Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Trump May Be A Fitting Hero

Tim Alberta recognizes in Politico Magazine that the largely successful effort of evangelical leaders in the

casting of Trump as a great champion of the faithful, engaging the forces of secularism on behalf of a beleaguered religious right, is essential to understanding his appeal among evangelicals....

From their perspective, Christianity is under attack from the worldly influences of academia and entertainment and media, all of which have a vested interest in loosening religion’s grip on society. 

"The most important question," Alberta emphasizes and which became especially obvious during the last election cycle, "is not whether Trump believes in their cause, but whether he can win their wars." The war's battles include

nominating a conservative in Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court; reinstating and strengthening the Mexico City policy, which eliminates U.S. funding for international nongovernmental organizations that perform abortions; signing the Congressional Review Act to route federal money away from Planned Parenthood; and issuing an executive order that begins to broaden religious liberty guidelines, with promises of more action to come. 

Therefore, Alberta argues persuasively

After generations of ceding ground to what they view as a militant, secular left—with Roe v. Wade cementing protections for abortion, Engel v. Vitale taking prayer out of public schools and Obergefell v. Hodges legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide, among other defeats—social conservatives are finally feeling momentum on their side. 

The origin of the religious right was not Alberta's concen. Yet- and notwithstanding the importance of abortion, public school prayer, and gay marriage- the genesis of arguably the nation's most significant political movement of the past half-century should not get short shrift.

Writing in 2014, (also in Politico Magazine) Randall Balmer explained

On June 30, 1971, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia issued its ruling in the case, now  Green v. Connally (John Connally had replaced David Kennedy as secretary of the Treasury). The decision upheld the new IRS policy: “Under the Internal Revenue Code, properly construed, racially discriminatory private schools are not entitled to the Federal tax exemption provided for charitable, educational institutions, and persons making gifts to such schools are not entitled to the deductions provided in case of gifts to charitable, educational institutions.”

The ruling in Green v. Connally

captured the attention of evangelical leaders , especially as the IRS began sending questionnaires to church-related “segregation academies,” including (Reverend Jerry) Falwell’s own Lynchburg Christian School, inquiring about their racial policies. Falwell was furious. “In some states,” he famously complained, “It’s easier to open a massage parlor than a Christian school.”

One such school, Bob Jones University—a fundamentalist college in Greenville, South Carolina—was especially obdurate. The IRS had sent its first letter to Bob Jones University in November 1970 to ascertain whether or not it discriminated on the basis of race. The school responded defiantly: It did not admit African Americans.

Despite efforts- largely symbolic- to placate the IRS. "on January 19, 1976, after years of warnings—integrate or pay taxes—the agency rescinded the school’s tax exemption." Heritage Foundation co-founder and political activist Paul Weyrich for almost twenty years

by his own account, had been trying out different issues, hoping one might pique evangelical interest: pornography, prayer in schools, the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution, even abortion. “I was trying to get these people interested in those issues and I utterly failed,” Weyrich recalled at a conference in 1990.

However, Balmer points out

For many evangelical leaders, who had been following the issue since  Green v. Connally, Bob Jones University was the final straw. As Elmer L. Rumminger, longtime administrator at Bob Jones University, told me in an interview, the IRS actions against his school “alerted the Christian school community about what could happen with government interference” in the affairs of evangelical institutions. “That was really the major issue that got us all involved.”

It was difficult- politically incorrect, one might say- to promote a political movement on the basis of opposing the effort to end racial discrimination. Still, in the mid-1970s, many evangelical leaders were determined to prevent re-election to the presidency of any Democrat (even a religious one such as Jimmy Carter) and

Falwell and Weyrich, having tapped into the ire of evangelical leaders, were also savvy enough to recognize that organizing grassroots evangelicals to defend racial discrimination would be a challenge. It had worked to rally the leaders, but they needed a different issue if they wanted to mobilize evangelical voters on a large scale.

Legal abortion had increased after Roe v. Wade and the catalyst for a movement, begun to support the tax exemption of racially segregated schools, had found its catalyst.

It would be decades before the rest  of us would realize that Christian conservative activists, now anxious to deter use of birth control, claiming the right to discriminate on the basis of claimed religious belief, and supporting a President with values anathema to the human race, was about much more than discouraging abortion.

Most people on the left recognized at least that the religious right did not always practice what it preached and had a dangerous political agenda (relevant portions of video below at 3:18-4:35 and 5:01-5:25), a fear brought to fruition with the presidency of Donald J. Trump. In 1994, 22-23 years before Trump-Pence, the  conservative stalwart, former senator and GOP presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, warned

Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they're sure trying to do so, it's going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can't and won't compromise. I know, I've tried to deal with them.

There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God's name on one's behalf should be used sparingly. 

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