The Protestant Underworld

Reverend Ralph Lord Roy writes in the Record Journal…

” Organizations promoting hate are numerous across the United States and around the world. The Southern Poverty Law Center estimates that there are over a thousand in the nation. The SPLC has categorized them under such headings as Christian identity, Ku Klux Klan, white power skinhead, neo-Nazi, radical Catholic, Black supremacy, Holocaust deniers, and white nationalists. Several American Muslim groups also are among those listed.                    

Back in 1948, I was at Swarthmore College, majoring in political science, planning on law school, then a possible future in government. That summer three major political conventions – Republican, Democratic, and Progressive – were held in nearby Philadelphia, and I found temporary housing and odd jobs so that I could attend them.

One day, near Convention Hall, a discarded leaflet on the sidewalk caught my attention. It announced in bold print: “A History of the United States”. I was stunned by a series of blatantly anti-semitic sketches and was further disturbed to discover that the leaflet was circulated by the Christian Nationalist Crusade. This so fomented my ire and curiosity that I began to investigate what turned out to be a vast sewer of hateful propaganda behind the facade of faith.

After leaving Columbia Law School to enter Union Theological Seminary I wrote a Master’s thesis entitled “The Protestant Underworld” which focused on anti-semitic, anti-Black, anti-Catholic and other groups deliberately exploiting religion to promote bigotry. When Beacon Press wanted to publish it, I expanded the text and sixty years ago, in 1953, my first book came out under the title “Apostles of Discord”.

In retrospect. the book had problems. One was that, not quite 25 at the time, I was too inexperienced to understand all the nuances, too quick to generalize. Yet, what an adventure it was! While doing research I attended a wide variety of extremist gatherings, from racist right to Communist left. I notified the FBI that if their agents discovered me at unsavory meetings I was, like them, investigating and not affiliated.

The book was published with endorsements by Reinhold Niebuhr, Bishop G. Bromley Oxnam, Herbert Philbrick and others whose seal of appoval helped it sell. I traveled the country, was interviewed on various programs, spoke at conferences and colleges, and even confronted hostile pickets in Dallas. I was summoned to court in Boston when a $25,000 libel suit was brought against me and Beacon Press – a suit eventually dismissed.

Recently  I looked over an aging copy of “Apostles of Discord” and found – no surprise – that every major figure in the book has died, most of them decades ago.

Some observers suggest that bitter hatred is more pronounced in our nation today than it was back then. In its fund-raising campaign the SPLC certainly presents an alarming picture. Yet, how can we compare now with 1953, when rigid segregation was enforced in large parts of our country and millions of fellow Americans were kept from voting because of their race? Who would have predicted then that a biracial president would be in the White House now?

I am, nonetheless, disturbed by the anger voiced by individuals and hyped in the media, exemplified by the recent Zimmerman trial, which revealed so much deeply-rooted hostility. I am also troubled by wild attacks aimed at our president.This is not new, of course. I recall how both George Bushes were subjected to crazy criticism, including that fiendish libel connecting the Bush family to Nazi Germany. Presidents Carter, Reagan, Clinton and others had to grapple with zany untruths spread about them.

Why is there such demonization aimed at Barack Obama? There are those who still insist that he was born in Kenya, is a crypto-Muslim, wants to destroy Christianity, and/or deliberately seeks to undermine our nation and its Constitution. Is this because of ignorance? Sometimes. Political bias? That, too. What about race? Some Obama haters, I have had to conclude, are infected with racial bias, something they may or may not recognize in themselves.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that most criticism of the President is motivated by prejudice. There are millions of intelligent, patriotic conservatives (and others) who disapprove of his policies. I, too, question some of them. My family circle includes staunch, life-long Republicans whose political allegiance can be traced back to Abraham Lincoln.

We need to listen respectfully to all sides when it comes to key issues, but we could get along better without boneheaded, brainwashed, belligerent bigots, whatever their skin tone may be – and they come in a variety of colors. 

As for the SPLC  it does some important work. However, it makes enough serious mistakes to regard its indictments with caution. Consider, for example, the American Family Association and the Family Research Council, evangelical Christian groups. They simply don’t belong on SPLC’s list of hate organizations.”


Flashback – July 9,2013


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