What is the function of the myth of separation of church and state? What is the relationship between capitalism and Christianity? What is the relationship between the Puritan view of the chosen, "elected" few that could be saved and the prosperity gospel or entrepreneurial Protestantism? What is a Christian nation? How can religious doctrine be democratic law?
Until the 1960s, some Christian sects were pro-choice and supported birth control for Malthusian reasons of population control and maintaining a healthy Christian marriage. In "Below-the-belt-politics," Scott Flipse writes, "As new attitudes about sex crept into the cultural mainstream, evangelical marriage manuals began to describe explicitly the joys of recreative sex. The manuals continued to view sex as proper only within the bonds of marriage, but they were effusively and enthusiastically excited about marital sex."
"Evangelical leaders gave their consent to couples using artificial forms of family planning. They backed this claim with an appeal to act in the 'liberty of good conscience before god.' The vision of 'the good Christian life' expected married couples to have a healthy and robust sex life, but did not require them to have large families."
When does a fetus have rights? What is a fetus?
According to Flipse's research, the fetus " as a developing life…did not necessarily have a soul at conception." Paul Hewitt, a Harvard-trained theologian, concluded that in a fetus, there was "potential life, but not fully human." Bruce Waltke, also trained at Harvard as a biblical scholar, noted that the status of the mother and the unborn child were not the same and that "the Old Testament 'did not equate the fetus with living persons,'" and therefore, the fetus does not yet have a soul.
When does the soul enter a fetus, and when can a viable claim be made for legal protection? This all presupposes that souls exist.
As ethical and political discussions on human reproduction and the momentum of civil rights movements increased, these "below-the-belt" politics revealed their entire body of issues. As editor of Christianity Today, Harold Lindsell organized a broad-based political force bringing together conservative Catholics, Protestant Evangelicals, and Protestant Fundamentalists. This configuration brought together sects that had previously disagreed on spiritual and social issues—engaging in sexual politics impacted how that engagement shaped political action.
But all this was subterfuge. "The Religious Right and the Abortion Myth," by Randall Balmer at Politico, explains,"The history of that movement, however, is more complicated. White evangelicals in the 1970s did not mobilize against Roe v. Wade, which they considered a Catholic issue. They organized instead to defend racial segregation in evangelical institutions, including Bob Jones University. To suggest otherwise is to perpetrate what I call the abortion myth, the fiction that the genesis of the Religious Right — the powerful evangelical political movement that has reshaped American politics over the past four decades — lay in opposition to abortion."
The relationship between defending racial segregation and shifting to anti-abortion politics is not such a stark binary. Instead, population control and the inculcation of conservative Christian values (we cannot forget the historical and ongoing use of the Bible to justify slavery, discrimination, and the targeting of specific groups) within policy and law has a long history.
The anti-abortion coalition that emerged in the 1970s wove together a politics of racial segregation and anti-choice positions, clearly in line with gendered ideas of social roles and the power of the patriarch – father on earth as in heaven.
The Politico article further explains the relationship between the IRS and the tax-exempt status of churches, racial segregation, and voting during the 1970s. "Abortion did not take hold among evangelicals until the eve of the 1980 presidential election, the result of assiduous promotion by Weyrich, Falwell and other leaders of the Religious Right following the 1978 midterms….Opposition to abortion, therefore, was a godsend for leaders of the Religious Right because it allowed them to distract attention from the real genesis of their movement: defense of racial segregation in evangelical institutions. With a cunning diversion, they were able to conjure righteous fury against legalized abortion and thereby lend a veneer of respectability to their political activism."
As Flipse concludes, "It was this new anti-abortion coalition that became the intellectual foundation and activist base of the New Religious right, which would emerge full-force in the late 1970s and would find its greatest political influence when linked to the resurgent conservatism of Ronald Reagan."
The genesis of the religious right has many origin stories. Understanding the relationship between the different threads reveals the ideological links between racial segregation, population control, and sexual and reproductive politics. Check out this interview with Frank Schaeffer, a former propagandist for the Christian right, about his regrets about participating in the movement.