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.



Can I Get a Whiteness?

The notion of white guilt as a felt need apparently is not supported by the surveys. At least according to George Hawley, in The American Conservative. He comments

even if there is a powerful, coordinated effort to shame and demoralize whites, it does not appear to be working. The self-flagellating whites so derided by the alt-right and even many conservatives are a tiny fraction of white Americans.

What is also clear is that the impact of race as a forensic item and to a lesser extent in the carried assumptions of whites remains. While whites may not have the “feeling” they certainly gain the benefit of the racial doubt. A century later, the problem continues to be the colored line.

On orthodoxy and community

Rod Dreher is concerned about the relationship between orthodoxy and the current emphasis on community within the church in  Christianity without Orthodoxy, in doing so he perhaps has two questions in mind.

First, there is the matter of practice,

How do you decide right from wrong on a controversial church teaching? . . . How do you determine that now is the time for you to stay when a divisive issue comes up in the church community, or when the line has been breached, and your understanding of truth requires you to leave on principle?

In his southern context, the question of race (and Jim Crow) lurk right below the surface, if that. And then there is a second, not-quite-the-same question, one certainly more global in nature:

We are so accustomed in our culture to not applying reason to religious experience, to only thinking of it in terms of emotional resonance, that to draw those lines seems somehow, well, un-Christian to many. How any religion survives the loss of a sense of the need for orthodoxy, I don’t know.

Both questions are rather protestant in nature, the former being the classic practice flowing from conviction (typically biblical). The latter one would appear to imagine the existence of a common orthodoxy, expressed across very diverse traditions. A fundamentalism, if you will (we differ but we all believe the same core truths). A more honest approach may be to acknowledge that what the Eastern church means by “orthodoxy” is not the same as what Rome means, let alone what an Evangelical may believe. This would be a functional definition of orthodoxy rather than a specifically theological one.

Of course, Dreher could be thinking of the more specific and normative meaning of orthodoxy as that practiced by the Eastern church (aka the Orthodox Church).

As to the relationship of orthodoxy and community, the relationship is surely dialectic. Orthodoxy explains what the community is about, it interprets the historical experience with God. The shape of the community  expresses some convictional norm, an orthodoxy at least of culture if not of theology/ideology. These convictions may be expressed explicitly in statements, and more often or in parallel, by narratives — the stories we tell about where we have come and how we got here.

In similar fashion, the practice of the community reflects or exegetes the convictions of the community. Hence the charges of dead orthodoxy or of hypocrisy when the practice of community appears at variance with the statements of formal orthodoxy or belief. What we state we believe exists as a hypothesis to be demonstrated in how we live. Practice and conviction walk together.

Review: Colored Pictures

Colored Pictures: Race and Visual Representation

Colored Pictures: Race and Visual Representation by Michael D. Harris

Earlier this summer, I did the library equivalent of impulse buying. There at the counter, being checked in as I was checking out, was Colored Pictures. One look at the images and how could I resist? The book has made a suitable companion to Kevin Young’s The Grey Album, particularly the chapter on Dunbar’s use of high and low dialect and Young’s refusal to use a hierarchy. High and low belong together as one voice.

Harris’ broad concern is the manner in which the representation of race comes to shape our political/social discourse; as he notes, it is dialectic, both arising from existing understandings and then reinforcing the same. In the second part of the book he explores how some black artists have worked directly or indirectly to establish their own claim on race. The weakness in this second discussion arises from keeping the focus so tightly on specific artists that we do not see the broader cultural contexts. Even as the artist explores the African American experience, they also do so in the context of other movements and moments in in art and culture.

As Harris said, it’s a dialectic. Some points would certainly be stronger for this broader discussion.

What is left under-discussed in this broader framework would be the impact of the 20th Century on the theme. Three areas suggest themselves (this is going to get long). Continue reading “Review: Colored Pictures”

Blacks as working class heroes

One hundred fifty years before rap, the same social synthesis and signification.

Michael D. Harris:

(W. T. Lhamon in Raising Cain) suggests that the black figure became a metaphor for the outsider, a means for working class whites to resist the downtown Knickerbockers and stiff necks: “Abstracting themselves as blacks allowed the heterogeneous parts of the newly moiling younger works access to the same identity tags. Irish, German, French, Welsh, and English recenet immigrants as well as American rustics, cold all together identify in the 1830s with Jim Crow, Bone Squash, and Jumbo Jim,  then in the forties with Tambo and Bones. . . . Precisely because middle-class aspirants disdained the black jitterbug in every reign, the black figure appealed all across the Atlantic as an organizational emblem for workers and the unemployed. Hated everywhere, he could be championed everywhere alike.” (51)

Colored Pictures: Race and Visual Representation. Chapel Hill NC: University of North Carolina Press. 2003.



The Real Digital Gap

Emily Loney picks up on an important article from The New York Times

“Instead of closing the achievement gap, they’re widening the time-wasting gap.” Comments?
New ‘Digital Divide’ Seen in Wasting Time Online As access to devices has spread, children in poorer families are spending considerably more time using them for purposes other than for education.
I think this might be thought of under the same heading as the question of obesity and poverty. We eat, we possess, we play as a means to gain something, often a sense of self-worth, or of participation. The seduction of games or FB is  that I belong, that participating, playing with this I am part of some larger narrative.  And the insidious thing about the food the fuels obesity or of the digital content, is that both are alike self-validating, self-fulfilling. So it takes work to break free.

On racism

A more fundamentally Biblical way to look at racial reconciliation? Anyone read this book yet? It looks promising.
WORLDmag.com | Sinners one and all | Marvin Olasky | Feb 25, 12
BOOKS | John Piper says an emphasis on sovereign grace is the key to racial reconciliation

Sovereign Grace is worthless if we are not also dying to ourselves. Sometimes on issues like racism we think that the cure just sort of happens, that God does all the heavy lifting. Only the life that dies can be raised up; only the life that serves can be invited up.