The Radical Center
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The Radical Center

Fundamentalism and Racism

The backbone of the typical American hate movement has always been Southern Christian fundamentalism. Yes, others joined into such hate crusades, but none so enthusiastically as the born-again brigade.

Eventually they lose and American individualism wins out. Then, to hear them tell it, they were ones advocating change all along. Just witness how they falsely purport to be the foundation on which Abolitionism was built. In truth, the majority of fundamentalists supported slavery and the world’s largest fundamentalist sect, the Southern Baptists, were openly and explicitly founded for the express purpose of endorsing slavery as God’s law.

The fundamentalist high school I attended did NOT allow black students, neither did their college when I was there. However, one of their favorite preachers for John R. Rice—founder and editor of the fundamentalist publication The Sword of the Lord. Rice, like the majority of fundamentalist preachers was a racist.

But, typical of fundamentalist hate they called it love. They think tormenting LGBT people is loving becaue it is necessary to save their soul. When they spew hate speech they tell us they are speaking with love. They are masters at self-deception and I think they genuinely believe the nonsense they preach and Rice was one example. His racism was explicitly stated to the world yet he and his followers insisted they were doing this for the good of African-Americans. They thought their racism was truly loving.

Rice was clear, “It is better for both Negroes and whites to run with their own kind and intermarry with their own kind. The mixing of races widely differing is almost never wise…Thus if a girl would do wrong to marry a Negro boy, she would be wrong to keep company with him, mixing regularly with him in social life.”

In his booklet, Negro and White Rice described opponents of segregation as “socialists, the communists, the professional and paid Negro leaders, and politicians who hope to gain votes, raise enmities, hurl epithets, threaten force, and incite hate.” Fundamentalists always claim people opposed to their hateful policies are the real haters?

Rice claimed the Supreme Court had previously supported segregation but, “Now the Supreme Court, largely influenced by the New Deal and left-wing thought has changed its stand. Has the Supreme Court a right to change the meaning of the constitution or of laws passed by Congress which originally meant something else? Has the Supreme Court a right to interfere in purely state matters? At least the Supreme Court realized that the matter could not be properly settled at once, and gave indefinite time.” Isn’t that the same arguments fundamentalists were were recently making regarding gay marriage?

In Rice’s view “some hotheads in the North advocate using armed forces to compel white people and colored people to send their children to the same schools, while in the South, leading men in the government and out have banded themselves together to avoid what they think would result in intermarriage and the mongrelization of the race and the breakdown of all the southern standards of culture.”

Note how advocates of desegregation are “hotheads” while racists are called “leading men.”

Rice argues whites and blacks are equal before God and both need salvation, but his description of opponents of racism is always slanted. “Race hatred is wrong. It is just as wrong when stirred up by Negro newspapers against white people as it is when stirred up by white people against Negroes. It is just as wrong when it is fostered by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People as it is when it is stirred up by communists. And unfortunately, the communists and the NAACP too often have the same program and emphasize the same thing.”

He concedes Jim Crow laws are wrong and should be done away with — but not too quickly. “I say frankly that many things are worse than these, and most intelligent people would prefer to have Jim Crow laws than to have unrestrained intermarriage between the races.Christians everywhere should try to avoid oppression and take particular pains to be kind and thoughtful and unselfish in all inter-race relationships, but the matter is too great and complex to be settled suddenly, and there are too many problems yet unresolved for an easy settlement. May the Lord give us grace as we consider some of these complicating factors.” So, Jim Crow is bad, but not as bad in “unrestrained intermarriage between the races.”

Rice then questioned the NAACP for fighting segregation. He said instead of integration they should be “raising money for colored schools.” As Rice sees it the effort of the NAACP merely “has been to drive a cleavage, a wedge between the colored and white races, and to arouse such a fury of suspicion and resentment as it may take a whole generation of godly and righteous effort on the part of the leaders of both races to overcome.” Odd how the people driving the wedge between the races are always depicted as being opponents of racism, but not the “leading men” who promote actual racism.

Rice argued the young black woman who tried to enter the University of Alabama only did so because she was paid by the NAACP to cause trouble. As for that “Negro minister in Birmingham” [Martin Luther King, Jr.] he “led that boycott as a modernist and a socialist who was more concerned about racism than he was about Christianity, I fear.”

Another source of racial discord is “Negro editors” who “have done a lot to stir race hatred, to stir people up to radical moves. They have led Negro people to brood over fancied slights and of limited opportunities. It is only fair to say that most Negro editors dealing largely with an uneducated readership and with people of very limited cultural advantages and reading opportunities, found the field easy to exploit.” Once again, blacks are blamed for anti-black racism.

Rice them moved on to the favorite bugaboo of 1950s Religious kooks, “communists have had more to do with stirring up this fight, and with bringing more unseen influence on the Supreme Court, on the NAACP, on politicians, and on magazines and newspaper editors than any of the people involved themselves realize.”

Why those damn socialists would even stop good fundamentalists from differing with “the Jew or Catholic, or modernist or Mormon….” Too bad it was the 1950s or he could drag in “homosexual activists” as well.

Of course the socialists, generally, the New Deal element in our government, the so-called ultra-liberal element, are among the loudest in crying for an immediate integration of the races. The socialistic tendency in government is to take all the principal authority out of the states and build a large federal government to decide all problems. They would stop all preaching of the Gospel over radio and television that differs with the Jew or Catholic or modernist or Mormon. Socialists would make all workers uniformly join a union and pay union dues. The socialistic element everywhere tends to take the money away from the man who makes the most money and give it to others on relief who do not earn it. The socialistic principle is to cut everybody down to the same level, to pay the poorest worker as much as the best worker. So the racial question is a natural juicy bit for the conversation and planning of socialists.

Rice said one should not mistreat “colored people” but “we should make sure that we do not give away the liberties of the people, that we do not make a monster dictatorship in the government, and that we do not throw away great American principles while we try to solve a problem about the races. You can be sure that the communists and the socialists are wrong in the main outcome they seek, though they may not be wrong in some detail about desegregation.”

He then goes on about how awful life would be under communism for blacks — as if the choice was between Jim Crow and Communism.

He lamented the burden white Southerners carry and said “racial agitation” mistreats “southern white people. Southern people carry a great load. By law it is required that schools be provided for colored people that are equal in facilities to the schools of white children. But colored people have more children and far less money. The white people pay the taxes and build the schools for both colored people and white people. And that has been widely accepted everywhere in the South, and colored people have more new schools than white people have. White people are wronged when they are made to appear as oppressors of colored people.”

If it wasn’t white people who were pushing the laws against blacks who was it? Rice said the real victims were white folk.

Generally speaking, the South is not against being kind to colored people. They are simply against the dictatorship from the North. They are against the Supreme Court taking over the rights and authority of the states. They have genuine problems to solve in their relations with colored people, and these problems are often much more serious than outsiders know, and the problems cannot be solved so easily as by simply repealing Jim Crow laws. All intelligent people ought to give southern white people credit for wiping out lynching in the South, and rapidly improving the opportunities of colored people.

Did you catch that? Whites deserve credit because they stopped lynching black folks!

Anyway, said Rice, it wasn’t just Southerners against interracial marriage. “Generally speaking, the best white people and the best colored people in the North do not seek the intermarriage of the races. White people in the South, on this matter, want only what white people everywhere else want. They want to handle their own problem and maintain their own standards, without too much outside interference.”

And, when it comes to Emmett Till being murdered what was the result of “a cocky attitude agitators have cultivated among colored people. Remember, it was down in the delta country in Mississippi, where a white woman dare not walk the streets alone at night or go anywhere alone at night because of the animosity and the standards of the large Negro population.

Rice then spends considerable time arguing that since some “segregation” is rational then all segregation is justified. His daughters don’t date men who drink alcohol, that’s segregation. Some people don’t want to join unions, that’s segregation, etc. He is apparently unable to see the difference between these examples and makes them all moral equivalents.

Rice then brags he allows some blacks to attend his revival meetings: “They often attended my revivals. They did not embarrass white people. They did not unduly call attention to themselves. They simply wanted to hear the preaching of the Gospel and to be blessed, and they were welcome on that basis. They were not seeking to unite socially and to achieve intermarriage with white people.”

But, Rice says integration of the church would hurt “the cause of Christ.”

No well-known church in the world which is much occupied in campaigning for uniting races is a strong soul-winning church. God does not want me to spend my time crusading for racial equality. He just wants me to preach the Gospel and help people do right. The churches are not meant to be political arenas. Generally speaking, colored people are happier and make better Christians and do better Christian service when they go where people sing the kind of songs they like to sing, where they hear the kind of preaching they like to hear, where their young people can meet together on the happy basis that young people like, and where the young people, of course, will find their mates for life, and their friends for a lifetime.

Finally, near the end of his long discourse on race he gets down to “race mixing.”

How far can we go in racial integration? Ought we to have intermarriage of white and colored people? I think the answer to that question is definitely no. Throughout the Old Testament, we find that the intermarriage of Jews and Gentiles was discouraged, and unless a Gentile should become a Jew in religion, it was absolutely forbidden. And so through the years it has generally been true that the intermarriage of people of different races tends to turn out unhappily. Marriage of white people and Negroes does not generally turn out happily. I think it is, in every case, a mistake. I think that every sensible preacher, educator, and sociologist in the world would tell you that generally the marriage of two people who have violently different backgrounds is likely to end unhappily. Protestants ought not to marry Catholics. Those who do not drink ought not to marry people who drink. Christians ought not to marry even non-Christians. The poor boy ought not to marry the rich girl when he cannot give her the things she has been trained to expect and which she thinks will bring happiness. I say that for any two people to marry with violently differing backgrounds means nearly certain unhappiness. Therefore racially mixed marriages are hurtful and unhappy and wrong.

What Rice was preaching half a century ago is what the alt-Right is preaching today. Trump may says that there were “good people” on both sides when Nazis were marching but Rice wouldn’t go that far. To him all the good, decent people were againt “race mixing” and it was the troublemakers and paid actors on the other side. Much of what the alt-Right teaches today was born in fundamentalist circles.

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James Peron

James Peron

James Peron is the president of the Moorfield Storey Institute, was the founding editor of Esteem a LGBT publication in South Africa under apartheid.