"No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."
Politico Magazine has published a featured piece by Randall Balmer entitled “The Real Origins of the Religious Right,” that illustrates first hand how history gets rewritten. His thesis:
One of the most durable myths in recent history is that the religious right, the coalition of conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists, emerged as a political movement in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling legalizing abortion. The tale goes something like this: Evangelicals, who had been politically quiescent for decades, were so morally outraged by Roe that they resolved to organize in order to overturn it.
This myth of origins is oft repeated by the movement’s leaders. In his 2005 book, Jerry Falwell, the firebrand fundamentalist preacher, recounts his distress upon reading about the ruling in the Jan. 23, 1973, edition of the Lynchburg News: “I sat there staring at the Roe v. Wade story,” Falwell writes, “growing more and more fearful of the consequences of the Supreme Court’s act and wondering why so few voices had been raised against it.” Evangelicals, he decided, needed to organize.
Some of these anti-Roe crusaders even went so far as to call themselves “new abolitionists,” invoking their antebellum predecessors who had fought to eradicate slavery.
But the abortion myth quickly collapses under historical scrutiny. In fact, it wasn’t until 1979—a full six years after Roe—that evangelical leaders, at the behest of conservative activist Paul Weyrich, seized on abortion not for moral reasons, but as a rallying-cry to deny President Jimmy Carter a second term. Why? Because the anti-abortion crusade was more palatable than the religious right’s real motive: protecting segregated schools. So much for the new abolitionism.
His evidence is, that a) Evangelicals were slow to wake up to the problems inherent in the Rose v. Wade decision, and b) that some began organizing in the wake of a Supreme Court decision that removed tax-exempt status from some church related schools in the south that were segregated. This are both facts long in evidence and denied by no one. However, Balmer weaves these facts, along with some others, into a narrative that makes the rise of the religious right appear to be some Machiavellian scheme, foisted upon gullible, thoughtless Evangelicals solely in order to preserve segregation.
What does Balmer not consider? Well, for one, Green v Kennedy (the SCOTUS segregation/tax case) and Nixon’s subsequent policy decisions for the IRS represented a significant step by government into defining what was and what was not religion and religious training. Having much family in Mississippi, I am well aware that many of the church schools that sprang up in South in the wake Brown were racist to their core, but that does not change the fact that these moves represented a significant move on the part of the federal government from telling public institutions what to do to telling private and ostensibly religious institutions what to do. These moves represented as big an (or perhaps a bigger?) intrusion by government into religion as the intrusion posed by Obamacare’s abortion coverage provisions today. While the racial admission practices of these schools was not highlighted, the legal ramifications of these decisions was widely discussed and to my memory played a role in galvanizing religious people across the nation to political action. Abhorrent as the racial admission policies of these schools were, if the government could attack their tax exempt status based on that policy, what other policy might they also someday decide warranted such an erosion of the separation of church and state? There was a very real danger in these decisions and Obamacare’s abortion coverage provisions are front-and-center example one.
Balmer makes this sound sinister:
Although Bob Jones Jr., the school’s 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 decades, evangelical leaders had boasted that because their educational institutions accepted no federal money (except for, of course, not having to pay taxes) the government could not tell them how to run their shops—whom to hire or not, whom to admit or reject. The Civil Rights Act, however, changed that calculus.
Balmer adds no facts to the historical records here. All he does is assert motivation and weave a narrative worthy of a Bilderberger theorist. Religious freedom was, and remains, a very real issue in all of this.
Balmer’s “art” sees its highest expression in this paragraph:
Between Weyrich’s machinations and Schaeffer’s jeremiad, evangelicals were slowly coming around on the abortion issue. At the conclusion of the film tour in March 1979, Schaeffer reported that Protestants, especially evangelicals, “have been so sluggish on this issue of human life, and Whatever Happened to the Human Race? is causing real waves, among church people and governmental people too.”
“Machinations?” — “Jeremaid?” My goodness, I had no clue that Hydra had hidden itself inside Evangelicals and Protestants just waiting for the time when it could assert its dangerous philosophy and with the aid of the computerized Armen Zola conquer the world.
There is no question that the desire to educate their children outside of the presence of African-Americans played an early role in organizing Protestants and Evangelicals to political action. But the movement that became the Religious Right outgrew that small and particular aspect of its beginning quickly. Balmer offers no evidence, or even narrative, that connects the religious freedom narrative to the abortion narrative other than chronological coincidence. (Well, in fairness there are unfootnoted references to the archives of Liberty University) And yet it was the abortion issue that caught the concern and energy of the religious nation.
The game that Balmer plays in this atrocious piece could be just as easily played by looking into the Communism derived motives of some early leaders in the liberal movement. Most people of the left, even those I disagree with strongly, are good people seeking what they view as best for the nation. The same is true for people of the right. Every political movement, left, right, and middle, has its opportunists and less than purely motivated players. They do not define the movement. The movement is defined by the millions that join it and where they take it.
Balmer here attempts in the grossest of manners to call into the question an entire movement based solely on sinister assertions surrounding facts known to anyone that was either there, or that bothers to look. This is not journalism, it’s not spin, it’s not even agenda journalism. (It is certainly not historical research.) This is crafting a conspiracy theory – pure and simple.
Such things are written and published on the Internet daily. No surprise there. It is; however, shameful that Politico has not merely published this tripe, but featured it.
Another decade – another Clinton scandal – Benghazi.
How did Bill Clinton survive impeachment? Pretty simple really. With the deft aid of partisan allies in Congress and a willing press, he managed to turn what was a perjury trial into a referendum on the “right” of a guy to mess up in his marriage from time-to-time. I find it fascinating the Monica Lewinsky pops up her head when Hillary Clinton – and the president – find themselves in a bind worthy of Congressional investigation. Sometimes I wonder if it is not a signal to run the same play?
Boehner has named the Republican side of the special investigative committee and Pelosi has balked. Why has Ms. Pelosi balked?
In a letter sent Friday afternoon to Boehner, Pelosi rejected committee rules proposed by Republicans, citing concerns that Democrats would be treated no better than on the contentious House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Democrats and Republicans on that committee, under Chairman Darrell Issa, D-Calif., clashed repeatedly over the handling of its Benghazi inquiries.
“Regrettably, the proposal does not prevent the unacceptable and repeated abuses by committed by Chairman Issa in any meaningful way, and we find it ultimately unfair,” Pelosi wrote, adding that she hoped a one-on-one meeting with Boehner may produce a way forward. “I am still hopeful we can reach an agreement,” she said. [emphasis added]
Let’s see, “unfair” – I think that is ringing some bells here. Let’s face it Affirmative Action was all about righting the ‘unfairness” in hiring practices based on race, gender etc. So, we have an African-American president and a female Secretary of State under (deserved) fire from a Republican controlled House and we cry “unfair.” Is it possible that they are trying to turn a straightforward investigation into the politicization of the murder of American diplomats and the potential dereliction of duty by the Commander-in-Chief into a referendum on race and gender? Could Ms. Pelosi be sending a signal to the press minions on how to spin the thing?
It’s the play book the Clinton’s have used before. Worked then, and if anything the press is even more in the bag now than it was twenty or so years ago.
I was stunned when Clinton did it and I am more stunned now. The lack of honor is extraordinary. Nixon had the decency and honor for the office to resign rather than taint it in this fashion. This bunch clearly does not – shame on them and shame on us for putting up with it.
It is time for real straight talk about the elephant in the room – Identity politics. They are toxic to the American political system. Until recent decades Americans came together over a shared set of values, while retaining certain culture distinctives. So, you may have grown up eating sauerkraut and drinking dark beer (with a name like “Schroeder”, I mean come on…), but you worked hard, contributed to the community and shared such values with the people a few blocks over that ate pasta and drank wine.
Nowadays it seems like such “distinctives” extend far beyond things like dietary choices and music – extend to things fundamental to the benefit of the nation. Rather than asking what their culture can add to the nation, they ask what it can take from the nation. Rather than build the nation they seek to “transform” it. They insist that the nation is to support their culture even at the expense of the nation’s survival. It is cultural narcissism.
It will tear the nation apart. Unchecked it will turn the nation into a chaos of battling tribes fighting for supremacy.
I have begun reading the book “HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton” by Jonathan Allen. The first chapter discusses Hillary Clinton and the primary battle of 2008 – the rather epic struggle between her and Barack Obama. One paragraph absolutely stunned me. It discusses the Obama campaign’s appeal to African-American attorneys to support Obama in order to be “on the right side of history:” That is a blatant appeal based on race. There is no disguise there, no plausible deniability, simple “vote for me and elect the first black man.”
Imagine Mitt Romney making a similar appeal to Caucasian attorneys. The firestorm would have been unlike anything in American political history. Yet here we are learning of this utterly reverse-racist appeal after the man’s re-election. Rather than appeal to the good and valuable, to shared values and shared contribution to the nation, Obama ran on “It’s our turn.” Again, imagine Mitt Romney running on “It’s the Mormon’s turn.”
Obama ran on tribal allegiance, not merit. That is toxic to a nation like ours.
Things are looking up for the GOP in the mid-terms. The nation is in pretty pitiful shape due in no small part to Obama’s lack of merit for the job. But the GOP cannot rely on that to carry them forward. It’s possible the a shellacking this fall may see Obama turn cooperative with a Republican Congress for the sake of his legacy – something that would cause a fickle public to forget his toxic rise to power. It’s possible that a newly elected GOP Congress will be so anxious to fix some extraordinary problems that they will bash heads with the president hard enough for him to claim victim-hood (something he already does routinely just with the House) and exacerbate the identity politics that have brought us to this point. It is possible because this whole topic makes us feel “dirty” that we will ignore it altogether allowing it to simply fester.
We cannot allow those things to happen – they will kill us. We should start, I think, by working hard to heal the identity rifts within the GOP. But we have to address them, not simply rise above them. I no longer have faith that the American people can just see the better way when it is put in front of them – they have to be taught it. Yes, we need to take control of Congress in 2014, desperately. But if we do so by maneuvering inside identity politics 2014 may be a Pyrrhic victory. The nation cannot afford such.
For several years, the United States has seen a decline in religious affiliation. Currently, 20 percent of Americans don’t claim a particular religion or church — up from 15 percent just five years ago. Some worry that this shift into secularism will turn the United States into Western Europe.
Yet others are more optimistic. They point out that polling data don’t always allow for a nuanced discussion of faith and spirituality, and that many individuals still want to have a relationship with God, albeit on their own terms and with their own timing. These individuals may not relate to specific dogmas or rituals, but they still seek and find solace in believing that God is in charge and that when they put him first, their lives go smoother — an acknowledgement that is at the foundation of most religions and the first of the Ten Commandments.
”To argue that America is suddenly becoming vastly secular is not the case,” says Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of Gallup. “You can’t say (religion) is fading out of importance when a lot of the central events of our time, for better or worse, are based on strong religious convictions. I think that rather than becoming increasingly more of a straight, old-fashioned secular society, we have the potential to be religious, but in some different ways.”
As Spock might say, “Fascinating Captain.” These are the now well discussed “spiritual, but not religious” and comprise many of the so-called “Nones.” As you read through the entire well-done piece you come to understand that this group of people want to shape a personal religion for themselves rather than allow religion to shape them. Theologically that is a subject for a series of sermons and a book. But let’s focus here on what that means for society and politics.
Politically, it’s significance is straightforward. Church and para-church institutions can no longer be relied upon to provide a focal point for political action. What used to be an exercise in herding cats has now become an exercise in chaos. Churches, parachurch organizations, and other religious institutions have been a traditional organizing advantage for conservative. Should the trend described in this article continue, that just does not work anymore. In terms of organizing we begin to look much more like the liberal/Democrat side of the aisle. They have been at it a lot longer than we have and are therefore better at it. Big problem.
Societally, this is an enormous problem. American government is not designed to shape people. Its good functioning is conditioned on a nation of good people. Our government relies on other forces, mostly education and religion, to make those good people. Education is pretty firmly in government hands, and the only counter-balance seems to be in decline. The constitution has both internal and design “checks and balances,” it relies on greater societal checks and balances. These latter checks and balances are on the wane. Without them the future appears bleak.
This is a problem for the church, not politics. I would argue that it is the church relying on political/cultural force, rather than the moral and spiritual force that is unique to it, that has created this trend. I believe it is time for the church to get serious about fixing it.
Daniel Henninger in this morning’s WSJ wonders why liberals can get elected, but not govern. He uses action on climate change as an example as says:
Put differently, it’s not about doing something serious about global warming. It’s really all about them (a virus threatening American conservatism as well). The “them” at the U.N. summits included not just the participating nations but a galaxy of well-financed nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs.
Not a particularly insightful conclusion really, but that parenthetical shot at conservatives is what really bothers me. You see, if we have the same issue then I must conclude we have abandoned religion just as surely as the left. Oh to be sure we remain clothed in our religious garb, but if we are “threatened by the same virus,” then it would seem our religiosity is in garb only.
Regardless of your particular brand of of faith, there are two lessons you can draw from faith that sink deeply into the Great American Civil Religion. Lesson One – there is something much bigger than the self at play. Lesson Two – It’s about service, not self.
Before this turns into a sermon, I would simply suggest that the key to our recapturing the Senate this year, to winning the White House in 2016, but most importantly to setting the nation back on the right course are those lessons.
That most likely means careful and deep re-examination of our religious lives and the institutions that support them. Take your faith seriously first and the rest will follow.