Singing their way to the ballot box

I woke up this morning to the sounds of “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” as NPR informed me what I had already expected, that Roy Moore had defeated barely-incumbent Senator Luther Strange in the Alabama Republican primary. That Moore won was not surprising, but his supporters’ rendition of an old Christian hymn did give me a sense of deja vu. While veteran monitors of Judge Moore and his past embrace of Christian nationalism were probably already familiar with the use of Christian hymnody at his rallies, I was struck by the similarity to southern white evangelical Christians who dabbled in politics over a century ago.

As I wrote in my first book, Rethinking Zion: How the Print Media Placed Fundamentalism in the South, white evangelicals in southern states were some of the first to jump on the temperance and prohibition bandwagon. When Alabama’s neighbor, Georgia, passed a statewide prohibition measure in 1907, the New York Times reported that the legislators and observers spontaneously broke into a rendition of “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow,” also known as the Long Meter Doxology.

Such displays of religious piety are possible only when the involved group is religiously homogeneous. It assumes that all members know the tune and the words. If you start singing a song that’s not call and response and your fellow singers don’t know it, the whole effect is quickly lost. But for Judge Moore’s supporters, the common bond is white interpretations of evangelical Protestant Christianity, and that bond supplies them with a both a common message and a common playlist.

The Georgia legislators who enacted statewide prohibition over a century ago were largely evangelical Protestants and white. Like Moore, they were reacting to perceived threats, many of which still resonate with Alabama Republicans. In the early 20th century south, white state governments feared African American enfranchisement and rights, an influx of religiously different immigrants coming to the country (waves of Catholics and Jews then), and the changing social standards brought on by new technologies. Moore has voiced his doubts that President Barack Obama was born in the United States (a dog whistle for white supremacists, among others), argued that Islam is a “false religion,” and repeatedly attacked LGBTQ rights.

So for political pundits who are trying to make sense of Judge Moore’s religious and political beliefs, look to the past, and you’ll see the parallels.


Image credit:  By AuburnPilot (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons