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Exposing the Christian Right's New Racial Playbook

A diversity summit at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University reveals that the religious right's survival depends on the black and the brown.

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The Foundation, which is modeled on Morton Blackwell's Leadership Institute, and was launched with the help of the Family Research Council-affiliated Network of Politically Active Christians, has been actively involved in promoting a film, Maafa 21, that advances the notion of abortion as a racist attempt to exterminate African Americans. In an interview I conducted with Johnson last month, he said, "In the black community, if you start giving them some purity, if you tell them, if you believe what happened at Tuskegee was true -- that people were injected with syphilis -- then you must be at least willing to consider that it might be true that eugenics is linked to Planned Parenthood," as the film claims to document.

(Johnson's mention of Tuskegee refers to to the infamous 40-year study conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service at the Tuskegee Institute. There, 399 African-American men infected with syphilis were led to believe they were being treated for "bad blood" but never given any kind of treatment so researchers could observe the advance of the disease, of which they would eventually die. The government did not, as Johnson claims, inject the men with syphilis; the government's crime was that it recruited men who had the disease and led them to believe they were receiving treatment from the Health Services, even as researchers withheld available treatments from them and lied to them about the nature of their condition.)

Lou Engle, president of the Call, a group that organizes stadium-sized fasting and prayer rallies, was one of the Summit's most visible speakers, appearing multiple times and emphasizing the role of "minorities" in a new "Moral Majority," the now-defunct religious-right organization fronted by Falwell that helped catapult Ronald Reagan to the White House. Engle's anti-abortion activism is marked by his penchant for prophesying, fasting and around-the-clock prayer meetings where he calls for "spiritual warfare." At the Summit, Engle described how he became involved in fighting abortion after Jesus spoke to him on an airplane as he was reading a biography of abolitionist William Wilberforce.

Last year, Engle spoke of a vision he had that the church could stop health care reform, just like the biblical King David vanquished the angel of death, which God sent as punishment for Israel's transgressions. In 2008, Engle launched rallies in support of Proposition 8, the California ballot measure that rescinded same-sex marriage in that state -- and against unspecified "Antichrist legislation" related to abortion and LGBT rights. To promote a protest of a Planned Parenthood facility in Houston on King's birthday this year, Engle accused Planned Parenthood of targeting African Americans and Latinos for abortion, again attempting to exploit King's legacy by portraying the "black genocide" argument as the religious right's "civil rights" issue. Engle has called for Christians to "martyr" themselves in the anti-abortion cause by fasting and praying, and compared his battle against abortion to the Civil War, all incendiary references in light of the actual violence promoted by some segments of the anti-abortion movement.

Engle, who is close friends with Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kans., is a product of various trends in the charismatic movement, including promoting "spiritual warfare," taking "dominion" over social problems, visions, prophecy, holy laughter, and the belief that God has anointed a new generation of apostles to take dominion over society and government to usher in Christ's return.

Engle is a gaunt man -- possibly from all the fasting he says he does -- and is given to rocking back and forth, not just as he preaches, but even as he sat in the audience at the Summit. His hoarse-voiced preaching, frequently devolving into shouting and pleading for God to intervene to save the nation from its sexual impurity, is laced with recitations of conversations with God, visions, dreams and prophecy. He insists his prayer movement has power to conquer the political world; he has claimed that it shaped the composition of the Supreme Court and proved victorious over satanic forces to propel George W. Bush into the White House.

Rodriguez's vision for a "righteousness and justice" movement involves, as Engle explained it, a reconfiguring of notions of "social justice" -- not the "Marxist" kind that liberals advance and that these conservatives insist is about income redistribution (which they don't consider justice). Instead, piggybacking on the anti-abortion movement trend of arguing that civil rights for fetuses is King's legacy, Engle is leading the charge for what he calls "outrageous sacrificial living" he says millennial evangelicals crave.

That vision of social justice is -- like the traditional religious right -- anti-government and theocratic. For the "multiracial" Freedom Federation, it is focused on saving black and brown babies from the spirit of Herod. In a panel discussion on social justice, Engle said, "prostitution in America is fueled majorly [sic] out of the foster care system. Government is going to produce that kind of thing. Here is where the church becomes the outrageous lover, the outrageous answer." He introduced, and later that night brought to the stage at the church, Bishop W.C. Martin, whom he described as a "black Bapti-costal minister" from Possum Trot, Texas, whose impoverished church community of 200 has adopted 76 children from foster care. Engle insisted that evangelical millennials who reject the image of the old religious right as just focused on wedge issues could seize control of adopting foster kids from the government: