Balmer, Randall Herbert. Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America
. New York: Basic, 2006. Print.
“Evangelicals generally, and the Religious Right in particular, chose around 1980 to deemphasize radically the many New Testament denunciations of divorce and to shift their condemnations to abortion, and later, to homosexuality–all the while claiming to remain faithful to the immutable truths of the scriptures” (Balmer 9).
“Selective literalism continues to serve an important function for the Religious Right. It allows them to locate sin outside of the evangelical subculture (or so they think) by designating as especially egregious those dispositions and behaviors, homosexuality and abortion, that they believe characteristic of others, not themselves. … Divorce was too close for comfort–many fellow believers had transgressed this boundary themselves–but abortion was somehow different, something that they could pretend existed only in the secular world they reviled” (Balmer 10).
“In the 1980s, in order to solidify the 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 to 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 these 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 isn’t true” (Balmer 11-2).
Resolution adopted by Southern Baptist Convention delegates in 1971: “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 sever fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence that the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother” (Balmer 12).
W. A. Criswell, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas: “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, and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed” (qtd. in Balmer 13).
“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)” (Balmer 14).
“[Paul M.] 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 these 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 the decision was one more reason why Christians had to isolate themselves from the rest of the world’” (Balmer 15).
“‘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” (Balmer 16).
“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 the Religious Right that, in defending the rights of the unborn, the 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 other religious leaders from other traditions linked arms on the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, to stare down the ugly face of racism?
“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” (Balmer 16-7).
“The election of Bill Clinton stalled the Religious Right’s progress on the abortion issue–under no circumstances would Clinton either sign legislation limiting a woman’s right to choose or nominate a pro-life justice to the Supreme Court. … After casting about, the Religious Right came up with a new foil, an enemy right here among us: homosexuals. Although evangelicals have always been uneasy about homosexuality, gays and lesbians suddenly represented all manner of threats. They were corrupting our children and infecting our military” (Balmer 24-5).
“After casting about [for a new enemy in the 1990s], the Religious Right came up with a new foil, an enemy right here among us: homosexuals. Although evangelicals have always been uneasy about homosexuality, gays and lesbians suddenly represented all manner of threats” (Balmer 25).
“Why has homosexuality proven to be such a durable issue for the Religious Right? Like abortion, it allows evangelicals to externalize the enemy, based on the supposition that no true believer could be gay or lesbian. It also works because it plays on the popular anxieties about sexual identity and gender roles in the wake of the women’s movement of the 1960s. ‘We would not be having the present moral crisis regarding the homosexual movement if men and women accepted their proper roles as designated by God,’ Jerry Falwell wrote back in 1980″ (Balmer 26).
“What should we read into the fact that evangelical conservatives dropped their longstanding denunciations of divorce around the same time they embraced Ronald Reagan, a divorced and remarried man, as their political savior in 1980? Not only have leaders of the Religious Right betrayed scripture, but they have shamelessly manipulated important issues–gay rights, abortion–for partisan purposes, all the while ignoring Jesus’ teachings on other matters. Deeply complicated subjects have become mere political cudgels in the hands of the Religious Right, issues have calculated to rally the faithful for political ends. They have taken complex, human problems and reduced them to campaign slogans. They have distorted the faith, the ‘good news’ of the New Testament, into something ugly and punitive” (Balmer 32-3).
“For the Religious Right, the quest for power and political influence has led to both distortions and contortions–the perpetuation of the abortion myth, for instance, or the selective literalism that targets certain sexual behaviors for condemnation, while ignoring others. History, moreover, teaches us the dangers of allying religion too closely with politics. It leads to intolerance in the political arena, and it ultimately compromises the integrity of the faith” (Balmer 34).