Saturday, May 19, 2007

Doug Phillips and Jerry Falwell

Jerry Falwell was the original grand poobah of the Christian Right. When he died the other day, Doug Phillips wrote about how upset he was at Falwell's death, and how much he loved Jerry. After that, he posted a tribute written by his father, Howard Phillips, all about how Jerry and Howard worked together hand in glove to create and build up the Christian Right. I imagine a lot of Vision Forum blog readers were surprised to see Doug say these things, and talk about how much Falwell meant to him. They were probably shocked, because from what most people know about Doug Phillips, he wouldn't want much to do with someone like Jerry Falwell. Falwell was way to ecumenical and just plain too liberal for Patriarch preacher Doug Phillips. Falwell allowed homosexuals to speak at his university. He allowed Christian rock groups to perform at Liberty. He did a lot of things that Doug Phillips can't stand. Judging from Doug Phillips writings and teachings, Falwell was the essence of compromise with the world and the Devil. But there Doug was praising Falwell, and saying that he'd invited him to be a keynote speaker at the Vision Forum Jamestown event. Is there any explanation for this strange behavior?

Here at Vision Forum Facts, we believe there is. It seems that for all their differences, Doug Phillips and Jerry Falwell had a lot on common. Look at this article.

But for Falwell, the "questions of the day" did not always relate to abortion and homosexuality--nor did they begin there. 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. This opening episode of Falwell's life, studiously overlooked by his friends, naïvely 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.

As with his positions on abortion and homosexuality, the basso profondo preacher's own words on race stand as vivid documents of his legacy. Falwell launched on the warpath against civil rights four years after the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision to desegregate public schools with a sermon titled "Segregation or Integration: Which?"

"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," Falwell boomed from above his congregation in Lynchburg. "The facilities should be separate. When God has drawn a line of distinction, we should not attempt to cross that line."

Falwell's jeremiad continued: "The true Negro does not want integration.... He realizes his potential is far better among his own race." Falwell went on to announce that integration "will destroy our race eventually. In one northern city," he warned, "a pastor friend of mine tells me that a couple of opposite race live next door to his church as man and wife."

As pressure from the civil rights movement built during the early 1960s, and President Lyndon Johnson introduced sweeping civil rights legislation, Falwell grew increasingly conspiratorial. He enlisted with J. Edgar Hoover to distribute FBI manufactured propaganda against the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and publicly denounced the 1964 Civil Rights Act as "civil wrongs."

In a 1964 sermon, "Ministers and Marchers," Falwell attacked King as a Communist subversive. After questioning "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 declared, "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."

Just like Doug Phillips' two biggest heroes, Jr Rushdoony and Robert Dabney, Jerry Falwell opposed equality for black people. It seems to many observers that Doug Phillips has rarely expressed admiration for anyone who didn't speak out against equality for black people. He certainly has never praised the Civil Rights movement. For a history buff like him, it's strange that he never mentions one of the most important eras in America's history. He's never said a good word about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., or Rosa Parks that we can find.

To make matters worse, the article continues. Howard Phillips says that he helped Falwell get the Moral Majority off the ground. Howard says he even came up with the name. But most people have forgotten that it wasn't abortion and gay rights that really got Christians active in politics. It was because the IRS was threatening to remove the tax exempt status from "Christian " schools in the southern US because they were founded to maintain racial segregation. Falwell started his own Christian school in 1966, and when the local paper wrote about it opening, they said it was "a private school for white students." In the mid 1970s, thousands of preachers across the south were suddenly faced with losing their tax exemption on the schools they founded so the kids of their church members wouldn't have to go to school with what Jerry Falwell called "Negroes." That was the real motivation for the Christian Right, and Doug Phillips' father Howard was right there to organize the troops and keep America safe for segregated "Christian" schools. From that same article here are the facts.

While abortion clinics sprung up across the United States during the early 1970s, evangelicals did little. No pastors invoked the Dred Scott decision to undermine the legal justification for abortion. There were no clinic blockades, no passionate cries to liberate the "pre-born." For Falwell and his allies, the true impetus for political action came when the Supreme Court ruled in Green v. Connally to revoke the tax-exempt status of racially discriminatory private schools in 1971. At about the same time, the Internal Revenue Service moved to revoke the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University, which forbade interracial dating. (Blacks were denied entry until 1971.) Falwell was furious, complaining, "In some states it's easier to open a massage parlor than to open a Christian school."

Seeking to capitalize on mounting evangelical discontent, a right-wing Washington operative and anti-Vatican II Catholic named Paul Weyrich took a series of trips down South to meet with Falwell and other evangelical leaders. Weyrich hoped to produce a well-funded evangelical lobbying outfit that could lend grassroots muscle to the top-heavy Republican Party and effectively mobilize the vanquished forces of massive resistance into a new political bloc. In discussions with Falwell, Weyrich cited various social ills that necessitated evangelical involvement in politics, particularly abortion, school prayer and the rise of feminism. His pleas initially fell on deaf ears.

"I was trying to get those people interested in those issues and I utterly failed," Weyrich recalled in an interview in the early 1990s. "What changed their mind was Jimmy Carter's intervention against the Christian schools, trying to deny them tax-exempt status on the basis of so-called de facto segregation."

In 1979, at Weyrich's behest, Falwell founded a group that he called the Moral Majority. Along with a vanguard of evangelical icons including D. James Kennedy, Pat Robertson and Tim LaHaye, Falwell's organization hoisted the banner of the "pro-family" movement, declaring war on abortion and homosexuality. But were it not for the federal government's attempts to enable little black boys and black girls to go to school with little white boys and white girls, the Christian right's culture war would likely never have come into being. "The Religious New Right did not start because of a concern about abortion," former Falwell ally Ed Dobson told author Randall Balmer in 1990. "I sat in the non-smoke-filled back room with the Moral Majority, and I frankly do not remember abortion ever being mentioned as a reason why we ought to do something."

We rarely hear any more these days about the racist roots of the Christian Right. But Doug's father Howard Phillips knows those racist roots very well, because he helped create a political movement out of those racist roots. And his Constitution Party still attracts all sorts of Christian Identity types, "ex" Kluxers, etc. And Doug remembers those racist roots, too. And he remembers Jerry Falwell railing against racial integration as the work of the devil that would "destroy the white race." Could this be why Doug Phillips was so upset at the death of Jerry Falwell? We think it could.