Saturday, October 23, 2010

Thy Kingdom Come by Randall Balmer (Abortion, Homosexuality and Divorce)

Randall Balmer begins Thy Kingdom Come questioning the “odd choice” of the Religious Right to choose abortion as its defining issue to consolidate power in the 1980s because of the movement’s emphasis on biblical literalism and the paucity of biblical references to the abortion issue. Moreover, he notes those in the movement had taken inconsistent positions on the “right to life” in supporting capital punishment and “various armed conflicts.” Nonetheless, he explains that in the 1980s abortion was viewed as a political issue that had traction despite weak biblical arguments.

With similarly weak biblical arguments against homosexuality, Balmer notes that at about the same time the Religious Right pushed aside much clearer condemnation of divorce in the New Testament to focus instead on homosexuality as a rallying cry. He describes this as a politically motivated use of selective literalism to “locate sin outside of the evangelical subculture” by “designating as especially egregious” the conduct of others. Balmer asserts divorce was “too close for comfort” because many fellow believers had transgressed that prohibition (including Ronald Reagan, an early hero of the Religious Right). Balmer points out that to be consistent with their aim of making abortion illegal, the Religious Right ought to be expending equivalent effort to make divorce illegal (not just more difficult to obtain).

Balmer also notes hypocrisy on the abortion issue. Reagan and George H. W. Bush campaigned hard on antiabortion rhetoric, but never delivered on promises to outlaw abortion. Balmer also talks about the construction of an “abortion myth” that the movement began in direct response to the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. He explains that in reality few Christians paid much attention to the decision when it was first issued, and those who did generally viewed it favorably. Instead, Balmer musters evidence that the inspiration for political activism was actually the 1975 IRS attempt to rescind the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University ("BJU") due to its racially discriminatory policies. Balmer asserts abortion was a much more expedient rallying cause that the tax status of BJU.

1 Timothy 4:11 (The Message)

Teach believers with your life: by word, by demeanor, by love, by faith, by integrity.

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