On the Religious Right

Matthew Lee Anderson picks up the issue of the Religious Right, and in particular its connection to racism. Is it, as Randall Balmer, Sarah Posner and others, linked to racism — is it the color line that drives its animus? Anderson has his doubts.

While evangelicals indisputably have a less-than-exemplary record on questions of race, their own history within the South is not necessarily identical or equivalent to the history of the Religious Right. The most charitable interpretation of Bob Jones is that the Religious Right defended the wrong practice for the right reasons, namely, the freedom of religious institutions to govern themselves.

It may not be race at all.

Ballmer’s thesis appears to underplay the impact of S California in the formation of the Religious Right. This sis the territory mined by Darren Dochuk’s From Bible Belt to Sunbelt. Politically active Christian nationalism emerged from two deep streams: that of southern white protestantism, and the new right synthesis in Orange County. The latter grew from “Okie” immigration of the 30s, which brought Church of Christ fundamentalism and Southern Baptists together — what is most interesting for this story is its relative lack of racial animosity, It was not the color line but anti-communism and the embrace of free markets that shaped the thinking. This is the stream that found Goldwater and put Ronald Reagan into office . To Orange County and the Deep South, we can add the conservative upper Midwest, with its mix of Lutherans (LCMS and Wisconsin) and the Dutch Reformed communities. The Upper Midwest allowed the bridge-building to Catholics that the other two streams lacked.

Finally, one should note the role of the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA), as a sort of connector to all these strands. The PCA brought a mix of Midwest Presbyterianism from Reformed Presbyterian-Evangelical Synod of Francis Schaffer, a strong push to suburban evangelical ministry, and a more problematic heritage with the church square First Churches of the deep south that stood by segregation. It was from the PCA that we got the culturally assertive forms of faith, from christian education to Hobby Lobby, forms derivative of theology first developed by the Dutch Reformed. .

To add a further nuance, we can consider Peter Beinart’s article, “Breaking Faith” in The Atlantic. recent article on the Trump supporters. He notes that the President draws support from those who are culturally of the Religious Right, rather than from those who regularly worship. And there, the hypothesis that this population would end up in the alt-Right seems at least plausible.

 

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Evangelicals and Abortion

Ed Kilgore has a useful note about the Evangelical love of the anti-abortion position, one he finds a bit at odds with the character of evangelical thinking itself, as he explains

It’s always fascinated me that by contrast American conservative evangelical Protestants have come to be if anything more extremist on abortion than Catholics (certainly in terms of rank-and-file opinion) without any of these factors: they do not regard Church traditions as dispositive, have been lukewarm or hostile to “natural law” as a foundation for doctrine,

He goes on to link to a very interesting article in Religious Dispatches by Jonathan Dudley. Broadly the history seems right, but then…

Speaking from the Evangelical side of the aisle, the article misses some of the major aspects of Evangelical support for anti-abortion. While Evangelicals of the South certainly framed it through their battles on civil rights (there’s a long, long history their among the S Presbyterians especially, now in Presbyterian Church of America), in the Upper Midwest, the Evangelicals were often members of immigrant based churches. Their reaction was shaped far more by the cultural battles over the ERA. There is also within these communities a large consensus on the justice side of the issue — these communions were one of the homes for the Pro-Life Democrats.

Also, within these communions, Francis Schaffer did have a pull, not because of this last film, but because of a generation of work in Europe. Many young Evangelicals found in him the first person who seemed to possess a cultural engagement. Whatever his flaws, at L’Abri he pioneered a vision of Evangelical thinking that inspired a number of evangelical and non-evangelical scholars. His film had impact because of his previous brand, as it were.

Among northern Evangelicals (well, at least in here in Michigan), the decisive push to a more radical position takes place in 1988 and Pat Robertson’s primary run. This was the contest that showed the political potency of the Right to Life, from that point on, that was the beat that the Evangelical Right had to move to (also note that the Evangelical Left, prominent in the late 70s had collapsed — another story).

Finally, we should probably also noted the impact of the change in abortion itself, from surgical to medical, and with it a shift to earlier abortions. The violence of the abortion methods in the 80s played a role in fueling the Evangelical stance. In that light, the Evangelical adoption of the metaphysical fundamentalism of the Catholics represents more a political alignment, and a lessening of the community’s early horror at the practice and with it, a concern for justice.

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.