for several years.

68

godoggo 06.05.14 at 5:59 am

“Really!? Do you have examples, illustrative links? I would sincerely like to see them.”

I do seem to recall Christopher Hitchens suggesting that Lynndie England and her boyfriend ought to be summarily shot. OK, obviously he wasn’t all that p.c. but he sure did know a lot of big words.

69

bad Jim 06.05.14 at 7:45 am

It’s nice to see Donald Johnson here again.

Biblical literalism has been around, in one way or another, roughly as long as the Bible has. Augustine’s on record complaining that it made Christians look ridiculous. Sola scriptura is perhaps not quite the same thing, but the notion that everyone could learn the truth by reading the book themselves implied that it was both accessible and reliable.

Even in modern times the Bible has been taken seriously as a guide to archaeology, as has the Book of Mormon, which turns out not to have been an entirely bad thing, because the LDS subsidized a considerable amount of research in Central America in the vain hope of validating its founding mythology.

70

godoggo 06.05.14 at 7:58 am

I never lived in the South, but when I was a kid I moved from a Black neighborhood to a lilly-white one and suddenly I was hearing the N-word every frigging day. It was quite shocking to me.

71

godoggo 06.05.14 at 8:00 am

And that is not a lie.

72

Niall McAuley 06.05.14 at 10:09 am

bad Jim: here’s a quote from Augustine:

Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth,
the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the
motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative
positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the
cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals,
shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as
being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a
disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a
Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture,
talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to
prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up
vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is
not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that
people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers
held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose
salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and
rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a
field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his
foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe
those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead,
the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they
think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they
themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason?
Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold
trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in
one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by
those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For
then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue
statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof
and even recite from memory many passages which they think support
their position, although they understand neither what they say
nor the things about which they make assertion
. [1 Timothy 1.7]
—–
Augustine (A.D. 354-430), The Literal Meaning of Genesis (De Genesi
ad litteram libri duodecim) (translated by J. H. Taylor, Ancient
Christian Writers, Newman Press, 1982, volume 41)
Book 1 Chapter 19 Paragraph 39

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Barry 06.05.14 at 11:40 am

“Really!? Do you have examples, illustrative links? I would sincerely like to see them.”

godoggo: “I do seem to recall Christopher Hitchens suggesting that Lynndie England and her boyfriend ought to be summarily shot. OK, obviously he wasn’t all that p.c. but he sure did know a lot of big words.”

Christopher Hitchens was certainly not a liberal, let alone a leftist, by that time. Just in case you didn’t notice, he supported the Iraq War.

74

godoggo 06.05.14 at 3:23 pm

Well, the people making anti-science claims these days aren’t Catholics for the most part.

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Ogden Wernstrom 06.05.14 at 8:43 pm

Donald Johnson @54 notes that, “…huge numbers of white Southern parents suddenly decided it was important for their children to have a good Christian education at a private school–it coincided precisely with the advent of busing for racial integration…”.

Then SamChevre @58 claims that, “[i]t also, of course, coincided almost exactly with Abington Township v. Schempp…”.

Did this increased migration to integration-resistant schools coincide precisely with the 1963 Abington ruling? Or was the spike some time 5 to 8 years later, due to the progression of decisions in Green v. County School Board of New Kent County and Swann v. Charlotteville-Mecklenburg Board of Education?

The school board meetings I attended which were attempting to come to grips with a busing mandate were in 1971.

I’m certain this all fits together somehow. Shall we revise history, or revise the use of the words “precise” and “sudden”?

76

Donald Johnson 06.05.14 at 11:26 pm

I can speak for the time and place where I was a witness–the early 70’s in Memphis. In public (letters to newspapers), people opposed to busing used high-minded talk about the virtues of neighborhood schools. (Neighborhoods in Memphis in the 70’s were highly segregated–again, I don’t know about now. I was impressed by just how poor some of the black neighborhoods were.) Some of this high-minded talk was sincere–I myself hated being bused to some school many miles away– and also, some of the desire to have their kids have a Christian education might have been sincere. But what I can report is that little of that seeped through in the discussions of my 12-13 year old classmates. There, the talk was about “n*****” and not wanting to go to school with them. A large number of Christian schools sprouted up when busing started.

It’d be fascinating to me if someone wrote a fine-grained history of busing and integration in Memphis city schools in the 70’s . I wonder how much racism would show up in documents? As I said, when I read the letters to the local paper I don’t recall seeing any blatantly racist arguments, even though the blatantly racist arguments were what you heard from children. Children are more honest about such things. Of course, even the kids were careful not to use the n-word around a teacher, though I remember one slipping up once, quickly slapping a hand across his mouth.

77

Donald Johnson 06.05.14 at 11:39 pm

What a historian could research is how many white children started going to private schools when busing started. Very few white kids (in my experience) were bused to black schools. I was one of several dozen that went to a junior high school in a black neighborhood miles away. The next year I got to go to the local high school in a white neighborhood. At the black school we whites were heavily outnumbered and a few years later I heard there was only one white kid bused to it. (Not sure if that’s true, but it struck me as plausible). At the local high school it was more 50/50. But a lot of whites had fled the public schools, even if they weren’t to be bused. A lot of people I knew in the 8th grade and should have seen in high school had vanished. Raptured, perhaps.

Race and racism was so much a part of life back then I take it for granted. This was only a few years after the public bathrooms were integrated. I don’t know about the Christian Right in general, but there would be a lot of overlap between the whites who were racist and those who might later have supported the Christian Right.

78

Main Street Muse 06.06.14 at 12:26 am

It is amazing how much American political action has been devoted to racism – either to upholding, promoting, creating racist policies or, later in the nation’s history, opposing them, and then the chess moves around equal rights laws.

79

rustypleb 06.06.14 at 1:51 am

Riddle me this concerning the evangelical laity or cadre or whatever. The younger ones are all fucking like bunnies. they’re all using contraception and on the occasion where enthusiasm takes caution by surprise they are having abortions, but they live in segregated or essentially segregated neighborhoods and they attend segregated schools. They are segregated.

80

rustypleb 06.06.14 at 2:36 am

And while the first observation is awaiting moderation (which I obviously failed to provide) I’ll add another. Why all the great mystery about the power and appeal of the pro-life position? What could possibly be higher ground than religiously demanded opposition to the murder of children? One becomes not just a better person but better still a superior Christian. And as a bonus there’s the assuagement of all that secret guilt about doing the dirty. We may be fornicators (though no one knows) but we’re not baby killers ( except that one time ….) but we’re good Christians and completely against all abortions. Boy that time I had one too many margaritas and slipped off to Frank'[s room at the convention thank God for birth control……. It’s a perfect position really; impregnably superior.

81

Meredith 06.06.14 at 4:51 am

At the time, as I recall it, the creation of many new private (often “Christian”) academies in the south seemed pretty obviously designed to evade integration. Which isn’t to say that the textured experience of individual white folks in the south wasn’t much more complex and nuanced. But the big picture matters — reminds us to query our own motives, or how even our good motives can get implicated in things that aren’t so good. True for northerners as well. I find myself coming around to reparations (Ta-Nehisi Coates) as much from a northern perspective as southern. See also Charlie Pierce (again) on the Morrill Act: http://www.esquire.com/blogs/politics/James_Buchanan_Speaks_To_Our_Time
Also check out Craig Wilder’s Ebony and Ivy — especially relevant to questions raised in comments here about education’s history.

82

Wonks Anonymous 06.06.14 at 2:08 pm

Interesting point, Meredith. I recall reading recently that southern schools are actually more integrated than northern ones (due chiefly to the highly segregated upper midwest, where I live).

83

Barry 06.06.14 at 3:39 pm

Wonks, that’s after decades of hard struggle.

84

Main Street Muse 06.06.14 at 3:42 pm

In 1966, after a trip north to Chicago to advocate for housing rights and desegregation of the neighborhoods, Martin Luther King, Jr. had this to say: “I think the people from Mississippi ought to come to Chicago to learn how to hate.” (http://bit.ly/1r3vP7E ) Racial hatred and segregation is an American problem, not isolated to the south.

85

Adrian Kelleher 06.06.14 at 5:22 pm

As colonial rule was drawing to a close in Kenya in 1962, Life Magazine sent one of its editors to act as a co-driver for Car No. 37 on a rally called the East African Safari. There’s nothing coy or understated about the racism of his report.

After hitting a rock “… the left front shock absorber fell to pieces. The car was yeeing and yawing wildly and it became a problem to avoid hitting the natives who cluttered the roadside. If we hit one, what should we do? In Kenya the police advised white motorists to keep right on driving. Otherwise they stood an excellent chance of being chopped to pieces on the spot.”

The ‘natives’ never realised how lucky they were: “Not long after leaving Dar es Salaam, doing 68mph on a tarmac road, we hit a leopard. I saw the animal’s spotted coat, framed momentarily in the lights, as it dashed across in front of us. Then there was a dull thump. We ignored it. What was one more thump!”

But there was nothing unusual about this footnote to colonial history. In 1898, two French officers sent on a mission to Lake Chad instead burned every village on the way, slaughtering everyone they didn’t force into sexual servitude. Germans in Namibia set about wiping out the Herero and collecting their heads for anthropological study. In the Philippines, US forces murdered entire towns without consequence. Extremes of racism could reach comical levels, as in 1900 when a British conqueror decided that the craftsmanship of Benin (which had never previously been under European rule) was unmistakeably of Chinese origin.

Instead of its severity, what really distinguishes racism in the southern US is its divergence from changing norms elsewhere. The symbols and apologia for racism are often clung to even when there’s no practical purpose in mind, an irrational quirk with a long history (for example the sense that the enslavement of Africans was a moral mission crippled the Confederacy’s capacity for political reasoning). For every cynical manifestation such as dog whistling there’s another that’s wholly self-defeating, a peculiarity that’s key to understanding what it is that perpetuates the phenomenon.

86

Wonks Anonymous 06.06.14 at 6:45 pm

The American south is not like the post-colonial world where the Europeans mostly went back home. The Afrikaaners of South Africa might be more comparable.

87

Adrian Kelleher 06.06.14 at 7:01 pm

Apartheid was a Rolls Royce of racism compared with Jim Crow. It was all about power and was enshrined in law like all proper reactionary systems. They never told themselves a load of nonsense about any moral mission, and it only developed obvious signs of moral squalor (as opposed to mere ruthlessness) in the 1970s.

Jim Crow added the insults of lies and hypocrisy to the injury of injustice. Lynchings — sadistic frenzies designed to terrorise moderate whites (often entire districts or even regions) almost as much as the black population — were only the most obvious consequence of this. This is what was incredible about the Jim Crow system: it engendered an unhinged hatred in the victors, something remarkably strange by any standards and obviously worthy of detailed examination.

88

Ed Herdman 06.06.14 at 7:13 pm

@ Adrian Kelleher:

On D-Day’s anniversary, I thought a vignette from the lesser-known corridor of materiel provides a good contrast with the Kenya story. In his book “The Persian Corridor,” Douglas S. Sherwen recounts a tragic encounter along a dusty road. An infant was playing by the side of the road, along which a convoy of US trucks was driving, with the parents nearby; suddenly, the child ended up in the road and was killed instantly. Sherwen says that his truck was immediately behind the one that ran over the child, with the driver thankfully oblivious to what had happened, but Sherwen says he stopped his truck immediately, holding up the rest of the convoy for some time, while the parents grieved.

And there was a war on. I recently heard that James Michener recounts an encounter with tragedy during the war; on a boat in waters feared under patrol by Japanese submarines, sailors were warned that no matter what the circumstances, the ships couldn’t return for anyone overboard. Of course, somebody did go overboard, and they heard his anguished screams receding into the distance. (Starkly contrast with the current-day opinion that “it doesn’t matter if you’re pushed, pulled, or jump in; we’ll go back to get you” as announced in the wake of Bowe Bergdahl’s return.)

Back to the Gulf Corridor, my own grandfather (who gets his name spelled two different ways, in two somewhat unflattering vignettes, in that book) took on an affinity for the people which remains to the day. My father says grandpa doesn’t hold any grudge against the Iranian regime, and looking through some notes of his wartime photography collection, it seemed that he didn’t waste any time taking on the cause of the people. He recounts with obvious shock some locally-related (and probably exaggerated) tidbits about Tamerlane, the conqueror. His photos and notes tell many stories of GIs taking in the culture – not just the ancient sites but also the people. Of course, Persia is not Africa.

If our first (pre-’53) entry into Persia had been more like the British entry into Kenya, or we had gone to the assistance of British colonial rulers, would we have quickly adopted rules of thumb such as “don’t stop for the locals ever?” The ironic thing is that this mode of operation only aggravated the need of the indigenous peoples for justice. The meting out of justice on two unsuspecting travelers, if it would have happened, would have been a luxury for the Kenyans. For the British, it was a frivolous action cloaked as the necessary expedient proven by centuries of the colonial experience.

If only justice could be served without human meddling – as if the goat in William O. Douglas’ Iranian story “Justice Served By A Goat” had chosen correctly, as all the people pretended he had.

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mattH 06.07.14 at 4:26 pm

@ Adrian Kelleher

It’s pretty obvious that the enactors of Jim Crow were losers; they’d lost the Civil War and the only way to maintain their position post-war on top was to reenslave. There’s quite the historic recognition of the fact that Jim Crow laws were all about suppressing any political and economic power of Black Americans. Seen through that lens it’s usually a lot clearer why they were so ruthless about it.

The best part of bringing this up is when you look at what Sam had to say about rejecting the “history” of the Christian Right. In one case (Jim Crow) we have an example of the historic antecedent predating regulations in some cases by decades, in another (rise of the Christian Right) by only a few years, yet it would seem that the linkage is about as clear. Maybe the least everyone could agree on is that, if the leaders of the nascent Christian Right were motivated by forced integration, and that forced integration wouldn’t be enough to motivate the ran and file, then supposed unease with the rise in abortions* wouldn’t have had a leadership to form around. Of course the side effect of this is that it implies the Christian Right leadership is composed of purely power-hungry individuals looking for an opportunity.

*(How much of the unease, if it really existed before the CR leadership started sounding the alarm, is from legal records being kept, whereas before a good number of abortions would have been illegal?)

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