COMMENTARY: Religious right holds double standard on sex and race

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c. 1999 Religion News Service

(Robert M. Parham directs the Nashville-based Baptist Center for Ethics.)

UNDATED _ Adultery is wrong; racism is okay.

Or so the righteous right signals with its sustained attacks on President Clinton for his infidelity and its thunderous silence about the affiliation of two highly visible Republicans with a racist organization.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., and Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., have been waltzing with the Council of Conservative Citizens, a name and agenda strikingly similar to the segregationist organization known as the white Citizens Council from the civil rights era, according to news reports.

Barr told the Washington Post he had no knowledge about the CCC’s racist agenda when he addressed the group at a 1998 meeting. However, Gordon Lee Baum, CCC’s national chief executive, disputed Barr’s claim, saying”He knew what we were all about before he spoke to us.” Barr justified his association by saying Lott had endorsed the organization.

At first Lott, too, claimed”no firsthand knowledge”of the group. Yet a recent Washington Post editorial noted a smiling Lott was pictured in a 1997 CCC newsletter meeting with CCC officials in Lott’s Washington office.

Speaking to a Council meeting in Greenwood, Miss., five years earlier, Lott said,”The people in this room stand for the right principles and the right philosophy. Let’s take it in the right direction and our children will be the beneficiaries.” The CCC’s Web site contains ample evidence about its religo-political agenda. One Web page promotes a booklet”that reveals the ugly truth about Martin Luther King.”Another page describes Latino voters who would rather vote for”a dead yellow Chihuahua over any non-Latino.” One of the CCC’s most far-fetched Web pages claims that”Northern liberals have been waging a religious war against the Southern whites all this time: secular humanism is intent upon stamping out Christianity.”The article asserts that secular humanism became a driving force in the 1830s”when a number of New England’s most-prestigious-but-disaffected Congregationalist ministers repudiated Calvinism.”Their heirs, contemporary secular humanists, began waging”a full-scale ideological war against Southern Christians”in the 1960s.

By associating with this group, Barr and Lott showed either their true colors or terribly bad judgment.

Equally troubling is the double standard of the religious right that condemns one sinful act and ignores another. Ironically, the religious right advances the moral relativism it so verbosely abhors when it refuses to identify racism as morally wrong as sexual infidelity.

What explains this double standard?

The easiest answer is the political explanation. The religious right hates Democrats, having its roots in the founding of the Moral Majority’s campaign against President Jimmy Carter. For almost 20 years, the religious right has courted the Republican Party, sought its takeover and even proposed marriage.

The religious right’s moral agenda is so dependent on Republican political power it cannot risk a spate with such powerful elected officials.

The therapeutic explanation holds that leaders of the religious right condemn what personally threatens them. They are so troubled by their own dark, sexual yearnings that the only way to keep these forces at bay is to condemn them in others. After all, preachers often preach most fervently against their own shadow side.

Having never or seldom experienced the stings of racism, these leaders do not fear racism. Therefore, they are not inclined to condemn it.

The sociological explanation says religious right leaders know they can mobilize their base on sexual issues. Their agenda is primarily abortion, adultery, homosexuality and pornography. They raise money, sell books and turn out votes with sex, not race. These leaders know they cannot activate their supporters with charges of racism.

Aside from a few minority members, the religious right has had little, if any, real traction outside white America. Religious right leaders will not risk alienating their constituency with critical press releases about race.

The moral explanation contends the religious right sees sexual issues in absolute terms, right and wrong, black and white. Such moral clarity does not exist on race.

Undoubtedly, some religious right leaders see racism as morally wrong in the abstract. But their certitude dissipates in the street of real life. Civil rights, racial justice and affirmative action do not have the moral underpinning within the mostly white, religious right movement that these issues do within minority communities. The lack of moral certainty means the lack of a compelling reason to criticize Barr and Lott.

Despite the explanation or combination of reasons, the ethical double standard of the religious right advances moral relativism and discloses how ill-fitting the modifier religious is, when applied to these right-wingers.


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