Forty plus years ago, conservatives in the Southern Baptist Convention launched an effort to take over the SBC and “return it to its historic roots,” (to paraphrase the rhetoric of the day).
They claimed it was about the Bible, and orthodoxy, and the gospel. I never bought that line, but millions did. The winners of the day were those who decried ecumenism, hospitality, and openness to new ideas and agendas—and, of course, women being given any voice or vocation.
They dubbed it the Conservative Resurgence and said it was a work of God.
In reality, it was all about the nationwide effort to push back the social progress of the United States and undermine policies of the federal government, those which began with the New Deal in the 1930s and emerged with considerable social force in 1960s under the banner of Civil Rights.
“Government is not the solution,” presidential candidate Ronald Reagan famously said. “Government is the problem.”
Surely, that sounded strange to people who were hungry and unemployed during the Great Depression; it was the government that gave them jobs, food, and the hope of a brighter tomorrow. It sounded foreign to the blacks who struggled to find jobs, buy homes, and register to vote; it was the government that stepped in to outlaw segregation, red lining, and Jim Crow.
But it sounded good to millions of white people, Christian people, who joined the new Culture War. For a half century those warriors organized into political, social, and religious units and fought against every victory of civil and human rights: Supreme Court rulings that expanded rights to women, couples, gays, and immigrants; federal laws that promoted minority hiring, enrollment, and advancement; even government policies that protected the environment, the consumer, and the investor.
The pushback against the federal government gathered steam; decade after decade, it organized its forces and weaponized their emotions, until the success of the first black president and the looming election of the first female president. Seven years ago, it finally exploded with the election of Donald J. Trump, who stood in front of the church across the street from the White House and held aloft the Bible. It was a signal of triumph: “Christian America is within sight. Follow me.”
A quirk of history and two Mitch McConnell power plays produced three new Supreme Court justices in four years. And that produced the first Catholic Supreme Court in American history—not just any Catholic Court, but one that represents the Right Wing of even the Roman Catholic Church.
With public rhetoric, legal innovation, court decisions, gerrymandering, and legislative triumphs, the Conservative Resurgence is overwhelming, not just a denomination here and there, but the whole country, especially across the South and Midwest. Abortion rights have been undermined, and the rights to contraception, gay marriage, and unfettered voting are now under attack. The sale and use of guns is booming, and people are dying. Books are banned, refugees barred, and programs for equity and fairness are demonized.
Perhaps the most depressing illustration of this spirit of meanness is the widespread attack on the smallest of demographic populations: those who struggle with what is known as gender dysphoria. State after state is branding this medical and psychological condition as wicked and thus worthy of the ban. Parents, doctors, counselors, and even friends are being transformed into criminals simply for helping people in desperate need of all we have to offer. It is a wave of state-sanctioned terrorism our country has not witnessed since the days of Jim Crow.
For every action, physicists tell us, there is an equal and opposite reaction. We are seeing that fundamental truth play out across our nation.
For the 70+ years of my life, we as a nation labored long and hard to open up opportunity and fairness to all people, to shut down prejudice and violence toward one or more minority groups. Throughout this period, I have been proud to be an American, and prouder still of the brave Americans who became global icons of liberty. I think of Martin Luther King, Jr., Muhammed Ali, and Barak and Michelle Obama.
It is sad indeed to see our great nation sink back into fear and loathing, to hear religion being used to condemn and curse, and to watch the rights of people, especially minorities, compromised by what many people know as Christian Nationalism.
Now, at the beginning of PRIDE month, I want to declare that I am an ally of all those in these United States who struggle against anger, prejudice, hatred, violence, and state-sanctioned barriers to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I am an ally to gays and lesbians, yes, but also to immigrants and refugees, to blacks and browns, to Muslims and Jews, to the poor and marginalized, and to all those still struggling to breathe free in this land of bounty and blessing.
I am an ally. I hope you are as well.