I am appropriating a post by Fred Clark that he posted on Patheos’s Slacktivist blog just after last year’s election of Donald Trump, who’s only qualifications for POTUS were that he was White and wealthy.
While I know a good many wonderful conservative evangelicals who would not dream of calling themselves “racist,” having grown up in the evangelical environment I have seen my fair share of racism, usually disguised as a concern for “law and order” or the belief that non-whites are somehow lazier than Whites. Due to a certain degree of cognitive dissonance, White evangelicals are very resistant to any suggestion that racism, both implicit and explicit, has played a part in the development of conservative evangelicalism. This is due in large part to both ignorance of the history of evangelicalism/fundamentalism in America, and the acceptance of the evangelical revisionism of American history as a true account.
The degree to which individuals share in the racism behind the evangelical movement, of course varies with individuals and their awareness of said racism. I, for example, as an evangelical, fell into many of the standard reductionist views of Blacks and poor people that my conservative evangelical friends and fellow parishioners held. I, like other evangelicals, was almost totally ignorant of anything other than a White world view.
America is rapidly changing, and it is not a White America that we are seeing arising out of it’s racist past. For many Whites this is deeply troubling, for a chapter of American history where Whites controlled everything is coming to a close. In the future there will not be a White America, period. It is this realization that has fed the xenophobic election of Mr. Trump, a last ditch effort to shore up a crumbling edifice of isolationism, nativism and White privilege.
As Fred Clark has stated: “White evangelicalism yesterday performed the purpose for which it was designed: It elected a white nationalist as president. This was not a failure, but a success. This was not a side effect or an accident or a collateral consequence. This was not the end of white evangelicalism, but the culmination of its purpose, its origin, its intent. White evangelicalism is white nationalism. This is what it is, and always has been, for.”
Mr. Clark then goes on to argue convincingly, that when overt racism within the fundamentalist and evangelical camp became too obvious prior to Jerry Fallwell’s Moral Majority (and Bob Jones University I might add) in the 1970’s, a change of focus became necessary for evangelicals to claim the moral higher ground, as building on a history of resistance to civil rights became increasingly difficult to sell to America. Hence, anti-abortion became the new crusade and litmus test for true evangelicalism:
“But then came calamity — the Civil Rights Movement turned America upside-down and exposed the disgraceful evil of segregationist white evangelicalism for all to see…White evangelicalism was laid bare as white nationalism in all its ugly glory. It’s claims of moral authority and moral superiority were proved to be a sham. White evangelicalism lost all credible claim to the moral high ground, and that dealt a heavy blow to its political agenda of white nationalism.”
I would add, the election of a Catholic President, JFK, in the 1960’s had cut off access to the Oval Office by evangelicals, a privilege they had enjoyed for decades. Something had to be done. Evangelical influence in Politics was slipping.
As Mr. Clark puts it, “The only thing to do, then, was to change the subject. And so, with stunning abruptness, white evangelicals adopted a second, and suddenly non-negotiable defining doctrine: anti-abortionism.
“This was new and alien. White evangelicals had mostly applauded Roe v. Wade, regarding anti-abortion views as a peculiarly Catholic mistake. The prevailing attitude among white evangelicals, on the rare occasions they thought about it at all, was similar to the prevailing attitude in Judaism — that a developing fetus has great value and moral significance as a potential person, but that this value and significance did not equal the full personhood of infants or adults”
“That belief — the majority opinion among white evangelicals as recently as the mid-1970s — was soon to become anathema. After Nixon’s failed presidency failed to reverse the losses for white nationalism, white evangelicals pulled a 180 and embraced anti-abortionism as their path to regaining moral legitimacy. This would be their ticket to reclaiming the pretense of the moral high ground while still continuing to promote a political agenda of white nationalism.
It’s simple, really: Redefine abortion as baby-killing and you redefine everyone who supports it as a baby-killer. And you’re always guaranteed to hold the moral high-ground compared to a bunch of baby-killers, even if you’re a white nationalist. Who’s worse? Segregationists? Or baby-killers? The baby-killers, obviously. They kill babies. It’s murder.”
“No white evangelical born before 1970 grew up believing this. No white evangelical born after 1980 grew up not believing this.”
“So now white evangelicals were no longer in the morally indefensible position of explicitly defending segregation and white nationalist politics. Now they were able to regard and portray themselves as moral champions battling against Satanic baby-killers, just as earlier generations of segregationist, pro-slavery, white-nationalist white evangelicals regarded and portrayed themselves as moral champions battling against those who disrespected “the Bible.”
Clark continues: “…white evangelicals again voted for white nationalism. They supported a candidate who explicitly and unambiguously made white nationalism the centerpiece and driving passion of his campaign. The fig-leaf for this support was abortion. And once again we are asked to believe — after centuries defending slavery, segregation and Jim Crow — that it was only about abortion, and that the 100-percent correlation between this anti-abortion politics and white nationalist politics is just an unfortunate and unforeseen coincidence.”
Unfortunately, many good, loving people were duped by the shell game performed by the Republican Party. In the remote chance that Trump would appoint a SCOTUS that would turn Roe v Wade around, a Faustian bargain was made that ignored the poor, refugees, women, minorities, the LGBTQ community and rights for the disabled and other disenfranchised individuals. America will remember this deal with the devil for decades to come. It does not bode well for evangelicals.