Exposing the Christian Right’s New Racial Playbook
“When God has drawn a line of distinction, we should not attempt to cross that line. The true Negro does not want integration.” That was the assertion made by a young Rev. Jerry Falwell in a sermon he preached at his Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, 1958, four years after the Supreme Court struck down school segregation in Brown v. Board of Education. But at a gathering of the religious right earlier this month at the late preacher’s Lynchburg compound, integration was not only the topic of the day, but touted as the future of the conservative Christian movement.
Convened by the Freedom Federation earlier this month, the diversity summit, dubbed “The Awakening,” took place in the sanctuary of church that Falwell founded, and on the campus of his Liberty University. Sold as a gathering of “multiracial, multiethnic and multigenerational faith-based and policy organizations and leaders committed to plan, strategize, and mobilize to advance shared core values to preserve freedom and promote justice,” this “awakening” coincides with renewed efforts by the Republican Party to recruit African-American and Latino candidates for elected office. This year, 37 African Americans are running for seats in the U.S. House and Senate, according to the Associated Press.
The outreach to nonwhite evangelicals, spurred by Karl Rove’s strategy during the 2004 election and embraced by James Dobson during the same period, has been years in the making. As religious right leaders read the demographic writing on the wall, they are striving to broaden their movement’s base — and to create an environment appealing to the millennial generation of white evangelicals, who are far more accepting of LGBT people and their rights than the generation that came before them, but who remain steadfastly opposed to abortion. Once dismissed for their lack of orthodoxy, fast-growing charismatic and Pentacostal churches, where ecstatic forms of religious expression are displayed, are now regarded as fertile ground for growing the religious right. These churches have large numbers of Latinos and African-American members, often even when the pastor is white.