There’s No Place Like Home

Ah, Kansas.  There really is no place like home.  Especially when you share it with Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church.

Which brings me to an interview I came across today with Kansas native Robert Wuthnow, a professor of sociology at Princeton and author of Red State Religion: Faith and Politics in America’s Heartland.  From the book description:

No state has voted Republican more consistently or widely or for longer than Kansas. To understand red state politics, Kansas is the place. It is also the place to understand red state religion. The Kansas Board of Education has repeatedly challenged the teaching of evolution, Kansas voters overwhelmingly passed a constitutional ban on gay marriage, the state is a hotbed of antiabortion protest–and churches have been involved in all of these efforts. Yet in 1867 suffragist Lucy Stone could plausibly proclaim that, in the cause of universal suffrage, “Kansas leads the world!” How did Kansas go from being a progressive state to one of the most conservative?

I’ve included a few highlights from the interview below.  Wuthnow makes the point that a lot of people in the state — myself included — are embarrassed that Kansas has come to represent such radical elements of religious conservatism, and, furthermore, that it hasn’t always been this way.

[Interviewer]: The last 30 years seem like more of a whirlwind in Kansas history in the book. It felt as though Kansas was swept up to a considerable degree into vociferous national politics. It somewhat surprised me.

[Wuthnow]: And it surprised a lot of people in Kansas as well, from what they told us when we interviewed them. […] It was so shocking to people in Wichita, especially in the early 90s when Operation Rescue moved in big time and basically took over their town and cost them thousands of dollars just for police detail. Of course they are distraught of the image of Kansas that creationism and the schools have made, and so that’s why they’ve repeatedly voted out the conservative members of the school board. They are also very distraught of being the state where Dr. George Tiller was murdered. They know that that cast the state in a negative light. And that doesn’t mean that they’re saying that they should switch to being pro-choice. I was very critical in the book about the incredible focus on Dr. Tiller and his clinic, just demonizing that one person so vehemently that it was not that surprising that somebody decided to kill him. And at a church! It was indeed a whirlwind.

[Interviewer]: One of the big changes in the book is the role of the clergy and their pronouncements on politics. Early on, both clergy and lay people wanted clergy to stay out of politics. But as the book progressed and as history changed, it became much different.

[Wuthnow]:  The big change […] that started happening in the 1960s and then increasingly by the 1980s, was twofold. First, Roe v Wade got everybody interested (or more interested) in politics. But the second, even more important, change was that the dominant Protestant group was no longer the Methodists. It was now Southern Baptist. Kansas was always considered a northern state. There were no Southern Baptists until after WWII when jobs opened up and the aircraft industry brought people from surrounding states. Kansas was surrounded on two sides with states that had hundreds of thousands of Southern Baptists who decided to open churches in Kansas. The Southern Baptists were much better at starting churches in urban areas and were very entrepreneurial, so their churches grew. [emphasis mine]


About Hammertime
Georgetown sophomore, Job Creator.

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