A Friend In Japan Sent Us This Email...
Evangelical: Religious Right Has Distorted the Faith
by Linda Wertheimer
Randall Balmer has written several books. He says he expects his latest to
get him in a fair amount of trouble with the evangelical community.
Morning Edition, June 23, 2006 . President Bush and the Republican Party
find strong support among evangelical voters. But in his new book, Thy
Kingdom Come, author Randall Balmer says that allegiance is misplaced.
"I don't find much that I recognize as Christian" in the religious right,
says Balmer, a professor of religion at Barnard College, Columbia
University and contributing editor to Christianity Today.
He says blind allegiance to the Republican Party has distorted the faith
of politically active evangelicals, leading them to misguided positions on
issues such as abortion and homosexuality.
"They have taken something that is lovely and redemptive and turned it
into something that is ugly and retributive," Balmer says.
He argues that modern evangelicals have abandoned the spirit of their
movement, which was founded in 19th-century activism on issues that helped
those on the fringes of society: abolition, women's suffrage and universal
"I don't find any correlation in the agenda of the religious right today,"
Book Excerpt: 'Thy Kingdom Come'
by Randall Balmer
NPR.org, June 22, 2006 . In the 1980s, in order to solidify their shift
from divorce to abortion, the Religious Right constructed an abortion
myth, one accepted by most Americans as true. Simply put, the abortion
myth is this: Leaders of the Religious Right would have us believe that
their movement began in direct response to the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973
Roe v. Wade decision. Politically conservative evangelical leaders were so
morally outraged by the ruling that they instantly shed their apolitical
stupor in order to mobilize politically in defense of the sanctity of
life. Most of these leaders did so reluctantly and at great personal
sacrifice, risking the obloquy of their congregants and the contempt of
liberals and "secular humanists," who were trying their best to ruin
America. But these selfless, courageous leaders of the Religious Right,
inspired by the opponents of slavery in the nineteenth century, trudged
dutifully into battle in order to defend those innocent unborn children,
newly endangered by the Supreme Court's misguided Roe decision.
It's a compelling story, no question about it. Except for one thing: It
Although 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," the vast majority of evangelical leaders
said virtually nothing about it; many of those who did comment actually
applauded the decision. 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, former president of the Southern Baptist
Convention and pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, 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."
The Religious Right's self-portrayal as mobilizing in response to the Roe
decision was so pervasive among evangelicals that few questioned it. But
my attendance at an unusual gathering in Washington, D.C., finally alerted
me to the abortion myth. In November 1990, for reasons that I still don't
entirely understand, I was invited to attend a conference in Washington
sponsored by the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a Religious Right
organization (though I didn't realize it at the time). I soon found myself
in a conference room with a couple of dozen people, including Ralph Reed,
then head of the Christian Coalition; Carl F. H. Henry, an evangelical
theologian; Tom Minnery of Focus on the Family; Donald Wildmon, head of
the American Family Association; Richard Land of the Southern Baptist
Convention; and Edward G. Dobson, pastor of an evangelical church in Grand
Rapids, Michigan, and formerly one of Jerry Falwell's acolytes at Moral
Majority. Paul M. Weyrich, a longtime conservative activist, head of what
is now called the Free Congress Foundation, and one of the architects of
the Religious Right in the late 1970s, was also there.
In the course of one of the sessions, Weyrich tried to make a point to his
Religious Right brethren (no women attended the conference, as I recall).
Let's remember, he said animatedly, 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.
Bob Jones University was one target of a broader attempt by the federal
government to enforce the provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Several agencies, including the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission,
had sought to penalize schools for failure to abide by antisegregation
provisions. A court case in 1972, Green v. Connally, produced a ruling
that any institution that practiced segregation was not, by definition, a
charitable institution and, therefore, no longer qualified for tax-exempt
The IRS sought to revoke the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University in
1975 because the school's regulations forbade interracial dating; African
Americans, in fact, had been denied admission altogether until 1971, and
it took another four years before unmarried African Americans were allowed
to enroll. The university filed suit to retain its tax-exempt status,
although that suit would not reach the Supreme Court until 1983 (at which
time, the Reagan administration argued in favor of Bob Jones University).
Initially, I found Weyrich's admission jarring. He declared, in effect,
that the origins of the Religious Right lay in Green v. Connally rather
than Roe v. Wade. I quickly concluded, however, that his story made a
great deal of sense. When I was growing up within the evangelical
subculture, there was an unmistakably defensive cast to evangelicalism. I
recall many presidents of colleges or Bible institutes coming through our
churches to recruit students and to raise money. One of their recurrent
themes was,We don't accept federal money, so the government can't tell us
how to run our shop-whom to hire or fire or what kind of rules to live by.
The IRS attempt to deny tax-exempt status to segregated private schools,
then, represented an assault on the evangelical subculture, something that
raised an alarm among many evangelical leaders, who mobilized against it.
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 taxexempt 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, whose conservative activism dates at least as far back as the
Barry Goldwater campaign in 1964, had been trying for years to energize
evangelical voters over school prayer, abortion, or the proposed equal
rights amendment to the Constitution. "I was trying to get those people
interested in those issues and I utterly failed," he recalled in an
interview in the early 1990s. "What changed their mind was Jimmy Carter's
intervention against the Christian schools, trying to deny them tax-exempt
status on the basis of so-called de facto segregation."
During the meeting in Washington, D.C., Weyrich went on to characterize
the leaders of the Religious Right as reluctant to take up the abortion
cause even close to a decade after the Roe ruling. "I had discussions with
all the leading lights of the movement in the late 1970s and early 1980s,
post-Roe v. Wade," he said, "and they were all arguing that that decision
was one more reason why Christians had to isolate themselves from the rest
of the world."
"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
During the following break in the conference proceedings, I cornered
Weyrich to make sure I had heard him 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. What about
abortion? After mobilizing to defend Bob Jones University and its racially
discriminatory policies, Weyrich said, these evangelical leaders held a
conference call to discuss strategy. He recalled that someone suggested
that they had the makings of a broader political movement-something that
Weyrich had been pushing for all along-and asked what other issues they
might address. Several callers made suggestions, and then, according to
Weyrich, a voice on the end of one of the lines said, "How about
abortion?" And that is how abortion was cobbled into the political agenda
of the Religious Right.
The abortion myth serves as a convenient fiction because it suggests noble
and altruistic motives behind the formation of the Religious Right. But it
is highly disingenuous and renders absurd the argument of the leaders of
Religious Right that, in defending the rights of the unborn, they are the
"new abolitionists." The Religious Right arose as a political movement for
the purpose, effectively, of defending racial discrimination at Bob Jones
University and at other segregated schools. Whereas evangelical
abolitionists of the nineteenth century sought freedom for African
Americans, the Religious Right of the late twentieth century organized to
perpetuate racial discrimination. Sadly, the Religious Right has no
legitimate claim to the mantle of the abolitionist crusaders of the
nineteenth century. White evangelicals were conspicuous by their absence
in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Where were Pat
Robertson and Jerry Falwell and Billy Graham on August 28, 1963, during
the March on Washington or on Sunday, March 7, 1965, when Martin Luther
King Jr. and religious leaders from other traditions linked arms on the
march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, to stare down the ugly face of
Falwell and others who eventually became leaders of the Religious Right,
in fact, 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." 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.
Excerpted from Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the
Faith and Threatens America Copyright C 2006 by Randall Balmer.
Yeah, that is good stuff LC. I'm also going to buy the book. Thanks!
"Struggle is a never ending process. Freedom is never really won, you earn it and win it in every generation."
Coretta Scott King
I will buy your books as well. But definitely, I am buying this one. Should be a good read for the Asia and Pacific runs next month