In a sick way, you have to hand it to the Left. They seem to be infinitely creative in the ways they charge conservatives with racism.
Both writers argue in their respective pieces that there is a common misconception about the origin of the religious right: the notion that the political movement started in response to the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion.
Instead, they claim–based on an incredibly scant amount of evidence–that the very core of the religious right was founded based on an opposition to a federal court ruling in 1970 which held that it was perfectly legitimate for the IRS to not grant tax-exempt status to any private school which discriminated on the basis of race.
Mr. Balmer notes that this “captured the attention of evangelical leaders,” and identifies one Jerry Falwell quote as evidence. Both Mr. Balmer and Amanda Marcotte dedicated multiple paragraphs to Bob Jones University, the very clearly segregationist private school that had a policy against interracial dating as recently as 2000.
That the liberal media seem to have orchestrated a story out of thin air to destroy the historical legacy of religious conservatives is none too surprising. Cherry picking data by using the policies of one university to indict a whole movement as racist in nature and origin is close to journalistic malpractice.
The reality is that liberal theological factions represented a strong majority of the governing bodies of Protestant churches until about the mid-1970's. But in response to the mainline Protestants’ acceptance of Roe v. Wade and possibly because of the impact the sexual revolution had on American culture, evangelicals fought back and began to take over denominations like the Southern Baptist Convention. The Southern Baptist Convention by 1978 officially declared that racial justice was an explicitly Christian concern. The following year, while reaffirming its commitment to fighting racism, the SBC expressed its religious liberty concerns with the IRS for requiring church-owned schools to prove that they didn’t discriminate on the basis of race prior to being granted a tax-exempt status.
WHEREAS, Revenue procedures have been proposed by the Internal Revenue Service which deny tax-exempt status to private schools--including those owned and operated by churches--unless they can prove that they do not discriminate on the basis of race in their admissions policies, and
WHEREAS, These procedures affecting the enrollment of church schools rest on broad grounds of public policy rather than on specific statutory authorization, and
WHEREAS, Many schools operated by a particular church or association of churches form an integral part of the total religious mission of the church or association, and
WHEREAS, Many of these schools were created by churches primarily to serve the religious as well as the educational needs of their own membership, and
WHEREAS, The actions of the Internal Revenue Service in this instance violate the constitutional guarantees of separation of church and state and the free exercise of religion,
Be it therefore RESOLVED by the Southern Baptist Convention in its 1979 annual meeting in Houston, Texas that:
1. We reaffirm our historic position in support of the separation of church and state, the right of the church alone to define its own religious mission, and the right of a church to establish schools as a part of that mission without the aid of the state, hindrance by the state, and threats of loss of tax-exempt status for following that religious mission, and
2. We request that the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, while being sensitive to our position on racism, work vigorously to maintain the separation of church and state, to protect the free exercise of religion, and to oppose specifically the Internal Revenue Service's proposed intrusions into church owned and operated schools.
Others, like the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), founded in 1973, were conservative breakaways from theologically liberal denominations. The PCA never endorsed a liberal stand on abortion and in fact strongly condemned it in a 1978 position paper.
Another fairly conservative Presbyterian body, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, denounced racism in 1964 in a statement thoroughly grounded in biblical teaching “that God has created of one blood all nations of men... and therefore all men regardless of their color or race, national origin, are to be regarded as our neighbors whom the Bible enjoins us to love as ourselves.”
“It makes no difference whether a man be born a Negro, Indian, Oriental, in a high or low station, rich or poor; all are creatures of God's hands and sinners in His sight with whom, ‘There is no difference; for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.’ (Rom. 3:22-23)” the statement added.
Liberal journalists have concocted yet another theory associating racism with the religious right. However, much like the claims of Tea Party racism, Marcotte and Balmer’s suggestions are based on such flimsy evidence that one can’t help but do anything other than laugh.
Photo above of President Reagan meeting with evangelical leader Jerry Falwell. Image via the Ronald Reagan Library.