Molly Worthen On Jimmy Carter

Molly Worthen of the University of North Carolina reviews two new books on Jimmy Carter.  One of them is actually written by Carter.  

They are: Randall Balmer, Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter and Jimmy Carter, A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power.

Here is a taste:

In the early 1970s, the Christian right was not yet the political juggernaut it would become. Fundamentalists like Jerry Falwell were still wondering if activism was compatible with the Gospel. But then Paul Weyrich, a Catholic from Wisconsin who had been trying to organize conservative Christians since the Goldwater campaign, struck political gold when the I.R.S. revoked the tax exemption of whites-only Christian “segregation academies.” Conservative evangelicals felt victimized by court decisions and new regulations that policed their private schools — and they blamed the evangelical in the White House. The call to defend “religious liberty,” not the legalization of abortion, first summoned them to politics.

“Weyrich finally had discovered the issue that would persuade evangelical leaders of the importance of political activism: defense of racial segregation, albeit framed as a defense of religious expression,” Balmer writes. For all of Carter’s personal piety, he was out of touch with his fellow believers’ rightward tilt. In 1980, televangelists mobilized their media empires in the Republican cause. Balmer charges that the culturally conservative, fiscally libertarian platform of the Christian right “bore scant resemblance to evangelical activism in the 19th and early 20th centuries.”

In April we interviewed Balmer as part of our “Author’s Corner” series.  Check it out here.

3 thoughts on “Molly Worthen On Jimmy Carter

  1. Tom: I was having dinner last night with several readers of my blog and several readers/contributors to Paul Harvey's blog. They all wanted to know more about you. You have become a celebrity in the American history and religion and politics blogosphere. Several folks wanted me to do an interview with you here. Are you game?


  2. Since many current evangelicals seem to want to deny that conservatism had anything to do with racism and segregation it helps to remind them what their past really was about.

    I had a lady try to tell me that the KKK supported today's Democrats because of the past. Now while that may be true of some KKK members, it is interesting to note how the KKK is allying itself with the Tea Party and Republicans at the moment. Some people just do not know their past because they're only paying attention to what they're fed by FOX news.


  3. What a crock.

    In this article at Politico, Balmer attempts to make the case that the Religious Right was founded on a support for segregation and not opposition to abortion. To do so, he highlights Bob Jones University as characteristic of broader conservative evangelicalism and ignores much of the nuance involved in the historical developments.

    Take for instance his point about Southern Baptists not being very vocal about abortion and, in some cases, even somewhat supporting the practice. It is true that many evangelicals came around latter on the issue than Catholics, but it is also extremely significant that during 1970s conservatives were not in positions of power in the Southern Baptist Convention. Moderates and liberals dominated the leadership of the denomination.

    Balmer ignores this, in favor of establishing the narrative that conservative Baptists were only concerned about segregation. He should know the basic history of the SBC because he is currently promoting his most recent book, which just happens to be on one of the most famous moderate Baptists – former President Jimmy Carter.

    He is able to demonstrate that one organization, Bob Jones, was actively racist. Other leaders and groups said they were troubled by what they saw as religious liberty violations. Now, you can claim they really were motivated by racism, but then you would have to support that. Balmer merely relies on the tangental connections to Bob Jones to raise insinuations about the others.

    In fact, he goes on to document, contrary to his entire premise, that it was the issue of abortion that galvanized evangelicals and caused them to become active and passionate about political involvement. Once the rank-and-file evangelical came to understand the reality of abortion, they were vehemently opposed to it.

    When does that not happen with any group of people when an issue is quickly thrust into the national conversation? It takes people time to digest the facts and determine how their faith should influence them. Within five years of Roe v. Wade, evangelicals were clearly pro-life and passionate about it, regardless of what other issues had preceded it on the radar of certain leaders.

    No one can deny that many white Christians were wrong on the issues of race, including and especially Southern Baptists. The SBC itself acknowledged this when its members voted to apologize for the denomination’s role in past racial sins. But neither can one deny that much progress has been made, including the election of an African-American pastor as the current president of the convention.

    It is true that those corrections were made rather recently and Balmer is discussing the past. But then that raises the question, why? Why write this story now? What makes this topic worthy of such a significant story in Politico in 2014, if it is not relevant to currently understanding the political leanings of evangelicals? It seems obvious that the attempt to link modern conservative evangelicalism with a foundation of racism would only be done if you are seeking to undermine the movement currently.


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