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From History News Network

How the Christian Right Borrowed the Rhetoric of the Civil Rights Movement

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The great achievement of the civil rights movement was that it forced many reluctant whites to realize that African-Americans were oppressed and changes had to be made. This success spawned a wave of imitators from every point on the American political spectrum. Therefore it should not be surprising that, starting in the late 1980s, the Christian Right became the first conservative group to claim oppressed minority status. The Christian Right reached the height of its power when it declared itself a descendant of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement. While it seems astonishing that white middle class Christians could claim to be oppressed, evangelical theology is filled with such rhetoric (the Left Behind books are a good example). Scholars who study these two groups as only political organizations miss their religious similarities.


Pat Robertson was the most visible leader of this new “Christians as a minority” argument. After his campaign for president ended in 1988, he increasingly used the rhetoric of oppression to gain sympathy for his cause. Robertson compared Christians in America to Jewish Holocaust victims during a discussion of the film The Last Temptation of Christ. He claimed, “once you assault what people believe, like Hitler did the Jews in Germany, the next thing you do is go after them. . . . that’s the first opening shot, if you will, in the war to destroy the Christian population in America and the world.”

While Ralph Reed, now a campaign strategist for President George W. Bush, ran the Christian Coalition he explicitly compared the Christian Right to the civil rights movement. Reed’s 1994 book Politically Incorrect contained chapter titles like "To The Back of the Bus" and "The New Amos and Andy." He claimed that Christians were constantly “under attack whenever they enter the public arena.” While he did not believe, as Robertson did, that Christians were being systematically persecuted, Reed claimed that conservative Christians had been “viewed as less than full citizens.”

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