The founder and president of the Coalition of African American Pastors (CAAP) says he was “shocked” at some of the ideas presented in Politico‘s recent magazine piece by Randall Balmer entitled “The Real Origins of the Religious Right.”
Rev. William Owens, who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King at the height of the civil rights movement, questioned some of the statements made by Balmer, a professor at Dartmouth College and author of Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter.
Balmer states it is a myth that the religious right, mostly conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists, emerged as a political movement in response to the legalization of abortion in Roe v. Wade. Instead, he asserts, they were driven by their “real motive,” which was to protect segregated schools and keep President Jimmy Carter from a second term.
In particular, Balmer writes:
But the abortion myth quickly collapses under historical scrutiny. In fact, it wasn’t until 1979–a full six years after Roe–that evangelical leaders, at the behest of conservative activist Paul Weyrich, seized on abortion not for moral reasons, but as a rallying-cry to deny President Jimmy Carter a second term. Why? Because the anti-abortion crusade was more palatable than the religious right’s real motive: protecting segregated schools. So much for the new abolitionism.
Though it may be true that abortion was not an issue opposed by Protestants at the time of Roe v. Wade, the reason evangelicals were slow to come to the pro-life table is more likely because the issue was largely associated with the Catholic Church from which Protestants preferred to keep their distance.
The notion that Weyrich’s true agenda was to keep blacks and whites segregated, however, rankles Owens.
“I’m shocked at that depiction of Paul Weyrich,” Owens told Breitbart News. “Paul became a close ally of mine who supported me when other whites didn’t. He was a dear friend who defended me many times when I was at odds with others and said he continually found that what I said and thought was on target.”
In fact, in 2005, Weyrich, who coined the term “moral majority,” himself wrote at RenewAmerica, a grassroots organization that supports the principles of the Declaration of Independence and faithful upholding of the U.S. Constitution, of his attempts to join with members of the black community, an effort that led to a solid relationship with Owens:
In the past election, in Ohio and various other locations across the land, Blacks were reached through the Church on the marriage issue. Indeed, out of that has grown a working arrangement with African American pastors and the Arlington Group (the coalition of social issue conservative groups). Led by the Reverend Bill Owens, of Tennessee, this effort is at last bearing fruit. I had tried over the years to find a way that the values we represent could be explained to leaders of the Church. Finally, we have that key in Owens, the Reverend Keith Butler, of Michigan, and many others.
Owens said he was co-chair of the Arlington Group that was formed in 2002 by Donald Wildmon, former American Family Association president, and Weyrich, who was chairman of the Free Congress Foundation at the time. The group’s purpose was to focus primarily on the issues of marriage, family, and abortion.
Weyrich wrote in 2004 about the development of the Arlington Group:
Of course the effort, known now as the Arlington Group, even though we now meet in Washington, D.C., has had its ups and downs. It has been mainly up, however. People of all denominations and backgrounds are now participating. A major development occurred when the Rev. Bill Owens joined the Executive Committee. Rev. Owens is a Black pastor who is dedicated to eliminating the differences between Blacks and Whites as they approach public policy. His most frequently repeated line is, “These are not Black or White issues. These are Christian issues.” He has brought many powerful Black pastors with him. The latest to join the Arlington Group is Bishop Keith Butler, who presides over Protestant churches all over the U.S.A. and even abroad. His own parish in Detroit, MI has some 16,000 members.
Balmer states that the incentive for the pro-family/pro-life movement was the Brown v. Board of Education decision, which led to an increase in the number of Christian private schools whose purpose was to keep black students out. Subsequently, the IRS decided that these schools could lose tax exemption status if they could be identified as “segregation academies.”
Balmer then asserts, however, in somewhat contradictory fashion, that the evangelical movement didn’t really start to energize potential voters over the segregation issue until it seized upon another issue: abortion.
This contradiction, coupled with the praise for Weyrich by a prominent black leader who has devoted himself to the cause of pro-life, pro-family issues, and the words Weyrich wrote himself about his attempts to join with black conservative leaders to fight for marriage, family, and life issues, causes Balmer’s thesis to appear flawed and steeped in a secular liberal ideology that wants to paint religious conservatives as racist.