A Theology for Racism: Southern Fundamentalists and the Civil Rights Movement

By Leonard, Bill J. | Baptist History and Heritage, Winter 1999 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

A Theology for Racism: Southern Fundamentalists and the Civil Rights Movement


Leonard, Bill J., Baptist History and Heritage


Scarcely anyone expected it. For more than fifty years evangelicals kept studiously aloof from American politics. They sang hymns and tended to souls, but left the burden of legislation and social policy to their more worldly counterparts in the Protestant mainstream ... that their own pastors would lead a political movement seemed out of the question." (1)

So Princeton sociologists Robert Liebman and Robert Wuthnow begin their analysis of the New Christian Right and its phenomenal political impact in America during the late twentieth century. They describe the rise of such organizations as the Moral Majority, Religious Round Table, and Christian Voice, and the efforts of political activists to mobilize fundamentalist Christians, particularly independent Baptists, for their cause. (2) These fundamentalists coalesced in response to various social and political issues including abortion, homosexuality, the Equal Rights Amendment, public school prayer, and the trend toward "secular humanism" in contemporary American life. They hoped to reclaim America as a Christian commonwealth based on the teaching of Scripture and "traditional family values." Liebman, Wuthnow, and other analysts of the New Christian Right seem particularly impressed that the movement appeared on the scene "largely without warning or anticipation." (3) Indeed, they observe that "the fact that evangelicals had refrained from politics for so long meant that (their) appearance was something truly exceptional." (4)

Such observations seem generally correct. Evangelical/Fundamentalists currently demonstrate a political activism heretofore unknown among persons of their religious persuasion. Present trends did not develop "without warning," however. Fundamentalists have been speaking out on moral and political issues throughout most of this century. In fact, this study suggests that the response of southern fundamentalists to the civil rights movement of the 1960s serves as an important guide for understanding their involvement in the New Christian Right of the 1980s. Southern fundamentalists, particularly independent Baptists, provided significant leadership to the Moral Majority and other such organizations from the beginning. (5) Any understanding of the contemporary movement cannot overlook the earlier social and political attitudes expressed by southern fundamentalists in response to the civil rights movement.

This study suggests that the civil rights movement created a cultural and religious crisis that compelled southern fundamentalists to respond. At the same time, their response to particular social, political, and racial imperatives was filtered through their self-proclaimed fundamentalist ideology. While fundamentalism itself is not inherently racist, the southern fundamentalists cited here expressed their own racist sentiments largely through the medium of their fundamentalist theology.

Southern fundamentalism is difficult to define. Clearly, it is no monolithic movement. In a 1986 article on southern fundamentalism, historian Samuel Hill Jr. delineated several types of evangelicals evident within the framework of southern religion. These include the "Truth party," concerned for correct belief; the "Conversion party," primarily interested in personal evangelism; the "Spirituality party" stressing continuous experience of the Divine presence; and the "Service party," whose representatives aim at racial and communal reconciliation. (6)

In general, this study is concerned with what Hill calls the "Truth party," the primary representatives of fundamentalist dogma in the South. These individuals emphasize "correct belief," eschew cooperation with those who deviate from doctrinal conformity, tend to be "anti-culture, and live and die by precision in definition and behavior." (7) Theirs is a separatist fundamentalism characterized by a theology of overagainstness in their response to other Christian traditions.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

A Theology for Racism: Southern Fundamentalists and the Civil Rights Movement
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.