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Friday, September 04, 2015

Christianity, social activism and the civil rights movement

John Fea explains the links between those three topics:  The "Christian America" of Martin Luther King, Jr.  As Fea explains:
King's fight for a Christian America was not over amending the Constitution to make it more Christian or promoting crusades to insert "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance (June 14, 1954). It was instead a battle against injustice and an attempt to forge a national community defined by Christian ideals of equality and respect for human dignity. Most historians now agree that the Civil Rights movement was driven by the Christian faith of its proponents. As David Chappell argued in his landmark book, Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow, the story of the Civil Rights movement is less about the triumph of progressive and liberal ideals and more about the revival of an Old Testament prophetic tradition that led African-Americans to hold their nation accountable for the decidedly unchristian behavior it showed many of its citizens.
I have read Stone of Hope & it is an insightful interpretation of the civil rights movement in the 1950s & 1960s.  Of course, by the late 60s, after the assassinations of both Malcom X & MLK, the civil rights movement largely took a turn away from its religious roots and towards "new left" secularism, a turn that left much of the movement without a spiritual core.  That in turn created one of the central tragedies of the civil rights movement -- just when its greatest victories were at hand, many of its leaders & activists abandoned a key component of what had been the movement's identity, the integration of faith & public policy when it came to questions of human rights & dignity.

In the increasingly secular environment in the United States it can never be said enough that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s vision was a profoundly religious one -- and not just religious but Christian. His activism was grounded not in ideology but in faith, not in a secularism devoid of moral intuition but in a Christianity that inspired moral imagination.  King dreamed of world where the dignity of each person was respected because he believed in a God of love who had suffered, died & rose again so that each human being might have life, and have it more abundantly.  For those of us who are people of faith, we should never forget or be silent about that vision.

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