No Blacks, Jews, Gays, or Transgender
Jim Crow’s spirit is back, championed by white Christians and Republicans
For many Americans, ‘Separate but Equal’ is back in play
Separate but equal was a legal doctrine in US constitutional law that once permitted racist segregation known as Jim Crow. Under the doctrine, as long as services provided to each race were ‘equal,’ then state and local governments could mandate or allow segregation by race in public accommodations, housing, medical care, education, employment, and transportation.
The doctrine was overturned by a series of Supreme Court decisions, starting with Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. Ending racist segregation, however, took decades, in a struggle that lasted through the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, involving federal legislation (especially the Civil Rights Act of 1964), and many court cases.
For many Americans, the Civil Rights era spawned generations of heroes
Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Thurgood Marshall, and the Little Rock Nine spring immediately to mind. They fought for freedom and human dignity in an era when racism and white supremacy ruled in both law and common practice.
Other Americans mourned
For white, evangelical Protestant Christians, the Civil Rights era was one of regret. As Curtis J. Evans notes in The Harvard Theological Review, white conservative Protestants in the North and the South opposed civil rights on both theological and practical grounds.
They claimed that racist segregation was not only ordained by God, but that legislating against it would “stoke fears and hatreds of whites” and be viewed as a form of coercion that would do more harm to society than good.
Morals cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. It is immoral to compel a man to accept injustice until another man’s heart is straight. — Martin Luther King, Jr.
White Evangelical Protestants were among the last legal challengers of Civil Rights enforcement, fighting through the 1970s to keep schools and universities segregated by race. As historian Seth Dowland points out in The Christian Century, if any one theme unites the post-war Evangelical movement, it is a “politics of whiteness.”
The evangelical powerhouse of Bob Jones University was one of the last holdouts. The university excluded Black people until the early 1970s, when they bowed to pressure to enroll Black students, but only if they were married. In 1975, they amended the policy to permit enrolling unmarried Black students, though continuing to enforce bans on interracial dating and marriage.
In 1975, the IRS revoked Bob Jones University’s tax-exempt status, and the Evangelical world exploded in protest.
Not all Evangelical people agreed with Bob Jones’ racist policies, but leaders argued forcefully that the university must have the right to discriminate based on “sincerely held religious beliefs.”
The politics of white supremacy led directly to the politics of straight/cisgender supremacy.
Bob Jones lost that battle, and the conservative Christian world eventually moved on. Most people today forget that the churches they attend and the denominations they support fought against Civil Rights on religious grounds as recently as a generation or two ago.
Jerry Falwell and his ‘Moral Majority’ began to fight to stop LGBTQ people from enjoying equality and civil rights
Evangelical scapegoating and shaming continued after the Bob Jones decision. Only the targets changed. By the mid 1970s, just as the last conservative Christians reluctantly conceded defeat in the Civil Rights struggle, leaders like Jerry Falwell found new demons to fight, new targets to rally the troops around.
The same leaders (or their children) who had fought tooth and nail to uphold white supremacy shifted focus and began to target gay men and gender variant people. The politics of white supremacy led directly to the politics of straight/cisgender supremacy.
Racism: Seminal Impetus for the Moral Majority
Back to the future for LGBTQ equality and Civil Rights
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s however, more and more Americans came to reject theologies and politics of exclusion and discrimination. Evangelical Christians increasingly found themselves on the wrong side of history and of common human decency.
The HIV/AIDS crisis forced gay men out of the closet in stunning numbers,
and as more and more Americans came face-to-face with their LGBTQ family, friends, and neighbors; discrimination and exclusion began to feel more and more wrong.
Public attitudes turned around quickly. According to the Williams Institute, in 1984 most Americans had negative opinions of lesbians and gay men. By 2012, the position flipped. Most Americans approved of LGBTQ people, and perhaps more importantly, most Americans said that LGBTQ people should not be discriminated against.
In 2014, something began to change. Public opinion leveled off, and by 2019, levels of support had fallen significantly.
According to Public Religion Research Institute, the number of Americans who said that small business owners ought to be free to discriminate against gay people almost doubled from 2014 to 2019. The numbers aren’t small. Almost one of every three Americans believes that discrimination ought to be legal.
Shockingly, the same PRRI survey also shows significant increases in the number of Americans who believe that Black people, Jews, and atheists should be fair game for discrimination.
Data from the Public Religion Research Institute —
- Nineteen percent of Americans think small business owners should be allowed to refuse service to Jews if doing so would violate their religious beliefs.
- Fifteen percent of Americans think that business owners should be able to refuse service to Black people on religious grounds.
- A whopping thirty percent of ALL Americans approve of turning away lesbians, gay people, and transgender people.
The proportion of Americans who think small businesses should be able to refuse service to gays and lesbians was the highest among all the minority groups, but the trend is clear and very disturbing. Support for discrimination is climbing across the board.
Republicans lead the pack in bigotry —
A significantly higher proportion of Republicans approved of service refusals in all categories than Democrats did. Twenty four percent of Republicans thought business owners should be allowed to refuse service to Jews. That number was 17 percent for Democrats.
An astonishing 18 percent of Republicans say that business owners ought to be able to refuse service to Black people.
That’s right, put five and a half Republicans in a room, and one of them will argue that it’s OK for a business owner to turn Black people away. One out of every four Republicans will say that excluding Jews ought to be legal. One of every three will argue for excluding Muslims, and almost half will agree that turning gay people away is OK.
How did this happen? Republican support for discrimination tracks with white Christian support for discrimination.
White evangelical Protestant Christians and white mainline Christians support discrimination in huge numbers, head and shoulders above other categories of surveyed religious believers. Nearly half of all white Evangelicals support the idea of turning away people because they’re gay. Other white Protestants are only a few points behind. According to the survey, white Christians support discriminating against racial and ethnic minorities in smaller, but proportional numbers.
Jim Crow is back in play, championed by white Protestant Christians and Republicans.
The same tired arguments that people raised in the 50s, 60s, and 70s are roaring back. Separate but equal is a daily refrain on social media. People don’t use those words, but the meaning is the same.
- Why support a business that doesn’t want you? Go elsewhere and give your money to some other business owner.
- It’s not right to hurt a business because you don’t agree with the owner’s religious beliefs. They have a right to their religion.
- Opposition to Christianity is destroying civilization.
- Stop persecuting Christians. Forcing them to behave in certain ways just stirs up animosity.
Martin Luther King himself fought against all these weak arguments when he preached his dreams of equality. King’s opponents said all of the above and more. His response was simple and uncompromising:
“Morals cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. It is immoral to compel a man to accept injustice until another man’s heart is straight.”
As religious historian Nancy D. Wadsworth argues eloquently in Vox, white Protestant Christianity in the US stands at a crossroads. Christians have allied with Donald Trump, not just holding their noses with respect to racism and white supremacy, but often tacitly approving of it.
She observes that, “Racism and intolerance are more woven into the fabric of evangelicalism than Christian critics care to accept.” She backs her position up with data, and she then makes the same connection to homophobia and transphobia that I noted above.
What happened between 2014 and 2019 to change Americans’ minds? Trump happened.
White Christians are allying themselves to the Trump Administration, which is pushing “religious freedom” arguments for them. More and more white Christians are buying into the idea that they have a religious right to discriminate against LGBTQ people.
At the same time, and with the same arguments, racism and antisemitism come roaring back onto the public stage. It’s impossible to argue for religious freedom to exclude gay people without also enabling the exclusion of Black people and Jews. The legal and moral arguments are the same.
An upsurge in homophobic religious-freedom arguments PREDICTS a corresponding upsurge in racist arguments. One should logically follow the other. And that’s exactly what the data show.
Is anybody paying attention? Does anybody see the trend? Most progressive people I know say that increased support for homophobia and racism is a blip, a temporary setback that we’ll all have forgotten in a few years.
I’m not so sure about that. Even many liberals and progressives buy into religious freedom arguments these days, and I don’t think they understand the demons they’re unchaining. I don’t know that the genie will flit willingly back into the bottle.
I know one thing, I know it clearly, and it scares the hell out of me.