Mormon or Not, Why Reactionary Religious Folks Will Stick Together
Perlstein's column today is a fascinating recent history of religion in American politics. It's specifically about how the right will have little problem accepting Mitt's Mormonism because they always come around on this when the chips are down. Read the whole thing. I think it's persuasive.
I just want to highlight one bit of information which I don't think is common knowledge:
You may have heard of the group Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. Nowadays Evangelicals despise it as a heathen outfit bent on banishing God from the public square. (Here they celebrate the civil liberties victory represented by the display of a Flying Spaghetti Monster next to the Nativity scene at the courthouse in Loudoun County, Virginia.) A generation ago, however, Evangelicals were fans – back when the group was known as "Protestants and Other Americans United for the Separation of Church and State," and was the institutional home for those who feared the Roman church was a wicked conspiracy to colonize the United States.
Think about that. In the 1960s "Americans United for the Separation of Church and State" was called "Protestants and Other Americans United for the Separation of Church and State". I'm pretty sure that clearly illustrates how times have changed.
All this started changing in the 1970s. Fighting abortion had once been an almost exclusively Catholic crusade; indeed much of the work Americans United for the Separation of Church and State was devoted to fighting those attempting to ban abortion, on the grounds that such attempts sought to introduce into government "a biased religious viewpoint." Which was around the time Evangelicals began separating themselves from Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. They, Evangelicals, wanted to ban abortion too – and were now willing to stand shoulder to shoulder with Catholics to do it. Christianity Today, the magazine founded by Billy Graham, advised its readers in 1975 not to fear joining the "pro-life" cause; it had "matured," and could "no longer be dismissed as a group of cold-hearted Catholics simply taking orders from the Pope."
Rick doesn't go into this in his piece, but it's worth pointing out here. From The Nation on the occasion of Jerry Falwells death:
While abortion clinics sprung up across the United States during the early 1970s, evangelicals did little. No pastors invoked the Dred Scott decision to undermine the legal justification for abortion. There were no clinic blockades, no passionate cries to liberate the "pre-born." For Falwell and his allies, the true impetus for political action came when the Supreme Court ruled in Green v. Connally to revoke the tax-exempt status of racially discriminatory private schools in 1971. At about the same time, the Internal Revenue Service moved to revoke the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University, which forbade interracial dating. (Blacks were denied entry until 1971.) Falwell was furious, complaining, "In some states it's easier to open a massage parlor than to open a Christian school."
Seeking to capitalize on mounting evangelical discontent, a right-wing Washington operative and anti-Vatican II Catholic named Paul Weyrich took a series of trips down South to meet with Falwell and other evangelical leaders. Weyrich hoped to produce a well-funded evangelical lobbying outfit that could lend grassroots muscle to the top-heavy Republican Party and effectively mobilize the vanquished forces of massive resistance into a new political bloc. In discussions with Falwell, Weyrich cited various social ills that necessitated evangelical involvement in politics, particularly abortion, school prayer and the rise of feminism. His pleas initially fell on deaf ears.
"I was trying to get those people interested in those issues and I utterly failed," Weyrich 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."
These cross-currents are always there. And religious reactionaries seem to be able to find a way to work together when it comes to suppressing any pressure for freedom and equality from below. They just need to find that sweet spot.