Religious Right: Racism Not Abortion

Bob Jones University

A funny thing happened on the way to the Religious Right. And it explains why black churches and the Catholic Church are generally not part of the Religious Right. If you look at the movement now, it is all about abortion—dating back to the Supreme Court decision in Roe v Wade. And indeed, the Religious Right did rise up about that time, but that was not the issue. This is all explained in a great Politico article by historian Randall Balmer, The Real Origins of the Religious Right. The short answer is in his subtitle, “They’ll tell you it was abortion. Sorry, the historical record’s clear: it was segregation.”

He points out that the vast majority of evangelicals were indifferent to Roe v Wade. They thought it was a “Catholic issue.” And indeed, they were right. I’ve always been kind of surprised that protestants picked up on this very Catholic issue. When I was a kid, protestants thought of Catholics the way they thought of Mormons—hardly Christians at all. Balmer points out that up through 1976—three years after Roe—the Southern Baptist Convention held for, “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.” Remarkable, huh?

But if not Roe, then what? Well, it was a Supreme Court case: Green v Connally. This was a case that challenged the tax-exempt status of racially segregated schools. A lot of these were good old fashioned evangelical schools and they did not like this at all. The IRS contacted Bob Jones University to find out if it was segregated, and the response was, “Hell yes!” Well, actually, it was more along the lines of: we do not admit blacks. Bob Jones argued that the Bible dictated segregation, Genesis 9:27, “May God enlarge Japheth, And let him dwell in the tents of Shem; And let Canaan be his servant.” (Actually, that also justifies slavery, but what are you gonna do: it’s the literal word of God!)

Jerry Falwell and other leaders were smarter and tried to make it about “religious liberty.” If that sounds familiar, it should. Conservative Christians are today using the “religious liberty” canard to stop the working poor from getting healthcare. What charmers the Religious Right are. Am I right?! Meanwhile, Paul Weyrich, co-founder of the Heritage Institute, had spent decades trying to get the evangelicals on the side of conservatism. And nothing seemed to work: “pornography, prayer in schools, the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution, even abortion.” Nothing worked until: “Oh my God! The darkies are coming for our women folk!” Or something like that.

Now this is all about the leadership of the evangelical movement. They knew they couldn’t get the base all riled up about segregation. So they grabbed onto the abortion issue and the rest is history. But this goes right along with what I have long said about Christian opposition to abortion. The Catholics have very abstract philosophical arguments about this issue that no one is interested in. The evangelicals really have no reason for being against early term abortions at the very least. But the followers of these religions are against abortion for the reason the Merovingian pointed out in The Matrix Reloaded: because they were told to.

So what we have is a movement that is mad as hell about abortion—so mad, in fact, that they murder people. But the reason these people are mad is because their leaders didn’t like the government telling them that racial bigotry wasn’t acceptable—or at least was unacceptable enough that the government was going to force them to pay taxes. And that rather sums up the conservative movement generally: rich white men who don’t want any of there money taken away to help poor black children.


Balmer ends with a post script that I add only because of what it says about Ronald Reagan:

The Bob Jones University case merits a postscript. When the school’s appeal finally reached the Supreme Court in 1982, the Reagan administration announced that it planned to argue in defense of Bob Jones University and its racial policies. A public outcry forced the administration to reconsider; Reagan backpedaled by saying that the legislature should determine such matters, not the courts. The Supreme Court’s decision in the case, handed down on May 24, 1983, ruled against Bob Jones University in an 8-to-1 decision. Three years later Reagan elevated the sole dissenter, William Rehnquist, to chief justice of the Supreme Court.

Ronald Reagan was the worst kind of racist. And special note: there are now at least three justices on the Supreme Court who are more conservative than Rehnquist.

11 thoughts on “Religious Right: Racism Not Abortion

  1. FYI — Abortion wasn’t considered a big deal in the pre-Comstock era. Generally home remedies used before "the quickening" (when a fetus’s movements can be felt) were ignored. Which makes sense. After that point, pregnancy is often community knowledge, and giving birth to as many healthy babies as possible was important to the survival of communities once upon a time.

    I don’t think the evangelical focus on race, abortion, feminism, gay rights is strictly evil. I think it has to do with the people who benefitted from the success of the labor movement in the 30’s-60’s, those who never were really a part of it but had decent jobs as a result, wanting to take a principled stand against something when their decent jobs started disappearing. Because they knew nothing about how the history of labor-vs.-ownership really worked, they were easy pickings for preachers who told them "God is angry at America, and fourth-quarter housing starts will nudge upwards if we ban abortion, keep women wearing dresses, put prayer in schools" etc.

    I guess I should amend that — evangelical leadership has been horribly evil for decades. Most evangelical churchgoers, though, just want a better life. And they think if the God-li-est policies are pursued, they’ll get it.

  2. @JMF – That’s my point. It isn’t that the base really cared about integration, but they didn’t think it was so bad that they ought to go door to door.

    Also, Thomas Aquinas thought more or less the same thing in the 13th century: the soul came into the fetus about halfway through the pregnancy. I still think that if as great a theological mind as Aquinas could think this, how can anyone else be so certain they are right that the soul enters the egg with the sperm. That’s just a ridiculous idea. Of course, that isn’t the Catholic logic; that’s just what the evangelicals seem to have convinced themselves that they know.

  3. Well of course modern fundamentalists aren’t chalking up how many angels can fit on the head of a pin. Abortion, for them, has nothing to do with the societal pluses and minuses of forcing women to carry babies to term against their will. It’s merely "things suck in America now, there must be a reason, the reason is God is moderately pissed." Apparently God does not have the mojo it takes to convince most Americans to ban abortion, just as He lacked the wherewithal to pimp for interracial-marriage bans in 1970. He must be slipping

    We aren’t, fortunately, far enough down the dismal path for God to say "screw it" and reduce us all to ashes; He, apparently, needs us to voluntarily enact His preferred laws before He blows us to kingdom come. It’s a learning process. We’ll get there!

  4. @JMF – Certainly it is all in-group / out-group politics. It’s interesting that it is absolutely wrong to put down someone racially (as it should be), but doing so to a different social class is totally okay. Did you see what [url=]Adam Carolla[/url] said? He won’t be forced to do a PR walk of shame, but he should be. Actually, I just wish he would go away. What an awful guy.

    It is funny how God is all powerful but all these Christians just feel they have to do all his work for him. It’s pure hubris. Like these people don’t have more than enough to do just living their own godly lives.

  5. No, I hadn’t seen that Corolla thing. How foul. "Let them eat cake." I won’t say these people should be guillotined . . . but I would’t mind if at some point they were forced to work real jobs. (That goes for the Jamie Dimons and Mitt Romneys, too!)

  6. @JMF – Yeah. And what he’s saying is so ignorant: "I think people who have had every advantage and been well educated and well traveled and spent time around other interesting people are more interesting than people who have been deprived of all these social goods their whole lives. Oh, and poor people complain more about their really hard and unfulfilling jobs more than rich people complain about their enriching and highly paid jobs."

    That’s what is behind it. But then Corolla is an idiot. I thought that 20 years ago when I first saw him on [i]The Man Show[/i].

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