16 January 2012

Civil Rights and Evangelical Revisionism

In addition to Colson's amazing shift regarding Evangelical attitudes toward Rome, there has also been a colossal shift regarding attitudes on race and the narrative of the Civil Rights era.

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.


Cal said...

I guess I'll start my comment by saying, typically, well done!

In my opinion, I think King was a Christian though one confused theologically and a sinner like us all, redeemed by the blood of Christ. No one needs to his errors, in fact (though no student of his biography) he'd probably be baffled by what has happened. The men of his movement gave him a special day, nod to him and take a seat at the table of power. Careful not to rock the boat too much. Like Falwell, or any populist uprising. Once you taste power, you just can't stop making concessions to keep it.

As for the memory hole, it's just bizarre how little many care for the events around the world. I watched the Thatcher movie that came out today and an older lady near by whispered to her friend "Does she die?". Granted, she's no longer in the spotlight and I had to go home and make sure I didn't miss something on the news about a recent death. But, the story of Thatcher was shocking to someone well over the age of 40?! It was only 20~ years ago when she left office!

Reagan was a smart politician. He paid the devils in Moral Majority for their support and left them strung out while he earned the love of the American people. Who had the last laugh there? The ol' Gipper was a wily one!

If the American people are on the same intellectual decline. I bet on the culture warriors claiming Obama (probably around 2060~)! His record is as conservative as Bush, just edit out the speeches where he contradicts the narrative. When all who were there are dead, the history books lay open and as for us, it seems we have jackals writing the books.

Anonymous said...

I, too, remember King being considered socialist and morally fallen by many within conservative christian circles. Many felt he was not really much of a "minister" but an activist. I witnessed a lot of white flight in the northern city and 'burbs that was my home.

I agree that thirst for power--what I call ambition--takes over a man or a movement or a church, blinding them, and also driving them to sacrifice everything to the pursuit of that ambition. That means making Scripture, or their church members, or their theology, or history as in revisionism; serve their agenda. Outsiders can see it, but they can't see that they're doing it because the nature of the beast is to deceive its captives that way. It's actually rather frightening.

I view sacralism now as so dangerous, not merely an aberration, but really dangerous for the reason that it weds religion with lust for wordly power, which completely blinds and corrupts. Yet they believe they are serving the Lord.

Another impulse of human nature is to look at any story, or history, and cast oneself on the "right" side of the issue. "If I was there," we think, "I would have sided with the abolitionists, or the civil rights activists." We read Scripture and say in our hearts, "I would never have struck the rock twice, I would have followed Jesus, I would never had hollered for Barabas..." But we deceived ourselves!

Because the dominionists, patriots, and politically right christians perceive themselves as "good", they do assume that anything "good" is theirs. Society has decided now that civil rights for negroes is good, therefore "we" have to embrace it and we assume we always did embrace it.

Jim C. said...

Hey Proto,

I came across this disturbing and compelling BBC documentary about "scientific racism" and thought you might want to take a look at it.


One aspect I found noteworthy was how it painted a much bleaker picture of the abolitionist movement of the 19th century than the romantic image to which we're accustomed. While abolitionists were horrified by the enterprise of slavery, they still thought of blacks as "lesser brethren" among the human family to whom the white race was bound to "civilize" out of a sense of "Christian duty". This was to be the task of missionaries. One of the results of their efforts was the introduction of European diseases into and the ensuing near-extinction of their societies.

The documnetary goes on to discuss the rise of social darwinism and how its proponents such as Francis Galton believed that dominance of "stronger" races over "weaker" ones was simply a fact of nature borne by scientific evidence. The link it made between this and the sacralist enterprise that preceded it was thought-provoking to say the least, especially in lieu of how we're accustomed to hearing from evangelicals how Darwin's theories led to eugenics, which in turn led to Marxism and Nazism.

I won't spoil it for you so I won't say anything more except this: to what extent is the thinking discussed in this film present in today's world with regard to the war in Iraq and Afghanistan? Is our notion of spreading "democracy" and "freedom" in the Middle East merely a reincarnation of the "white man's burden" of old, only more "politically correct"?

Anonymous said...

Hi Proto.

I don't know all there is to know about politics never mind American politics so these are just my general thoughts. Can't see why Christians want to be involved in politics at all, at least in this day and age. The temptations surrounding one could become very hard to walk away from. The power, money, greed and lies associated with politics would come into play. How does a Christian avoid that? They can't, as that's part of politics. Way too tempting. It's hard enough in one's daily walk without involving all that extra baggage. Good intentions don't count. Why would you trust a Christian in politics as opposed to an unbeliever? It's still dirty business.
Hopefully. I've conveyed my point properly. However, it is interesting learning the history behind it all.


Cal said...

Jim C:

I watched the documentary, definitely heart-wrenching when talking about shark island.

It does give meaning to the whore riding the beast only to be thrown off and trampled. Though some of the abolitionists surely had Christ-centered loving motivation, others were merely political tools to advance the Empire.

Sad stuff.

Protoprotestant said...


Sorry I took so long to get back to you. I did watch it...I've been musing on it. I could write 20 pages in a heartbeat and just begin to scratch the surface.

I can't tell you how many times I've heard Conservatives and Christians argue the Indian famines of the Victorian era were proof of the inferiority of the Indians and that it would have been much worse if the British had not been there.

I'm afraid there's very little interest in the truth among those who would push for the glories of Christendom.

All too often then and now they are the blind servants of the Beast-Antichrist.

As far as today...that's harder to say with absolute certainty. The socio-political climate means things have to be marketed in a different way. And let's face it...NOBODY can market like the Americans. As I've said elsewhere, Goebbels was an amateur...the American propaganda machine is much more powerful, largely working through distraction.

I mean look at this video, visit your local library. There are abundant resources available that if people bothered to look into it...they'd take the streets and shed blood. But here you don't need to censor, you don't need to hide...the propaganda machine works because of distraction...everyone is fat and happy, more concerned with sports and entertainment. We just keep repeating our mantras...support the troops.

I think the cultural bigotry definitely persevered in American Imperialism well into the Civil Rights era. Certainly with T Roosevelt and Wilson and I think you find among many people in the government elite well into the mid 20th century.

Then...it could be argued it was obscured or went underground so to speak. I think it's still there, but less open, less overt and not as conscious. I think the empire today is really about money and power more than anything. Race and a cultural vision may motivate some.

I do think it motivates many within Christian circles. I encounter soft-racism all the time and I think those engaged in the big Culture War/Dominion battle are in many cases racist...I also think some of them don't realize it.

I think all of this though contributes to a general coldness and lack of concern at the deaths of 'brown' people in other countries. Americans just don't care when Afghans and Iraqis are killed...let alone blacks in Africa.

So to answer your question...yes, and no...and the general vision continues, but it's not quite the same.

But give it another 30-40 years...I think we'll see a big upsurge in white racism in America and Europe. White supremacists had their crisis in the 60's and lost. But when they start to feel the real crisis, when they feel the whole thing (their civilizational narrative) is coming down...watch out.

Protoprotestant said...


I agree with you. No, I wouldn't trust a Christian in politics...in fact in many ways I'm MORE suspect of them. In their case there's something theologically perverse driving them.

Politics is about power...power as defined by the world. I think we MUST be aware and watching so that we're not deceived, so that we can warn. Because of how this has all played out in history, we MUST learn it and keep picking it apart.

But power and the quest for power I find to be largely incompatible with the Christian life.

This gets at kind of the core issue behind all this stuff. What are we here to do? Take over? Most seem to assume that and just argue over how we do it and what it looks like.

That's why what I'm saying (and I'm hardly the first or the only one) seems so strange. I'm arguing against the whole notion of Christians seeking after power. I'm trying to show why the Bible teaches it's wrong and how history shows us that Christians seeking power has only led to evil both in and out of the Church.

The weapons of our warfare are not carnal. Everyone says amen, but they still think the nature of the warfare itself is carnal. At least they act like it. They speak of it being a spiritual war and they think because they're not picking up a gun that they're not using carnal weapons. Well in some cases they are picking up a gun (or using some other tool of power)...going to the courts, looking to law and the enforcing of it is just another way of picking up a gun.


eliyahu said...

Hi Proto: This article expresses so much of what I've been feeling and experiencing throughout my Christian walk; I say this because it's so utterly refreshing to meet other believers who are aware of the accepted inconsistencies the church is loaded with, which actually end up maintaining divisions and policies which support the same wrong mindsets as existed in the past, yet have been covered up in the present-leaving the problems hidden yet unsolved and still leading the church!
So many of my culturally conservative Christian brethren have no idea that their churches and political organizations actively supported, wholeheartedly, positions they would find horrible and would wronlgy ascribe to secularism-yet were led and sustained by the mainstream churches! And worse, the mindset behind this support remains unchanged and influences, poisons-even leads the church today in similar directions from behind the curtain of historical revisionism-further shielding itself and misleading the church as actual historical truth is accused of being "America- hating liberal historical revisionism"! Yet the truth is in plain sight; who supported these evil policies which did to others as they would never want done to them? It was Christians; our own families-and if we are of the right ages-ourselves. That is hard to swallow. The idea of the church being in the forefront of the fight for freedom for others, and the evil (insert enemies the church opposes today) were "the bad oppressors we're still fighting!" is much easier to accept. And if you point out the truth, making the church look bad, you're "a liberal revisionist, out to break down the good Christian history of this great country, which is beyond reproach- except for a couple of unfortunate mishaps; but still better than any other!" No change and real understanding can come from this; and renders the church trapped in a false paradigm they simply cannot understand why their credibility is shot before many other Christians and the world.
Your view of King and the racial situation in America, and the church's position to it is, I believe, spot on; and captures the intricacies we should all be grasping and communicating and sharing with each other in the church-and even to the world. By mercy and truth iniquity is atoned for; and by the fear of Yahweh men depart from evil. Alot of forgiveness needs to go around from all sides; but that can't happen with ignorance due to covering the sins of the past with false self justification. It just leads to the same errors finding cover and sanctuary in the church today-and doing the same things in different ways.
I pray our own lives will be a testimony of the healing and freedom only Christ provides.