Bad Faith: Race and the Rise of the Religious Right

by Randall Balmer

Hardcover, 2021



Call number




Eerdmans (2021), 141 pages


"A history of the origins of the Religious Right that challenges the commonly held misconception that abortion was its original galvanizing issue"--

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LibraryThing member deusvitae
You’ve probably heard the self-reinforcing story. Yes, in general, American Evangelicals were not a well-mobilized group for voting and influencing American politics throughout much of the twentieth century. But then the Supreme Court handed down their decision on Roe vs. Wade, and Evangelicals
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were mobilized to vote regarding abortion.

Well, as said by the Secretary of Defense in Independence Day, “that’s not entirely accurate.”

In Bad Faith: Race and the Rise of the Religious Right, Randall Balmer provides the far more unsettling story based on primary documents and conversations and interviews with some of the primary architects of the rise of the “Religious Right.”

Paul Weyrich is the name regarding which you rarely hear but was highly influential behind the scenes. For years he sought to find some way to catalyze conservative Evangelicals to vote, and specifically, to vote Republican. He sought issue after issue. Nothing was really “sticking.”

There was not, in fact, a polarization or political push in the immediate aftermath of the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision. The primary documents Balmer presents might surprise you: many Evangelical denominations were not against the decision, sought to find ways to value the lives of women and children, and emphasized how access to abortion was not the same as mandating or requiring abortion. Criswell is even quoted in his belief of a child’s life not being fully his or her own until birth and thus why he was not as concerned about abortion as many are today.

Those Evangelicals who were activated to vote in 1976 mostly did so…for the Democratic candidate Jimmy Carter, who was an Evangelical and spoke regarding how his Evangelical faith shaped many of his political commitments.

So what changed? If abortion was not the catalyzing political issue, what was?

As Balmer powerfully demonstrates, the catalyzing issue was the push by the Internal Revenue Service to revoke the religious non-profit status of the secondary and post-secondary “segregation academies” and colleges like Bob Jones University in the middle of the 1970s.

Southern segregationalists did not just fade away into the sunset after the Brown vs. Board of Education decision was enforced in the South. They often developed their own private schools which maintained segregation. These were maintained in the 1960s and 1970s and became quite popular among a certain set of white Evangelicals in the South.

And they did not take kindly to the IRS considering them no longer religious non-profit organizations. Even though it was a matter of a tax benefit being removed, many Evangelicals organized and argued as if it were a significant violation of the separation of church and state and a form of persecution. And even though the matter was done and even adjudicated in the days of the Gerald Ford administration, it would be in the 1980 election in which the matter would come to a head.

This was the catalyst Weyrich was looking for and he took full advantage. Believe it or not, Ronald Reagan was not the most ideal conservative Christian candidate. He had been divorced and remarried. As Governor of California he signed pro-choice and gun control legislation. But he managed the dog whistles well and had been well coached about how to cultivate conservative Evangelical votes. And vote for him they did. And they got what they wanted: under the Reagan administration, IRS efforts against the “segregation academies” was pulled back.

During the late 1970s and into the 1980s was when abortion came to the fore and became more than just a “[Roman] Catholic issue.” Nuance was dropped and significant concern for the health and lives of women were marginalized in the attempt to emphasize the health and lives of babies and what it meant for a society to provide access to abortion. Within a few years even the Falwells and other such Evangelical authors of the Religious Right had told themselves often enough that abortion was the catalyzing issue that they believed it.

Does this mean every politically conservative Christian who is fervently against abortion is a closeted, secret racist? No, of course not. But the real history well explains why the moral character and dog whistle racism of DJT was not disqualifying in the eyes of most Evangelicals, and how it can be that conservative Christendom writ large remains quite comfortable with white supremacists in their midst. It was their energy which got the whole political machine up and moving. And it’s never been fully and decisively repudiated.
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Physical description

141 p.; 7 inches


0802879349 / 9780802879349
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