One Minute Video Introduction
I’m still flabbergasted by Mike Pence’s quiet, gentle, and mild-mannered suggestion that a cohesive American church was the unified source that brought the nation together through the civil rights movement. He then called on this American church to embrace a morally indefensible Donald Trump.
In my previous post, I talked about the birth of the Southern Baptist denomination because they fought to keep slaves. But Pence’s whitewashing of American religion isn’t just limited to the Southern Baptist denomination. It’s far, far deeper than that.
I know this post is long. I’m sorry. I’m going to shine the light of day on some important facts that some have carefully tried to sweep into the dustbin of obscured history, and I felt a need to document carefully what I write here. Being accurate matters to me.
I also know that many skip footnotes. I tend to as well. But I want to encourage you to explore the footnotes in this post, even if during a second reading. They provide a wealth of information that many will find as astounding as I first did.
Evangelist Bob Jones, Sr.
Historian Glenn Feldman, a history professor (1996 – 2015) at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, authored 11 books on politics in the southeast, making him one of the most serious scholars on race and politics in the South. In 1999 he wrote Politics, Society and the Klan in Alabama: 1915-1949. In his book, he mentions evangelist Bob Jones Sr. over a half dozen times.1
Bob Jones, initially a Methodist, was a key figure in the establishment of what has become known as the evangelical, fundamentalist movement in the United States.2 Many believe the movement is dying. I’m not so sure. It certainly represents a political force today. At the very least, the calls for the repeal of the Johnson Amendment firmly have their roots in the racist history we are about to explore in this post.
Christian Colleges and Universities
Purity mattered to Bob Jones Sr., and that included racial purity. In the mid-1920’s, Bob Jones Sr. received over $21,000 in today’s dollars from the the Andalusia den of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan.3 He advertised and held special evangelical meetings specifically for the KKK. Bob developed significant name recognition through his extensive travels evangelizing the South one tent meeting at a time.
And when the huge tent meeting crowds began to wane4, Bob felt called5 to start a school, Bob Jones College (1927), which later became Bob Jones University (1947). One of the college’s founding board members and a personal friend was the Grand Cyclops of the Montgomery chapter of the Ku Klux Klan: former Alabama Governor, Bibb Graves—after whom Bob Jones University named a dormitory.6
Easter Sunday Sermon, 1960
On Easter Sunday, 1960, Bob thundered from his radio station pulpit using the expression “agitation” 11 times to describe equality efforts for black people7
Jones described agitation as “outside,” “Satanic,” even “Communistic.” Clearly God, in this man’s mind, was against this agitation designed to undermine what Jones defines as “God’s established order.” Bob mentions that his wife’s grandmother owned hundreds of slaves. However, she was delighted when they were freed because she was afraid some of them were not Christians, and God would hold her accountable for that.
Importantly, Bob would not allow black students to be admitted into his university. He did not want to run the risk of white people and black people dating or, even worse in his mind, getting married: racial purity. He sincerely held this as a deep religious belief taught, as he saw it, by the scriptures: racial purity.
He goes so far as to say that he
“had planned to build a school, just like Bob Jones University, here in the South for colored people. We wanted to build it. But we have run into this agitation now that makes it difficult, and the years are piling up. I do not suppose I will ever be able to build it. … We would not have face [sic] the problems that are face [sic] where there is integration.”
I sincerely don’t think he saw himself8 as an elitist or a racist that married into money.
What’s the old saying: “Like father, like son?” And grandson… The investigative journalist, Robert Glenn Sherrill, in the chapter, An Interlude: God and B.J.U., in his 1969 book, Gothic Politics in the Deep South: documents a conversation he had with Bob Jones, III, in which the grandson of the founder said:
I don’t want you to … don’t misconstrue this as an attack upon the Negro—it’s not. We love Negro people. Some of the finest Christians I’ve ever known were Negroes. […] I’m for the Negro being able to have rights, to be able to ride on the bus with the white man, to eat at a restaurant if he wants to, to have an education in a state institution—he pays taxes like everybody else and he should have the privileges his tax money brings. I believe this and I’m all for it.” —p. 247
It’s difficult to now imagine this as having perhaps been one of the more progressive or enlightened religious positions of the time in the South. Then Sherrill recounts more less-enlightened conversation in which Jones talks about a Bible story where, according to Jones, God curses “the sons of Ham—Canaan—and he decreed that he would be a ‘servant’s servant.'” —p. 248. Sherrill sought clarification about the wording in the Bible. Jones responded:
“Yes, sir. ‘Servant’s servant’ is in the Bible, 20th chapter of Genesis, I think. Until we have our redeemed, supernatural bodies in Heaven we’re not going to be equal here, and there’s no sense in trying to be. Here’s what I say. The Negro—and I’m not, it’s not my feeling—but a Negro is best when he serves at the table, when he does that, he’s doing what he knows how to do best. And the Negroes who have ascended to positions in government, in education, this sort of thing, I think you’ll find, by and large, have a strong strain of white blood in them. [italics start] Now, I’m not a racist and this school is not a racist institution. [italics end] I can’t stress that enough. But what I say is purely what I have been taught, and what I have been able to study in the teaching of the Scripture.” —p. 248 – 249
But this racist belief in divinely-inspired, imposed racial purity wasn’t just familial, it was, despite his protests, institutional. The university’s refusal to admit black people into their white’s-only religious, tax-exempt organization substantially contributed to11 the loss of their tax-exempt status. The case is a fascinating and complicated read. This quotation from Wikipedia quoting the SCOTUS case is of note:
“‘Government has a fundamental, overriding interest in eradicating racial discrimination in education . . . which substantially outweighs whatever burden denial of tax benefits places on [the University’s] exercise of their religious beliefs.’ The Court made clear, however, that its holding dealt ‘only with religious schools—not with churches or other purely religious institutions.’”
Source: Wikipedia: Bob Jones University v. United States
This 1983 court ruling infuriated Bob Jones, Jr., and Bob Jones, III.12 The decision also worried Jerry Falwell, Sr., and a host of other religious leaders who had their own Christian academies, colleges, universities, institutes, and other tax-exempt organizations. They were determined to fight back. They were not about to let the government dictate a higher moral standard than the edicts that emanated from their mouths, their pens, their pulpits, their classrooms, their radio and television streams. Nothing could be allowed to jeopardize a wide open, full-throttle revenue stream which was growing at the time by leaps and bounds.
They were determined to mobilize the masses to reshape government. Few people in mainstream America, at the time, took them very seriously.
The Moral Majority
Most conservative Christians today, especially those in evangelical fundamentalism, believe that the Moral Majority had its roots in Roe v. Wade—fighting for the rights of the unborn. This is utterly false, a convenient re-writing of history, which this movement loves to do and is highly skilled at doing.
The real basis for the Moral Majority was Green v. Connally, the case that ultimately led to Bob Jones University losing its tax-exempt status. Abortion, the “rights of the unborn” had nothing to do with it. The issue at the heart of using the Moral Majority as a platform to affect change in government wasn’t the rights of anybody, not the fictional, invented “rights of a fetus,” and certainly not the rights of black people. The issue was keeping white Christian schools white: racism, pure and simple.13
Randall Balmer wrote The Real Origins of the Religious Right for Politico Magazine on May 27, 2014. I encourage you to read it, the NPR interview, and his book: Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America, An Evangelical’s Lament. His work is critically important because it documents the creation of the religious right as it actually was: a force to fight the integration of white Christian schools, a force for racism.
Roe v. Wade: Women’s Rights
To be factual, conservative Christian evangelical churches and their leaders historically supported a woman’s right to choose and affirmed that by resolution in 1971, 1974, and again in 1976. But after the extremist, ultra-conservative fundamentalists took over the Southern Baptist denomination in 1979, traumatizing women over their right to control their own bodies was an easier public relations campaign than selling a return to racism. So, they marketed “rights of the ‘unborn'” to bring in the funds to garner support for their true agenda: protecting segregation in education, without fear of losing their tax-exemption. This includes getting rid of the Johnson Amendment as well.
My friend, Jeffery Hoffman, makes a keen observation when he highlights the fact that the ultra-conservative, evangelical fundamentalists have effectively appropriated the language of the civil rights movement when declaring through ad nauseam repetition: “‘Rights’ of the unborn.” Actually using a movement born in racism to justify racism but hiding it in the language of civil rights is a brilliant marketing strategy that stinks to the highest heaven! Such deception, such dishonesty should enrage the church. Yet the church is widely oblivious to this truth. “Rights” of the “unborn” is a fabricated mythology and an all powerful Pavlovian cue for unconditional support. It’s all but the mark of Christian faith, something about which the Bible says next to nothing if anything at all.
The “unborn,” whatever that is, has no civil rights. People, you know, the “born” have rights. People, whether they are black or white or Asian or Hispanic or gay or straight or transgendered, or… those people, people-people, living people, humans, people have rights! All of their nonsensical mythology matters because these are the trigger phrases Mike Pence used to paint Donald Trump as morally defensible. This is the mythology they use to hide their racism, their desire to control government, and their desire to control you!
And it is this evil mythology that hides the fact that these so-called “godly” Christian leaders don’t give a damn about anything but the fetus. And why? Because they’ve turned the fetus into a cash cow, their own golden calf. The fetus is a marketing dream come true, followed closely by the terrifying and ever-so-hidden “gay agenda”—whatever that is! Communism worked for a while, but then… Reagan unexpectedly ruined that for them.14
They accept no responsibility for educating and feeding and taking care of poor children because, well, let’s face it, with today’s ethnic, economic, and social injustice, they probably aren’t white. Take the food stamps from the poor and label them lazy and drug-addled to justify greed.15 Justify the greed that drives the cost of housing beyond the poor’s capacity to afford even when working two jobs. Justify society’s failure to pay living wages so those who have can have more. Justify materialism and greed, and mega-church lifestyle centers, and preachers having their own jets and making obscene salaries… And vote for the greedy, self-serving Trump/Pence greed-ticket-express that will let you justify your own greed because (trigger words) “unborn” and “Johnson Amendment.” Praise God! Christian first and foremost. Run to the polls. don’t walk!
As Sharon Hambrick so accurately wrote: Pence and Trump are mirror images of one another, opposite sides of the exact same coin! One is capitalism run by complete greed and the other is religion run by complete greed and prejudice no longer with any requirement for loving your neighbor as yourself. You alone are the center of your greedy little universe. Praise God! Christian first and foremost. Run to the polls. These are dark, dark days! Some hidden agenda is after you! And only Donald (and I) can save you!
I’m sorry. I didn’t intend to write all of that. I just become infuriated by hypocrisy, greed, and prejudice dressed up like piety. The worst form of evil is evil dressed up to go to church!
The K-12 Christian School Movement
You see, we can’t forget that, during the 1960’s, with mandated public school integration, white people were fleeing the cities (where the black people were) for the suburbs. I believe people widely accept that white-flight, as it is commonly called, was a direct result of racism and fear. As a child of the 60’s, I heard with my own ears Christian parents saying they would never send their white children to school with black students. The actual words they used were far more inflammatory.
Many churches felt the call of God (or saw an opportunity to make a lot of money?) and started private schools. Teachers were not certified by their state offices of education16 and were often unspeakably poorly paid. The K-12 Christian school movement was born and began to flourish with exploding enrollment figures.
These children, often very poorly prepared for college, needed someplace to get college degrees. The unaccredited Christian colleges and universities welcomed their tuition money with open arms. At Bob Jones University, the students had to be white. But, well, the students in the Christian school movement were white. Many, probably almost all, were in these schools to avoid being in school with black students—just as they were told God wanted. This became a booming business and a way to shield one’s child from being near black people from birth through college. They referred to it as “keeping the tender plants in the greenhouses until they were strong enough to be in the world but not of the world.” I kid you not.
Christian Textbook Industry
Another astonishingly lucrative industry was born to support this movement: Christian textbooks17 were written and sold by the hundreds of thousands. Then came the whole Homeschool movement and the online school movement.
The Christian school movement in its entirety is certainly a huge, profitable industry. They have successfully created an alternate reality, an isolated subculture all but hidden within the whole of the nation’s fabric. By rewriting history and science, they have now raised generations of un-, under-, and miseducated children while fueling a general distrust for education and the needed functions of government. Fictional godless “agendas” abound at every turn.
As Sherrill so accurately describes, these schools focused on teaching young people exactly what to think, not how to think. You lose control when people think. They, however, see things differently, saying that their children have not been “brainwashed” by the godless public school “agenda,” you know: learning how to avoid pregnancy and disease, learning about evolution and rigorous science, learning a factual history of the founding fathers, learning how to think, it goes on and on. They are masters of repetitive doublespeak!
Take Over the Republican Party
The leaders of these religious movements, along with their close and wealthy allies, committed themselves to taking over the Republican Party. And, if you know nothing about the extremist, evangelical fundamentalist movement, know this: they are the standard of measure for tenacious. They never give up. Ever! And they never compromise. Ever! They started with developing the Moral Majority and built a powerful political coalition. I recall as a very young man, a college student, hearing a news anchor say something like this one evening on a newscast:
A sleeping elephant is beginning to wake up. We have no way of understanding what this will mean for our nation longterm. We just know that things will never be the same as they have been.
My god, what an understatement.
It took them 30 years, but the religious right effectively killed the Republican Party. Mike Pence is their man. He told us so when he spoke of repealing the Johnson Amendment and protecting the “unborn.” I know, I have promised 3 times now to go into that. I will. I promise yet again because it clearly exposes who is behind his getting where he now is.
One of the great tragedies of how history unfolded is that people of faith, good people who care about others (as most faith practice emphasizes) have lost, for at least the next 4 years, their opportunity to use government to do good in this world through economic, political and social justice—things that Jesus and other religious archetypes emphasized.18 In my opinion, because of the Pavlovian single-issue voter, we have deferred to the tyranny of racism, misogyny, homophobia, calloused indifference to people, and a singular focus on the personal aggregation of wealth and power by the very few. Greed is completely inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus.
Many people of faith, even conservative people of faith, are so very, very disappointed, even ashamed, of the church in America. Good Christian people sitting in church one Sunday before the election bought the con job of a politician who claims to be a Christian first.
I think Americans are going to quickly begin to see that Mike Pence’s definition of “Christian” is significantly different than mainstream people of faith’s definition. His harkens back to his fictional remake of American church history that hides its racism, misogyny, homophobia, greed, injustice and desire to focus wealth and power in the hands of only the chosen elite. His faith seeks the eradication of the separation of church and state. He serves the bidding of a group of radical religious extremists. We turn our attention to them next.
The Other Posts in this Four-Part Series on Pence’s Speech to Churches
- Introductory Overview
- Mike Pence’s Speech to Churches (Part 1)
- Conned By a Christian? (Part 2)
- Still Outraged by the Big Con (Part 3: this post)
- Selling You Soul (Part 4)
On page 131 Mr. Feldman, pictured above, writes:
“During this period, Montgomery politics provided a frequent forum for conflict between the Klan and its detractors. Mayor William Gunter, a twelve-year incumbent, was a confirmed oligarch and an outspoken enemy of the sheeted organization. In 1927, the KKK tried to unseat Gunter by pushing the candidacy of J. Johnston Moore, a local druggist and Klan cyclops. Bibb Graves, James Esdale, and reactionary evangelist Bob Jones canvassed Montgomery for Moore, while hooded leaders alluded to underworld elements exercising influence in municipal government and vowed that Moore would clean up vice in the city.”
On pages 66 – 67 he writes:
“Bob Jones, a well-known friend of the Klan, denounced Underwood’s supporters as “the whiskey people, the Roman Catholics, and the lawless foreigners,”
On page 38, he writes:
“Clay County Klansmen made public donations to Baptist, Methodist, and Southern Methodist churches. The Andalusia den bestowed almost $1,600 on fundamentalist minister Bob Jones, a reactionary Klan sympathizer from Montgomery, when he visited Covington County.”
The author notes this Klan donation took place in the mid-1920s. Of interest is that this was a significant amount of money back then. When adjusted for inflation, it comes to $21,460.30 in today’s dollars.
I’ll just mention one more citation on page 175.
“Montgomery judge Leon McCord reserved particular odium for reactionary evangelist Bob Jones. McCord compared the preacher to Judas Iscariot and accused him of selling out his party, perverting his religious mission, fomenting intolerance, and prostituting his frock for Klan silver.”
The author, Glenn Feldman, was interviewed by AP reporter Jay Reeves back in 2000. Reeves is quoting Feldman,
“He made money off it, but I think he was also a true believer,” said Feldman, who did not look for evidence that Jones was a Klan member. Jones went out of state to start his school. He founded Bob Jones College in College Point, Fla., in 1927, according to the university’s Web site. Feldman said he did not research the question of whether Klan money went into the school. The racist organization likely had money to spare back then: It claimed 150,000 members in Alabama in the mid-20s, including many business people, politicians and ministers.” ↩
I suppose they couldn’t get along with the denominations of their day, wanted their own brand of “old-fashioned Gospel” religion, and therefore emphasized that they were “non-denominational.” ↩
See page 38 of Fledman’s book. ↩
Perhaps because radio and movie shows replaced this once extremely popular, regional community activity, leaving evangelists railing against the wicked entertainment industry? ↩
Gothic Politics in the Deep South, Stars of the New Confederacy, by Robert Sherrill, p. 237 ↩
The history and significance of his Easter Sunday sermon, as well as a copy of the radio address, is documented by the careful work of Dr. Camille Kaminski Lewis in her 2013 paper, “‘Jim Crow Must Go!’ — Dueling Revivalists, Holy Week, 1960“. She did the hard work of locating and making available a copy of that address once distributed and sold by the university in pamphlet form. She also wrote about, and includes a transcription of, the address at this link: “Is Segregation Scriptural?” by Bob Jones Sr, 1960.
Dr. Lewis also provides us with a clarifying reflection, helping us place American church history in the South in the early 1900’s in its now-disturbingly racist context in her 2012 piece: How Did We Get Here?: The Context and How Did We Get Here?: The Texts. The photos alone should give us pause! Her piece provides a more robust understanding of the Ku Klux Klan, it’s history and relationship with religion in the deep south, and why that influence can be felt lingering into the present time.
For example: in her piece, How Did We Get Here?: The Texts, she prominently features this 1954 photograph of religious right protestors in Little Rock, Arkansas, protesting Brown v. Board. Behind 3 American flags are 3 large, strategically placed signs opposing “race mixing” as either communism or the march of the anti-christ—the latter is difficult to discern exactly. The anti-abortion movement of Roe v. Wade, 1973, was to prove an even more unifying and lucrative rallying cry for funding and protest. Notice the dates: 1954 versus 1973. This protest is about integration and predates abortion by around 20 years.
Justin Taylor, a contributor at The Gospel Coalition, also provides an intriguing glimpse into this historically significant time with several photos, an audio recording of Bob Jones, Sr., and a video of Bob Jones, III, unexpectedly ending the university’s long-held racial purity policy on the Larry King show in 2000. He too also includes a transcribed copy of the radio address from the pamphlet Dr. Lewis saved from being lost forever in what seems to be the school’s efforts to obscure the true nature of its history. His piece was published on July 26, 2016: Is Segregation Scriptural? A Radio Address From Bob Jones on Easter of 1960.
Each of the above sources contain links to some rather significant material. All of this is worthy of your time. ↩
He was obviously a supporter of “separate but equal,” which never was equal. In fact, it simply never was at all as he admits with his failure to provide a black Bob Jones University. Rather than thinking through this reality to its logical conclusion and finding fault with the concept of separate but “equal,” he allowed the years to “pile up” and chose to blame his failure on the “agitation” of which he was paid a significant amount of money in the mid-1920’s to be a part. ↩
Reminds me somewhat of Donald Trump… ↩
Robert Sherrill’s chapter, An Interlude: God and B.J.U., in his book, Gothic Politics in the Deep South is essential reading for everyone who grew up in the South, especially those who attended Bob Jones University. Sherrill’s writing is quick and sharp. Those who have known these characters of whom he wrote can literally hear them speaking in their own voices. He cuts to the core of how they spoke and of what they spoke about God and faith practice. ↩
But was not the sole reason for ↩
Bob Jones, Sr. was deceased (1883 – 1968). ↩
“‘What caused the movement [fundamentalism vis-à-vis the Moral Majority] to surface,’ [Paul M.] Weyrich [a longtime conservative activist, head of what is now called the Free Congress Foundation, and one of the architects of the Religious Right in the late 1970s; see: Wikipedia article] reiterated, ‘was the federal government’s moves against Christian schools.’ The IRS threat against segregated schools, he said, ‘enraged the Christian community.’ That, not abortion, according to Weyrich, was what galvanized politically conservative evangelicals into the Religious Right and goaded them into action. ‘It was not the other things,’ he said.
“Ed Dobson, [Jerry] Falwell [Sr.]’s erstwhile associate, corroborated Weyrich’s account during the ensuing discussion. ‘The Religious New Right did not start because of a concern about abortion,’ Dobson said. ‘I sat in the non-smoke-filled back room with the Moral Majority, and I frankly do not remember abortion ever being mentioned as a reason why we ought to do something.'”
“During the following break in the conference [sponsored by the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a Religious Right organization] proceedings, I cornered Weyrich to make sure I had heard him correctly. He was adamant that, yes, the 1975 action by the IRS against Bob Jones University was responsible for the genesis of the Religious Right in the late 1970s. What about abortion? After mobilizing to defend Bob Jones University and its racially discriminatory policies, Weyrich said, these evangelical leaders held a conference call to discuss strategy. He recalled that someone suggested that they had the makings of a broader political movement—something that Weyrich had been pushing for all along—and asked what other issues they might address. Several callers made suggestions, and then, according to Weyrich, a voice on the end of one of the lines said, ‘How about abortion?’ And that is how abortion was cobbled into the political agenda of the Religious Right.” [emphasis mine]
“The abortion myth serves as a convenient fiction because it suggests noble and altruistic motives behind the formation of the Religious Right. But it is highly disingenuous…”
Source: Linda Wertheimer’s piece on NPR’s Morning Edition: Evangelical: Religious Right Has Distorted the Faith, June 23, 2006: an interview and book review of Randall Balmer’s Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America, An Evangelical’s Lament ↩
I literally recall my grandmother worried that, as the letter said, the Moral Majority would have to close its doors at the end of the month if she didn’t send them money! The godless communists were going to destroy America. She had no idea the organization was taking in vast sums of money. She naively believed them because they were “good Christian people.” Taking advantage of widows… ↩
Never mind that is another fiction! ↩
So the fundamentalists called the state’s legitimate efforts to make sure that those who taught the nation’s school children were qualified to do so: “godless” and intimated some fictional “agenda.” ↩
Pensacola Christian College’s Beka Books and Bob Jones University Press became astonishingly successful. ↩
How many times did Jesus speak about the “rights” of the “unborn?” ↩