Evangelicals (always) fear losing religious liberty & being called bigots: A look at 1950s evangelicalism

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Caricature of Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee by DonkeyHotey via Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey/20826912714/

Caricature of Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee by DonkeyHotey via Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey/20826912714/

Caricature of Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee by DonkeyHotey via Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey/20826912714/

Caricature of Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee by DonkeyHotey via Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey/20826912714/

There is nothing new under the sun. And this includes evangelicals’ fear of losing religious liberty and being labeled as bigots for speaking the truth.

Today, evangelicals see themselves as being unfairly tagged as haters. As Stephanie Wang reported , many evangelicals see themselves as no longer welcome in public debates. They’re not the ones who are bigots; they’re the ones being targeted by intolerant bullies.

But such is evangelicalism. It is a tradition that wants to engage in public debates in which evangelical arguments are met with hostility. They long for the glory days when they could speak the truth of the gospel without being silenced or branded as bigots.

That was the view back in 1956. The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) held its annual meeting in Cleveland. The association heard a warning from Dr. Albert Lindsey of the First Presbyterian Church of Tacoma, Washington.

Religious liberty, Lindsey said, was being “slowly but surely taken away.” Americans had less religious freedom than it did just fifty years earlier. It was a line that could easily be heard from an evangelical pulpit this Sunday.


SEE Bigotry? Hatred? Christians say they’re tired of being made into the bad guys


The NAE saw several threats to religious freedom. One was the government’s refusal to uphold the separation of church and state, particularly the separation of the Catholic Church from government. The NAE (and other Protestant groups) opposed President Truman sending an ambassador to the Vatican. In 1958, the NAE called into question the citizenship of Archbishop Samuel Stritch because he was joining the Roman curia as a Cardinal.

The NAE did not see a violation of the separation of church and state or religious freedom when Congress’s investigation of so-called un-American activities. In 1953, the NAE supported Senator McCarthy’s investigation of clergy who might be traitors (i.e., Communists). Such investigations did not, according to the NAE delegates, amount to threat to religious freedom or the Bill of Rights.

Evangelicals in the 1950s saw the real threat being their inability to speak about their faith plainly. Internationally, this meant a push for religious freedom, including a call to withhold U.S. foreign aid to any country that did not protect religious freedom.

At home, they saw their voice as being silenced or chastised for being intolerant.

“There seems to be a code of platitudes that certain people have prepared who in many cases make no profession of true Christianity. You either use these platitudes or you are silenced,” Lindsey said. “Or, if permitted to be heard, smeared as a bigot or fanatic.”

This claim seems eerily similar to contemporary statements among evangelicals.


SEE How the Scopes trial created the “Bible Belt”


Writing last year in the Atlantic, Alan Nobles wrote that evangelicals have reason to fear. The only acceptable religion in America, wrote Nobles, is a private faith approves of contemporary mores.

“If the evangelical worldview is deemed invalid in the public sphere, then the public sphere loses the value of being public,” Nobles wrote. “American discourse will be marked by paranoid conformity, rather than principled and earnest disagreement. And our ability to prophetically speak to one another and to our nation’s troubles will be restrained.”

What has been will be again; what has been done will be done again. In another fifty years or so, our time may be seen as the good old days when religious liberty was cherished and evangelicals could speak plainly about the gospel.

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  • Ben in oakland

    When confronted with the truth that they are inciting hatred, radical anti-gay “Christians” scream, “Disagreement is not hate!” When confronted with the truth that freedom of speech and religion allows pro-equality Americans to disagree with them, radical anti-gay “Christians” scream, “Disagreement is hate.”

    If gay people had a book, which prominent gay people quoted from, declaring that Christians should be executed, how long do you think it would take for the book to be banned as hate speech?

    The first amendment gives you the right to say just about anything you want. It does not protect you from the repercussions of saying the stupid and hateful lies that you say.

    The First Amendment likewise gives you the right to follow whatever religious belief you wish. It does not give you the right to force your purely theological concerns upon people who don’t share them, nor does it protect you from criticism for attempting to do so.

    Does that sum it up?

  • Gerald

    It’s “privilege” not “liberty.” Find and replace. No one’s being “silenced,” when other view points are allowed. It’s not being unfairly “branded” or “labeled” as bigots. When you express bigotry you get called out. People aren’t afraid to call out bigoty anymore. They refuse to sit down and shut up. Too bad for the previously privileged religious.

    The evangelical worldview is invalid, along with any other worldview. It’s written into the Constitution, if by what you mean by “public sphere” is government. Your just accustomed to having your worldview validated by the government. Christian privilege ugg…

  • Billysees

    Ben writes,
    ” It [the First Amendment] does not give you the right to force your purely theological concerns upon people who don’t share them, nor does it protect you from criticism for attempting to do so. ”

    That ‘does’ sum it up, especially ‘your purely theological concerns’.

  • Jack

    A more sober and accurate assessment might be that evangelicals were like the proverbial boy who cried wolf…..but this time the wolf might well be at the door. The Tobins of the world either don’t believe it or pretend not to, while hoping the wolf makes it through the door and has a nice dinner.

  • Jack

    You’re good at what you do, Ben, that’s for sure. You’re a good writer and a competent activist, using all the right buzzwords or euphemisms in a strategic way. You can probably do it in your sleep.

    The truth, though, is that activists on each side would just love to shut the other down. It’s always whose ox is being gored. Neither has a monopoly on double standards.

  • Jack

    The problem, Gerald, is that two can play the same game. If we keep broadening the definition of “bigot,” then everybody on any side becomes one. Christians are slow learners on this, but some are coming up to speed as they lose their naivete about the realities of political combat in our time.

    As for your statement, “the evangelical worldview is invalid, along with any other worldview,” that has got to be one of the oddest comments I’ve read on these boards. In all fairness, maybe you were meaning to say something instructive but it somehow came out the wrong way.

  • Ben in oakland

    Well, thanks for the compliments– I guess.

    But no, Jack. I don’t want to shut the other side down. I am a great believer in free speech, and believe that the answer to bad speech is more speech. I want the radical right to talk and talk and talk, because every time they do, a decent, kind, thoughtful, and moral person sees their garbage for what it is. And a little gay angel gets his/her wings.

    I don’t use the right buzzwords and euphemisms. I try to avoid them, preferring plain talk. I don’t lie to make my point. I don’t distort. If I cite a fact, it is because I have researched it. If I am wrong, I admit it.

    That is the difference between me and a lot of people I can name.

    My job is to point out the obvious.
    I do want to tell the truth

  • David Lloyd-Jones

    Jack,

    “Wolf”? “Door”?

    Male religious eccentrics don’t die from coat-hanger abortions on kitchen tables.

    -dlj.

  • Larry

    Being annoyed at being called a bigot is hardly an argument that such labels are unjustified or false.

    When you want to give your prejudice color of law, when you are looking for a way to discriminate against others, your a bigot. Its as clear a definition as one needs.

  • David Scott

    H. L. Mencken once said, “The objection to Puritans is not that they try to make us think as they do, but that they try to make us do as they think.” I think this sums up the image problem evangelicals have. If they would focus their evangelism “inward” and practice their faith themselves, their image would improve and so would the world. Instead, they insist on converting others. There’s the rub.

  • Debbo

    Ben nailed it:

    “The first amendment gives you the right to say just about anything you want. It does not protect you from the repercussions of saying the stupid and hateful lies that you say.”

  • Jack

    Ben, it is a compliment, although the activist part sometimes makes me weary regarding both sides. I understand that there is a certain way of communicating that is common to activists. I’m not thrilled by it, and by its nature, it’s one-sided…..

    But in your defense, and in defense of activists on the opposite side, you guys are operating in an adversarial system not unlike our justice system, where each side’s job is to present its own side to the virtual exclusion of the other. You didn’t make the system, but in order to get your message across, you have to operate within it.

    And given those facts, you do a pretty good job.

    As for me, I’m torn on your issues. I agree or sympathize all the way to the doorstep of gay marriage, where I disagree. But we totally part company on the religious freedom issue which follows on the heels of gay marriage.