The religious right resulted from white southern conservatives who were afraid of losing IRS tax-exempt status for their segregated "Christian" schools. So claimed in effect none less than Paul Weyrich, the right-wing political strategist generally credited with creating the Moral Majority and the religious right.
Religious historian and liberal evangelist Randall Balmer gives the sordid details in "Thy Kingdom Come: An Evangelical's Lament How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America." Not abortion, not school-prayer, not evolution but outrage over the IRS challenging the tax-exempt status of segregationist Bob Jones University is what got Rev. Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority into politics.
Balmer chronicles Weyrich's statements that include such gems as "I had discussions with all the leading lights of the movement in the late 1970s and early 1980s, post-Roe v. Wade, and they were all arguing that that decision was one more reason why Christians had to isolate themselves from the rest of the world."
That's right. It wasn't the so-called taking prayer out of school. It certainly wasn't abortion. In fact, in 1971, the year before the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, Southern Baptists passed a resolution in St. Louis calling: "upon Southern Baptists to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother." Yes, you read it right. Southern Baptists passed a pro-abortion resolution. That was back before the fundamentalists took over the Southern Baptist Convention in 1979.
After Roe v. Wade legalized abortion, W. Barry Garrett of Baptist Press wrote that: "Religious liberty, human equality and justice are advanced by the Supreme Court decisions."
Ed Dobson, an associate of Falwell and member of the Moral Majority, bluntly said that: "The Religious New Right did not start of a concern about abortion."
The religious right did arise out of a 1972 court decision, Green v. Connally, which ruled any segregated institution was not charitable and thus not tax exempt. When Jimmy Carter's administration decided to press the issue, the religious right was born. Despite Ronnie Reagan not being a regular church goer, the religious right joined forces with conservatives to defeat the evangelist Carter. Enough was enough. What abortion and school prayer hadn't been able to provoke, the fear of losing tax-exempt status for refusing to integrate was enough to spur the religious right to action.
But it has not been enough for the religious right to simply defend their "rights" to be segregated in their own schools. They have also decided that God wants them to take over the public schools. They are not to stay isolated from the world any longer. They are now to rule it.
Balmer shows how the current crop of Baptists are anything but Baptist in the traditional sense. Whereas the original Baptists were instrumental in ensuring separation of church and state, modern southern Baptists appear gung-ho for total integration of the state into the church. Unfortunately, modern Baptists, while claiming to be conservatives, haven't learned from real American conservatives like the one who said:
"By maintaining the separation of church and state, the United States has avoided the intolerance which has so divided the rest of the world with religious wars. Throughout our two hundred plus years, public policy debate has focused on political and economic issues, on which there can be compromise . . . The great decisions of government cannot be dictated by the concerns of religious factions. This was true in the days of Madison, and it is just as true today. We have succeeded for 205 years in keeping the affairs of state separate from the uncompromising idealism of religious groups and we mustn't stop now. To retreat from that separation would violate the principles of conservatism and the values upon which the framers built this democratic republic."
But don't count on any neo-conservatives quoting that gem from Barry Goldwater. Nor will they likely be quoting Randall Balmer's indispensable history of the religious right. The religious right will be too busy building monuments to the prophets killed by their forefathers and laying flowers on the graves of the godly men they destroyed like Martin Luther King. And while they opposed integration and civil rights every step of the way, the religious right now shamelessly claim to be the rightful heirs to the civil rights movement.
Tags: Religious right, Christian fundamentalists, Randall Balmer, Thy Kingdom Come: An Evangelical's Lament How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America, Jerry Falwell, Church state separation, Barry Goldwater, Segregation, Christian schools, Bob Jones University, Green v. Connally, Martin Luther King