Faux patriotic, Christian posture justifies discrimination for Reagan and others
Finlator criticizes Ronald Reagan's record on civil rights. He describes himself as enraged that Reagan has earned a reputation for compassion while denying money and support from the people who need it most. A patriotic, religious-minded posture, as adopted by Reagan and some Christian leaders, is eroding the division between church and state and threatens the nation's conscience, Finlator believes.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with William W. Finlator, April 19, 1985. Interview C-0007. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Full Text of the Excerpt
- JAY JENKINS:
What is your opinion of the Reagan Administration in so far as the civil
rights program is concerned?
- WILLIAM W. FINLATOR:
Mr. Reagan and his colleagues are no friends of civil liberties; and in
order to do what they are doing, they know that civil liberties must be
soft-pedalled and diminished. That's why he radically changed
the Civil Rights Commission and now it is indeed a sham and a mockery.
During the years prior to his coming, the only federal organization that
existed that was willing to criticize the government for its violations
of civil rights was the Civil Rights Commission. And it would have been
much better, much more honest, for Mr. Reagan to have tried to abolish
it completely than do what he's done to it since it now is
actually an organization that puts an approval on his consistent denials
of human and civil rights at home and abroad. And the fascinating and
frustrating thing about Mr. Reagan is that he gets away with all this,
and still gives the impression of a man who believes in civil rights, a
man who never goes to church but has the impression of being a very
churchminded person. A man who is impoverishing people more and more and
transferring wealth from poor people to the people who already have it,
and is known as a man of compassion and concern.
These things of course frustrate, and really enrage us, but we know that
this is a time when American people have grown weary, as St. Paul said,
they've grown weary of well doin. They want these structures
of protections of people, these social agencies of compassion, they want
them enfeebled and dismantled. And in order to do these things
you've got to change your attitudes on civil liberties and
you've got to appoint Judges who are no longer favorable to
civil rights. And so what we're seeing is a gradual
disestablishment of civil protections and we're seeing it
done by a president who—because of his posture of patriotism
and religion—is able to give the American people a sense of a
satisfied conscience, and a sense that what is being done is
"chic" and accepted, "American" and
Christian, and it is right to believe this.
Then, on top of all this, Jay, you have the religious people, the Moral
Majority, the Fundamentalists, all across the country giving religious
sanction to what is basically a selfish America, and a self-centered
America, and a power crazed America. The president persuades the people
that it's patriotic and religious; the fundamentalists say
it's "God blessed." And in all this we are
trying to say that this is a Christian nation, that we want Christians
in government, we want Christian schools, we want
prayer in school. So that whatever this administration does at home or
abroad, however many more people are impoverished, whatever we do by way
of repression to undeveloped or developing nations, it's o.
k. because it's been done by a Christian nation.
- JAY JENKINS:
What does this portend for the future tranquility of the country if, as
you indicate, we are deepening divisions between classes and so
- WILLIAM W. FINLATOR:
If it continues, you don't have any church-state separation.
Church-state separation means that you have a church so autonomous, so
distanced institutionally from its own government that in the name of
God and truth, the church can place the nation under the Judgement of
God, to say, "Thus sayeth the Lord." To America, like
the prophet Nathan told David, the church can no longer say
"Thou art the man." You are the one doing wrong under
God. The church has lost that capacity, that distance, to bring America
before the bar of God's Judgement, because the church has
been so merged with the state that patriotism and religion are
synonomous. So that America is deprived of conscience. The United
Nations can't stop America, the World Court can't
stop America; only Americans can stop America; and the American church
more and more has forfeited that right and that opportunity to save