Fact and Fiction About Racism and the Rise of the Religious Right

Let me first lay my bias and experience cards on the table. I’ve been a member of the Christian conservative wing of the Republican Party from the moment I could vote until 2016, when the Republican Party left me behind by crossing multiple red lines in its embrace of Donald Trump. Before I became a full-time writer and journalist, I wasn’t just a Christian conservative voter, I was a pro-life activist and constitutional litigator for pro-life and religious liberty legal organizations. 

If there was any American subculture that I knew well, it was American Evangelicalism—especially the most politically engaged branch of the movement—and while I knew it had its flaws (every human movement does), I did not believe that racism was one of them. In fact, I knew it wasn’t. One of the core arguments of the modern pro-life movement is that abortion rights were rooted in part in eugenic racism, in a desire to weed out “undesirable” populations. Pro-life activists are continually pointing and condemning the disproportionate number of abortions in the African American community. 

So imagine my surprise when I began to see an increasing amount of argument that, actually, racism taints the rise of the religious right. Critics claim that the modern narrative of conservative Evangelical activism is built on white supremacy. Rather than Roe v. Wade shocking Evangelicals into action, the true catalyzing event was allegedly the 1970s-era IRS attack on so-called “segregation academies”—the whites-only Christian schools that sprang up across the South in response to federal desegregation orders. 

According to this narrative, Evangelical leaders mainly supported abortion rights. They jumped into the culture war only when the IRS moved to strip the tax exemptions from racially discriminatory schools. Opposition to integration is the poisonous acorn that grew into the mighty political oak of conservative Christianity. . 

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