Randall Balmer is Professor of American Religious History at Barnard College, Columbia University. He has written several books which explore the development of political activism by people of faith, specifically conservative evangelicals.
His most recent foray into this effort is “The Making of Evangelicalism: From Revivalism to Politics and Beyond” (2010: Baylor University Press) in which he asserts that what has come to be known as the “Religious Right” did not have its beginnings as a response to the Supreme Court decision which legalized abortion on demand in 1973 (Roe v. Wade). Rather Dr. Balmer puts forward a radically different motivation for the formation of conservative evangelical political engagement in the mid to late 1970s: the Green v. Connally decision by the District Court of the District of Columbia on June 30, 1971 which threatened the tax exempt status of Bob Jones University because of its racially discriminatory policy denying admission to students of color.
Balmer’s conclusion that the Roe v. Wade decision was not a precipitating factor in the formation of conservative evangelical political engagement serves as a classic example of historic revisionism. Of the response of evangelicals in 1973 to the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision which legalized abortion on demand Balmer writes: “While a few evangelical voices, including Christianity Today magazine, mildly questioned the ruling, the overwhelming response on the part of evangelicals was silence, even approval.”
Indeed, Balmer’s thesis is that the abortion issue was only “cobbled into the agenda of the Religious Right” as a political maneuver by Paul Weyrich, one of the founders of the so-called Religious Right,” who knew (according to Balmer’s characterization) that the sterile subject of tax exemption would not rally evangelicals to political action, engendering the kind of emotional response that “protecting those poor, defenseless babies” would create. Randall seems to be asserting that the abortion issue was only a front for the real cause of standing against the IRS for threatening the tax exempt status of evangelical schools. In Balmer’s history money, not morals, was the precipitating cause of the Religious Right.
To support his revisionism, Balmer quotes Dr. Edward Dobson who was “formerly Falwell’s assistant at Moral Majority”: