Right-wing political and religious leaders have spent 50 years mobilizing and organizing evangelicals to donate and vote Republican, all based on abortion-centered propaganda. It appears that they are about to achieve a major victory with the likely overturning of Roe v. Wade. But this policy win is just the cherry on top of a massive ice cream sundae of conservative success that abortion-centered organizing has produced.
It is widely known in political circles that tens of millions of fundamentalist Christians were non-voters for much of the 20th century. They lived in educational and cultural bubbles and distanced themselves from the government and partisan politics. However, this group became more politically active in the late 1970s and early 1980s. There is a widely accepted myth that the right to abortion guaranteed in the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling inspired them to organize. However, according to Randall Balmer, a history professor at Dartmouth College, this is a deliberately crafted lie.
Balmer shows that major evangelical leaders and organizations, including the Southern Baptist Convention, supported the right to abortion until the mid-1970’s. There was debate but no consensus among evangelicals as to when life begins. The health and well-being of the mother and minimization of government interference in individual choices were celebrated.
But if legalized abortion did not inspire the politicization of the religious right, what was the precipitating cause? Balmer argues that it was the loss of tax-exempt status among white supremacist fundamentalist Christian universities and other organizations that ignited the fire.
Extremely conservative evangelical schools like Oral Roberts University, Bob Jones University and Jerry Falwell’s Lynchburg Christian Academy — the predecessor to Liberty University — refused to admit Black students and were losing their tax-exempt status and access to federal grants.
The desire to protect their revenue and preserve segregation brought a group of influential right-wing evangelical and political leaders to a pivotal strategy meeting at the Mayflower Hotel, where they discussed a variety of potentially hot-button issues that they could collectively focus on in order to mobilize the dormant evangelical community to vote. They settled on abortion, thinking that saving babies was a cause that appeared nobler and more motivating to the public than maintaining racial segregation.
As Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Beware a wolf in sheep’s clothing.” I hope and pray that by exposing what is beneath the wooly exterior of the right wing’s strategy, we might unmask the demonic duplicity of the movement and weaken its power.
Read more of the May 11-17, 2022 issue.