What Made Evangelical Christians Come Out of the Closet?

In The Reactionary Mind, I briefly argued that much of the energy behind the Christian Right came not from its opposition to abortion or school prayer but its defense of segregation. Based on early research by historians Joseph Crespino and Matthew Lassiter, I wrote:

Evangelical Christians were ideal recruits to the [conservative] cause, deftly playing the victim card as a way of rejuvenating the power of whites. “It’s time for God’s people to come out of the closet,” declared a Texas televangelist in 1980.

But it wasn’t religion that made evangelicals queer; it was religion combined with racism. One of the main catalysts of the Christian right was the defense of Southern private schools that were created in response to desegregation. By 1970, 400,000 white children were attending these “segregation academies.” States like Mississippi gave students tuition grants, and until the Nixon administration overturned the practice, the IRS gave donors to these schools tax exemptions.

According to New Right and direct-mail pioneer Richard Viguerie, the attack on these public subsidies by civil rights activists and the courts “was the spark that ignited the religious right’s involvement in real politics.” Though the rise of segregation academies “was often timed exactly with the desegregation of formerly all-white public schools,” writes one historian, their advocates claimed to be defending religious minorities rather than white supremacy (initially nonsectarian, most of the schools became evangelical over time).

Their cause was freedom, not inequality—not the freedom to associate with whites, as the previous generation of massive resisters had claimed, but the freedom to practice their own embattled religion. It was a shrewd transposition. In one fell swoop, the heirs of slaveholders became the descendants of persecuted Baptists, and Jim Crow a heresy the First Amendment was meant to protect.

Politico has a great piece up this week pursuing this argument in much greater depth. Dartmouth historian Randall Balmer has immersed himself in the archives of the Moral Majority and other organizations and activists of the Christian Right, and found some fascinating details. Though abortion would come to play a role later on, it was the school segregation issue that truly galvanized the leaders and cadres of the Christian Right.

Both before and for several years after Roe, evangelicals were overwhelmingly indifferent to the subject, which they considered a “Catholic issue.” In 1968, for instance, a symposium sponsored by the Christian Medical Society and Christianity Today, the flagship magazine of evangelicalism, refused to characterize abortion as sinful, citing “individual health, family welfare, and social responsibility” as justifications for ending a pregnancy. In 1971, delegates to the Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis, Missouri, passed a resolution encouraging “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.” The convention, hardly a redoubt of liberal values, reaffirmed that position in 1974, one year after Roe, and again in 1976.

When the Roe decision was handed down, W. A. Criswell, the Southern Baptist Convention’s former president and pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas—also one of the most famous fundamentalists of the 20th century—was pleased: “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,” he said, “and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed.”

Although a few evangelical voices, including Christianity Today magazine, mildly criticized the ruling, the overwhelming response was silence, even approval. Baptists, in particular, applauded the decision as an appropriate articulation of the division between church and state, between personal morality and state regulation of individual behavior. “Religious liberty, human equality and justice are advanced by the Supreme Court abortion decision,” wrote W. Barry Garrett of Baptist Press.


So what then were the real origins of the religious right? It turns out that the movement can trace its political roots back to a court ruling, but not Roe v. Wade.

But this hypothetical “moral majority” needed a catalyst—a standard around which to rally. For nearly two decades, [Paul] Weyrich, by his own account, had been trying out different issues, hoping one might pique evangelical interest: pornography, prayer in schools, the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution, even abortion. “I was trying to get these people interested in those issues and I utterly failed,” Weyrich recalled at a conference in 1990.

The Green v. Connally [declaring unconstitutional tax exemptions for private schools that practice racial discrimination] ruling provided a necessary first step: It captured the attention of evangelical leadersespecially as the IRS began sending questionnaires to church-related “segregation academies,” including Falwell’s own Lynchburg Christian School, inquiring about their racial policies. Falwell was furious. “In some states,” he famously complained, “It’s easier to open a massage parlor than a Christian school.”

Although Bob Jones Jr., the school’s [Bob Jones University] 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 many evangelical leaders, who had been following the issue since Green v. Connally, Bob Jones University was the final straw. As Elmer L. Rumminger, longtime administrator at Bob Jones University, told me in an interview, the IRS actions against his school “alerted the Christian school community about what could happen with government interference” in the affairs of evangelical institutions. “That was really the major issue that got us all involved.”

When Reagan addressed a rally of 10,000 evangelicals at Reunion Arena in Dallas in August 1980, he excoriated the “unconstitutional regulatory agenda” directed by the IRS “against independent schools,” but he made no mention of abortion.


  1. Troy Grant May 30, 2014 at 12:23 pm | #

    Ironic because so many evangelical Christians are black.

    • But these Black evangelicals sent their kids to public schools and did not open “segregation academies” in response to mandated school desegregation. It was from their Black children that these Whites wanted to flee.

      • bencohen821 June 3, 2014 at 1:49 am | #

        For the record – does anyone actually believe parents should be compelled to send their kids to integrated schools, even if they don’t want to?

  2. Jim Brash May 30, 2014 at 12:35 pm | #

    Corey, interesting post. I always felt that the Right’s opposition to abortion had nothing to do with the act or procedure, but whom were in the majority undergoing it- white women. I always figured the anti-abortion movement was a racial numbers racket. Conservatism is a reactionary ideology, so it makes since that the Religious Right of modern times would have its origins in the opposition to desegregation.

    Corey, are there any similarities between the Religious Right of today and the Temperance Movement of early twentieth century?

    • bencohen821 June 3, 2014 at 1:55 am | #

      As I understand it, Temperance was mostly a left-wing movement, supported by the suffragists for example.

  3. Joseph A. Palermo May 30, 2014 at 12:44 pm | #

    These views on race and right-wing Christian political mobilization are consistent with Ian Haney Lopez’s excellent book Dog Whistle Politics

  4. Jonathan Keller May 30, 2014 at 1:24 pm | #

    Great post. I really loved the Balmer piece in Politico as well. One thing that really caught my eye there was how Falwell, et al actively revised their own origin story (i.e. Falwell’s autobiography, 2005) — to be because of abortion, rather than something really embarrassing (which appeared more and more unseemly over time).

  5. BillR May 30, 2014 at 1:39 pm | #

    Excerpt from a British journalist’s account of a conflict that gave rise to the term “concentration camp”:

    ‘No, no, old chappie, we don’t want your flag; we want to be left alone. We are free, you are not free.’

    ‘How do you mean “not free”?’

    ‘Well, is it right that a dirty Kaffir should walk on the pavement—without a pass too? That’s what they do in your British Colonies. Brother! Equal! Ugh! Free! Not a bit. We know how to treat Kaffirs.’

    Probing at random I had touched a very sensitive nerve. We had got down from underneath the political and reached the social. What is the true and original root of Dutch aversion to British rule? It is not Slagters Nek, nor Broomplatz, nor Majuba, nor the Jameson Raid. Those incidents only fostered its growth. It is the abiding fear and hatred of the movement that seeks to place the native on a level with the white man. British government is associated in the Boer farmer’s mind with violent social revolution. Black is to be proclaimed the same as white. The servant is to be raised against the master; the Kaffir is to be declared the brother of the European, to be constituted his legal equal, to be armed with political rights. The dominant race is to be deprived of their superiority; nor is a tigress robbed of her cubs more furious than is the Boer at this prospect.

  6. Roquentin May 30, 2014 at 4:06 pm | #

    Having been drug to church very nearly every Sunday for 18 years, I feel as though I have a bit of insight into this. Granted, it was ELCA Lutheran which is consistently the most liberal of the mainstream Lutheran denominations. In spite of this, I am 100% a public school kid, including going to a state university. I’ve felt for a long time that my parents were part of a dying breed. The way Christianity in the US has gone, any sort of moderate positions are slowly being hollowed out. Either people quit religion entirely (like my sister and I both did), or they end up as fundamentalists. It does not surprise me that the religious right got off the ground opposing integration in schools. However, I would make the case that this is true of the push towards private schools in general, regardless of religious affiliation. Just like white flight to the suburbs, when de jure legal segregation is no longer permissible, the easiest way to keep it de facto alive is to move to an area where hardly anyone who isn’t white lives or start a school most kids who aren’t white just can’t afford.

    I think my intense distrust of institutions is a direct result of my Christian upbringing. It was never easy accepting that I was profoundly mislead by people I trusted as a child. Hence the draw of post-structuralism and thinkers who called the entire concepts of truth and objectivity into question.

    • See pages 24-25 of Massumi’s “A User’s Guide To Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Deviations From Deleuze and Guattari”, for this touches squarely on your observations (I read this years ago, but it holds up): http://www.amazon.com/Users-Guide-Capitalism-Schizophrenia-Deviations/dp/0262631431#reader_0262631431

    • bencohen821 June 3, 2014 at 1:58 am | #


      “Just like white flight to the suburbs, when de jure legal segregation is no longer permissible, the easiest way to keep it de facto alive is to move to an area where hardly anyone who isn’t white lives or start a school most kids who aren’t white just can’t afford.”

      Assume you are white, would you send your kid to a 99% black school?

      • “Assume you are white, would you send your kid to a 99% black school?”

        I am going to say this as politely as I can.

        Would you care to explain your purpose in asking this question?

        • bencohen821 June 3, 2014 at 1:16 pm | #

          I’m curious. My personal perspective is that High School is hard enough, why make it harder by sending your kid to a school where they will be a tiny minority.

          If you disagree, great, you will be able to buy a lot more house for your money.

          • You still have not explained your question, as it seems to suggest behavioral matters as regards social interaction predicated on group difference combined with demographic distribution, and that being “a tiny minority” is somehow predictive of a particular species of behavior of cohorts (which, exactly?) but without defining what kind of behavior and by whom — and how a school setting is implicated. You have not even given a breakdown of gender and age/grade distribution, nor do you reference achievement levels, nor have you provided information on class structure (no pun intended — I refer to income/wealth distribution) and you have not given any geographic data. Importantly, we are not even sure if you include the professional adult staff in your “99%” black figure. We don’t even know if you are referring to a public school or a private school, or even a parochial school.

            Without any of this information, your question cannot be adequately addressed.

            And your statement “If you disagree, great, you will be able to buy a lot more house for your money.” is totally unclear.

            Please clarify.

          • bencohen821 June 3, 2014 at 5:41 pm | #

            I’m referring to a 99% black student body, it could be a 99% hispanic student body, or a 99% asian student body. Wouldn’t you feel out of place being the one white student?

            My point is I wouldn’t issue a blanket condemnation of parents who pull their kids out of a school that is overwhelmingly black.

  7. escott May 31, 2014 at 11:54 am | #

    It’s funny, stop their subsidy and see diverse people dumb down socially and unite in identity and purpose. Taking away their subsidy is as powerful, in this regard, as real persecution. It’s even described the same – and in this case, blind to segregationist motivations.
    Knowing this peculiarity of human nature, I think Government resorting to tax and subsidy to correct problems is too easy a solution and should be an equal part of this discussion.

  8. Ayman Fadel May 31, 2014 at 12:24 pm | #


    In West Virginia, the use of The Autobiography of Malcolm X triggered white Christian activism in public education.

  9. bencohen821 June 3, 2014 at 1:52 am | #

    Interesting article, will have to check it out.

    “When the Roe decision was handed down, W. A. Criswell, the Southern Baptist Convention’s former president and pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas—also one of the most famous fundamentalists of the 20th century—was pleased: “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,” he said, “and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed.”

    Hmmm…..Why did protestant fundamentalists become ardently pro-life? How did this happen? I have no idea, but the story is probably interesting.

  10. Troy Grant June 3, 2014 at 3:30 pm | #

    My white kid got beat up and his watch stolen by a gang of black kids on his first day of mostly black public school. I know I shouldn’t say it, but no, I would not send him to such a school again. After a few such incidents and his being too busy trying to survive to study, I had to take him out and pay big bucks for private school. Why should our kids have to pay for the racism adults have promoted?

    • O, Pity the weak commenter in his heroic effort to resist the impulse to reply to the challenge of that species of provocative trolling that occasionally plagues this site. Worse, the weak commenter is prone to long-windedness when taking up such a challenge. But, hey, what the heck, amirite? Let’s do this.

      Why do some people have it in their heads that desegregation equals being swamped by Blacks? How does THAT happen, given the percentage of Blacks in the American population? Is not anyone are aware that districts that sustain large Black majorities do so exactly because of policies implemented by Whites? Why did you, “bencohen821”, even pose the question you asked in the way you did? Would you be happy if the number was not 99%, but 89%? How about a distribution that closely resembled the local population of any school in question? I think the purpose of your provocative question was to bias an answer in favor of a defense of White flight. But to do so, you first needed to create a racist “what if” to look like a movie story “last man on earth” scenario, where the last man is your white child in a world surrounded by marauding Blacks – whose motives are built around the need to victimize pure-and-clean Whites.

      After all, as EVERYONE knows, if a population is composed of a single ethnic group (we won’t bother to define that term for now) with bad social mores and which now finds itself receiving a single person or single family of another ethnic group – and that latter representative of that group is one in which we are suppose to find nothing but the best qualities such as industriousness – then that population will be inexplicably driven to attack! And that likelihood skyrockets if that single ethnic group is Black and the interloper representative is White – because, well, you know why.

      In reality – which offers a nice contrast – desegregation does not aim at a pupil distribution of 99% Black and 1% percent White in order to allow Blacks to then “attack” this lone and isolated White. Why this fantasy exists is an intriguing matter. I read of a poll taken, years ago, that asked Whites what they felt the American racial population breakdown was. The responding Whites felt that they were 55% percent of the population and Blacks were around 40-45% — and that the number of the other non-White Americans was some percentage figure that when totaled with the other two figures equaled a total population percentage of well over 100%. But what struck observers and commentators was that Whites felt so “overwhelmed” by the mere presence of Blacks in America that, when polled, they inflated the number of our share of the population by orders of magnitude. We, it seems, loom far larger in the White imagination than our actual numbers (hovering around 12 to 13% of the American population) would warrant. This fact gives your scenario the context it needs to understand its potency. This is a paranoid fear that far too many Whites indulge in order to shut down discussion – by constructing a terror laden image of a menacing dark mass swirling around the hapless “last white person”. Cultural critics call this the “image of encirclement” (a book on cinema I own has a picture where this phrase is used under a still from a Hollywood western showing a swarm of attacking and war-whooping Native Americans on horseback riding in a circle around a White settlers’ wagon train, itself formed in a defensive circle.) and this image is what occupies pride of place in some Whites’ understanding of American race relations, with Whites surrounded by menacing non-whites – in this case, Blacks.

      Indeed, as numberless news reports and studies have shown, the nearly all-Black public school is a result of White run politics to re-segregate the public schools – and then to defund those schools by various schemes (the newest effort taking the form of the charter school movement, firing teachers, and just straight up closing schools) in order to dis-empower Blacks in the economy and in democracy. Segregation by race is greatly assisted by segregation by class/wealth/income – and vice-versa. This is not news – but it should be so that it can be addressed by policies that reverse this situation. Besides the need for non-Whites to get involved to push progressive education policies, Whites themselves – to put it simply – need to get off this paranoid kick and join the human race. If a school is nearly all Black, it is the fault of policies pursued by Whites (and a very few Black elites) in government and in business to isolate Blacks. Segregation is not a demographic preference of Blacks, but a political strategy of (mostly) Whites for the benefit of Whites (and a very few Black elites). Indeed, depending on the place, segregation remains strategy of reactionary elites the world over, and strongly accounts for the tense and often hostile social relations between ethnic and religious groups. Readers of this blog (and its host) are all well aware of this, so I am spared the job of having to dig up links to news accounts, books, documentaries, and scholarly sociological studies to back up my statement here. Equals do not segregate, and because they don’t they don’t seek political, social, or economic advantage over others.

      And now, for Troy Grant: rubbing my hands together, I’ll take your challenge.

      We need more information on your story. First of all, we don’t know if you and your kid are non-Black. After all, Blacks are the most likely victims of crimes committed by Blacks. Are we to assume that you are White? We have no background information regarding the circumstances surrounding the events you cite – why was the school your kid attended mostly Black? Who made that happen? You asked why kids should pay for the racism of their parents. A good question, I’d say. But which parents are you talking about, exactly? You do not say. And is racism implicated in the actions of your kid’s attackers? If so, then how?

      Further, we don’t know when the incidents you suggest happened – that matters because we may find clues as to what may lay behind it: was it during the drug crime epidemic of the 1980’s, was it during the tense years of desegregation and White flight in the sixties and seventies and onward? Was it very recent? Do you live in an area where you would be likely to have a majority Black public school pupil population? Was it rural, urban, or suburban? You don’t mention the class status (no pun intended) of the Blacks that attacked and robbed your kid. This matters because if the area is majority Black and poor, crime stats tend to correlate with wealth/class status. Where crime correlates with race is where race correlates with low socio-economic status. Did you live in a poor area? What were the police like in your area? Did you move out of the area where resides, as well, the “gang” that attacked your kid? You don’t even tell us of the quality of the schools themselves, but only the racial make-up of its pupils (majority Black – how much over 50% is this “majority”?) as if that matters, as if the school’s racial make-up was, somehow, a deciding factor leading to your kid’s being attacked.

      As for your kid being busy trying to survive in order to study, surely you must be aware that Black children in mostly Black public schools – which are almost always located in poor districts – do that every day, and they don’t have money to attend a racially pure (what would that look like?) private school. You never mentioned the kind of private school (demographics, and so on) your kid attended after you withdrew him from the public school. Are we to imagine some kind of lily-White, private enclave where your kid finally found the safety to study? Are we to infer that violent Blacks, unchecked in a public school setting, drove you to bear this expense? And speaking of expense, did you move out of the area where the “gang” that attacked your kid reside? If not, do you still see attackers on the street (not that I am asking you to be concerned for the fate of your kid’s harassers)?

      Believe it not, these questions are not intended to cast doubt on your story. But to just throw your story out without some kind of context does not leave us with a lot to go on. That is, other than falling back on racist stereotyping intended to suggest that a Black majority = crime against non-Blacks. Black criminality is a taint that mars ALL Blacks, and one dramatic story of White victimization by Blacks is all it takes to shut down discussion – and to embarrass Blacks. On the other hand, no amount of documentation of anti-Black racism at the social, political, institutional, and economic level spreads any taint upon the White. To refute the staggering historical reality of White privilege in America, just throw out the grenade of Black crime, and the anti-racist cannot recover. He just goes away, either accepting that Blacks really are just criminals that prey on Whites, or if not believing that goes away thinking that no reality check can undo the powerful sway of a story of White victimhood. *sigh*

      And frankly, I have read of stories such as the one you relate, and it is often a challenge to my impulse to incredulity – because I will tend to suspect such stories’ motives, one of which is to stop cold the anti-racist critics in their tracks. (There are websites devoted to aggregating stories of White victims of Black crime and violence – you should check them out; I have) The silence of the anti-racist critic is then taken as assent to racist defenses of the poor treatment of Blacks or of the racist reaction to anti-racist policy – or at least as evidence of a “liberal” refusal to challenge the “personal story” of the White victim of Black violence, as if that had any relevance at all to the discussion at hand. Read Corey’s post: it does NOT.

      So, I will pose my own question bluntly: what do you believe drove this gang of Blacks to assault your kid? Was it the fact that they were Black (and we still don’t know if YOU are)? Was it the (assumed) fact that your kid was outnumbered by Blacks that did not have the powerful hand of a White majority to hold them in line? Was it the socio-economic status of the perpetrators? Maybe you know something about the upbringing of the Black kids in the public school that the rest of us don’t know? Maybe just being in a public school, versus attending a private school is somehow implicated. Tell us what we are missing that is not mentioned in your story.

      There remains the need by some to defend segregation as a means to protect White kids from Black violence because Blacks are naturally violent and when you have large numbers of them in a contained geography (like a public school, say) violence is inevitable. Toss in a “tiny minority” of Whites (or Asians – and for some racist Whites, Asians are strategically deployed against Blacks as “the other White meat”) – and for Blacks it’s open season on Whites. And we are supposed to believe that Whites, in their purity and preciousness, are the perfect victims of bestial Black violence – for some unexplained reason….? The real history of segregation/desegregation/re-segregation does not bear out this paranoid fantasy, yet the fantasy persists. At the center of the fantasy is the project to “save” White kids. This goes all the way back to Thomas Dixon and D.W. Griffith and R.W. Shufeldt. (“R. W.” Who? This is who he is: http://books.google.com/books?id=hcJ1Uw6XP64C&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false) How is it that White kids are always in danger? And how is it that this is always the term with which any discussion of desegregation must be made to contend before having it move on to real and relevant matters?

      Historically this nation has gone from arguments of racial purity to ones claiming the criminal nature of the Negro, to justify segregation. And the anti-segregationist is supposed to assure the Whites that isolated the Negro that the Negro, upon desegregation, will not assault the White – as if the Negro owes this assurance to frightened Whites. Whites have it in their minds that safety for their kids means isolating ours. I can assure you (or, you can just read the reams of studies on the matter) that it never works as Black kids have to deal with the consequences of social, political, and economic inequality – by being victimized by a very tiny minority other Black kids who, with the vast majority of their cohorts, are similarly situated.

      I won’t further lengthen this already too-long entry (sorry, I did all the editing I could just to try to make this clear – I probably broke a record here!) by giving my prescriptions. There are others too well-versed who can do that job. But challenges were issued, and to leave them without a reply is to leave them unchallenged.

      As PE once put it, “Not this day and time, mah bruthuh!”

      So much more to say…

      Have a nice weekend!

      • Troy Grant June 5, 2014 at 5:45 pm | #

        Change “Black” to Chinese, Malaysian, Jew, Arab, Anglo, etc.. Crime is not limited to race. Poverty is the common thread.

      • bencohen821 June 10, 2014 at 5:20 pm | #


        Excuse the late reply, I didn’t notice your comment. Your post seems to assume that anything less than full-throated agreement with the present dictates of political correctness must be premised on racism; I disagree.

        The conditions under which white flight occurred are very complicated. I mentioned schools being 99% black because in Chicago (where I am from), there are many such schools. We can bemoan their existence, while still understanding why white parents don’t want to send their kids their.

        In other situations like the one Troy Grant mentioned, his kid was being bullied because he was white. If your kid was attending a majority white school in South Boston, and getting beaten up every day, wouldn’t you want to send him elsewhere?

        Clarence Thomas, (as Paraphrased by Lawrence Tribe), made the point better than I ever could,

        “Justice Clarence Thomas wrote separately in Parents Involved to emphasize the heavy price on minorities of even well-intentioned race-conscious measures. As he explains in his autobiography, Thomas is wary of blacks “being offered up as human sacrifices to the great god of theory.” He thus remembers watching with horror as black children were bused into South Boston in the early 1970s, a time when “I wouldn’t have gone to South Boston” because “it would have been taking my life into my hands for me to do so.””

        In some cases the cure is worse than the disease.



    • escott June 11, 2014 at 9:26 am | #

      While appreciating Pruden’s comments, I think Troy’s story above is more about parental instinct than racism.
      I like to think Troy contacted the school administration and police. Assault and robbery are crimes.

      • Troy Grant June 11, 2014 at 10:11 pm | #

        I appreciate that escott. The police and administrators were overwhelmed by many of these incidents and nothing was done. Public school teachers know that expelling poor students means the streets or worse for these kids.

        It is disingenuous to blame it all on racism although conservatives often blame a race for these incidents. I think conservatives do that because they don’t want to place the blame squarely on the inequality produced by the unfettered capitalism they defend.

  11. Does the source of the Thomas citation note any political actions, taken by him, in oppositional reply to the crimes committed against his people through segregation? Is the purpose of that citation a justification for leaving segregation untouched? One should be aware that Blacks (and some Whites) did indeed take their lives into their own hands to try to rescue this nation from that scourge, and the response here offered is a description of Thomas’s understandable cringing in the face of such terrorism. Is that to be our model as well?

    Robert Chambliss, nicknamed “Dynamite Bob” for his work in using the incendiary device to open coal mines, is alleged to have stated that if the n*ggers persisted in their race-mixing agenda he’d take actions that would have them “begging” (his supposed word) for segregation. One such action of his resulted in the death of four little Black girls in a church that had a bomb set off under it. Maybe you have heard about that event. Is that tragedy an example of the cure – desegregation which then invites the violence of a “Dynamite Bob” – being worse than the disease of segregation? Should segregation have remained in place in order that those girls’ lives should not be taken from them at the hands of a psychotic racist bent on resisting desegregation? Is that the threat you offer to protect White privilege? Is not the parental impulse to protect one’s children behind the will by some to end the injustice of segregation, or is such an impulse limited to keeping one’s White child away from those dirty, thieving Blacks? Were the activist parents in that church (or, if not them, the community) to blame for the violent reaction their actions incurred? Who is willing to make that argument?

    I will admit my skepticism in the face of certain claims for and defenses of what history has clearly shown to be suspect social relations, relations that are imposed by the powerful upon the weak. My skepticism deepens as alternatives to blatant injustice are dismissed as too dangerous. The result is that a scourge is left in place, and its consequences are blamed on its victims for trying to resist it.

    I surely won’t deny the complexity of the case of Boston’s immersion in desegregation politics (I did a little homework brushing up on that subject; complicated it is, but the self-motivated can do what I did and check out the free online documentaries on that subject). But that – and the venality and violence of some its actors, along with the concern for one’s own children – is STILL no defense of segregation. But again, who is to blame for that?

    Whites’ racism has made some of them violently jealous of their racialized social status, and some Blacks violently angry at the vicious injustices imposed upon them because of it. If this does not qualify as an argument to end segregation, then I cannot know what would.

  12. Dan Knauss December 31, 2014 at 6:33 pm | #

    The interesting and challenging part of this history that Ballmer and others have discussed is that it doesn’t mean the architects and foot soldiers of the religious right had racist or neo-segregationist motives and goals. I think they knew that time was past. You could say there has always been an element on but hardly exclusive to the religious right that uses private schools to avoid non-white or lower class populations, but this probably has been a very localized affair and more in the past, related to specific cities and their problems. (See for example White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of the Modern Conservatism.)

    Today the “Christian school” movement is actually focused on the problem of closing schools and declining enrollment, but it can also claim major urban successes where minority students are the majority and schools’ reason for being. And therein perhaps lies the answer to how racial politics works in the religious right — it is OK when it is the assimilator, not the assimilated.

    Adam Laats, a historian and former Milwaukee public school teacher who focuses on these issues cites Balmer on his blog in identifying a fear of losing children to “secularization” as the core reactionary impulse among religious conservatives. “Secularization” can be a proxy for racial anxieties and maybe even outright racism for some people, but it really seems more about an inchoate manifold of fears having to do with loss of political control and behind that a sense of deracination and cultural assimilation. This is the mentality of alienated whites whose religious identity has supplanted (or perhaps sublimated) older racial fears. Most are not racist per se, but they are eminently open to reaction when treated to dog whistle politics, Willie Horton type scare stories, etc. For some there is a real ethnic heritage still in the process of melting away, but for many the Christian conservative countercultural identity may be largely atavistic, filling a void when secularization has already happened to a substantial degree and must be denied or repressed.

  13. Gene November 24, 2015 at 12:45 pm | #

    You should revisit this topic in light of three books that came out this year: Kevin Kruse, One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America, Michael McVicar, Christian Reconstruction: R. J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism, and Julie Ingersoll, Building God’s Kingdom: Inside the World of Christian Reconstruction.

    I see Randall Balmer provided a blurb of praise for Ingersoll’s book. There are a number of good interviews, articles and videos from these scholars available online now.

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