Proponents of so-called “religious freedom” bills, devised to enable businesses to refuse service to same-sex couples on religious grounds, have in recent months pooh-poohed comparisons between these proposed laws and the Jim Crow laws that allowed businesses to refuse service to blacks. “Protecting religious liberty and the rights of conscience does not infringe on anyone’s sexual freedoms,” wrote Heritage Foundation fellow Ryan Anderson in a National Review Online column headlined “‘Homosexual Jim Crow Laws’? Get Real.”
The theology of Donny Reagan, pastor of Tennessee’s Happy Valley Church of Jesus Christ, should inspire Anderson to think again. “If corn was raised in a certain way, yellow corn, don’t mix it with white corn. If you do your mixing, you can’t bring yourself back again,” Reagan warned in a sermon recorded last year at his 600-member church in Johnson City, Tenn. Claiming that black athletic stars choose white wives in a willful attempt to make their offspring lighter, Reagan declared, “It’s another defiance of God’s law, it’s a worldly way.”
Reagan also had some choice words for fellow ministers who perform interracial marriages. “Some of the men in pulpits should have a pantywaist instead of a preacher coat on!”
Reagan is not alone in this interpretation of the Bible. He is a follower of the theology of William Branham, a breakaway Pentecostal religious leader and faith healer whose followers translate his teachings into a biblical ban on interracial marriage.
Branham, a U.S. preacher who died in 1965, identified with the Pentecostal movement until the late 1950s, when he began to reject core aspects of traditional Christianity, preaching that original sin stemmed not from Eve biting the fruit and gaining forbidden knowledge, but from her sexual intercourse with the serpent, which resulted in the conception of Cain. Cain’s bloodline, through Noah and his son Ham, led to a race of human beings descended from the evil serpent.
Branham never made the identity of this race explicit, “but it’s not that far a stretch to begin to interpret it in a racist way,” says James Walker, president of The Watchman Fellowship, a Texas-based evangelical ministry that researches cults and new religious movements. “Any church that teaches this ‘serpentism’ is going to have a tendency to be racist, because it separates people by DNA and bloodline.”
According to Michael Barkun, political scientist and author of Religion and the Racist Right: The Origins of the Christian Identity Movement, Branham’s theology was also a precursor to the virulently racist and anti-Semitic Christian Identity movement. That movement posits that Eve mated with Satan and began the lineage of the biologically Satanic people who became today’s Jews, and that people of color are soulless “beasts of the field.”
“Christian Identity has it all worked out who’s the lower people. Branham was not quite there,” Barkun told the Intelligence Report.
Not all Branham churches are racist or embrace the anti-race-mixing position Reagan promotes, Walker says, but the theology clearly invites racism. These churches, Walker says, are scattered across the U.S. — including in Arizona, where in February legislators passed a “religious freedom” bill that would have allowed businesses to refuse service to LGBT people and others on religious grounds.
Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed the bill. Had she not, it’s easy to imagine Arizona’s Branham devotees invoking sincerely held religious belief in denying service or accommodations to interracial couples — exactly as National Review Online’s Anderson insists they never would.