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Tea Party Movement Returns Christian Right to Its Racist Past

For years, the religious right tried to lose its racist image, reverting to homophobia as its hatred of choice. As it joins the Tea Party fray, it may once again have to own both.

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Producerism has often been a trope of right-wing movements, especially during times of economic distress, when many people sense they're getting screwed. Its racist (and often anti-Semitic) potential is obvious, so it gels well with the climate of Dixiecrat racial angst occasioned by the election of our first black president. The result is the return of the repressed.

It's not, after all, as if the Christian right was something completely removed from the old racist right -- rather, as Reed acknowledged all those years ago, they were initially deeply intertwined. The Columbia historian Randall Balmer has shown that Christian conservatives were not, contrary to their own mythology, initially mobilized by their outrage at Roe vs. Wade. Rather, what spurred them into action was the IRS's attempt to revoke the tax-exempt status of whites only Christian schools, schools that had been created specifically to evade desegregation.

The Christian right was always rooted in an older style of reactionary politics. Before he became a political organizer himself, Falwell -- who ran one of those Christian segregation academies -- attacked Martin Luther King Jr. for his political activism. ("Preachers are not called to be politicians, but to be soul winners," he said.) Before Tony Perkins was basking in homophobic interracial amity, he paid Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke $82,500 for his mailing list. In 2004, David Barton, then the vice president of the Texas GOP, spoke at an event featuring white preachers and ministry workers dropping to their knees before their black brethren to plead for forgiveness. Thirteen years earlier, Barton had twice been a featured speaker at meetings of the Christian Identity movement, which preaches that blacks are sub-human "mud people." One could go on and on.

As racism grew politically unacceptable, the Christian right was able to channel resentment over the decline of white male privilege into a Kulterkampf directed at more acceptable enemies, like gays and lesbians. The movement borrowed heavily from Catholic theology and convinced itself that it was in a righteous struggle against a culture of death, not a culture of diversity. Now the mask is off. One wonders if fifteen years from now, they'll bother apologizing all over again.

Michelle Goldberg is a senior correspondent at The American Prospect . She is also the author of Kingdom Coming and The Means of Reproduction .

 
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