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Dallas History

The Late First Baptist Dallas Pastor W.A. Criswell Was Pro-Choice

The origin of the Religious Right isn't what you'd think
By Brantley Hargrove |

Politico Magazine has a fascinating story on the rise of the Religious Right and its true origins. Contrary to popular belief, the movement’s genesis isn’t Roe v. Wade–it’s Green v. Connally. A year after the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its landmark ruling that protects a woman’s right to have an abortion, the Southern Baptist Convention affirmed its commitment “to work(ing) for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.”

None other than W.A. Criswell, First Baptist Dallas’ pastor, Robert Jeffress‘ mentor, and a former president of the Convention, said, “I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from its mother that it became an individual person and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed.”

That life began at the moment of conception has not always been official evangelical dogma. This unalloyed approach to abortion was a component of a carefully cultivated religious movement whose roots can be traced to the backlash against a different court decision–one that has nothing at all to do with the sanctity of life and everything to do with racial segregation. In Green v. Connally, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that schools discriminating on the basis of race were not eligible for tax exemption. South Carolina’s Bob Jones University, for example, made no secret when asked by the IRS in 1970 that it did not admit blacks.

Its right to remain racially segregated was framed as a matter of religious freedom. The architects of the moral majority–Paul Weyrich, co-founder of the Heritage Foundation, and Jerry Falwell–saw a catalyst for a new conservative political movement. The IRS’ decision had angered many prominent evangelical leaders. But Weyrich and Falwell were savvy enough to know that segregation was not a sound foundation for a political rebirth in the modern era.

So, more than five years after Roe v. Wade, they looked to abortion as a palatable cause célèbre. The new movement revealed its true motivations to those who paid attention. In its zeal to unseat President Jimmy Carter, who had sought to enact policies to reduce the need for abortions, it threw its weight behind Ronald Reagan, who signed into law as governor of California the most liberal abortion bill in America.

You can read the story here.

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