Moral Combat | Review & Notes

R. Marie Griffith. Moral Combat: How Sex Divided American Christians & Fractured American Politics. Basic Books, 2017. (395 pages)


I would consider categorizing this book as a “journalistic lamentation.” Griffith’s research and reporting is quite incredible. I can only imagine what she left out. So, if we’re honest, we must understand that there may be greater context to some of what she reports below. However, there are general themes that continually arise in her work that are fully consonant with our observations today, substantiating our history, and her reporting.

In short, her subtitle is the common thread, that sex, and all aspects of its public and private expression, divided American Christians and fractured American politics. Of course, sex isn’t just about an act, but is also about gender hierarchy, control, power, race, misogyny, misanthropes, and missing the point. It begs the question again, what is it about eroticism, libido, and gender that garners so much fear, wonder, mystery, and consternation in our species?

Most important, how could a religious tradition, which celebrates our world as “very good,” rethink our relationship with sex, and promote a redemptive and meaningful view our humanity in and through our sexual selves?

Thank you, Dr. Griffith, for an amazing compilation of history and commentary on the journey of American Christianity’s tumultuous saga with sex.



To fully comprehend how we got this divisive and seemingly intractable culture war over sexuality, we have to come to terms with a deeply historical religious preoccupation with sex and understand how it has shaped subsequent American political debates over women’s rights, gender roles, and sexual mores. (ix)

Indeed, by the time the Obergefell decision came down, the rupture between Christian antagonists in the sex wars felt irremediable: one could plausibly argue that American Christianity had flat out split into two virtually nonoverlapping religions. (ix)

Moral Combat tells a story of the steady breakdown, since the early twentieth century, of a onetime Christian consensus about sexual morality and gender roles of the battles over sex among self-professed Christians–and between some groups of Christian and non-Christians–that resulted. (ix)

…a driving force has been fear. (xi)

In the warfare over sex, the fear is typically one of three kinds: fear of increasing women’s freedom, especially freedom over their own bodies as well as the ways that women’s sexuality might call into question their dependence on men; white Protestant fear of encroaching religious or ethnic “others,” a fear that long manifested against Catholicism and Catholic power and would later manifest against African Americans, “Muslims” writ large, and more; and a widespread and easily stoked fear that America is a once great nation now pitched into grave decline, largely because of the evil activities (very often, evil sexual activities) of some of its own citizens. (xi)

In an important way, then, debates around sex can be characterized broadly as a conflict between change and tradition, at least in a very specific sense: those who oppose changes in the norms governing social expectations and legal frameworks for regulating sex and gender versus those who are comfortable with at least some of those changes or who grow comfortable in time. (xi)

More and more over the course of the twentieth century, attitudes toward sex signaled attitudes toward modernity itself: openness to changing sexual norms bespoke openness to other modern cultural and social changes, whereas resistance to such norms accompanied resistance to–and fear of the effects of–many other forces of modern change. One’s stance on sex, then, has increasingly over time become shorthand for an attitude toward contemporary challenges to tradition. (xii)

…the rival attitudes of the traditionalists and the progressives have been, in crucial and persistent ways, mutually constitutive of one another; and each side has galvanized supporters with narratives of nightmare scenarios sure to occur in the absence of immediate action. (xiii)

Efforts to buttress the old order took place on many fronts, but none were more vigorous or enduring that the endeavors that focused explicitly on reproduction, motherhood, and sex. The arguments fueling these efforts echoed the suffrage crusade, with one side demanding women’s rights and their opponents casting such demands as the product of selfish ambition, debauchery, and anti-family values. The more that traditionalists fought against women’s rights on these terms, the more liberal supporters worked to expand their base of support and fortify those rights, deepening the fault line that divided two increasingly antagonistic frameworks for construing women’s roles and gender more broadly. (xviii

When issues like abortion and gay rights moved to the center o the nation’s politics, conservatives and progressives alike increasingly viewed the stakes in the terms of national destiny… (xviii)

…indeed, even when the forecasts seemed to fail, the condemnations and warnings never ceased but rather remained robust in every historical moment, a ceaseless sexual Cold War overhanging the mood of the nation. (xx)

The persistence of stalwart activists on all sides confirms the high stakes for those wanting to conserve a particular model of the status quo that maintains an older notion of traditional order, gender hierarchy, and obedience to strict sexual limits–as high as they have been for the revolutionaries seeking something new. Those fearing change have instilled that dread in others through warnings of moral ruin and the wholesale failure of American civilization if sexual rules are relaxed, while those welcoming it have offered visions of a healthier society freed from archaic constraints. That’s a charged conflict, indeed–closer in many minds, perhaps, to a mortal combat. This book shows how sex has been both a source of profound fear and an effective tool for fueling the most basic political clashes and power struggles of recent American history. Ultimately it reveals how the old consensus shattered and why. (xx)

1 The Battle over Birth Control in the Roaring Twenties

Margaret Sanger (born Margaret Higgins); Anthony Comstock (1844-1915).

…the Comstock Law passed by Congress on March 3, 1873. Officially called the Act for the Suppression of Trade in, and Circulation of, Obscene Literature and Articles of Immoral Use,… including,

any article whatever, for the prevention of conception, or for causing abortion.

Robert Ingersoll.

[Sanger] later described how the cruel conditions facing women and girls horrified her. Women were forever pregnant or nursing, children were always hungry, babies died from neglect and hunger (sometimes to the relief of their haggard parents), and the cramped quarters facilitated men raping their own daughters.

The menace of another pregnancy hung like a sword over the head of every poor woman I came in contact with.

Emma Goldman; John A. Ryan; M. P. Dowling.

October 1916, [Sanger] opened in Brooklyn the first American clinic explicitly focused on birth control (Planned Parenthood dates its origins back to this very facility). (8)

1921 …the First American Birth Control (8) Conference, held that November in New York. Convening such a conference was an audacious act, teetering toward the gray areas of the laws still forbidding obscenity. The conference would become the starting point for the American Birth Control League–the predecessor organization of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America–and it would enduringly transform the way Americans thought and talked about contraception. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the furor unleashed by the events of the conference, which pitted Protestants against Catholics while also dividing Protestants into opposing camps, marked the start of the culture wars over sex that would divide Americans for decades to come. (9)

Dr. Karl Reiland; J. Pierpont Morgan; Bertha Rembaugh; Dorothy Whitney (Mrs. Willard) Straight; Mabel Whitney (the second Mrs. Dexter) Blagden; Mrs. Simeon Ford; Dr. Alice Hamilton; Mary Halton; Kendall Banning; Lowell Brentano; Rabbi Rudolph I. Coffee; Herbert Croly; Theodore Dreiser; E.M. East; Irving Fisher; John Hays Hammond R.; Dr. S. Adolphus Knopf; Arthur E. Whatham; Booker T. Washington.

Controlling reproduction could ensure happy marriages for all, and for many, it was also a way to reshape the population. Birth control supporters frequently articulated a hope that the movement would aid in reducing the birth rates of “foreign,” “defective,” and “unfit” groups so that they would not come to out-number healthy Anglo-Saxons. … Both ideals–women’s freedom and racial improvement–seemed to many American-born whites in this period to share a common basis in science, and countless numbers believed that eugenics held the key to a better future for the nation. (12)

Thomas Donahue; John Ryan; Rabbi Stephen S. Wise; Harold Cox; Canon William Sheafe Chase.

Sanger’s final comments aimed specifically at the notion she took to be central to the Catholic position: that the sole purpose of sex was for the procreation of children. Calling that argument “perfectly absurd” because it reduced humans to the level of animals, she pled for sex as the “sacred” and “beautiful” expression of love between two people, even when they did not intend to have children. “I contend that they can go into that relationship with the same beauty and the same holiness with which they go into music or to prayer.” Calling sexual power that which “gives us spiritual illumination,” Sanger echoed sex mystics from Alice Stockham and Ida Craddock to Edward Carpenter and D.H. Lawrence, who sought to raise sex from the gutter in which they felt Comstock and Catholics had thrown it. (19)

An editorial in the Outlook, a widely read weekly news journal, made the point clearly, saying that while editors were “not in sympathy with Mrs. Sanger’s methods” and “very doubtful about the good taste and wisdom of discussing the subject of birth control…in a public hall before a popular audience,” the “violent” and “brutal” behavior of the police warranted protest as “a dangerous and, we think illegal violation…of the fundamental right of free speech guaranteed by the United States Constitution.” The event tapped into old Protestant trepidations about tyrannical church control of civic issues–an issue that, in the press coverage, virtually trumped discussion of the sexual issues at hand. Freedom itself, more than chastity, appeared to be the moral value most clearly threatened in this dispute. (20)

Herbert Croly.

The First American Birth Control Conference and the Town Hall raid, as it came to be known, launched a decade of tumultuous religious conflict over contraception. Popular support for brith control grew, and many religious leaders sought to clarify, revise, or rethink their positions on contraception. Sanger’s own role was never uncontroversial, and many distanced themselves from her more radical pronouncements. But there is little doubt that both her outspokenness and the very fact of having her speech stifled prompted many to reconsider their attitudes no less than it spurred Catholic critics on the other side. (21)

Sanger persistently framed the debate as one about bedrock American values, particularly free speech and American democratic principles of equality. (21)

The most important effect of the Town Hall episode, with Sanger’s arrest front and center, was that it directly situated sex at the center of a widely publicized and very public debate. Sex itself was a subtext in a much vaster quarrel about the meaning of American ideals. Questions of free speech and democratic deliberation, religious authority and the power of the state, the limits of liberty and women’s emancipation: all were now, more explicitly than ever before, linked to publicly disputed norms of sexuality and reproduction. Cherished sexual values were subjected to frank and open examination, if not entirely denuded of euphemism. Sanger’s arrest helped her to make not just a moral argument for contraception but also a political argument for contraception–or at least for the right to talk about it. With this argument, she recast contraception advocacy from something radical into an all-American pursuit, and opposition to birth control as fundamentally anti-American. (22)

“Program of Social Reconstruction” by John Ryan.

May Divine Providence inspire America to fix its canon against self-slaughter at the very source of human life, lest the sacred and highest end of the family–mother and child–vanish from our homes, and the stranger, alien to the American ideal, who, however, obeyed God’s command to increase and multiply, enter to possess the land. – “Hayes Denounces Birth Control Aim,” New York Times, November 21, 1921, 1.

J. Elliot Ross; Pope Pius XI

…later observers would note that it was largely due to Sanger’s public notoriety and activism that the Catholic Church developed its stance into an inflexible position that ultimately “eviscerated nuance,” as one put it: a refusal to differentiate between beliefs about natural law, human life, God’s authority over sex, and the value of suffering compressed these into “a tightly woven rhetorical package,” such that Catholics “lumped contraception, forced sterilization, euthanasia, and abortion into the same abhorrent category.” By this logic, access to contraceptives was basically equivalent to these other evils, and allowing it led to what editors at the Catholic periodical Commanweal warned would be “the ultimate destruction of human liberty at the hands of an absolute pagan state.” This equivalency position, with its dire political overtones, was a position that many outside the church increasingly found inexplicable, rigid, and antiquated. That seemingly inflexible Catholic standpoint combined with the fame that rapidly accrued to Sanger in the wake of the First American Birth Control Conference essentially transformed the feminist leader into one of the most famous and effective activists in the nation’s history. (27)

Anne Kennedy; Patrick J. Ward.

If we cannot trust woman with the knowledge of her own body, then I claim that two thousand years of Christian teaching has proved to be a failure – Margaret Sanger

William R. Inge, “Catholic Church and Anglo-Saxon Mind”;

March 1925, Sixth International neo-Malthusian and Birth Control Conference at the Hotel McAlpin in New York; Rabbi Stephen Wise; Dr. Charles Francis Potter;Harry Emerson Fosdick; John Haynes Holmes; Frederick Gillett; William N. Jones; Dr. Adam Clayton Powell; Nannie Helen Burroughs; Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois; Dr. Louis T. Wright; Shelton Hale; Floarda Howard; Willard Monroe; Thelma Berlack Boozer; Cornelius Scott; Earl Conrad.

Together we can and should unite our strength for the wise preservation, not of races in general, but of the one race we all constitute–the human race. – Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.

Such acid evaluations made clear that birth control–more precisely, the pagan, mystical, romantic, and ostensibly selfish assumptions that justified its use–led inexorably to “feminine revolt,” and to the destruction of family and society. In opening the door to contraception, claimed critics, the bishops amended two centuries of traditional teachings on human nature, gender, virginity, and the role of the church in society as well as individual salvation, presenting a “Reduced Christianity.” (38)

…the Lambeth document marked a wholesale revolution in long-established Christian thinking about crucial issues of body and soul, gender and power, and the hierarchical relation between male and female. (38)

Pope Pius XI…papal encyclical Casti Connubii (Of Chaste Wedlock), released on December 31

Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America (FCC)

Committee on Marriage and the Home [formed by the FCC]

Reverend Howard C. Robbins, April 1931 …report showed a majority of committee members accepting birth control within marriage as “valid and moral” and as insisting that “this undoubtedly represents the prevailing Protestant point of view”… (40)

Mrs. Orrin R. Judd; Emma Bailey Spear.

…there was overall agreement that sex in marriage was good and holy quite apart from its procreative potential. (41)

Russell J. Clinchy; Francis J. Hurney.

For those, like Catholics, who believed that this new control over reproduction was “of the devil” and had only carnal implications, “it will be the opening of the gates of death.” But for those who believed this new power was “of God,” it would bring a new era of life and love. (42)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote sourly in his notes about the American Protestant turn toward the ethical, “since the dogmatic is no longer understood by Protestants,” the birth control report being one more example of the American indifference to true theology. (42)

Worth M. Tippy; L. Foster Wood; George Blumenthal.

A bibliography on Young People’s Relationships, Marriage and Family Life (1932)

Charles Gallaudent Trumbull; Griswold v. Connecticut (1965)

At stake, ultimately, in the religious war over birth control were competing moral visions about human liberty, autonomy, and freedom: rival convictions about the very definition of humanity and the proper place of choice, duty, and pleasure in human life. (46)

The sharpest differences were matters of gender and power… (46)

The conflict over birth control was, in this sense, part of a much larger cultural debate in this period about female autonomy, one intensified by the successful suffrage campaign. As voters, women had now secured rights unknown to their foremothers; the larger impact on the nation of women’s citizenship was an unknown and, to many, truly terrifying prospect.

| But the birth control debate also revealed similar divisions regarding the authority of science, the limits of free speech, and the shape of modernity itself. Indeed, the debate about gender in the 1920s was deeply interwoven with an equally significant dispute about the role of religion amid modernity and about the status of scientific knowledge in relation to religion. While some political progressives saw religion as an essentially conservative if not downright oppressive force–an institution that sought unrestricted privilege and self-propagation in service to its rich, powerful, mostly male leaders–others viewed religion as a potentially progressive and vital institution, caring for the poor in a heartless world by agitating for a living wage over and against the capitalistic exploitations of the period. Just as progressives were leery toward anything that looked like a fundamentalist or Catholic attempt to suppress science or subjugate women, conservatives were suspicious about the free exchange of sexual knowledge and anxious to advance their version of traditional morality for the sake of church and nation. These forces–gender, science, knowledge, free speech, and modernity–collided in the furor over birth control in the 1920s, which changed forever the American conversation about religion and sex. (47)

2 Censorship of Literature and Popular Entertainments

…just as liberal Protestants had shifted to a more open position on birth control during the 1920s, the 1930s witnessed their gradual but steady retreat from censorship-minded public scrutiny of entertainment. This period witnessed the visible emergence of religiously rooted defenses of free expression, however cautious… (49)

The 1930s witnessed a new openness regarding sex in literature, accompanied by the proliferation of forms of popular entertainment often (49) seen as provocative and trafficking in obscenity. (50)

Lady Chatterley’s Lover, D.H. Lawrence (David Herbert Lawrence (1885-1930); John Tait Slaymaker of the New England Watch and Ward Society; Judge Arthur P. Stone; Robert T. Bushnell; William Henry Cardinal O’Connell.

While Popular audiences would later think of Lawrence as little more than an author of titillating smut, he was celebrated by many nonconformists and literature critics in his own day, even as censors and traditionalist Christians viewed him with disgust. … The religious debates regarding that novel and Lawrence more generally reveal the deeper conflicts in Anglo-American religious thinking about sex that would roil obscenity debates for years to come. (53)

Legal restrictions on obscene literature long embodied a Christian consensus regarding sexuality and sexual morality, reflecting the belief that to read about sexual sin was profoundly dangerous. (56)

Index Librorum Prohibitorum, [a list of publications the Catholic Church deemed objectionable for sexual or heretical content.]; The Obscene Publications Act of 1857; Radclyffe Hall’s 1928 lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness; William Bradford; John Cleland’s 1749 erotic novel, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (Fanny Hill); Walt Whitman; Herman Melville.

The religious underpinnings of literary censorship were personified in Comstock, for years the king of the nation’s Christian censors. He argued that led writing would breed lust, which “defiles the body, debauches the imagination, corrupts the mind, deadens the will, destroys the memory, sears the conscience, hardens the heart, and damns (57) the soul.”

James Branch Cabell’s Jurgen; John S. Sumner, the head of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice; The Little Review, a well-known American avant-garde periodical; Ulysses by James Joyce; Theodore Dreiser, Sister Carrie (1900), The Genius (1915), and An American Tragedy (1925).

Any writer, artist, painter or sculptor, or thinker of any breadth of mind who wants to present reality is now being ignored or misrepresented by a kept Press. – Dreiser

Awash in societal changes brought about by immigration, urbanization, modernization, and feminism, as well as the economic uncertainties wrought by the stock market crash of 1929, Americans might well seek stability in traditional social norms and (58) reassurance that younger generations would uphold them. The minds of youth, still in formation, needed protection from corrupt literature intended to arouse sensation and encourage debauchery, lest they be overtaken by lust and cease to be functioning citizens contributing to a well-ordered society. The flesh could overtake the spirit, a warning that ran deep in the Christian tradition starting with the apostle Paul’s own inner warfare; stringent disciplinary regimens had long been advocated as barriers to temptation. Perhaps this was a low view of human nature, rendering persons helplessly impressionable and even imprisonable by the power of print, but literature could also uplift, and the wholesome variety might well abet virtue. Even as many early-twentieth-century writers and readers were chafing against longstanding rules of propriety in literature, then, others held to them as pillars of moral constancy and social control. Little wonder, in such a milieu, that the literary censorship of sex became a battleground. (59)

Morris Ernst; Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer; John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. Will Hays, president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA); Michael Quigley; Henry James Forman’s Our Movie Made Children.

While agreeing that citizens should be “freed from capricious and tyrannical state control,” it was obvious to the writers that there was a need for “some community control over the commercial activities of the individual,” lest the United States become a nation of “smut.” The occasional overreach by censoring authorities was simply “the price that the community must occasionally pay” for decency. (63)

The Legion of Decency; Joseph Breen; Vatican’s Index Librorum Prohibitorum; National Organization for Decent Literature (NODL), headed by John F. Noll.

As these organizations found success in their efforts to suppress sexual content not only for believing Catholics but for the whole of American audiences, resistance arose. (66)

Drew Pearson; Frank Walker; Charles Clayton Morrison; Edmund Wilson.

Just as liberal Protestants had loosened their stand on birth control during the previous decade, in the 1930s they shifted away from supporting censorship of mass entertainment. Their aversion to the methods of both the Legion of Decency on film and the NODL on literature evinced a shift in liberal Protestant sensibilities whereby, as one historian puts it, “moral criticism of public entertainment went from being a duty of the middle-class to evidence of its outmoded prudishness.” (67)

R. L. Duffus; Cardinal O’Connell; A. Z. Conrad.

It was not simply that he [D. H. Lawrence] advocated for a wholly different morality than that of Christian chastity, traditional marriage, and the (68) family; the larger threat lay in the fact that he presented his own vision of love and sex as a genuinely religious one, a compelling and authentic alternative to traditional Christianity. (69)

Edward Carpenter.

I am a passionately religious man and my novels must be written from the depth of my religious experience. – D. H. Lawrence, 1914

Lawrence rejected what he believed to be the dry, cracked disembodiment of the Protestantism of his time in favor of a rich sacramentalism that had a mystical reverence for physicality and sexual union at its center. (70)

Lawrence’s eclectic religious interests took in far more than Christianity, but there was no doubt that he perceived sexuality in profoundly sacred terms. (74)

For traditional audiences, the scandal of the book was not merely sex or an unfaithful tryst. The greater outrage was the wholesale repudiation of traditional marriage, gendered order, and elite male power. The book described more than secret infidelity, the kind that might just tear apart a marriage; it bespoke the annihilation of cherished social norms, if not Christian civilization itself. (75)

Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888-1965); After Strange Gods: A primer of Modern Heresy; Ruth Frisbie Moore; Harold Gardiner; Thomas Merton.

The notion that women did not merely tolerate sex for the higher good of childbearing but that, once awakened, they realized they needed sex–such an idea certainly did not trouble all Christians, but in the ordered world of the conservatives it was hazardous. … The threat to Christianity posed by writers such as Lawrence appeared twofold: the problem of a seemingly decadent, pagan religion was but the flip side of the hazard posed by a positive view of sexuality and the honoring of sexual pleasure for women. (79)

George Every; Nathan Scott.

Lawrence, Scott pleaded, understood and deeply felt the “anguish” of humanity’s “ontological solitude” and utilized sex to illumine both humans’ alienation from one another and divine union or completion. (80)

Is David Herbert Lawrence also among the prophets? Is this adopted son of Sigmund Freud also among the saints? – Horton Davies

For traditional Christians, Lawrence had gone from being a despised anti-Christian pagan to a prophet and a saint. (81)

THE DUNSTER HOUSE BOOKSHOP CASE and successive shifts in Protestant and Catholic modes of censorship and control of literature and film are important for revealing new fault lines in American religious attitudes toward sex and the sexual content of popular entertainments. (81)

Ultimately, the concerns articulated about sexual content were deeply tied up with worries about modernity, challenges to traditional church authority, and anxiety that feminism would upend the godly male order of the created world. (81)

Justice William Brennan.

3 Segregation and Race Mixing in the Early Civil Rights Era

Only one kind of consensual adult relationship between a man and a woman not married to other people was forbidden by the Motion Picture Production Code: intimate relationships “between the white and black races.” The taboo on interracial intimacy in movies prevailed because the very idea of love and marriage across the color line was offensive to white Americans at this time. For years, there was no topic more forbidden, no issue more explosive, than interracial sex. (83)

The taboo white Americans placed on intimacy with African Americans long predated the 1940s, but it gathered particular momentum during that decade. Apprehensions over gender, purity, and the future of civilization that had roiled the debates over birth control and censorship found potent manifestation in the fear that this taboo might be eased or even eradicated. White Christians in the World War II-era South maintained their slaveholding ancestors’ belief that God created separate black and white races and that He intended them to stay that way for the sake of white purity; framed by assumptions permeating white Southern culture, their reading of the Bible made such a worldview appear starkly obvious, and they pressed this view on each other and their children. (84)

Ruth Benedict; Gene Weltfish, who coauthored a shot pamphlet they titled The Races of Mankind; Thomas Jefferson & Sally Hemings; (Purity in Print, by Paul S. Boyer);

Far from being a negligible factor or an afterthought, religion was foundational in the anti-miscegenationist worldview. (87)

A man can not commit so great an offense against his race, against his country, against his God, in any other way, as to give his daughter in marriage to a negro–a beast–or to take one of their females for his wife. …The states or people that favor this equality and amalgamation of the white and black races, God will exterminate.” (emphasis in the original) – Buckner Payne, 1867

If Christian theology could so thoroughly support slavery, racism, and opposition to interracial sex specifically, it could also validate the Southern cause in the Civil War. (88)

Anthropology for the People: A Refutation of the Theory of the Adamic Origin of All Races (1891) by “Caucasian”; Charles Carroll’s The Negro a Beast (1900) and The Tempter of Eve (1902); Henry McNeal Turner; Ray Stannard Baker’s Following the Color Line (1908); Sam Hose; Finis J. Garrett; John E. Rankin.

No fear better maintained Jim Crow segregation than that of rape across the color line. (94)

Franklin D. Roosevelt; Charles Hamilton Houston; The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), founded in 1909; Walter White; John J. Parker; Mary McLeod Bethune; the National Council of Negro Women in 1935; the Division of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration in 1936; Plessy v. Ferguson; Marian Anderson; First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt; Interior Secretary Harold Ickes; Senator Theodore Bilbo of Mississippi; the Fair Employment Practice Committee (FEPC); Congress of Racial Equality (CORE); Florida Baptist Convention’s Social Service and Temperance Committee; Walter Pater; Charlotte Perkins Gilman; John Burroughs; Walt Whitman; Friedrich Nietzsche; Olive Schreiner’s Woman and Labour; Stanley Benedict; Mary Wollstonecraft; Margaret Fuller; Schreiner.

[Franz Boas] was the foremost anthropologist of his day. He famously promoted the concept of culture, teaching that environment was a far more important influence on human behavior than biology and race. As an organic set of learned beliefs, customs, and morals, cultures were not closed or static systems, immobile over time; rather, they were fluid, dynamic, and ever-changing. Cultures varied widely across the globe, not because some ethnic groups were more intelligent or physically stronger but because local histories and circumstances varied, leading to seemingly boundless variations on human beliefs and behaviors. (100)

Patterns of Culture;

“The minor changes that occasion so much denunciation today, such as the increase of divorce, the growing secularization in our cities, the prevalence of the petting party, and many more, could be taken up quite readily into a slightly different pattern of culture,” [Ruth Benedict] noted. They would soon come to seem “traditional” and “would be given the same richness of content, the same importance and value, that the older patterns had in other generations.” rather than despise such differences across cultures, “wisdom consists in a greatly increased tolerance toward their divergencies.” (101)

Can You Name Them?Race: Science and Politics (1940); Race and Cultural Relations: America’s Answer to the Myth of a Master RaceThe Races of Mankind.

The biblical story that recounted Adam and Eve as the biological parents of the entire human race “told centuries ago the same truth that science has shown today”: that all are brothers, and their very bodies represented “the record of their brotherhood.” (105)

The further implication was clear: if races were not pure, nor even meaningful categories of differentiation, there was no inherent reason beyond societal disapproval that people could not love, marry, and reproduce across racial lines. (105)

In Henry’s Backyard; Chester Barnard; Bob Sikes; Andrew J. May; Carl T. Durham; Joseph Bryson; Senator John Little McClellan; Bilbo; Malcolm Tarver; Archibald Stimson Coody IV; The Race Question.

I believe if we will continue to propagandize the American people with the slogan of a physical separation of the races as the only solution of the race trouble that when all this ‘hell breaks loose’ we can get some real cooperation on the part of the public leaders of both North and South to a resettlement of the negro in Africa. It may be that we will have to kill half of them before the other half will be willing to seek a new country in Africa. – Archibald Stimson Coody IV

[via: W.T.F.!?]

Walter White; Lillian Smith, author of Strange Fruit; Soldier Ira Calvin’s The Lost White Race (1945) republished under the title Only Blondes Are Angels by Ira Calvin White; Take Your Choice: Separation or Mongrelization, 1947; G. A. Borgese “A Bedroom Approach to Racism”; Strom Thurmond; Essie Mae Washington-Williams.

The prolonged white segregationist paradox lived on: repulsion toward one sort of cross-racial sex–between black men and white women–and fascination when the gender/race roles were reversed. (116)

Whether caricaturish or factual, such divergent interpretations of the sexual politics of racial attitudes fueled a deepening rupture within American Christianity that simmered only just below the surface of broader party politics before breaking through a few years later. (117)

Senator Joseph McCarthy; Brown v. Board of Education, May 1954; A Christian View on Segregation by Reverend G. T. Gillespie; Jerry Falwell; The Rabbits’ Wedding, Garth Williams; John R. Rice, The Sword of the Lord; W. A. Criswell; T. C. Hardman; James F. Burke; Bob Jones, Bob Jones University; Pastor Noel Smith; Loving v. Virginia (1967).

The events surrounding The Races of Mankind in the 9140s laid the foundation for these later conflicts. White segregationists, conservative in their Christian theology, grew ever more convinced that liberals were culturally relative, sexually amoral, racially subversive, and likely sympathizers with Communism. Their liberal counterparts increasingly saw racism and conservative sexual mores bound up in the same tight package of rigid adherence to a tradition of white male power upheld by fear. Sex and love across the color line threatened the racial hierarchies dear to many Southern whites. Those hierarchies were, in the minds of those devoted to them, the will of God and the ballast of a great American nation, even as others saw them as relics of a brutal racist past. Birth control and racy entertainments had already shocked the American Christian consensus of the early twentieth century. Interracial sex too, it seemed, could destroy the world. (120)

4 The Kinsey Revolution and Challenges to Female Chastity

Both volumes [of the Kinsey reports, 1948 & 1953] were exhaustive in their coverage and boldly explicit in their descriptions of ordinary people’s sex habits, the upshot of each study  being that Americans in private were far more sexually adventurous than their decorous public norms permitted. (122)

Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948); Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953).

One of the most important legacies of the Kinsey reports was the revolution they inspired in religious thinking about sexuality. While he has often been credited, or blamed, for the so-called sexual revolution of the countercultural 1960s and the youth who based their (im)morals on “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll,” his impact was just as significant, if not greater, on religious leaders inspired to rethink Christian moral and ethical norms about sex. A virtual revolution in religious thinking about sexuality occurred in the wake of his reports, thanks in part to his dogged commitment to working with religious leaders where he could. (123)

Leonard Anderson; E. Fay Campbell.

But he was still more interested in how these older religious teachings continued to influence contemporary sexual habits even among the nonreligious. In Kinsey’s view, few recognized the enduring influence of Jewish and Christian concepts of sexuality on modern notions of right versus wrong and natural versus unnatural. To uphold such categorical distinctions was perforce to “stoutly defend the church’s system of natural law.” (126)

Chicago’s Loyola University, “News Release on the Kinsey Report”; Herbert A. Ratner; Albert Deutsch’s Sex Habits of American Men; Charles G. Wilber; Rabbi Louis I. Newman; Stephen Wise.

We can try to be moralistic, or we can try to teach people to be ethical. … In the one case we become policemen and propagandists. In the other, we are educators and shepherds. – Reverend Seward Hiltner

Bruce Bliven; Reinhold Niebuhr published response in Christianity and Crisis; The Reverend Wesley J. Buck; Ward Avery.

Initially, many religious leaders maintained a wary public stance toward Kinsey, doubtless influenced by the early caustic appraisals by (130) Catholic and a range of Protestant leaders like Niebuhr. But with time, the fissures evident in the divergent reactions o the Catholic Wilber and the Protestant Hiltner began to deepen, as mainline Protestant leaders grew more comfortable in articulating what they saw as the useful aspects of Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. (131)

Roy Burkhart; Otis R. Rice’s 1948 book Problems of Sexual Behavior; The Reverend Joseph Barth; Monsignor Maurice Sheehy.

Besides its sheer wealth of facts, Kinsey’s report bore witness to empathy’s power over judgmental bigotry: “If that isn’t, in action, the attitude of love which Christians talk so much about but so seldom practice, then I don’t know what the word means.” (133)

I consider your report on sexual behavior in the human female the most direct and devastating attack upon Christian civilization during the present century with the single exception of the Lenin Revolution in Russia in 1917, of which it is a tremendously effective corollary.

I hope the American people recognize this report for what it is, a direct frontal attack upon Christian civilization and a dirty beastly attack upon American womanhood. A disintegrating force let loose out of a Pandora’s box of evil which only after exhaustive efforts can be effectively neutralized…

As for you, Dr. Kinsey, I as one American editor consider you as one of the most loathsome wretches ever produced in human form, or else an individual utterly bewitched by the forces of evil and darkness. – John Chappel, Catholic editor of the Daily Press, Ashland, Wisconsin

[Herman G.] Wells astutely countered the group’s religious argument with one of his own, defending Kinsey’s research and “the right of the scientist to investigate every aspect of life in the belief that knowledge, rather than ignorance, will assist mankind in the slow and painful development toward a more perfect society. To deny this right and this objective would seem to deny the belief in a divine order as it pertains to man and the universe.” Wells’s contention could not have been clearer: scientific knowledge was a necessary element of moral progress, and to suppress the one was to stifle the other and undermine genuine religion. (136)

The volume’s fastidious attention to the regularity of female masturbation, petting, premarital intercourse, same-sex activity, and other practices besides marital coitus in the supine missionary position, was the chief subject of conservative religious rage toward the book and largely accounts for the sheer ferocity of the reaction to the Female volume. After all, the male volume had already proclaimed that men experienced about half their orgasms in situations that most (137) Americans reputedly still reckoned sinful, unlawful, or otherwise objectionable. But when Kinsey claimed to find that much the same was true for women, his work threatened to upend the gendered sexual roles and expectations that, for religious conservatives, comprised the very foundation of a godly civilization. In short, gender figured deeply in the explosive reactions among religious conservatives to Kinsey’s publications. (138)

…far from being a harbinger of the collapse of American civilization, petting was the product of “ancient mammalian origins”; it was not simply harmless but downright beneficial in preparing young women for sex in marriage. (138)

It is petting rather than the home, classroom or religious instruction, lectures or books, classes in biology, sociology, or philosophy, or actual coitus, that provides most females with their first real understanding of a heterosexual experience.

Citing a variety of experts who claimed that premarital sex was naturally harmful and guilt-inducing for women, Kinsey acridly retorted that religion itself was the cause of such harm, not the sex itself. (139)

The volume’s forward, written by officials in the National Research Council, the entity through which the Rockefeller Foundation funded Kinsey’s work, attributed the “exceedingly rapid and revolutionary change in sex attitudes and practices” over the past half century to three factors: “woman’s progressive sexual and economic emancipation,” the “all-pervasive influence of Freud’s views and discoveries,” and the exposure during the World Wars of millions of American youth to cultures and peoples whose sex codes and practices differ greatly from those in which they had been reared.” But of these factors–feminism, Freud, and foreigners–the first provoked the most (139) explosive response by religious critics excoriating the female report, making plain that, for them, women’s emancipation represented a singularly dire threat. (140)

Reverend William D. Wyatt; John S. Wimbish; Dr. Torrey M. Johnson.

Echoing older arguments against women’s legal and political rights, these conservative ministers stoked fear in their parishioners: if women were allowed to run wild in their sexual behavior, American civilization would crumble to dust, and Communism along with the devil himself would rise victorious–the evil, illegitimate off-spring of female promiscuity. (143)

Lawrence K. Whitfield; Richard Lentz; Bishop Block; E. J. Daniels; Otis Rice; Derrick Sherwin Bailey.

Any so-called sexual revolution that occurred in Kinsey’s wake, then, was not merely secular in substance or secularizing in its effects on American culture. There was another transformation underway, one less caught up in the “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll” ethos of the hippie culture than in the sober rethinking of moral and ethical norms about sex. The revolution in religious thinking about sexuality was no less profound than the revolution in less religious settings, and it too owed an enormous debt to Kinsey’s inspiration. (148)

The Mystery of Love and Marriage, Bailey, 1952; Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition; Wolfenden Report of 1957; Sexual Offences Act, England and WalesSexual Relation in Christian Thought; Robert M. Grant; Sex Ethics and the Kinsey Reports (1953); Sex and the Christian Life (1957); Sylvanus Milne Duvall; Foundations for Christian Family Policy, edited by Elizabeth Steel Genné; William Henry Genné; Christians and the Crisis in Sex Morality (1962); Wardell Pomeroy; Lester Kirkendall, cofounder of the Sex Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS); Evelyn Hooker; Ruth Proskauer Smith; Mary Steichen Calderone; Harvey Cox; W. Norman Pittenger: Time for Consent: A Christian’s Approach to Homosexuality (1967); Making Sexuality Human (1970); Love and Control in Sexuality (1974); Gay Lifestyles (1977).

As the Cold War continued to cast its long shadow of potential destruction over the nation, the peril of gender roles and sexual norms in turmoil struck many as deeply undermining to American morale, not to mention the moral formation of youth. (154)

5 Sex Education in the Sixties and the Surging Religious Right

Helen Gurley Brown’s Sex and the Single Girl; Betty Fridman’s The Feminine MystiqueJacobellis v. Ohio; Sex [later Sexuality] Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), founded in 1964 by Mary Steichen Calderone; Billy James Hargis.

Fear that the United States was falling into corruption and anarchy was potent in the 1960s, and nothing better personified that risk than the sex education of the nation’s children. (158)

The American Social Hygiene Association (ASHA), founded in 1914; Emily Hartshorne Mudd.

Children and child rearing approached the status of a social obsession during this period, and the stakes for mothers were especially high. (159)

Kingsley Davis.

Sex was an urgent subtext, but only rarely a topic of direct instruction. | But as the 1950s became the 1960s, moral standards seemed to be rapidly disintegrating. … Should programs aim at persuading young people never to have sex before marriage or simply address sex more forthrightly in its full biological and social context? (160)

Clara Smith; Edward Steichen; Carl Sandburg; Frank Calderone; William Vogt; Abortion in the United States, 1958Release from Sexual Tensions; Reverend William Genné; Guidelines for Sexuality Education: Kindergarten Through Twelfth Grade.

As a SIECUS publication proclaimed, “avoidance, repression, rejection, suppression, embarrassment, and shock are negative forms of sex education.” A positive attitude toward sex and sexuality was crucial to the mental, emotional, and physical health of these children as they grew into maturity. (164)

A staunch Quaker and pacifist, and a (164) person of emphatically conventional mores in her private life, Calderone never sought to stoke the fires of warfare, even cultural warfare. But she was a woman who dared to advocate publicly in favor of greater sexual candor and in-depth education for all Americans, and her successful efforts landed her squarely in the firing line of those who likened candor to immorality and deemed “education” coded speech for corruption. (165)

Manual of Contraceptive Practice; Mary Breasted.

To Playboy magazine in 1970, even as she noted that she could and would not “stop society from evolving” nor “force other people to adhere to my personal beliefs,” Calderone openly confessed “my really profound belief that sex belongs primarily in marriage.” Because “casual sex” was simply sex for pleasure, with no regard for any relationship between the partners, she averred, “I’m note looking forward happily to a widespread acceptance of casual sex.” (165)

Calderone approvingly quoted social ethicist and Episcopal priest Gibson Winter’s statement, “The recovery of sexuality is part of our salvation–an aspect of wholeness.” Traditional religion had often erred in teaching children that sex was dirty rather than “sacred and beautiful.” Calderone continued by saying that part of the work of sexual educators was to draw out “what is already there within [the child] that is good” (emphasis in original). This itself was a religious mission, she insisted: “This belief in the implicitness fo the (166) child’s goodness parallels the Quaker recognition of that of God in every man. Whether one be Christian, Jew, theist or nontheist, black or white, we cannot exist, or survive, in the absence of the profound belief that to be human is to be good. And because human beings were created sexual, then to be sexual must–or should–also be good.” (167)

Griswold V. Connecticut; Estelle Griswold; Yale School of Medicine physician Dr. C. Lee Buxton.

We are for the first time in history at a point where man can separate his sexual life from his reproductive life. … Sexual responsibility is a social responsibility … Like atomic energy, sex is a potent force we must learn to use constructively or we can destroy ourselves. – Mary Calderone

Experts estimated that nearly 50 percent of American school systems had adopted some type of sex education program by 1968. (168)

Edmund Brown; the John Birch Society; Billy James Hargis, Christian Crusade; Christian Echoes (newsletter).

The man is an engine of energy, is something of a genius as an organizer, and has mastered the art of moving crowds who want to be freed of the burden of thinking. – Thomas Uzzell

Carl T. McIntire; International Council of Christian Churches (ICCC); David Noebel; Gordon V. Drake; Communist America–Must It Be? (1960) by Hargis; The Facts About Communism and Our Churches (1962) by Hargis; The Far Left (1964) by Hargis; Communism, Hypnotism, and the Beatles (1965) by Drake; The Beatles: A Study in Drugs, Sex, and Revolution (1969) by Drake; Blackboard Power: NEA Threat to America (1968) by Drake; Is the School House the Proper Place to Teach Raw Sex? (1968) by Drake; W. E. B. Du Bois; Langston Hughes; Richard Wright; Ralph Ellison; Dick Gregory; Alain Lock; Earl Lively; James Baldwin; Lester Kirkendall; Isadore Rubin; Is the School House the Proper Place to Teach Raw Sex?.

NOTWITHSTANDING THEIR CONSPIRATORIAL CLAIMS, SIECUS’s critics were right to note that the group helped to forge a remarkable alliance between the forces of science and liberal religion. Calderone’s model for sex education was a medical one, but she was eager to seek allies among any religious groups willing to acknowledge the expertise of physicians who took their cue from scientific findings. (182)

“Interfaith Statement on Sex Education”, June 8, 1968.

Right here is where I find it easiest to shift my focus from the understanding of eroticism as a scientist to the celebration of it as a religious person. Perhaps this is because of my Quaker persuasion. In any case, I find that I simply cannot convince myself that the erotic aspect of human life is not as truly integral to ‘that of God in every person’ as is, for instance, the intellectual, the cognitive. – Sexuality and Human Values, 1974 by Calderone

How could something so natural and also so good, so sacred, and so joyous be a force for evil and division in the world? (185)

Unlike Sanger or Kinsey, this revolutionary made direct overtures not only to those she expected to be allies but also to many of her professional opponents every chance she could, believing that her powers of persuasion, the evidence of science, and her good-faith acknowledgment of other people’s religious views could melt fear and open enemies’ eyes to acceptance of sexual realism and the need for better sex education. (186)

Release from Sexual Tensions, 1960; Earl Ubell; John L. Thomas; George Hagmaier; John Rock; John Courtney Murray; Louis Dupré; Elmer Gelinas; Thomas Hayes; John Noonan; Bernard Pisani; Reuben Hill; Canon Charles Moeller; Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae.

Calling for “a coalition of strengths” to bring professionals together in service to a “universal approach to realistic sexual knowledge for all ages and socioeconomic groups” (emphasis in original), Calderone noted that religion “can be especially helpful in such a coalition,” but only if religious leaders were willing to agree with this statement: “That sexuality itself is morally neutral, but that how we learn or are taught to use it throughout life has heavy moral implications.” “Such moral implications,” she insisted, “should–and indeed must–transcend differences in religious dogma.” (197)

Despite persistent opposition, however, the work of SIECUS and Calderone, in particular, moved sex education from the margins to the center of the American educational system, with nearly all public school systems offering some form of sex education to students. (198)

The struggle over sex education was a war, all right: a battle over the moral frameworks in which sexual knowledge would be embedded and over who had the right to determine just what those frameworks would be. The religious progressives in this story were beginning to think of morality much more in terms of relationship than purity, and many were starting to imagine that sex in situations outside of heterosexual marriage might be acceptable even within a Christian context. The conservative Christians who opposed them were not contesting the need for factual knowledge of sexuality–a denial of sex that, to their minds, was more the goal of celibacy-favoring Catholics–but, rather, insisting that the facts be embedded in a whole constellation of specific moral values, centered on chastity and their ideal model for domestic relations. Education about sex was critical to the maintenance of this model, but that education needed to be contained, regulated, and sanctioned by Christian wisdom. (199)

…it was a battle for the authority to define the boundaries of Christianity and to set the terms for gendered order within marriage, the family, and American society at large. (199)

Tirades against sex education proved a brilliant political strategy in the nascent forging of a new Christian right, even as they helped to bring together religious and secular progressives in hopeful alliances against it. (199)

6 The Abortion War Before and After Roe v. Wade

W. A. Criswell.

The familiar narrative of what came after Roe describes how evangelical leaders seized on the abortion issue to mobilize conservative Protestants as voters, new alliances emerged between evangelicals and conservative Catholics, and abortion became a wedge issue dividing conservative religious Republican voters from secular feminists and liberal Democrats. That story is true, as far as it goes, but it neglects the fact that religious people were divided on abortion, and that many of the pro-choice feminists were part of Christian communities and still committed to them to greater or lesser degrees. Both before and after Roe, prominent Christian voices, from men and from women, made a moral case for abortion rights. By making their own pro-choice case on explicitly religious grounds, they prevented the pro-life camp from commanding the only Christian stance on this profoundly fraught issue. (203)

Howard R. Moody; Billy James Hargis; Frances Kissing.

For both Moody and Kissling, the opposition of conservative religious leaders to abortion was part and parcel of a larger patriarchal worldview that rested on men’s authority over women. … Moody and Kissling each maintained, in their lives and work, that the true message of Christianity was love for others and liberation from the tyranny of unjust rulers, whether reigning over church or state. (206)

Reverend Adam Clayton Powell Jr.; Dr. Sidney Goldstein; the Reverend Arthur Powell Davies; Gerald Kelly; Wesley Powell.

The gravest threat to morality, in this view, was feminism. (211)

Al Blumenthal; Lawrence Lader; Betty Friedan; John Krumm; Lester Kinsolving; Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion (CCS); Rabbi Lewis Bogage; Susan Brownmiller; National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL).

The issue is not when does life begin in the womb but rather where does freedom of choice and conscience end in society? A more important question thatn whether feticide is homicide may be whether any one group may impose its moral and religious beliefs by legal sanction upon all society. – Moody

Sarah Weddington.

When the Roe decision eliminated barriers to safe and legal abortion across the nation, the practical work of the CCS essentially ended. (223)

Judson Church Prostitution Project.

Moody’s approach to this work closely resembled his approach to women seeking abortions and again reflected his strong view that women were victims of the Christian tradition’s long history of harshly judging female sexuality. (223)

Moody’s ultimate goal in this work, like his work on behalf of pregnant women seeking abortions, was to eradicate the laws that made prostitutes into criminals and that worked ultimately to endanger the women’s lives and complicate the lives of their children. In the interim, it was critical to see and treat each prostitute as a unique human being and to establish connection so as to understand more about her life. (224)

Henry Hyde; the Hyde Amendment; John Harriman; Patricia Fogarty McQuillan; Meta Mulcahy; Frances Kissling (born Frances Romanski); International Projects Assistance Services (IPAS); Patricia McMahon; Hans Kung; Pat Buchanan; Geraldine Ferraro; Walter Mondale; John Cardinal O’Connor; “A Catholic Statement on Pluralism and Abortion”; Daniel Maguire; Marjorie Maguire; Ronald Reagan; George H. W. Bush.

What Daniel Maguire later cheekily called “the long shadow of Augustine’s penis”–the church’s history of making sex dirty that owed so much to the early Christian bishop’s efforts to restrain and eradicate his own sexual desires–may not have been the only factor influencing people’s views on abortion, but it was unquestionably an important one. Still, many if not most pro-life Christians were surely sincere in seeing this as an issue of life versus death. (238)

7 Sexual Harassment at Century’s End

Clarence Thomas; Anita Hill; William Jefferson Clinton; Paula Jones; July 1, 1991, President Bush announced Thomas as his choice to succeed Justice Thurgood Marshall; Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw;Orlando Patterson; Chuck Colson; Rush Limbaugh.

To these Christian conservatives, despite her own claims to Christian faith, Hill was a liar pure and simple–a shill to the special interest groups who invented her tall tale–and sexual harassment was a laughable charge. (252)

Indeed, the 1992 election saw a record number of women run for office in both major parties, leading the news media to call it “The Year of the Woman.” (256)

Carmita Wood.

Economic power is to sexual harassment as physical force is to rape – Catharine MacKinnon

Eleanor Holmes Norton; Phyllis Schlafly; Meritor Savings Bak v. Vinson; Paula Corbin Jones.

Hill, who never brought formal charges against her supervisor and, by her account, never intended to go public, wound up being a national symbol of the sexual harassment cause, albeit a deeply divisive one. Ironically, if her testimony helped get Bill Clinton into the White House, it also facilitated the conditions of his 1998 impeachment. (262)

Katie Mahoney; Rita Schulte; John W. Whitehead; Rick and Beverly Lambert; R. J. Rushdoony; Francis Schaeffer.

As Whitehead wrote, what Clinton allegedly did to Jones seemed “like a clear assault on Christ’s view of how men and women should relate to each other in the workplace.” He took the case on, he said, because, “I thought it would be a great opportunity for Christians to say, ‘We really do care about sexual harassment in the workplace.’ … While critics accused him of being politically motivated, Whitehead responded, “The Jones case was not about politics. It was about a woman’s fundamental human and constitutional right to be free from sexual harassment in the workplace.” Lest anyone mistake the relevance of this issue to his own faith, Whitehead cited not only Jesus’s respectful treatment of women–a topic he’d examined in his earlier book, Women’s Rights and the Law–but also the fact that “all rights hang together.” That is, “if one freedom can be violated, they all can be, including religious freedom.” (267)

Ann Coulter; Mike Pence; Kenneth Starr.

THE ACTS THAT PAULA JONES attributed to Clinton were far worse, ethically and legally, than anything Thomas allegedly said or did to Anita Hill. So if the same groups that avidly promoted Clarence Thomas’s Supreme Court nomination–and worked to demolish Hill’s standing as a means to that end–later worked as aggressively to defend Paula Jones against President Clinton, perhaps they simply saw clearer truth and greater injustice in the second case. Possibly their minds had been opened to the brutal realities often faced by working women on the job, exposed to crudeness of the most disgusting kind. Maybe they were just finally fed up with sexual harassment and the vulgar loutishness of entitled male bosses who thought they owned the world and every body in it. | Or maybe that’s just religious, sex, and politics. (269)

Richard John Neuhaus; Robert Bork.

By the end of the 1990s, Americans were well aware that they were divided by two warring understandings of sexual morality that were profoundly politicized. The nation lacked a common understanding of sexual ethics and seemingly possessed virtually no shared language for discussing values. The one side had staked its claim on public propriety and traditional virtue, wedded to a desire to oppose a president who supported abortion rights and LGBT rights, at least moderately more than his conservative counterparts. The other side, averse to moral crusading on sexual matters, valued sexual freedom and a dividing line between private consensual behavior and public concern, wedded to support for a president and his feminist spouse who favored liberal causes. These were not consistently pure philosophies–there were hypocrisies, contradictions, and blind spots on both sides–but they offered genuine differences in overall priorities and worldviews. The broader war over Clinton, including but by no means limited to sexual harassment, revealed and continued to shape that divergence of worldviews extending to a whole range of gendered issues as they impinged on the political realm. (271)

…the Right had won, thanks in no small part to the mobilization of Christian conservatives spurred by sex. (272)

8 Same-Sex Marriage and LGBT Rights in the New Millennium

Gene Robinson.

However one parsed it, sex had torn American Christianity asunder into enemy faiths. (277)

Embracing the Exile: Healing Journeys for Gay Christians; James Buchanan; William Rufus King; Mabel Hampton; Richard John Baker and James Michael McConnell; Tracy Knight and Marjorie Jones; Richard Adams and Tony Sullivan; John Fortunato & Wayne Schwandt; HOward Moody; Evan Wolfson; Andrew Sullivan; Paula Ettelbrick; Tim and Beverly LaHaye’s The Act of Marriage; Anita Bryant; “Save Our Children”; Jerry Falwell.

For traditionalist Christians like these, the prospect of socially approved homosexuality was outrageous and alarming because it cast the entire nation in danger. One of their chief concerns was plainly the authority of the Bible and of the one true God who ruled over the world: if the Bible, as God’s Word, spoke clearly against homosexuality and the (290) practice of sodomy, as these believers felt certain it did, then to resist this clear teaching was, ipso facto, nothing less than a spurning of God and a wholesale rejection of God’s plan for humanity. This as not a justice issue, or an equal rights issue, or a compassion issue; the matter was far deeper, and far greater, than those human inventions. The issue was obedience to core teachings that had been passed down for thousands of years–humble compliance with the will of God, whatever one’s personal preference. (291)

Harvey Milk; The Unhappy Gays: What Everyone Should Know About Homosexuality; Ryan White; David Noebel; Paul Cameron of the Family Research Institute; Wayne C. Lutton; Patrick Buchanan; 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

Given the pressure already exerted on Clinton by Christian right leaders–Paula Jones lawsuit had been filed two years earlier and was a heavy weight on his presidency at this (294) time–it was significant that Clinton, who had been elected as a supporter of gay rights, felt the need to sign DOMA and thus stem the fury stirred up by the Hawaii case. Once again, the predominant religious voices carrying political heft appeared to be conservative, anti-gay ones (295)

For those mobilized by this message, opposition to homosexuality and opposition to feminism were still hand in glove… (295)

The animus toward homosexuality in Christian right circles grew with time. As the progressive religious case came into its own with the (295) issue of same-sex marriage, this oppositional contingent remained steadfast in its conviction that homosexuality was the sin of sins, the grossest insult to God’s gendered order. Liberal and progressive Christians had a major fight ahead. (296)

Youth Ministry in the Age of AIDS; the Windsor Report; Doug Theuner.

Christians thus remained profoundly divided on homosexuality and denominational divides were often stark. Differences in views on the morality of homosexuality and same-sex marriage varied according to whether one were a biblical literalist or a flexible interpreter of Scripture, and they also tended to follow patterns pertaining to one’s overall view of the nature of gender and equality. These two worldviews both played significant roles in the political conflicts of the coming years. (302)

Lawrence v. TexasThe Homosexual Agenda: Exposing the Principal Threat to Religious Freedom TodayGoodridge v. Department of Public HealthUS v. WindsorHollingsworth v. PerryObergefell v. Hodges.

It could seem yet again that these were two Christianities, two religions that were born of the same roots but had very little in common–not mere strangers, they were enemies to one another. (306)

Franklin Graham; Jim Daly; Robert George.


The splintering of American Christianity into two distinct and divergent moral systems, long in the making, was nowhere better personified than in the clash between the campaigns and constituencies of Trump versus Clinton. (315)

Michael Gerson; Eric Teetsel, president of the Family Policy Alliance of Kansas; Beth Moore; Jen Hatmaker; Russell Moore; James Dobson; Jerry Falwell Jr.; Franklin Graham.

Clinton’s feminism, according to this argument, looked privileged and elitist, and it did not move vast numbers of white women. | History suggests how Trump may well have won not in spite of his attitude toward women but because of it. (318)

One might have expected his manifestly immoral personal behavior or his past support of abortion rights and same-sex marriage to have undermined this support (as indeed it did early in the primaries). But because he shared, in this coarsest fashion, a worldview shaped by fear of women’s empowerment and a determined opposition to gender equality, the majority of conservative Christians trusted him to defend their moral outlook in the political realm. In other words, it was because the election showcased such a clash of worldviews that Trump got the same sort of Conservative Christian support that had traditionally been bestowed upon much more conventional Christian candidates. (318)

Finding a way to live together despite our deep differences over sex (and many other issues besides) demands participation in a larger project of reckoning, engaging, and willfully empathizing with others in our common humanity, so as to rouse a fractured nation to build a bearable peace. Maybe we will get there one day, but not without first committing to a full and thorough reckoning of precisely how and why our divisions got so deep. (321)


…why have so many American Christians seemed disproportionately obsessed with sex? … The Baptists of my childhood stressed that the core of the Christian message was caring for “the least of these,” but most of the nation’s most visible Christian leaders targeted sexual sin far more than any sin of neglecting the neighbor. (323)


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