August 8, 2014

Did The Southern Church Lose Its Testimony Fifty Years Ago During Freedom Summer?

"Once upon a time, a visitor came to the monastery looking for the purpose and meaning of life.
The Teacher said to the visitor, 'If what you seek is Truth, there is one thing you must have above all else.'
'I know', said the visitor. 'To find Truth, I must have an overwhelming passion for it.'
'No", said the Teacher. 'In order to find Truth, you must have an unremitting readiness to admit you may be wrong.' "----from Wisdom Distilled From the Daily, by Joan Chittister

photo from Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement

Why was it so difficult for the southern, white church to acknowledge segregation was wrong?

For some, this question may pose another question: why was it so difficult for southern white culture to acknowledge segregation was wrong?

My original question is based upon the assumption that the church does not accept without question or challenge the values and mores of the larger society. In this case, the church obviously did accept those values and mores. The few who spoke out for what was right were often labeled "enemy."  Did the church lose its testimony because it refused to visibly and vocally challenge the violence that was needed to enforce segregation?

Was the southern church co-opted culturally by the larger society in which it lived and functioned? For the record, many elements in what was then called the southern Negro church did not support civil rights during its earliest days. Many conservative African-Americans feared the disruption and retribution that would come with a push for civil rights. Based on their (well-founded) fear, they also sat on the sidelines, or accused the civil rights workers of being trouble-makers and rabble-rousers.

Why was the southern white church also so afraid of change that those who spoke out for the righteousness of civil rights were excluded and ostracized?

How was it possible that southern white Christians did not see a brotherhood and sisterhood of faith in their African-American neighbors? Why was it so much easier to speak about "personal salvation in Jesus Christ" and "holiness and sanctification" that it was to say that all Americans should be treated as citizens? Who were "the least of these" in this situation? How many sermons on the Good Samaritan were preached in churches where African-Americans were not welcomed or even permitted?

How many ministers said "those people won't come to our churches anyway?" How many laypersons felt it was permissible to eat food and wear clothes prepared by women with whom they refused to worship? How many times did ministers preach on Lazarus and the Rich Man without considering how their actions appeared to an unredeemed world?

Why was so much pseudo-science accepted as reasonable explanations for legally and forcibly separating people who worshiped the same God, read from the same Bible, and looked forward to the same Heaven?

I suppose arguments could be made regarding social comfort and traditional practices. Still, I wonder how many of those outside of the church watched in wonder or mockery as church leaders and laypersons affirmed the right of the government to separate people based on race. I wonder how many atheists mocked the Gospel as so-called Christians remained silent while churches were bombed, busses were bombed, and peaceful demonstrators were set upon by police dogs and high powered fire hoses.

Why was it so difficult for the church to admit legal segregation was wrong? Can a testimony lost ever be regained?

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