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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Jesse Helms: Senator No, and sometimes Yes

(Senator Jesse Helms)

Jesse Helms’ repeated obstruction of federal legislation in such realms as civil and voting rights earned him the dubious honor of being called “Senator No.”

This one-time Democratic journalist turned five-times Republican senator from North Carolina became known as “the most stridently conservative politician of the post 1960s era.”  He was especially concerned with federal intervention into what he deemed were strictly state affairs.  Wikipedia also reports that “he opposed, at various times, civil rights, disability rights, feminism, gay rights, affirmative action, abortion, and government support for modern art with nudity.”  He was particularly staunch about abortion, taking the firm stand that due process rights of the fetus (zygote, embryo) should begin at the time of conception.

The separation of church and state was far from something that Helms went to bat for.  His has been called a “political theology” by Professor Ferrel Guillory - who also wrote that anyone who did not agree with Helms’ literalist interpretations of the Bible were assumed to be “non-Christian, or even atheist.”  Guillory also pointed out that Helms “grew up a Southern Baptist at a time when few of its white congregations questioned the prevailing racial segregation of the region…”

Nevertheless, Paul Weyrich claimed in 2005 that Helms was “one fine gentleman” who “loves the Lord and that came through in everything he did.”  (That Weyrich had also been a member of the Religious Right may come as no surprise after reading this.)  David Waters, who presented these quotes from Guillory and
Weyrich in an article titled Judgment and Jesse Helms, ends on an optimistic note.  Waters points out that Helms had agreed to meet about AIDS with the rock star Bono in 2002. 

Bono was known to be a leading advocate for AIDS sufferers, and Helms was known to believe that people contracted AIDS because of their “deliberate, disgusting, revolting conduct.”  When Helms shockingly came away from this meeting with a public repentance for having been “lax too long in doing something really significant about AIDS,” people wondered just what it was that Bono had said to “convert” Helms.  What Bono had told Helms was this:  “Christ only speaks about judgment once and it’s not about sex but about
how we deal with the poor…”       


Copyright October 18, 2011 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

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