This is the story of the man who helped turn conservative evangelicals into a political force. I want to talk a little bit about how much our family respects and admires Paul Weyrich… I want to be like Paul Weyrich when I grow up. Paul Weyrich has been called the main architect of the religious right. Here he is in 2005. Those people were not active in politics, and I served as sort of a a coach to get them active in the political process. He also co-founded conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and the Free Congress Foundation. And he managed to galvanize the evangelical vote around a man who wasn’t even an evangelical. God bless America. Thank you. Does that feel familiar? Because a similar thing happened in 2016 with the election of President Donald Trump. Two corinthians, Two corinthians 3:17. That’s the whole ball game. Is that the one? Is that the one you like? I think that’s the one you like, ‘cause I loved it. Hey fam, I’m Imaeyen, and this Sunday we’re going to look at the man behind the evangelical political movement – and how it wasn’t abortion that created the religious right in the United States. You might have been told that the movement began with Roe v Wade, but according to Randall Balmer, a religious historian, it actually began with Paul Weyrich. One of the most cherished myths of the religious right is that this is a movement that got its origins in reaction to the Roe v. Wade decision. It’s a great story. It’s been repeated many, many times. It is also utter fiction. It was Weyrich’s calculated effort that made the religious right a political force, and his plan took years to complete. Conservatives were wandering around lost in the liberal wilderness. And then Paul Weyrich came to Washington. When Weyrich arrived in Washington, DC in the late 1960s he was to the right of more liberal Republicans, which made him a minority in his own party. Back then, the worlds of religion and politics were largely separate. But Weyrich was determined to change that by courting white Evangelicals. The group had retreated from politics after the so-called “Scopes Monkey Trial” in 1925, which really centered around teaching evolution in schools. Not only did the white evangelicals lose, but they also were humiliated in the public eye. Paul Weyrich, according to his own account, had been trying since the 1964 presidential campaign to get evangelicals active in politics. He tried everything. He said he tried the school prayer issue, he tried the abortion issue, he tried pornography. In the end, Weyrich landed on school segregation in the South. Some carried a doll in a miniature coffin – an effigy of Federal Judge J. Skelly Wright, who ordered the admission of five Negro girls to [inaudible] in New Orleans last week. And I have to give you a bit of backstory first, so please stay with me. In 1970, public schools in seven states were racially segregated. This was over a decade and a half after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled segregated schools were unconstitutional with its Brown v. Board of Education decision. Mississippi was one of the states fighting hardest against integration. State leaders claimed that their “freedom of choice” system allowed black children to attend white schools. In reality, black families were subject to intimidation if they tried to enroll.
And some white families were so opposed to integration that they abandoned public schools altogether. In Holmes County, Mississippi, there were no white students left in the public school system just two years after desegregation. So where were they all going? Well, between 1966 and 1970 the percentage of private schools in the state rose, and the number of students attending those schools tripled. Most of this growth occurred in black-majority districts. There were segregation academies — church-sponsored, that were applying for tax-exempt status. Then, in 1969, a group of African-American parents in Holmes County sued the Treasury Department to prevent three new segregation academies from getting that tax-exempt status. And they won. The court ruled that any organization that engages in racial segregation, or racial discrimination, is not by definition a charitable institution. The following year, President Richard Nixon ordered the IRS to enact new policy denying tax exemptions to all segregated schools. In 1971, the Green v. Connally district court case ruling upheld the new IRS policy. And evangelical leaders didn’t like it, which is where Paul Weyrich re-enters our story. Paul Weyrich finally found the issue would get the attention of people like
Jerry Falwell ,who had his own segregation academy in Lynchburg,
Virginia, Bob Jones Jr., Bob Jones University; and a broader array of evangelical leaders. Weyrich and Falwell managed to shift the grounds of the debate. They turned it into a conversation about government interference and religious freedom, instead of what it really was: a defense of racist policies. They used the issue to attack Democratic president and evangelical Jimmy Carter even though it was Republican President Nixon who came down hard on segregation academies. Bob Jones University lost its tax exemption a year and a day before Carter was inaugurated. So Weyrich had figured out how to win over evangelical leaders. But to win elections, he still needed an issue to get grassroots evangelical voters to the polls. He realized that defending racial discrimination might not be it. Now this is where the abortion debate comes in. Here’s Falwell in 1982. It began in January of ’73, when Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade ruled abortion legal on demand. But pause. Balmer says evangelical leaders didn’t pursue abortion as an issue right away. Jerry Falwell, by his own admission, did not preach against abortion until February of 1978, more than five years after the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973. The key moment for abortion comes in the 1978 midterm elections. Weyrich then resolved that he would go out and elect some improbable people. Weyrich threw all his effort into getting anti-abortion Republican candidates elected in Minnesota and Iowa. The final weekend of the campaign, pro-lifers leafletted church parking lots. And two days later, in an election with a very low turnout, all four Democratic nominees lost to pro-life Republicans. That’s when Weyrich realized abortion was an issue he could use to bring evangelicals to the polls, and maybe even turn them against one of their own – President Jimmy Carter. Before he was elected, Jimmy Carter was a Southern Baptist Sunday school teacher. And what does the Lord require of thee but to do justly and to love mercy… He embodied the idea of progressive evangelicalism and won the presidential election in 1976. In 1979, Falwell created a group called the Moral Majority – but the term was actually coined by Weyrich. The Moral Majority declared war on abortion and homosexuality. Then the group enlisted the help of Francis A. Schaeffer. Schaeffer worked with C. Everett Koop to produce a series of films called Whatever Happened to the Human Race, and toured the country screening them for evangelical audiences. Here’s what the films looked like. The fact that human life is being devaluated is demonstrated by some of the major issues which are being debated by society today: abortion, infanticide, euthanasia. And as that series of films begins to travel and circulate across North America, evangelicals become finely attuned to the abortion issue in advance of the 1980 presidential campaign. Ronald Reagan courted conservative evangelicals. And he won their support, despite the fact that he signed a bill making it easier for women to have abortions back when he was the governor of California. Here he is, employing explicitly religious language in his acceptance speech: Can we begin our crusade joined together in a moment of silent prayer? Reagan is a man who wasn’t even a regular church attendee. Yet during his presidential campaign, he spoke to 10,000 evangelicals at a rally in Dallas, Texas. He talked about the “unconstitutional regulatory agenda” directed by the IRS “against independent schools” AKA segregation academies. He mentions creationism, he also mentions the IRS going after the tax-exempt status of segregation academies. He does not mention abortion in the course of that speech. So even as late as August 1980, the Republican Party was not sure that abortion would work for them as a political issue. Listen, there are a number of reasons Reagan won the election. But he very well might have tapped into something that Trump and Steve Bannon utilized decades later. In the 2016 election, 81% of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump, a man who, at least on the face of it, does does not seem to be a logical representative for family values. Evangelicals have been able to persuade, at least themselves, that they are victims of some sort of religious discrimination. Christianity, it’s under siege. Balmer also says there are parallels between the beginnings of the religious right and the rhetoric that Donald Trump used during his presidential campaign. The 2016 election allowed the religious right finally to circle back to the founding principles of their movement, and the founding principles, sadly enough, are racism and racial segregation. Hey guys, thanks so much for watching. Don’t forget to like, share and subscribe. And if you want to learn more about evangelicals in the United States, check out the piece we did on evangelicals of color, and the fact they’re totally excluded from the news media’s narrative. Join us next Sunday for another awesome video. Bye!