White Supremacy and Religious Fundamentalism

From OutHistory
Jump to navigationJump to search

The KKK and Evangelical Christianity’s Historic Hostility to LGBT People

The Klan

The original Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was founded after the Civil War as a violent, clandestine white supremacist organization that used lynching and other terrorist practices to continue subjugating African Americans, in spite of the abolition of slavery. Officially disbanded in 1869, but repeatedly evoked by the burning crosses and the hooded white robes on display during innumerable acts of racist violence during the post-Civil War decades of "Jim Crow" segregation, a second Ku Klux Klan took shape after D.W. Griffith’s 1915 film Birth of a Nation painted a fantastically idealized picture of the original organization.

Indiana became the first state outside the former Confederacy to charter the revitalized Klan, in 1920, and it soon had the largest chapter in the nation. During the first half of the 1920s, scholars estimate that roughly one third of all adult white men in Indiana, about 250,000 individuals, belonged to the Klan, which became a reliable path to political power and high elected public office. Corruption, sex, and murder scandals later in the decade curbed the Klan’s influence, and membership dropped precipitously, but the organization and its splinter groups and imitators never entirely disappeared from the cultural landscape.

KKK members swore an oath that they were “native born, white, Gentile American citizens,” who were free of allegiances of any nature to any “cause, government, people, sect, or ruler that is foreign to the United States of America,” and that they believed in and “would faithfully strive for the eternal maintenance of White Supremacy.” Because of its explicit Protestantism, its conservative moral piety, its popularity, and its political power, the KKK was at least tacitly, and often overtly, sanctioned by the evangelical churches that had held sway over the cultural life of Indiana since the 19th century.

The second wave of Klan activism in the early 20th century did not specifically address itself to homosexuality or transgender issues, neither of which had an organized political voice at that time. It can be assumed, however, that the Klan’s prominence in Indiana would have worked against any overt public displays of same-sex sexuality or gender atypicality.

Later Waves

More research is needed to determine when the KKK in Indiana explicitly began to link homosexual and transgender issues with its broader racist and nativist agenda, but by the time a third wave of Klan activism began to build in reaction to the post-World War II African-American civil rights movement, and later in conjunction with the rise of the Religious Right in the last quarter of the 20th century, such concerns definitely became part of the agenda.

A platform of the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan from the 1990s deplored the loss of “traditional values,” and complained that "the liberal government and its media encourage our young children to behave like primitive savages. Homosexuality, bisexuality, transsexuals, sado-masochism, and every other type of vile perversion is [sic] applauded by the scum that control our country. The American Knights demand a return to sanity. We call for a restoration of Christian values to all walks of life."

A 2010 report on right-wing hate groups, by the Southern Poverty Law Center, notes that a chapter of the KKK (White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan) is currently active in Bloomington.

Fundamentalist Christian Hostility

It is far easier to document the active hostility of organized Christian fundamentalism to queer lives in Indiana, at least in more recent decades. We have not yet conducted research to determine when and under what circumstances Indiana ministers began preaching against homosexuality. Although this section of the website is devoted to explaining the pre-Stonewall circumstances that shaped the emergence of Bloomington's post-Stonewall LGBT community, the best documents we've found thus far, for demonstrating entrenched religious prejudice against homosexuality, come from the years after 1969.

For example, right-wing religionists in Bloomington fiercely objected to a December 1975 vote by the City Council to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in the areas of public accommodation, housing, employment, and education. A local businessman circulated a open letter that characterized the stakes in the vote as “Good versus Evil” and urged fellow citizens to “prayerfully make it a matter of immediate personal decision: to shun the sodomites and their supporters, to use every lawful device to eliminate homosexual activity in this area, and to rededicate our community to standards set forth by God."

More than 3,000 local residents co-signed the letter, which was published in the Bloomington newspaper. According to a report that appeared in the magazine Christian Century, “Texts such as Leviticus 20:13 ("If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death") were frequently cited at the height of the Bloomington controversy.”

If that was the climate of debate in the relatively progressive enclave of Bloomington, the vitriol of fundamentalist Christian condemnation of queer lives in the countryside can scarcely be imagined.


Lutholtz, M. William. Grand Dragon: D.C. Stephenson and the Ku Klux Klan in Indiana. Purdue University Press: Lafayette, 1991.




Letha Scanzoni, “Conservative Christians and Gay Civil Rights,” Christian Century, October 13, 1976, pp. 857-862.

<comments />