Between the late 1800s to the mid 1900s, Christians (as a political group) were largely disengaged from politics.  When Civil Rights sought to end legal discrimination, most white evangelicals were either against the movement or ambivalent.  White clergy urged King to show more restraint and patience even as dogs and firehoses were being used on nonviolent protestors.  King responded in his famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail, (1) expressing frustration with the “white moderate” who is more concerned with order than justice.

In his book, Bad Faith, (2) Randall Balmer makes the case that it was racial integration that reinvigorated evangelical interest in politics.  While private, religious schools had the religious freedom to not allow students based on race, after the Civil Rights Act passed, they could no longer keep their tax-exempt status if they didn’t integrate.   After an (8 to 1) Supreme Court ruling, Bob Jones University finally accepted a person of color (although he had to be married to prevent the possibility of interracial courting.)

While the integration battle may have been lost, evangelicals were now becoming energized.  Sensing the potential of a Christian voting block, political operatives looked for another hot-button issue that would reactivate the religious right. l In the late 1970s, Anita Bryant led a fight against homosexuality being considered a protected class.  Ms. Bryant insisted that the homosexual lifestyle was “deviant” and harmful to children (a tactic that still resurfaces).  While she was successful in repealing anti-discrimination policy, the crusade failed to gain significant traction to move the national base.

Up to this point, abortion was largely considered a “Catholic” issue.  Conservative religious leaders (such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson) hadn’t given the matter a lot of thought, or seemed terribly upset by it.  But, in 1978, pro-life movement took hold among the religious community and abortion became a rallying cry for evangelical Christians.   Alliances were formed; deals were struck. Like a thief in the night, evangelicals switched their allegiance from a Sunday school teacher to a Hollywood actor.

For many Christians, abortion became a single voting issue.  Not poverty, racial injustice, healthcare, wars, the environment, or famine.  While I can appreciate the passion of defending the life of a fetus, it also takes a very private choice away from the mother (and her doctor).   It also sends a message that promiscuous women must live with the consequences of their sin for the rest of their lives.  And it’s hard not to notice that taking any choice away preserves a patriarchal power structure, ala Old Testament style.

Sex and pregnancy should be taken seriously. But there are other important issues that should be taken seriously too.   Issues that are actually talked about in the Bible – by Jesus, repeatedly.  In the next blog, we’ll take a look at some of those values that go to the heart of the gospels…Values the religious right never seems to talk much about anymore.   Feel free to subscribe.


  1. Martin Luther King, Letters from a Birmingham City Jail, American Friends Service Committee, 1963
  2. Randall Balmer, Bad Faith: Race and the Rise of the Religious Right, Eerdmans, 2021

American Prophet is coming out soon!