Observations of an expat: unholy alliance

The unholy alliance of the Christian Right and the Republican Party has conquered its Everest with the end of abortion in most of America.

It still has other political mountains to climb: Same-sex marriage, gay rights, equal rights, Christian nationalism, creationism, contraception, sex education, political correctness, gambling, pornography, Sunday trading…

But Roe v Wade was top target. It was the emotively totemic issue that united hardline conservative Republicans and Evangelicals and differentiated them from the rest of the country.

The alliance, however, may now be facing the downward slope. A poll taken just after the Supreme Court decision showed that 59 percent of Americans support abortion and 58 percent now want a federal law making abortion available nationwide.

The unholy alliance’s victory shows what religious fervour linked with political organisation can achieve. But the majority has learned the hard lesson of complacency associated with defending the status quo. They have been galvanised, are removing the gloves and have electoral numbers on their side.

America has a long history of mixing politics and religion. New England was founded by religious dissidents who sought to breakaway from establishment Church of England and for a long time set up their own theocracy in America. The US constitution was seen as a triumph of rationalism, the summit of the Age of Reason and a victory over the religious superstition of the medieval world.

For about 100 years enlightened reasoning – with exceptions – reigned largely supreme within the American corridors of power. Then along came Darwin and the church split between the fundamentalists who dismissed evolution as heresy and those who reluctantly accepted it as the logical fruit of science.

The fundamentalists gradually grew in numbers, especially in the South where fundamentalism was linked with a biblical justification for segregation. Then along came the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925. Creationists were humiliated by firebrand lawyer Clarence Darrow and slinked off to link their wounds.

By the time World War Two came along America was on the road to secularism with church attendance down to just 32 percent of the population. Then the Cold War started. First Harry Truman and then Dwight Eisenhower, encouraged “Christian” America to unite against the atheistic God-hating Soviet Union. With government support, millionaire industrialist Charles Wilson established the Religion in American Life campaign in 1949 and church attendance soared so that, by 1960, 69 percent of Americans were attending Sunday services.

But Wilson’s campaign was not linked to any political party. In fact it was pan-political in that its main target – Moscow – was accepted by Democrats and Republicans alike. It was not until the civil rights movement and Richard Nixon that the Republicans started to exploit religion to establish a foothold in the Bible Belt southern states.

Segregation was the issue but the Republican leadership took a softly softly approach. “We don’t want to appear racist,” said Nixon.

When Roe v Wade came along in 1973 it was not a major issue with conservatives or the Christian right. In fact, Wallie Criswell, president of the Southern Baptist Convention from 1968-70, initially welcomed the Supreme Court decision. “I have always felt that only after a child was born and had a life separate from the mother than it became an individual person.”

Abortion did not become a conservative and religious issue until 1979 when Paul Weyrich and Jerry Falwell co-founded the Moral Majority and started to forge the steel links that bound Evangelicalism and the Republican Party. Ronald Reagan was the first beneficiary of the alliance. The actor-turned-politician was himself not particularly religious, but he saw an opportunity and grabbed it with both hands. The embrace, however, was more symbolic than activist as the unholy alliance was in its infancy and he was keen not to offend non-evangelicals, although he did achieve a Supreme Court review of Roe v. Wade only to have it reaffirmed by a majority of one.

Clinton was a setback. Although by now, the collapse of the Soviet Union meant that the focus of the religious right had shifted from atheistic Moscow to secular humanists and the liberals who espoused it.

George W. Bush was a major victory. But after 9/11 Dubya’s focus was on enlisting the religious right in his fight against Islamic terrorism. Abortion was a secondary issue. The election of Barack Obama finalised the marriage of the Christian right and Republicans. White Supremacists were threatened by the election of a Black man and Obama’s unswerving support for abortion and gay rights secured the scorn of the evangelicals.

Trump was a lying, cheating, thrice-married, racist misogynist. He was described by one clergyman as a man who regarded the prohibitions in the Ten Commandments as his “personal to do list”. But that did not matter. He opposed abortion and represented evangelicals’ deeply conservative values. “We are electing a commander-in-chief, not a pastor-in-chief,” said supporter Jerry Falwell Jr.

The Christian Right was mobilised like never before. They hit the streets to knock on doors and distribute Trump literature; phoned voters, held pro-Trump prayer meetings and public fasts. When polling day arrived 81 percent of America’s evangelicals cast their votes for Donald Trump. He owed his victory to the born-agains and Trump repaid the debt by appointing three Supreme Court Justices whom he knew would overturn Roe v. Wade.

But now it is done. The Christian Right is now the status quo and the angry liberal pro-abortion majority is attacking their walls. They have the numbers and now they have a cause. The mid-term elections for control of Congress were expected to be a walk over for the Republicans. The end of Roe v. Wade may have changed that and the outcome of the 2024 presidential election.

 

* Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and the author of “The Encyclopedia of the Cold War” and the recently published “America Made in Britain” that has sold out in the US after six weeks but is still available in the UK.

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14 Comments

  • Brad Barrows 2nd Jul '22 - 1:34pm

    An interesting piece though I sense a hostility towards the rights of those who wish to live according to their deeply held religious beliefs.
    You are correct that many of the original settlers in what became the USA moved there to escape persecution due to their religious beliefs – it is ironic that in the 21st century many people of faith in the USA believe that it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to live according to their religious beliefs without facing opposition, and discrimination, from those who disagree with their beliefs. For example, the 2015 Supreme Court decision that struck down all state laws that prevented same-sex marriage in the USA resulted in pressure being applied to those in society who opposed same-sex marriage to ‘fall into line’, with Christian bakers, wedding photographers etc being targeted by activists trying to force out of business anyone trying not to comply (such as the baker, Jack Phillips in Colorado who was willing to serve and supply any customer but would not take orders to design wedding cakes to celebrate a same-sex marriage). It does appear that, at present, the Supreme Court has a majority that is willing to rule against discrimination on religious grounds – such as the recent Carson v Makin and the Kennedy v Bremerton School District decisions – perhaps we will see another victory for Jack Phillips who, though winning in 2018, has continued to face attempts by activists (backed by State officials) to force him to ‘fall into line’ or force him out of business.

  • Joseph Bourke 2nd Jul '22 - 2:19pm

    The influence of evangelical Christianity in the United States is often under-recognised. It is not for nothing that US Presidents more often than not end their public addresses with the entreaty – “God Bless America” or residents of Western States refer to their territory as “Gods own country”.
    Presidents praying with Billy Graham was at one point seen as the surest way to shore up waning public support for an administration in trouble.
    The United States is in many respects 50 different countries that have combined into a Federal union. The bible belt is an entirely different place to the metropolitan coastal states and even to much of the mid-west. Visitors accustomed to the America of New York or LA would find Oklahoma entirely alien.
    The separation of Church and State is essential to preserve the freedoms of both the religious and non-religious alike. The USA has become a deeply divided country and religious fundamentalism in the political arena is part of that division.

  • Laurence Cox 2nd Jul '22 - 3:08pm

    There is a good book that has just been published:

    Of Popes and Unicorns: Science, Christianity, and How the Conflict Thesis Fooled the World (Hardback) by David Hutchings and James C. Ungureanu.

    https://www.waterstones.com/book/of-popes-and-unicorns/david-hutchings/james-c-ungureanu/9780190053093

    It tells about how the conflict thesis, that religion and science must be at odds with each other, came about in the 19th Century and has so influenced both conservative religious groups and New Atheists since.

  • Brad Barrows 2nd Jul '22 - 3:15pm

    @Joseph Bourke
    “…religious fundamentalism in the political arena is part of that division.”
    Sorry, but those with strongly held religious beliefs are as entitled to vote, stand for election and participate in the political arena as any other group of citizens – it is called democracy.

  • @Brad Barrows 2nd Jul ’22 – 1:34pm…..

    You mention ‘strongly held religious beliefs’ but fail to mention how, those who hold them, are willing to ignore most ‘born again’ Christian beliefs on truth fidelity, etc., and support a man to whom such beliefs are an anathema..
    You cite Jack Phillips’s views on same sex marriage but what if that view extended to mixed race marriages, etc. should such a view be upheld?

    As an aside..I always thought that ‘born again’ meant wholly embracing the values of Christ; however, my experience of such people is that they tend to ignore his ‘bits’ on forgiveness and tolerance..

  • William Wallace 3rd Jul '22 - 10:59am

    And we need to recognise how money from right-wing fundamentalists in the USA has flowed into the UK: funding similar groups here, flowing into right-wing think-tanks, supporting some of the most right-wing elements in the Conservative Party. Thankfully, few religious groups in the UK have been strongly influenced by US fundamentalists (In spite of Billy Graham and his son…), though a small number of right-wing Conservative Catholics have links to those within the USA (Steve Bannon etc.) who cling to highly authoritarian values and don’t think the current Pope is a proper Catholic. Brad Burrows, you might note the vigorous attacks in our right-wing media on C of E bishops for expressing views on poverty and social justice – those with religious beliefs DO participate in public life.

  • Brad Barrows 3rd Jul '22 - 11:29am

    @William Wallace
    Yes, Bishops have spoken out about poverty and social justice – but notice the irony that if people of faith express views based on their religious beliefs condemning poverty and inequality in society they get attacked by those on the right for their left-wing intervention, but if those same people were to condemn abortion as the ending of innocent human life they get attacked by ‘progressives’ as being misogynistic, right-wing fundamentalists/extremists.

  • @ Brad. My problem with religious fundamentalists — from my experience– is that they are too rigid. This applies to fundamentalists in all religions, not just Christians. Politics, in fact social interchanges in general, require give and take. Fundmentalists base everything– law, politics, everyday life– on the teachings of their god as written in the Bible, Koran, etcetera. They start from the premise that God is infallible (which he is) and therefore what is written in their holy book is the absolute, unchallengeable truth.

  • Brad Barrows 3rd Jul '22 - 1:20pm

    @Tom
    Is is interesting that religious fundamentalists who dare to enter the political arena and express political views get accused of being ‘too rigid’ and unwilling to engage in the compromise that is often required in make society work smoothly, but somehow non-religious people who are equally rigid and unwilling to compromise never get criticised for their participation in the political arena.

  • @Brad– I have a number of born again fundamentalist relatives back in the States. I can tell you that they bring new meaning to the word rigid. The world was created in six days, the Bible says so– no discussion. Abortion is bad. The Bible says so– no discussion. Gay sex is bad. The Bible says so– no discussion. The world is 7,000 years old. The Bible says so– no discussion. I could easily give you a hundred more examples.But you are right in one respect, they accuse me of being rigid for failing to accept the Bible as the absolute truth.

  • David Evans 4th Jul '22 - 1:35pm

    Interesting comment Tom. It’s always interesting if you have enough background knowledge to ask them to consider the contradictions in society e.g. do they believe that “Blessed are the peace makers,” and how do they view the storming of the Capitol, or “Thou shalt not kill” and capital punishment?

  • Lorenzo Cherin 4th Jul '22 - 1:43pm

    Very apposite. But I agree with Brad. As well as this scathing and accurate history of the right and abortion rights, we need one that illuminates why the right have garnered this level of support on this pressing issue.

    It is that our favoured Democrats have moved to the far left on the issue. JFK would not support abortion at twent-six weeks!

    Nor do I or many who take a view that abortion ought to be legal, safe, rare, a quote from Clinton. I think we also believe it ought to be regulated not decriminalised, as well as non existent unless the physical life of the woman is at risk, after, say twenty weeks.

    Why did Ireland cheer? it has abortion up to twelve weeks. Like the French. Only the usa and Uk and Canada favours this more in my view, extremely pro abortion attitude of the modern left.

    Brad is correct, the lives of unborn children, can be seen as human rights too. I favour abortion rights. This ought not be that we favour or support unlimited abortion.

    The left need to promote their caring for the pregnant woman, fee excellent treatment. This is the reproductive health they add on as omnipresent as a describing of abortion. It really is true that the issue has divided because of two extremes.

    The Republicans were not as against abortion rights, when the Democrats were not so obsessed with unlimited abortion rights.

  • Jenny Barnes 4th Jul '22 - 1:54pm

    “There are people in this world who do not love their fellow human beings- and I hate people like that” Tom Lehrer

  • @Lorenzo Cherin – Like many, I see you over look the obvious… namely, it takes two to tango. So I suggest if we are to make it harder for women to have terminations then we also need to make it harder for men (and their parents) to avoid paying for the consequences for their actions.

    I suggest a good starting point would be mandatory DNA testing, and the treating (under the law) of children born out of wedlock and their mothers, the same as the children born in wedlock and their mothers – with such provisions taking precedence over Wills etc. Also, if family gives to children born in wedlock and their mothers then…

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