During the 1960's in many cases it was Protestants and people who would today be described as white Evangelicals who were leading the charge against people like Martin Luther King.
Southern Segregation was engineered and supported by white Protestant leaders and they largely had the backing of the churches. There were whites who opposed all this, and it was brave of them to do so. But the mainstream Protestant society went along with these things. The North despite its self-righteous attitude regarding the American Civil War was only slightly less guilty of racism. Civil unrest and the testimonials of the multitudes of Southern blacks who moved North in the 1950's and 60's, and that of brutally honest whites testify to this.
Dominionists often argue the Church withdrew after the Scopes Trial and didn't re-enter the social fray until the forming of the Moral Majority in the late 1970's. I don't agree with that interpretation or narrative at all. It's used as a selling point for Dominionism. "Look," they argue, "what happens when the Church retreats...the secularists take over."
Secularism had been on the rise since the Renaissance and in high gear since the Enlightenment. The Depression and the World Wars in the United States gave it a boost. Besides, they're talking in Sacral terms, not in terms of the Church or Christianity as defined by Scripture. Social custom and laws can bring about a legislated Christianity, a kind of Constantinianism, but forcing Christian mores on an unwilling populace does not suddenly make a society Christian...unless you redefine the term.
Redefining what it is to be a Christian needs to be rightly identified...as heresy if not apostasy. It certainly is worthy of Apostolic curse as Paul makes clear in the opening chapter of Galatians.
The Church of the War and post-war period wasn't in retreat. In part it was in chaos.
Denominations were falling apart, shifting and reforming due to theological liberalism. It took a few decades for groups to regroup and coalesce. Just look at the Orthodox Presbyterian Church as an example. J. Gresham Machen led a Conservative remnant out of the mainline Northern Presbyterian Church in 1936. It was a tiny group and relatively speaking still is. The mainline Church continued to just float along with the general social current. Though Biblically speaking by 1936 the mainline Northern Presbyterian Church had drifted off into theological liberalism, socially speaking, they were still a conservative body. They certainly weren't signing on with Left-wing political movements.
These shifts were happening in almost every major denomination. The mainline bodies largely lost any sense of theological antithesis to the culture. The conservative break away groups took on 'Dissent' as part of their identity. As society changed, it's not surprising the theological and social issues coalesced in their minds. Being the faithful remnant, became a social and theological mindset.
For many, like certain Methodist groups, the Conservatives were concerned about doctrine to be sure, but their traditions had focused more on conduct and in time they came to be defined more by pietistic standards than they did by specific adherence to historic doctrinal standards.
In the meantime, mainstream Christian society, (including both conservative and mainline Churches,) was caught up righteous World War II, praising McCarthyism, and encouraging Cold War symbolism during the Eisenhower years (In God We Trust, and Under God in the Pledge of Allegiance), and eventually (for the majority) opposing the Civil Rights movement. It was only after the 1960's, that suddenly the white conservative Church felt like it was becoming a persecuted social minority. The fact that the theologically liberal mainline churches were embracing the social changes (as mainline Churches always do and will)...seemed to validate the Remnant narrative.
Only then did theologically conservative Church leaders feel the need to organize specifically in political terms. This gained momentum after what many felt was Carter's betrayal. The "Born Again" candidate let them down on many fronts. Christians didn't withdraw and hide. They were part of mainstream society and the Churches were struggling and being forced to reckon with a whole host of theological and social issues. It could in fact be argued this time of confusion (rather than retreat as it is called) actually strengthened the Sacral project. It weeded out the non-committed and by the time Ronald Reagan was campaigning in 1980, the Sacralist political wing was lean and mean and ready to take action.
They helped Reagan take the White House in 1980, and have never looked back. They've harmed themselves a great deal along the way, self-destructing at times, but they've hardly gone away. By 1992, the political machine was failing only to be reborn in 1994 with the Contract for America. Clinton their political nemesis was really their best friend. Don't be fooled. Rush Limbaugh and Right-wing media celebrated when Clinton was elected. Instant riches and job security. Obama has helped make people like Glenn Beck quite wealthy.
Bill and certainly Hillary revitalized the movement and enabled them to get a candidate like George W. Bush elected. Obama's election has only energized them even more. But as I said recently, despite their victories and momentum, society is slipping away from them. People by and large aren't buying it and a lot of people who are fairly conservative when it comes to social issues and politics are getting uncomfortable when they listen to people like Santorum, Huckabee, Palin, and Bachmann who sound both extreme, and frankly less than intelligent.
Returning to the Civil Rights era, it was Christians (at least as defined by Sacralism) who resisted the Supreme Court's decisions forcing school integration. Plenty of white Christians participating in 'White Flight' to the ever expanding suburbs played a key role in the formation of the Christian school movement. I'm not suggesting it was race alone which led to this, but I think it would be a mistake to completely discount it as a motivating factor. It's still happening today in almost every major metropolitan area. Neighbourhoods that were white in the 1950's and filled with minorities today and the whites have moved elsewhere.
Jerry Falwell and others preached in the 1960's and 70's against integration, Civil Rights, Martin Luther King, and many preached against mixed-race marriages and the like. Those sermons and books were pulled from shelves about twenty years ago as a shift began to take place. These things have all disappeared down an Orwellian memory hole.
That's great if the Church wants to repent on this matter. But instead they've revised history and have decided to now call Martin Luther King a Christian and 'claim' him as one of their own. Now it was "Christians" who led the Civil Rights movement. Glenn Beck (the Mormon many Baptists love) thinks his platform is somehow a continuation of Martin Luther King's project.
Do they think we're that dumb? Apparently, and all too often the American public doesn't disappoint. I remember very well into the early 1990's being told by Christian leaders that Martin Luther King was not a Christian that the Civil Rights movement was all about Marxism and other evil ideas. I'm not talking about fringe groups. I'm talking about regular Evangelical type Churches, people in Christian schools. Martin Luther King was demonized in my home while I was growing up. The Civil Rights movement was explicitly understood to be anti-Christian. This was almost universal in Conservative Protestant churches.
I don't understand why white Evangelicals are not being called out on this? They are lying and these leaders have to know it. It hasn't been that many years! I remember it clearly and I'm hardly a senior citizen.
Dominion theology wants to claim everything that is socially 'good' as Christian. In fact there are theological presuppositions that struggle with calling anything 'good' that isn't Christian. And certainly by the 1990's attitudes started to shift...this theology moved into the Church, a new generation was coming of age and another generation dying off. At some point the shift began, and twenty years later, the truth seems to have been forgotten.
Let's deal with these things honestly. Lying and revising history is shameful. Perhaps sometime I should talk about the whole Eugenics movement, Planned Parenthood and the revisionism that's taking place with those issues at well? People seem to forget that Barry Goldwater and many conservatives supported Planned Parenthood and were not in the least opposed to the idea that the state should take measures to rid society of undesirable and unproductive segments. Part of the problem is today's political grid is imposed on the past and sometimes the categories and narrative of the present don't fit very well with past realities. It's much easier to just lie and exaggerate...people by and large won't know the difference. NPR just had an interesting piece over the weekend on Ronald Reagan. A good case could be made that he probably wouldn't get the Republican nomination today...he wasn't conservative enough. His name is constantly invoked by the present crop of candidates, but many of the issues they're railing about...taxes and immigration...the truth is Reagan was hardly in line with their narrative.
That said, I don't understand the white-washing of Martin Luther King. I sometimes listen to a Christian radio station out of the Buffalo area when I'm working up in New York State. Between the programming today they're playing clips of Martin Luther King speeches. The rest of the time, on other days they broadcast Christian Right wing diatribes during the gaps at the top and bottom of the hour. It doesn't occur to them that Martin Luther King and his ideological descendants don't concur, in fact find many of the policies and ideas of the Christian Right (proudly espoused by the radio station) to be racist?
I admire Martin Luther King but in the same way I admire someone like Gandhi. Socially speaking he was a hero. In terms of Christianity, he was pretty bad. His conduct as well as his theology are pretty disappointing. I'm not sure if Biblically speaking he even meets the basic definition of what a Christian is.
Sadly the Black Church in the United States has gone down a very bad road. Self-esteem and improvement have largely replaced the gospel of Christ. Like many people in other countries they have greatly erred in tying their history in with Biblical imagery...casting the Civil Rights movement in Redemptive (and thus often sacrilegious) typology.
King accomplished some great things and portions of his speeches are very noble in sentiment. But I also have to say he was often guilty as was Lincoln, Bush and others of twisting Scripture, taking redemptive verses about Christ and applying them to the nation or racial struggle. Christians seem to like the Bible being quoted, but they should be recoiling when they hear verses ripped from context and Christ blasphemed by applying prophecies and works belong to Him to a political struggle. Christians picked up on it when Clinton tried to do it and got mad, but when Bush did it they gushed and praised him.
So is it zeal for the Bible, or blind zealous idolatry of a political cause?
I'm glad the Church is finally realizing racism is a sin, but I have to say it has not translated into the Sacral politics the Church largely embraces. The American Right and what it stands for is no friend to minorities. That does not mean minorities in America are pure and righteous victims either. As with most social problems...it's a complicated mess with plenty of blame to go around. No side is pure or righteous, but certainly prejudice is not justifiable. American conservatives are often guilty of failing to understand the realities of daily life for minorities and the poor. Listening to them I'm often struck by what is sometimes not necessarily malice, but certainly a great deal of ignorance when it comes to the pragmatics of low-wage living, health care, lack of opportunity, social glass ceilings, and exploitation.
So what's my purpose in writing this? I admire Martin Luther King, but my admiration is limited. In terms of Christianity, I do not admire him at all. I think the Evangelical movement and the Christian Right have deceitfully tried to hijack him and revise history, and I add this crime to their ever growing list of trespasses. It only further proves lust for power knows no morality and has no integrity.