Abortion and the Rise of the Religious Right

Allison Vander Broek picks at one of the puzzles of the Christian Right, viz. it’s relation to the anti-abortion movement. Did the Christian Right really arise as a reaction to Roe v. Wade, as the common internal narrative would have it? Or should we follow along after Randall Balmer, and think of the Christian Right as emerging out of the reaction to the civil rights movement, and particularly the emergence of the white Christian schools? Vander Broek notes the absence of evangelical engagement on the question of abortion (something Balmer does as well) and proceeds to ask a couple of questions,

Why did evangelical leaders create and perpetuate the narrative that abortion is what spurred them to political activism? … Why might American evangelicals craft an origin story that’s so off base from reality?… Could it be that it’s a much more heroic tale that evangelicals got into politics to defend babies rather than to oppose desegregation?

Vander Broek decides that the racism narrative is the dominant one, the secret sin of evangelicals. This may be a case of reading our history through lens of the present: the Christian Right drew from several streams.

What Balmer omits is the role of Orange County, where the children of the Okies took on Northern California elites, waging war over several cultural issues, while holding to a virulent anti-communist ethos. This was a movement grounded in the sociology of the sunbelt suburbia, whose issues were not schools but the cultivation of American values. In their emergent mega churches they shaped a politicized faith that elected Ronald Reagan to the governors mansion. Their rise and impact is nicely document in Darren Dochuk’s From the Bible Belt to the Sun Belt (Norton: 2010); the flavor of the movement can be caught in None Dare Call It Treason.

A second stream that plays an important role in the evangelical church and in national politics are those immigrant churches of the Upper Midwest. These were organically Republican communities that also incorporated a high degree of religious motivation to their politics. Social issues were important, but often with a slightly more communitarian shape; and while there was a caution about racial issues particularly in urban areas, nonetheless the community maintained an openness to civil rights. These were the churches that self-defined as evangelical and not fundamentalist, a community that maintained numerous academic institutions: Bethel, Calvin, Trinity Evangelical, Wheaton, and others.

And then there are is the southern revivalist stream that Vander Broek and Balmer identify, whose life was shaped by the reaction to the civil rights movement. Even this has a deep root. The southern revivalistic church was a populist phenomena, with the weight of that racial narrative; it shared the rejection of the post Civil War centralized state. This is the seedbed of Jerry Falwell, Bob Jones, and the nascent Moral Majority.

The genius of the Paul Weyrich was to find the issue that took these three regional movements and organized them to a common political purpose. As Balmer relates

“The new political philosophy must be defined by us [conservatives] in moral terms, packaged in non-religious language, and propagated throughout the country by our new coalition,” Weyrich wrote in the mid-1970s. “When political power is achieved, the moral majority will have the opportunity to re-create this great nation.” Weyrich believed that the political possibilities of such a coalition were unlimited. “The leadership, moral philosophy, and workable vehicle are at hand just waiting to be blended and activated,” he wrote. “If the moral majority acts, results could well exceed our wildest dreams.”

This new movement would indeed become powerful, but not all at once. It’s politics grew not only from political strategy but for a host of cultural reasons. It was the long march of a generation, a topic for the next time.

 

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Lenten Gaps

Jeff Munroe explores the gap between leadership and followers:

What fascinates me instead is the gap that I believe the administration initially stumbled over – the gap between what the church teaches on the one hand and the actual belief and behavior of most Catholics on the other. I’ve been wondering if there are similar situations in the RCA and CRC, wondering what gulfs exist between official church policy and the actual beliefs and behavior of the majority.

And asks,

What gaps do you see between what we officially say and what we actually do?  How do you account for these gaps?

 Jason Lief  brings an interesting response

I love the gap. I think we should embrace the gap. I prefer to call it the “wink.” As we announce the ideals upon which we stand we give a little wink and a smile. The beauty of lived reality is that the gap exists in every area of life. What we’re “supposed” to do and what we actually do is a beautiful dance of generosity and grace. This is not hypocricy – it’s the recognition that life cannot be lived in the realm of lofty ideals. This is the gospel – maybe we should interpet the incarnation as the divine “wink and a smile”?

Call it a gap or a wink, but there is also something Lenten about this. Lent’s focus on recovery through discipline speaks to the lack of integrity in our lives, corporately and individually. We’re always saying two things. Or three. In this, the mix-up on contraception shadows our own mixed-up lives, the desire to do right mixed with the desire to establish ourselves a little better; likewise, there’s leadership on one side, the pew wandering in its own way. Or perhaps it’s like the sweets we put away Tuesday, the gooey music that’s so much fun and can fill a mouth with joy, but we know it really isn’t that good for us. Yet.

Maybe.

So here comes Lent with its challenge to die, and in so doing to catch a glimpse of what it can mean to be a little more whole, be a little more integrated. I open the hymnbook, scan the latest addition to political outrage only to hear my heart’s tug and know the gap opens wide in me, as well. What else can I say, but give me an open ear, soften my heart, help me to open this still-clenched hand.

Heal this wounded soul.

The Work We Do

The post by Deb Reinstra (and others) on vocation have had me thinking (and muttering to myself) this past week. While I share in Deb’s distrust of the word, I think we need to sharpen vocation’s  outline  before we can search for another model of being in the world.  I would point to three worthwhile aspects of the concept.

First, behind vocation is  the call itself, a kind of compulsion, how can I do anything other than this? So Jeremiah; so the Psalms on occasion: I hear and I must speak lest I burn up. The difficulty here is that while such calls may be for a lifetime, our own experience may be that they are of limited duration.  The secular sense of “gift” flows from this deeper charismatic and prophetic reality. Vocation may also  hide a desire to preserve that first love. Like Moses veiling his face because the glory has left him, the memory of being called to a task lingers like the fondest, most fragrant thing in our life. We want that all the time. So vocation is not only response, but also hope that Presence continue with us.

Second, with vocation there is a freedom. Continue reading “The Work We Do”

Bachman Kuyper Overdrive?

James Bratt notes

Now that Michelle Bachman has dropped her campaign for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, perhaps we can put to rest—again—a genealogy used to explain her political faith. Bachman, it is said (for instance, in Ryan Lizza’s profile of her in the August 15, 2011 New Yorker), came to Christian political consciousness after watching Francis Schaffer’s film series, “How Should We Then Live?” Schaffer, in turn, (not Lizza here, but others more interested in such things ) was transformed from being just another theological fundamentalist into a holistic Christian thinker with particular interests in culture and politics after coming into contact with Hans Rookmaker, professor of art at the Free University in Amsterdam. Rookmaker was a student of Herman Dooyeweerd, the philosopher-in-chief at the Free, and Dooyeweerd was a follower of Abraham Kuyper, founder of the Netherlands’ Antirevolutionary Party, expounder of its political program, and eventually prime minister of the country. Bachman shows, therefore, what Kuyper can come to.

Is such a dismissal really that easy?

It would seem that the social philosophies of Bachman and Kuyper both spring from roughly the same Calvinistic root, and particularly the rejection of the a sort of pietism (in American terms, that of the individualist Fundamentalism of mid-century). In fact, this is a common path, the evangelical or charismatic wants something more, a fuller way of living one’s life in the world.

Whether we call it “reformed” or “kuyperian” that social vision is strongly appealing. People want to have a way to make their faith real in the world, especially in a world that seems to be rejecting the Gospel.

The failure in Sister Michelle is not in her coming to political consciousness, but rather — dare I say it? — in her heart. There is little apparent awareness of the Gospel critique of her own life. But then again, in fairness, the act of politics often precludes this self-awareness, rewarding as it does those who put on the brave face and forthright focus.