[Yeah, I’m feeling they’ll be a version # 2 on this topic later. Will appreciate all comments. — d.b.]
By Dan Bodine
When U.S. presidential candidate Ronald Reagan endorsed the Religious Right at a take-over-the-nation religious affairs conference 43 years ago coming up in August this year in Dallas, I actually cried on my way back home to nearby Cleburne.
I was a staff writer, editor for the local daily newspaper, and covered that 1980 Dallas national election event mostly out of curiosity.
Earlier New Right‘s news releases coming across the desk relating to merging church and state were dead on, too, it turned out — e.g., this was a beginning of another long crusade toward Authoritarianism — and I felt as a country we’d never be the same again!
Yeah, I loved Jimmy Carter, alright. For his independent Baptist humanism and conservation efforts. And I knew the upcoming presidential election in November had just been decided against him, at this week-long, 1980 National Affairs Briefing. And other similar ones across the South just before the election. By seekers of false idols!
Talk about heat for a gathering storm! About “…Sixteen thousand conservative evangelical pastors and lay leaders filled Reunion Arena” that final Aug. 21 evening. With screaming, applauding, thunderous noises. And it was just the official beginning. Forty-three years ago.
Decades later, too, yet another “New Right”, the 3rd actually, formed in advance of the 2016 Election. It was followed by four years of evangelical pastors holding prayer meetings in the White House with President Donald Trump — widely believed to be, if not the worst U.S president ever, certainly near the bottom!
Diagnosed by some psychologists as having personality disorders, one also thinks Trump suffers from an incurable allergy to truth, called Trumpism. And there’s no cure for it!
And damages to our normal church/state neutrality affairs are far from over! But are they irreparable?
Trump is a candidate for the 2024 presidency, and wants to bring back his old faithful, right-wing evangelicals for help. Lord, Bless us!
Whether or not they’re still aboard with him is another question though. But his lingering presence is sure to roil politics for years!
We even have reparations on the table, to assuage past transgressions into humanity’s conscience.
But why must this country’s government — as modern and upscale as it is in its administration — be seen seeded so deeply in fundamentalist religion? Aren’t those the extremists for western Africa and the Mid-East to worry over?
Are we tethered to it, too? Other than by slaveholders in the Old South were fundamentalists and played key roles later in organizing institutions like today’s Southern Baptist Convention, for instance? Years ago?
I mean, as a civic people sometimes we are, indeed, in our bearing, like two heads on the same body of citizens. One looking at all the nooks, crannies to see where justice could be administered better. And praying for divine light.
While the other head continuously seeks approval from deeply partisan religious fundamentalists to do anything! But only to show divine proof they’re on the most righteous path.
How to you make sense of that?
Too, among this, it’s almost like this country is perpetually shackled to a dark past it’s forbidden from even discussing! What is it?
America’s early history with slavery, of course! Which progressives wish to salve with enlightenment such as Critical Race Theory (CRT), i.e., in higher grade academics.
CRT is used by education scholars – and not just in law schools – to describe how racism is embedded in American life, from health care to housing, economics to education, clean water to the criminal justice system and more.
“Liberty, Equality and Justice for All,” we are? Ha!
Those words at times now have become more like a satirical concession sop. Rather than our guiding-light challenge — e.g., each new generation’s, as more modern citizens, always has been to make these meanings more true for all citizens.
Are we now at a throw-in-the-towel moment? Can’t do it? It’s impossible? We cross our fingers and hope it goes away?
Remember, Blacks aren’t new immigrants the country is dealing with. But a huge cultured engrained block of original forced immigrants integrally webbed into our society — e.g., by now, they’re us, too! Own it, for gosh sake!
And old economic systems in the U.S., critics admit, have been constructed and protected over generations now in ways that give Whites advantages – and “sometimes in ways that are not obvious or deliberately insidious but nonetheless result in compounding disadvantages for Black citizens and other racial and ethnic minorities.”
So to correct it all, we’ve endeavored on something as simple as equalizing the economic disparities, between Blacks and Whites. While not allowing existing differences to coddle grievances at America’s supper table.
Too heavy of a lift, though?
Yes, it seems!
Mainly because there are those on the Religious Right who still deny racism exists, embedded as it is throughout our economic system. Sure threads of it needs to be flushed out! Denial pretentiousness is wild Cockamania!
But I’ve always felt this sector was more fringe than core. Naive, am I?
Steeped in Baptist fundamentalism in youth myself, I’ve spent decades weakening its grips on my ethos. Moving toward what I feel is a more Christian self.
With the internet it’s heartening now, especially, i.e., to find emerging religious voices among even Baptists, say, decrying the ill effects of this institutional racism among us.
And acknowledging that our society’s “circle-the-wagons” moments for prolonging it were these New Right/Moral Majority racial movements which I witnessed in 1980 in Dallas.
More foot-dragging in America’s spiritual destiny, it was. You don’t have to be clairvoyant to see it’s useless:
“…(T)he response of southern fundamentalists to the civil rights movement of the 1960s serves as an important guide for understanding their involvement in the New Christian Right of the1980s,” writes Bill J. Leonard in “A Theology for Racism: Southern Fundamentalists And The Civil Rights Movement.” [For me, this reads “…1980s & Beyond”]
The research was published in the winter 1999 edition of Baptist History and Heritage (Vol. 34, Issue 1), by Baptist History and Heritage Society.
“Southern fundamentalists, particularly independent Baptists, provided significant leadership to the Moral Majority and other such organizations from the beginning. (5) Any understanding of the contemporary movement cannot overlook the earlier social and political attitudes expressed by southern fundamentalists in response to the civil rights movement.
“This study suggests that the civil rights movement created a cultural and religious crisis that compelled southern fundamentalists to respond. At the same time, their response to particular social, political, and racial imperatives was filtered through their self-proclaimed fundamentalist ideology. While fundamentalism itself is not inherently racist, the southern fundamentalists cited here expressed their own racist sentiments largely through the medium of their fundamentalist theology.”
It’s certainly no coup-de-grace in highlighting pointed fingers at the fringe radical right by Baptists. But certainly it distinguishes calmer voices of reason at work in our religious communities toward hopes of reconciling our present civil war.
And gives us reason to believe, indeed, that days of the same ol’, same ol’ are not permanent, and henceforth justifies our continuous push for a better concept of “Liberty, Equality and Justice for All.”
For regardless of what far-right extremists believe, sometimes knowing a little history doesn’t make one stupid.
Often it just makes things old hat!
“‘…(R)eligious conflict in the U.S. has persistently focused on race,’ said David Hollinger, an eminent (U.C.) Berkeley historian of American religion, quoted by Edward Lempinen in the Sept. 20, 2022 story in Berkeley News called, “Crisis of Faith: Christian Nationalism And The Threat To U.S. Democracy.”
“Race does not explain everything,” Hollinger added “…(B)ut it is entwined with religion at virtually every point in the history of the United States.’”
In short, Whites are just another cultural input to this democratic land — long known as a cultural melting pot. To those carrying this infectious disease, shake off “White Supremacy” like a dog shakes off water!
And breathe in new cultural air.
You’ll find it’s revitalizing, not toxic!
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