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Quote of the Day: Baptist Preachers Instrumental in Turning the South Red

Crediting the Nixon campaign with the flight of Southern conservatives from the Democratic Party dismisses the role Southerners themselves played in that transformation. In fact, Republicans had very little organizational infrastructure on the ground in the South before 1980, and never quite figured out how to build a persuasive appeal to voters there. Every cynical strategy cooked up in a Washington boardroom withered under local conditions. The flight of the Dixiecrats was ultimately conceived, planned, and executed by Southerners themselves, largely independent of, and sometimes at odds with, existing Republican leadership. It was a move that had less to do with politicos than with pastors.

Southern churches, warped by generations of theological evolution necessary to accommodate slavery and segregation, were all too willing to offer their political assistance to a white nationalist program. Southern religious institutions would lead a wave of political activism that helped keep white nationalism alive inside an increasingly unfriendly national climate. Forget about Goldwater, Nixon or Reagan. No one played as much of a role in turning the South red as the leaders of the Southern Baptist Church. …

It was religious leaders in the South who solved the puzzle on Republicans’ behalf, converting white angst over lost cultural supremacy into a fresh language of piety and “religious liberty.” Southern conservatives discovered that they could preserve white nationalism through a proxy fight for Christian Nationalism. They came to recognize that a weak, largely empty Republican grassroots structure in the South was ripe for takeover and colonization.

— Chris Ladd, Forbes, Pastors, Not Politicians, Turned Dixie Republican, March 27, 2017


  1. Avatar
    Brunetto Latini

    Isn’t what I remember. My pastor for many years was Adrian Rogers, who was president of the SBC multiple times. I remember the bogeyman were gays and feminists, and Christian liberals. And Bill Clinton. Never was race an issue. Too much reaching into the past to blame dead people for living racists.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      My experiences with Baptist preachers — including Southern Baptists — are very very different from yours. Oh, they weren’t out and out racists, but their words and behaviors behind closed doors, along with church policies, told a very different story.

      Those old men may be dead, but their progeny live on.

  2. Avatar
    Brunetto Latini

    And while there was a lot of nonsense on Christian radio in the 80’s and 90’s, there was no tweeting. There was no Fox News. Tbere was Rush Limbaugh in the 90’s, who to my knowledge isn’t a Southern Baptist pastor.

  3. Avatar

    White nationalism has always been a part of the South, but as I recall it was more about preachers harping on the culture wars and throwing shade at Democrats over “immorality” that shifted people to the GOP. Graphic propaganda against abortion was a big thing. I was a kid but lived through the shift in the South. Southerners were mostly die-hard Democrats through the 70s. By the end of the 80s they believed a True Christian had to vote Republican. The #1 issue was abortion. After that was “family values”, a euphemism for keeping LBGTQ people in the closet; forced Christian prayer in schools; hating on “liberal media” and “Hollywood”; promoting working and getting what you deserve, not what government gives you (which was cover for racism). The racism has always been an undercurrent in Southern evangelical churches, but I recall abortion bring the #1 tool for propaganda to GOP. Again, I was 10-19 in the 80s so there were probably things I missed.

    Read Frances Fitzgerald’s book “The Enangelicals: the Struggle to Shape America” which covers the history of evangelicals and politics.

  4. Avatar
    Brunetto Latini

    Yes, abortion was the big issue. So big that opposition to it was the last remnant of my conservative upbringing to be discarded. Right after I stopped believing in creationism.

    • Avatar
      Barbara Jackson

      All this anti-abortion stuff scares me. My mother nearly died of eclampsia when she had me 1.5 months early by cesarean section in 1960. With the way some of the anti-abortionists are talking, if I had been stillborn she could have been jailed. This has already happened in El Salvador.

  5. Avatar
    Brunetto Latini

    I attended the American Atheists convention in Memphis several years ago and was surprised to see an atheist group opposing abortion. I guess people believe all kinds of things, even when they’re unbelievers.

  6. Avatar

    Yep. Atheists come in many different sizes. Some are actually conservatives. Some are actually republicans. I know some atheists who are opposed to homosexuality.

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Bruce Gerencser