An Alternative Politics: Texas Baptist Leaders and the Rise of the Christian Right, 1960-1985
Ellis, Blake A.
Boles, John B.
Doctor of Philosophy
This dissertation examines one of the most counter-intuitive southern responses to the rise of the Christian Right. Texas Baptists made up the largest state association of Southern Baptists in the country. They were theologically conservative, uniformly uncomfortable with abortion, and strident in their condemnation of homosexuality. Yet they not only rejected an alliance with the Christian Right and the Republican Party, but they did so emphatically. They ultimately offered a more robust critique of the Christian Right than even many of their secular counterparts. While their activities might seem surprising to contemporary readers, they were part of a long and proud Baptist tradition of supporting the separation of church and state. On issues like organized school prayer, government regulation of abortion, and private school vouchers, they were disturbed by the blurring of lines between church and state that characterized the Christian Right as it emerged in the 1970s and 1980s. Texas Baptists were also uncomfortable with the backlash against integration and sought to promote racial justice in any way they could. While many southerners adopted a politics of cultural resentment, Texas Baptists often worked for racial justice and promoted interracial cooperation. They also fought the move towards economic conservatism in the South. From their campaigns to raise the welfare cap in Texas to their promotion of Lyndon Johnson's Community Action Programs, Texas Baptists defended government activism to alleviate poverty. They embodied a very different economic ideology than that of the ultraconservative southerners who have dominated the scholarship of southern politics after 1960. On all of these issues, the experience of Texas Baptists challenges prevailing ideas about southern political change. Their story is one that undermines the notion of a unified evangelical reaction to the racial, economic, and political changes that swept the South (and the nation) after 1960. It should give pause to those who have assumed that the alliance between Southern Baptists and the Christian Right was inevitable or unavoidable and force us to reconsider the complexity of southern evangelicalism.