Jan. 23 Flashback: White evangelicalism is a backlash against Brown v. Board of Ed

Jan. 23 Flashback: White evangelicalism is a backlash against Brown v. Board of Ed January 23, 2022

I’m so old I can still remember when all the important people were scared of blogs.

This is from January 23, 2013, “Roe v. Wade backlash myth clouds real history of state’s rights and segregated schools“:

Ronald Reagan kicked off his campaign for president in 1980 with a speech at the Neshoba County Fair near Philadelphia, Mississippi. It was his first public speech since his nomination at the Republican Convention.

And, like the speech he gave at that convention accepting his nomination, it never mentioned abortion.

It was, instead, about “state’s rights.” And no, the choice to give this speech near Philadelphia, Miss., was not a coincidence.

This was seven years after Roe v. Wade, and no huge backlash against that decision could be detected in Reagan’s campaign or in the groundswell of white evangelical support bolstering his run for the White House. You can’t find a hint of that in either speech and you won’t find much more than a hint of that in the 1980 election.

If evangelicals recoiled in moral horror after Roe v. Wade, as Al Mohler asserts, they did so very quietly and almost imperceptibly throughout the 1970s.

White evangelicals certainly were upset with the U.S. Supreme Court in those years, and Roe fit broadly into the pattern of the decisions about which white evangelicals were angry. But that anger wasn’t about abortion at all. That anger was about — to borrow Reagan’s preferred euphemism — “state’s rights.” It was about the belief that “that we’ve distorted the balance of our government today by giving powers that were never intended in the Constitution to that federal establishment.”

It was about white evangelicals’  desire to run tax-exempt private schools without federal interference.

Roe was a scarcely noticed footnote to the list of Supreme Court decisions that white evangelicals believed had, in Reagan’s words “distorted the balance of our government,” overriding their “state’s rights” in a way that was “incompatible with the sovereignty of the States, and of the Constitution itself.”

Mohler’s column reiterates what religious historian Randall Balmer calls “the abortion myth” — the creation story of the Religious Right: “Roe was the catalyst for the moral revolution within evangelicalism. The reality of abortion on demand and exposure to the logic of the abortion rights movement led to a fundamental shift in the evangelical conscience.”

No it wasn’t. No it didn’t.

Look, we’re not talking about competing interpretations of ancient history. We’re talking about the 1970s. Mohler is 53 years old. He was there. The Bicentennial, Disco, Star Wars, Mr. October, Fonzie on water skis. He’s old enough to remember all of those things, and so he’s old enough to remember that the big flip-flop on legal abortion he calls “a fundamental shift in the evangelical conscience” came after the political realignment of “state’s rights” evangelicals, not before it.

I argue that white evangelicals’ reversal on abortion politics is a consequence of the political realignment that preceded it. It’s possible to disagree with that argument, but it’s not possible to argue — as Mohler does — that this reversal caused something that preceded it.

The rest of the post is one big excerpt from Randal Balmer’s Thy Kingdom Come. Read it here.


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