Posts Tagged ‘Christian Compassion’

50 years ago yesterday, the AP headline was, “Mississippi Suits Attack Vote Act”:

JACKSON, Miss., Sept. 7 (AP)–Attorney General Joe Patterson asked Mississippi courts today to keep off the voting rolls persons registered by Federal examiners under the new voting rights law.

He filed suits in the chancery courts of Leflore, Madison and Jefferson Davis Counties and said a similar suit would be filed in Jones County tomorrow. These are the four Mississippi counties to which Federal examiners have been assigned.

The suits set the stage for a local showdown on conflicted Federal and state requirements for voting.

In the suits, Mr. Patterson said the Federal voting rights law required county registrars to defy state law.

“The clears are on the horns of a dilemma,” Mr. Patterson also said. “They are put in the position of accepting these people registered by Federal registrars and violin state law.”

“These people” would be African-Americans that the good folks of Mississippi didn’t feel deserved the right to vote, because racism. Or the Bible. Or a principled stand. Or whatever.

It was ugly then. It’s ugly now.

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In light of the current uproar regarding Indiana’s new law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, it’s always perplexing to me when conservatives say that their anti-Gay bigotry (they don’t use the word “bigotry,” but let’s call it what it is) is not a civil rights issue. Um, yes, it is. That’s the entire point. But we’ve heard this all before from conservatives 40, 50, 60 years ago. Back then, the issue wasn’t sexual orientation, but skin color. To make the point, we need look no further than Jerry Falwell, the evangelical Southern Baptist pastor and televangelist who became nationally known as the co-founder and leader of the Moral Majority. Some say he was largely responsible for launching the conservative Christian political movement.

His anti-gay venom is well-known. He once called a church accepting of gays “a vile and Satanic system.” As Max Blumenthal once wrote, “Falwell initially denied his statements, offering Jerry Sloan, an MCC minister and gay rights activist $5,000 to prove that he had made them. When Sloan produced a videotape containing footage of Falwell’s denunciations, the reverend refused to pay. Only after Sloan sued did Falwell cough up the money.” Hmmm. I thought the Ten Commandments had something to say about lying.

Falwell also said, immediately after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, “I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen.'” Nice chap, that Falwell.

But as Blumethal and others have written, before Falwell turned to Biblically-based attacks on abortion and homosexuals, he used the Bible as the basis for racial bigotry. George Curry summarized Falwell’s segregationist attitudes in a 2007 article entitled Jerry Falwell’s Racist Past:

Like many Southern White ministers, Falwell didn’t sit on the sidelines at the outset of the modern civil rights movement, he joined the opposition.

“Decades before the forces that now make up the Christian right declared their culture war, Falwell was a rabid segregationist who railed against the civil rights movement from the pulpit of the abandoned backwater bottling plant he converted into Thomas Road Baptist Church,” Max Blumenthal writes in an insightful article in The Nation magazine. “This opening episode of Falwell’s life, studiously overlooked by his friends, naively unacknowledged by many of his chroniclers, and puzzlingly and glaringly omitted in the obituaries of the Washington Post and New York Times, is essential to understanding his historical significance in galvanizing the Christian right. Indeed, it was race–not abortion or the attendant suite of so-called ‘values’ issues–that propelled Falwell and his evangelical allies into political activism.”

Four years after the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education outlawing segregated public schools, Falwell gave a speech titled, “Segregation or Integration.”

His message was unmistakably clear: “If Chief Justice Warren and his associates had known God’s word and had desired to do the Lord’s will, I am quite confident that the 1954 decision would never have been made. The facilities should be separate. When God has drawn the line of distinction, we should not attempt to cross that line.”

The argument that God ordained segregation and White supremacy was advanced by many southern White ministers. We should not forget that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” was written to his colleagues of the cloth. The letter, written April 16, 1963, said, in part: I have been disappointed with the church…When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt the white ministers, priests, and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies.

“Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.”

Jerry Falwell was not silent behind his stained-glass windows. He said, “The true Negro does not want integration…he realizes his potential is far better among his own race.”

As usual, Falwell was wrong. Autherine Lucy, a “true Negro” applied to and was accepted as a student at the University of Alabama. Once the university discovered she was an African-American, however, officials said state law prevented her from enrolling. With the legendary Thurgood Marshall as her attorney, she sued and gained admission. When she arrived in February 1956, a mob threw eggs at her and issued death threats. The university expelled her, purportedly for her own safety.

The following year, nine Black students attempted to desegregate the all-White Central High School. Segregationist Gov. Orval Faubus deployed the Arkansas National Guard to prevent the Little Rock Nine from attending the school. A federal judge overruled Faubus and ordered the students admitted. When the Black students reported to class, a mob formed and president Dwight Eisenhower dispatched the Army’s elite 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock. The nine students were allowed to attend classes, though they were subject to abuse from White students.

Does that sound like the “true Negro” did not want integration?

But Falwell didn’t stop there.

Claiming that integration “will destroy our race eventually,” Falwell said, “A pastor friend of mine tells me that a couple of opposite race live next door to his church as man and wife.”

Not as an unmarried couple, not as gays or lesbians, but “man and wife.” That was too much for Falwell to stomach.

As late as 1964, Falwell was attacking the 1964 Civil Rights Act as “civil wrongs” legislation. He questioned “the sincerity and intentions of some civil rights leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mr. James Farmer, and others, who are known to have left-wing associations.” Falwell charged, “It is very obvious that the Communists, as they do in all parts of the world, are taking advantage of a tense situation in our land, and are exploiting every incident to bring about violence and bloodshed.”

Few written documents from Falwell’s 1950s and ’60s preaching survive today. As Susan Friend Harding writes in The Book of Jerry Falwell: Fundamentalist Language and Politics, “In an interview in 1984, O. C. Cardwell, a black Civil Rights leader in Lynchburg [Virginia] during the 1950s and 1960s, told me that Falwell was known at the time as a spokesman for ‘race separation.’ It is, however, difficult to document this from written sources inside Falwell’s community. Liberty Archives [at Liberty University, founded by Falwell in 1971], which has dozens of printed sermons by Falwell from the 1970s and 1980s on file, had none, apart from ‘Ministers and Marchers,’ from the 1950s and 1960s. I was told by two members of Falwell’s staff that he had recalled written texts of his 1950s and 1960s sermons to prevent their being used against him. The only three sermons I was able to locate from that earlier period, all of them from 1958, were at the Jones Memorial Library in Lynchburg. One of them, ‘Segregation or Integration, Which?,’ was entirely devoted to defending racial segregation, citing Genesis 9:18-27, Noah’s curse on Ham, as its biblical basis. The other two sermons addressed “Marriage, According to God’s Word,” and Falwell’s ‘Elim Home for Alcoholics.'”

Eventually, defending racial segregation and attacking mixed race marriages because they violated “the Lord’s will” became unacceptable during Falwell’s lifetime. Hence, the sanitized Liberty archive. So he and others turned their attacks to homosexuality, again using the Bible as their source. Different verses, but the same story. Had Falwell lived a little longer, he would have found that even those attacks would become unacceptable by American society at large. Quick: Somebody start expunging the rest of the sermons at the Liberty Archives.

So what happens when Roger Ailes–president of Fox News–and his wife, Elizabeth, move into your neighborhood? Why, they buy the 140-year-old local newspaper and turn it into a right wing propaganda organ.

Oh, but that’s not all. They come after anyone they don’t like. The most recent example is siccing their lawyers on village trustee Stephanie Hawkins, who had the temerity to click the “share” button on another user’s Facebook post that the Ailes’s didn’t like.

The New Yorker covers the details.

On March 14, [Peter] Johnson [Ailes’s lawyer and a regular Fox & Friends guest-host] sent Hawkins a threatening letter. He insisted that Hawkins’s “retraction and correction be accompanied by a repudiation of the libelous statements and an apology for the outrageous and patently false statements made against our clients.” If she failed to act, they would sue. “You have intentionally, wrongfully and maliciously defamed and disparaged our clients,” he wrote, and “you will be held to account for all damages which flow therefrom … If our clients are forced to file suit to stop your wrongful conduct, they will also seek an award of attorney fees and litigation expenses.” He stressed that the Aileses “have not, and have no interest in, ‘spying’ on their neighbors,” adding: “Mr. and Mrs. Ailes have not, and have no interest in, ‘manufacturing phony scandals’ in their home town or any other small community in the great United States of America.”

Unlike others in the village, Hawkins hasn’t been intimidated yet.

“I’m not an attorney, but I recognized that there’s a certain standard for a defamation or libel claim and this didn’t meet it. This was a category of protected speech,” she told me. Late last month, she enlisted a legal team that included litigator Steven Hyman, the former president of the Board of Directors of the New York Civil Liberties Union, and Norman Siegel, the former executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “I’ve never heard of a newspaper suing for libel before,” Hyman told me. On March 28, Hyman and Siegel sent Johnson a response saying Hawkins had “every right to comment on public interest.” They added: “Sending repeated letters to Ms. Hawkins at various addresses containing the same threats and meritless claims is clearly calculated to try and intimidate and harass Ms. Hawkins and must cease.”

As of April 9, Ailes had yet to back off his threats to sue Hawkins. But a couple of days after the March 18 elections, Dar Williams received a letter from Ailes saying he was letting the matter slide. “Roger wrote this letter. He forgave us as a Christian for the pain we’ve caused his family,” Williams told me. “He said we had lost the election for our candidates with our letter, and that was punishment enough.”

The first thing I think of when I think of Roger Ailes is Christian compassion.