Wednesday, December 1, 2004
"We didn't leave the Democratic Party," Southern Republicans like to say. "It left us." This statement is pure fantasy. The truth is that the Democratic Party instituted the bulk of the civil rights legislation in this country and, rather than get in step with it, white Southerners bailed out of the Democratic Party and threw their support to the Republicans whom they perceived as more in line with their Jim Crow "values." The Republicans didn't tell them otherwise.
Northern Republicans don't really understand this about Southern Republicans. They tend to think that "Republican" is a generic term, reflecting tax-cutting economic conservatism. But I don't think it's an accident that the largely white Christian evangelicals were an important part of the Republican sweep on Nov. 2. I wonder how many of the people Richard Barrett thought would want to hug Preacher Killen's neck at the State Fair, thanking him for his part in ridding Mississippi of Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner, are also evangelical Christians?
Maybe I'm reaching, but it seems like it is the Southern arm of the Republican Party that has gained ascendancy in the GOP; just ask the hapless northeastern moderate Arlen Specter. And looking at the electoral map, I don't think it's going too far to say that the South has risen again.
The solidly red states of the Old Confederacy have finally found approbation and solidarity outside of the South. It would be sweet revenge for some of my ancestors. It is as though, through insidious religious conditioning, the South has formed a new Confederacy with the Midwest and the West. By ignoring their sorry racial record of the past 100 years, never apologizing for embracing and benefiting from the influx of racist segregationists, by cultivating conservatism until it became a religion, then proselytizing their politics, irrespective of constitutional separation of church and state, the Republicans have managed to fly an evangelical flag over the highest office in the land, and to plant it in the backs of the very descendants of our founding fathers, those crusty New Englanders who once claimed dominion over a conquered Southland.
Wiley Republicans have used the ballot box to unzip a conservative evangelical voice that I fear not even they will be able to control. Fatalism fuels the heart and mind of an evangelical, an unwavering belief in absolutes. The world is finite, its resources are here to be exhausted not husbanded, the rapture can't come soon enough, and everything is already written in the Book of books. It's so easy not to have to deal with messy details like free will and science, not to have to think ahead because you will be raptured long before tomorrow arrives.
Evangelical leader Bob Jones II says liberals (meaning Democrats) "hate Christ." This is the same brand of religious fanaticism that Osama Bin Laden uses to inflame suicide bombers looking for virgins in the afterlife. To me, both Jones and Bin Laden seem like religious ideologues who don't see any way but their own because THEY AREN'T LOOKING. They seem like the same kinds of people I knew growing up: racists who used religion to keep everyone subjugated by their own fear of change.
We discussed segregation in our white churches in the '60s. It was where I first heard that a Christian believes in absolutes and that the devil uses doubt and gray areas to turn a Christian away from Jesus. And what were the absolutes? The absolute power of the white community. Its righteousness in the eyes of God.
The so-called "new" values discussion is not so different than the old one, except that it is happening in the White House and not in the First Presbyterian Church in Yazoo City. That it is gay people who are being shut out by God's people, not black ones, is merely a new wrinkle in an old fabric of fear and bigotry.
By not understanding that we are now fighting a religious war and not a political one, the Democrats failed to establish an effective strategy. Bush and his minions have launched the American Evangelical Reformation. It's time to read up on European history. Pay close attention to the 16th century.
Ruth Williams is a free-lance writer residing in Flora, Mississippi. She is the author, with Jeffrey Durstewitz, of "Younger Than That Now, a Shared Passage from the '60s," Bantam, 2001.
I feel the key difference between Southern Republicans and others is the heavy influence of the Southern Baptist Convention on the area. Hell, the SBC was formed over the issue of slavery during the Civil War era. Their record as an organization is extremely depressing and shocking (to say the least). ìMy God! What a Theory! Negro equality! Who in this Southland of ours would be found equalizing himself with a negro? Just such theories have caused our wives and daughters to be brutally outraged and encourages amalgamation throughout the land.î (Baptist and Reflector, Jan. 19, 1903) From women's suffrage to racial equality to gay marriage, the SBC and the many other arms of its organization have been using faith to influence their flock on specific political issues and are usually on the shamefully negative side of the argument. Those issues often seem to be key platform issues for the "conservatives" as well. You can't help but wonder which came first -- The Southern Republican or the Southern Baptist. Thanks Ruth for an excellent article. It touches on many aspects few seem to know about or understand clearly.
I find elements of truth in this article, but much of it I find wanting. I speak as a former Southern Baptist who now attends a fairly liberal Presbyrterian church. There is no question that the Civil Rights movement fueled the White Southern shift to the Republican party during the late 60s and 70s. What is consistently overlooked is the general liberalization of social values in general - Civil Rights or not. Furthermore, property owners down here guard their right to their money and property VERY jealously - regardless of racial or moral beliefs. When White Southerners started becoming predominately middle class, it was a foregone conclusion that the White South was going to go Republican anyway - regardless of Civil Rights or religion. We discussed segregation in our white churches in the ë60s. It was where I first heard that a Christian believes in absolutes and that the devil uses doubt and gray areas to turn a Christian away from Jesus. And what were the absolutes? The absolute power of the white community. Its righteousness in the eyes of God. The breakdown of legal segregation was probably the most inflamatory element, no question. However, I think the general liberalization of other social values fueled it as much as anything (as evidenced by many state's laws against sex toys, or not too many decades ago even MENTIONING the word "sex" in public.) Don't forget that one of Mississippi's legal fossils includes bans on sexual intercourse outside marriage (in fact, a Georgia teenager recently got hauled before a judge for having sex with his girlfriend, though the judge only sentenced him to write an essay. Thankfully the ACLU intervened). Also, Mississippi was the last state to repeal statewide prohibition on alcohol in the 1960s - when most other states (barring Oklahoma, the 2nd to last one) LONG since repealed statewide bans on alcohol. (In the evangelical mind)...The world is finite, its resources are here to be exhausted not husbanded, the rapture canít come soon enough, and everything is already written in the Book of books. Itís so easy not to have to deal with messy details like free will and science, not to have to think ahead because you will be raptured long before tomorrow arrives. Granted the hard-core conservative tone of Evangelicals, I have NEVER heard them say resources are to be exhausted, not husbuned. The closest thing I've ever heard to this is that "God gave the earth to man that he should have dominion over it". If anything, LOTS of Evangelicals are just as concerned about the environment as anyone - they say that humanity has stewardship over the Earth, God's creation. Where the environment is concerned, the only thing Evangelicals can be faulted for is placing too much faith in the Republican interpretation of the environment, namely placing too much faith in the notion that capitalism alone is sufficient to solve our environmetal ills (reflexively, they will be skeptical of ANYTHING Liberals claim about regulations, etc.).
Today, racism among evangelicals is very much dying off. Their big concerns are the "liberalization of social values" and "preserving our Chrisitian heritage". As for the free will part, most Evangelicals actually do believe in free will (even the Presbyrterians revoked the predestination clause in 1903). It's just that they believe that "free will" should be used to further "God's glory" by reestablishing a nation with "wholesome values" (meaning exclusion of everything that does not meet the "moral" approval of either the good-ole-boy or the poslished, stepford-like, upper-middle class set). Note well that I am not defending the Evangelicals, only pointing out what runs contrary to my experience with them. In fact, I rejected Evangelicalism after studying various issues about Christianity, and realized I could no longer agree with the Evangelical theology in general and the Southern Baptist Convention's theology in particular.