Wednesday, February 02, 2011
Christianity's Influence on the Civil Rights Movement
I've been reading Timothy Keller's
The Reason for God. In Chapter 4, Mr. Keller makes several interesting points about Christianity's self-correcting apparatus, it's ability to correct itself by pointing Christians to biblically orthodox doctrine. In a section on how biblical ethics have challenged and changed societies, the author writes about the impact of Christian abolitionists during the 18th and 19th centuries, the South African Commission for Truth and Reconciliation in the 1990s, the resistance to Communism in Poland during the 1980s, Oscar Romero's outspoken opposition to the government of El Salvador's corruption in the 1970s and 1980s, and the German Confessing Church's opposition to Hitler's reign of terror and injustice in the 1930s and 1940s.
I found this excerpt about the American Civil Rights Movement to be the most fascinating:
"Another classic case of this is the Civil Rights Movement in the United States in the mid-twentieth century. In an important history of the movement, David L. Chappell demonstrates that it was not a political but primarily a religious and spiritual movement. White Northern liberals who were the allies of the African-American civil rights leaders were not proponents of civil disobedience or of a direct attack on segregation. Because of their secular belief in the goodness of human nature, they thought that education and enlightenment would bring about inevitable social and racial progress. Chappell argues that black leaders were much more rooted in the Biblical understanding of the sinfulness of the human heart and in the denunciations of injustice that they read in the Hebrew prophets. Chappell also shows how it was the vibrant faith of rank-and-file African-Americans that empowered them to insist on justice despite the violent opposition to their demands. Thus Chappell says there is no way to understand what happened until you see the Civil Rights movement as a religious revival.
"When Martin Luther King, Jr., confronted racism in the white church in the South, he did not call on Southern churches to become more secular. Read his sermons and 'Letter from Birmingham Jail' and see how he argued. He invoked God's moral law and the Scripture. He called white Christians to be more true to their own beliefs and to realize what the Bible really teaches. He did not say 'Truth is relative and everyone is free to determine what is right or wrong for them.' If everything is relative, there would have been no incentive for white people in the South to give up their power. Rather, Dr. King invoked the prophet Amos, who said, 'Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream' (Amos 5:24). The greatest champion of justice in our era knew the antidote to racism was not less Christianity, but a deeper and truer Christianity" (pages 66-67).