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RACIST ROOTS OF RELIGIOUS RIGHT IN AMERICA


EDITORS NOTE: We are certainly not suggesting that all members of the religious right in America's evangelical community are racists. However, there is a clear connection between the origins of the religious right and racism.  Also racism has been very much a part of evangelism in US history.  Check out our report on Christianity and Slavery.  The overwhelming majority of evangelical Christians in America before the Civil War believed that  their "personal relationship with Jesus Christ" required them to support the slave trade.


THE MYTH OF THE RELIGIOUS RIGHT COMING TOGETHER AROUND ROE V WADE

There is a myth in America that the modern Religious Right movement came together over the issue of abortion, after the passing of the supreme court decision Roe v. Wade. In this myth, many members of the Religious Right like to paint themselves as defenders of the lives of the unborn. Some even call themselves the "new abolitionists," because of this fact, comparing themselves to those who fought the evils of slavery.

Yet the reality is that when the landmark supreme court decision Roe v. Wade was passed in 1973, the vast majority of evangelical leaders said nothing about it. Indeed, most evangelicals at that time were in favor of some limited form of abortion rights.  Yes, various Roman Catholic groups denounced the ruling, and Christianity Today complained that the Roe decision "runs counter to the moral teachings of Christianity through the ages but also to the moral sense of the American people." However, W. Barry Garrett of Baptist Press wrote, "Religious liberty, human equality and justice are advanced by the Supreme Court abortion decision." Indeed, even before the Roe decision, the messengers (delegates) to the 1971 Southern Baptist Convention gathering in St. Louis, Missouri, adopted a resolution that stated, "We call upon 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." W.A. Criswell, the former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, even expressed his satisfaction with the Roe v. Wade ruling. "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," the redoubtable fundamentalist declared, "and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed.".

RELIGIOUS RIGHT IN AMERICA REALLY CAME TOGETHER

 AROUND DEFENSE OF WHITE ACADEMIES IN THE SOUTH

According to Balmer, at this conference Weyrich stated that the Religious Right did not come together in response to the Roe decision. "No, Weyrich insisted, what got us going as a political movement was the attempt on the part of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to rescind the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University because of its racially discriminatory policies" (NPR). Weyrich declared, in effect, that the origins of the Religious Right lay in Green v. Connally rather than Roe v. Wade.

The Green v. Connally court case in 1972 produced the ruling that any institution that practiced segregation was not, by definition, a charitable institution and, therefore, no longer qualified for tax-exempt standing.

"For his part, Weyrich saw the evangelical discontent over the Bob Jones case as the opening he was looking for to start a new conservative movement using evangelicals as foot soldiers" . Although both the Green decision of 1972 and the IRS action against Bob Jones University in 1975 predated Jimmy Carter's presidency, Weyrich succeeded in blaming Carter for efforts to revoke the tax exempt status of segregated Christian schools. He recruited James Dobson and Jerry Falwell to the cause, the latter of whom complained, "In some states it's easier to open a massage parlor than to open a Christian school" .

Weyrich apparently had been trying to energize evangelical voters of school prayer, abortion, or the proposed equal rights amendment to the Constitution as far back as the Barry Goldwater campaign in 1964. "I was trying to get those people interested in those issues and I utterly failed," he recalled in an interview in the early 1990s . Yet the issue that finally galvanized these people was Jimmy Carter's intervention against Christian schools, and trying to deny them tax-exempt status on the basis of so-called de facto segregation.

"What caused the movement to surface," Weyrich reiterated,"was the federal government's moves against Christian schools." The IRS threat against segregated schools, he said, "enraged the Christian community." That, not abortion, according to Weyrich, was what galvanized politically conservative evangelicals into the Religious Right and goaded them into action. "It was not the other things," he said .

Ed Dobson, Falwell's erstwhile associate, corroborated Weyrich's account during the ensuing discussion. "The Religious New Right did not start because of a concern about abortion," Dobson said. "I sat in the non-smoke-filled back room with the Moral Majority, and I frankly do not remember abortion ever being mentioned as a reason why we ought to do something" .

Balmer even describes cornering Weyrich at the conference just to make sure that he had heard the man correctly. "He was adamant that, yes, the 1975 action by the IRS against Bob Jones University was responsible for the genesis of the Religious Right in the late 1970s." . It was only after the Religious Right was already assembled over this issue, that abortion got cobbled into the mix.

Falwell and others who eventually became leaders of the Religious Right, in fact, have even explicitly condemned the civil rights movement. "Believing the Bible as I do," Falwell proclaimed in 1965, "I would find it impossible to stop preaching the pure saving gospel of Jesus Christ, and begin doing anything else—including fighting Communism, or participating in civil-rights reforms." .

Therefore, this makes all the more outrageous the occasional attempts by leaders of the Religious Right to portray themselves as the "new abolitionists" in an effort to link their campaign against abortion to the nineteenth century crusade against slavery. The creation of the Religious Right in America in the 1970's was more about the right to keep religious schools tax free than it was about saving the lives of the unborn.


RACIST VIEWS IN CHRISTIAN HISTORY

Yet this racist activity is nothing new in the history of Christianity. The bible itself contains justification for racism and slavery. And there were many religious leaders in the 19th century who used the bible as justification for racism and slavery. As well as Puritans who used the bible to justify genocide against the Native Americans and the seizure of their lands.

JUSTIFICATION IN THE BIBLE

"Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property." -- Leviticus 25:44-45

NEW TESTAMENT

"Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ; not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart." -- Ephesians 6:5-6.

GOD KILLS INDIANS FOR THE WHITE MAN

"But for the natives in these parts, God hath so pursued them, as for 300 miles space the greatest part of them are swept away by smallpox which still continues among them. So as God hath thereby cleared our title to this place, those who remain in these parts, being in all not 50, have put themselves under our protection."

Source: Letter of John Winthrop to England

Note: Winthrop and his contemporaries were inspired by a passage from Psalms 2:8 which stated: "Ask of me, and I shall give thee, the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession."

(U.S. Puritans and Religious Persecution: Troubling Origins of the "Shining City on a Hill" Quote)

SLAVERY IN THE UNITED STATES

"All servants not being Christians, imported into this colony by shipping, shall be slaves for their lives."

Source: Official Act of the Colony of Virginia, 1670. Quoted in David Brion Davis, The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1966), p. 180.

(Christianity and Slavery)


RELATED LINKS

Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts Faith and Threatens America (Book on Amazon)

Evangelical: Religious Right Has Distorted the Faith (NPR, 6-23-06)

When ‘Religious Liberty’ Was Used To Justify Racism Instead Of Homophobia (Think Progress, 2-26-14)


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HISTORY

Critical Commentary on Christianity

Troubling Quotes from the Bible

Christianity and Slavery

Christian Totalitarianism