Thursday, May 31, 2018

In the News: Wendy Vitter Refuses to Affirm Support for Brown v. Board in Federal Judgeship Hearing; Americans Display Appalling Ignorance of History of Evangelicals Vis-a-Vis Slavery

Two stories in today's news I'd like to share with you, both showing the effects of religious thinking and influence on the political and cultural life of the U.S. The first has to do with federal judge nominee Wendy Vitter of Louisiana, the second with recent findings about how little of the real history of American evangelicals and their relationship to slavery even well-educated and liberal Americans actually know.

It was a startling omission even according to the peculiar moral norms of the Trump era. When Wendy Vitter, one of the US president's judicial nominees, was asked whether she supported the supreme court's 1954 Brown v Board of Education decision to end racial segregation in schools – a near sacred pillar of progress for civil rights in the 20th century – she did not say yes. 
"I don’t mean to be coy," Vitter, who is up for a seat on the US district court for the eastern district of Louisiana, told her Senate confirmation hearing. "But I think I get into a difficult area when I start commenting on supreme court decisions which are correctly decided and which I may disagree with."
If approved, Vitter, currently general counsel of the Roman Catholic archdiocese of New Orleans and an opponent of abortion rights, would join a wave of lifetime appointments that threatens to fundamentally tilt the balance of America’s courts – and embolden conservative activists to bring cases that once seemed lost causes.

Asked if she supports Brown v. Board of Education, a premier Supreme Court civil rights decision of the 20th century, Wendy Vitter does not say yes.

Wendy Vitter, who represents the Catholic archdiocese of New Orleans as its general counsel, does not say yes when asked if she supports Brown v. Board of Education. Wendy Vitter, who was chosen by the current archbishop of New Orleans (a man whom I know personally, and whose dubious history regarding racial matters I know personally) to represent the archdiocese as its general counsel despite the prostitution scandal involving her husband, former GOP senator from Louisiana, David Vitter . . . .

Wendy Vitter, who is a leading "pro-life" crusader and for that reason was made general counsel of the largest Catholic archdiocese in the South — one with a very mixed history when it comes to racial relations and racial attitudes — will not unequivocally affirm that she would uphold Brown v. Board of Education if she is appointed a federal judge.

For the life of me, I cannot get the many people who still want to maintain that the religious-right alliance between the U.S. Catholic bishops and right-wing white evangelicals began in opposition to abortion — it didn't — and not in opposition to the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s and the laws and judicial rulings that flowed from that movement. The evidence that this opposition is the real genesis of the religious-right coalition is simply overwhelming.

And there's this: 

Last week, Justice Not Jails surveyed its subscribers to gauge their familiarity with the history of white supremacy in the US. While it's an informal survey, it's interesting to consider the results in light of the fact that respondents are largely well-educated and left-leaning. 
Questions range from the reasons behind Trump's rise, to the 14th Amendment, to Affirmative Action. But what caught my eye was the fact that well over 80% of respondents believe that American evangelicals were by and large against slavery, and that they formed "the backbone of the Abolitionist movement." 
The context is important here… understanding the history in the context of white supremacy. If American evangelicals can no longer point to the "glory days" when they were on the right side of history with regard to race, then it becomes much more difficult to avoid a reckoning. 
14. Today's white evangelical Christians clearly identify with Trump and with white nationalism, but in the 19th century white evangelicals advocated greater social and economic justice, even forming the backbone of the Abolitionist movement. 

False. This is yet another tale that liberal white Christians like to tell themselves, but in reality a majority of evangelical Christian churches in the U.S. (and not just in the South) defended the "Peculiar Institution" of slavery, ostensibly on biblical grounds. There were certainly some notable evangelical Christians involved in Abolitionism, but they were a minority within the broader group. 
Room for concern here. Again, the self-congratulatory history taught in our schools, and in our churches, bears a lot of responsibility for this popular misconception.

I'd add to the list of those responsible for the widespread ignorance of many Americans, including even well-educated liberal ones, about the real history of evangelicals vis-a-vis slavery: the media. The media are every bit as responsible for keeping Americans uninformed of these matters, and for kowtowing to those who want to expunge and prettify this history. Religion reporting in the American media is generally glib at best, abysmally ignorant at worst. And that's especially the case when it touches on the history of religion in the U.S.

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