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).


Valerie said...

Greetings Terry, I was doing some research on the subject of Christianity and Civil Rights when I ran across your blog post dated Feb 2, 2011. I would like to share with you information regarding a case I am working on. The website is It involves the hanging of a young man in Mississippi this past December. We are not calling it a hate crime (although it may turn out to be). However, our major concern is that the State of Mississippi has completed an autopsy and refused to provide his family with the complete results. They also refuse to give the family the young man's personal effects. I would appreciate you prayers and anything you are led to do that will make others aware. This family is in a great deal of pain.

Yours in Christ,
Valerie Hicks Powe

Terry said...

Thank you for the information, Valerie. I had not heard about this case. I will look at the web site and see what I can do.

Terry said...

I posted on this topic last night after reading about the case. Thank you for the information about it, Valerie.

Justme said...

hi Terry-
What comments do you have about the marriage equality or support for same-sex marriage viewpoint? To me, it is no different from any other civil liberty argument - very much like the civil rights arguments of the 60's and of the anti-slavery arguments 100 years prior to that....but there are so many Christians who still don't see this...can you help?

Justme said...

Hi Terry,
To me, the same sex marriage/marriage equality arguments of today are very much about civil liberties in a lot of the same way that the civil right movement in the 60's fought for rights as well, mostly in terms of racism at that time. But discrimination by any name is still discrimination. And it is in the church's best interests to fight for civil liberties because if some civil liberties are taken away by the government, what is to stop other civil liberties (such as the right to choose and practice your own religion) from being taken away from the government? So, anyway, this is why I am so sad to see people who call themselves Christians backing discriminatory legislature. It is the opposite of loving and Christian-like behavior and I am hopeful that excellent Christian orators and scholars such as yourself will stand up and be heard on this subject in support of the civil liberties of ALL people, including LGBT folks.
thank you !!!!!

Terry Laudett said...

Thank you for reading my blog and leaving a couple of comments. I follow Jesus' teachings on marriage and sexuality. He taught that marriage consisted of a union of a man and a woman (Matthew 19:4-6). When he referred to sexual activity outside of a marriage between a man and a woman, he referred to it with such terms as "fornication", "sexual immorality", and "adultery." He came to pay for the sins of humanity (including sexual sins) by dying on the cross and being resurrected. He calls on people to turn from their sins in order to follow him.