Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

King Bibliography

My King Day post has prompted a few private emails requesting a bibliography of good books on King. I am happy to comply. I am among those with a limited book budget, so my first advice is always to start with public and university libraries, then visit used book stores (always fun) and, when visiting Amazon.com, look and see if there are used copies–especially for the more expensive books.


There are numerous biographies of King, but many are written for children or are hagiographic (reinforcing the plastic saint mistake) or have numerous factual errors due to poor research.  But there are 2 excellent one-volume biographies on King:

David J. Garrow, Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr. ad the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (Vintage Books, 1986) which won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature.

Stephen B. Oates, Let the Trumpet Sound: The Life of Martin Luther King, Jr. (Harper & Row, 1982).

If you have time and can either afford it or have access to library copies, I also highly recommend the 3-volume work by Taylor Branch which chronicles King’s public life in the context of the wider social history of the U.S. at the same time.

Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-1963 (Simon & Schuster, 1988).

Taylor Branch, Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years, 1963-1965 (Simon & Schuster, 1998).

Taylor Branch, At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-1968 (Simon & Schuster, 2006).

Although I do not agree with all of his applications for today, I highly recommend Michael Eric Dyson’s I May Not Get There With You: The True Martin Luther King, Jr.  (The Free Press, 2000).

Similar to Dyson, but more in the spirit of King himself is Vincent Harding’s slim volume, Martin Luther King, Jr: The Inconvenient Hero (Orbis Books, 1986).  Harding is an African-American Mennonite minister and historian who lived around the corner from the Kings for years and was a major behind-the-scenes player in the Movement. He is also one of the creators of the Black Studies programs in U.S. universities and one of the most renowned historians of Black America and of movements for social progress in North America.  This book is a series of essays and sermons that Harding wrote in preparation for making King’s birthday into a national holiday–and the way this was already taming King’s legacy.

King’s theology:

Early writings on King’s theology (mostly by liberal whites) tended to root him only in Northern white liberal theology, missing his Southern Black Church roots almost completely.  In reality, King, like many African-American Christians during segregation, was raised in a conservative evangelical context (but, unlike many white evangelicals, African American evangelicals tend to be liberal to radical in their politics–and sometimes wonder aloud if their white sisters and brothers in the faith read the same Bible!). As many of us do in adolescence, he questioned some of the more conservative tenets–even calling it fundamentalist–and only in college did he manage to put his questions about the ministry in place. As with other prominent African-American theologians and theologically educated pastors of his era, King fused the best of white liberalism (especially the Social Gospel) with traditional Black Church faith. Remember, that during this era most white evangelical seminaries were segregated–both North and South–and even many liberal seminaries and universities had strict quotas on black enrollment! I have sometimes wondered if the rise of Black Church conservatism (including adopting the “health and wealth” gospel) in the ’80s and ’90s came from more African-American seminary students attending white evangelical seminaries instead of liberal seminaries–and that the theology peddled at these white evangelical schools did not promote struggles for social justice. (The faculties of historic African-American seminaries continued to be populated by theologians who earned Ph.Ds. at liberal institutions.)

Later studies of King’s theology showed more knowledge of how rooted he was in the Black Church–and have usually been written by African-Americans.  I recommend especially:

Lewis V. Baldwin, There is a Balm in Gilead: The Cultural Roots of Martin Luther King, Jr. (Fortress, 1991).  Baldwin’s sequel, To Make the Wounded Whole: The Cultural Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. (Fortress, 1992) shows how King has influenced following generations of African-American theologians.

Noel Leo Erskine, an Afro-Carribbean theologian, places King’s thought in the context of the major writing theologians of his era and subsequently  in King Among the Theologians (Pilgrim Press, 1994).

The two pioneers of Black Liberation Theology have both written important books on King:

James H. Cone, Martin, Malcolm, and America: A Dream or a Nightmare? (Orbis Books,1991) is an excellent comparison and contrast of the lives and thinking of King and Malcolm X, including ways they began to influence each other toward the end of each of their lives.  Written by the first pioneer of Black Liberation Theology.

J. Deotis Roberts, Bonhoeffer and King: Speaking Truth to Power (Westminster/John Knox Press, 2005) compares and contrasts two of the major activist theologians of the 20th C. in times of great peril–and two of the forerunners of political and liberation theologies. Written by the second (and, in my view, more powerfully Christian) major pioneer of Black Liberation Theology.

King in Context:

A. The post WWII “Civil Rights” or Black Freedom Movement.

Good histories of the modern civil rights era are legion. For every one I recommend here, a dozen more could be mentioned.

First, if you haven’t watched it, see the PBS series, Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years.  You can check it out of most major public libraries and arrange viewings in local churches. It is essential viewing, especially for those not then alive.  PBS has it here and includes guides for teachers, primary sources, etc.  The senior historical advisor was Vincent Harding.

Then read The Eyes on the Prize Reader containing documents, speeches, and writings from the Movement.

Also helpful is Henry Hampton and Steve Fayer, eds., Voices of Freedom: An Oral History of the Civil Rights Movement from the 1950s through the 1980s. (Bantam, 1991).

That’s enough for this post. I’ll list primary sources (King’s own writings) in a subsequent post. Also, no social movement is isolated unto itself: the Civil Rights movement was influenced by the abolitionist movement and the labor movement and the movement for women’s suffrage–as well as by Gandhi’s nonviolent movement to liberate India. (Black-owned newspapers covered Gandhi extensively beginning in the 1920s and Gandhians came to the U.S. and African-American leaders to India–spreading Gandhi’s tactics, successes and failures throughout much of the educated strata of pre-1954 Black America.) Movements to throw off American and European Colonialism from the end of WWII through the 1960s also influenced the Civil Rights movement–and vice versa. (King linked these struggles globally often, especially in his 1964 Acceptance Speech for the Nobel Peace Prize.)  In turn, the Civil Rights movement influenced Cesar Chavez and the struggle for migrant worker justice (which developed into the Latino civil rights movement), the second women’s movement, the peace movement, the gay rights movement, the movement for international human rights, the global movement to end apartheid in South Africa, to end U.S. sponsored dictatorships in Latin America, to end Soviet oppression of Jews and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the movements for freedom in Eastern Europe (they sang “We Shall Overcome” as the Berlin Wall fell) and for a free Palestine–all were influenced in both positive and negative ways by the Civil Rights movement.  The Green Movement for the Environment, the global movement to abolish the death penalty, and the movement to abolish all nuclear weapons, also have roots in the  Civil Rights movement (though also having other influences).

January 23, 2008 Posted by | MLK | 5 Comments

MLK, Jr.: Nonviolent Radical for Our Time

mlk_gandhi.jpgToday is the official U.S. holiday for the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (15 January 1929-04 April 1968) who was assassinated 40 years ago this coming April. In the generation which has passed in the meantime, King has been tamed: turned into “the Dreamer.”  Though more biographies and studies of his life and work have been written than with any other African-American leader (itself a disservice to the hundreds of leaders and thousands of forgotten participants in the so-called “Civil Rights” movement), few Americans know anything about King other than the first 4 words of his most famous speech, “I have a dream,” delivered as the climax of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Almost no one could summarize much of the contents of that dream–beyond vagaries like “racial harmony.”  So, although its rhetoric is among the most stirring political speeches in the English language, count me among those who call for a moratorium on the Dream Speech–and, more importantly, a moratorium on the icon of “King the Dreamer.”  A part of my Ph.D. dissertation was on King and I have written one slim book on the civil rights movement, so I know what I am talking about when I say: The Real Martin Luther King, Jr. was far more radical than the icon–and it is the radical King whom we need to recover today.

King’s vision for U.S. society was always more than simply racial “integration.” He knew the system as it was then and is now was/is unjust and that Black assimilation into such a system would just make things worse.  He ALWAYS wanted to change the system beyond just ending the legal segregation–as important as that was.  But in the years following the Dream Speech, the radical dimensions of King’s vision became more pronounced:

  • The real Martin Luther King, Jr. was a class warrior against an unjust economic system. Although he rejected many of the answers of Marxism, he found much of Marx’s critique of capitalism valid. Increasingly, he called himself a democratic socialist–of the kind he had found in Scandinavia when he journeyed to Oslo, Norway in 1964 to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. (King’s Nobel Acceptance Speech should be required reading in all U.S. high schools.) He wanted American to turn from materialism (what he called a “thing oriented society”) to a person-centered society–a move that he called a “revolution of values.” During his last year of life, King was planning a different kind of March on Washington, as part of a massive “Poor People’s Campaign” that would unite African-Americans, Latino/as, Native Americans, and poor whites (especially from Appalachia and Mississippi–America’s 3rd World, then and now) and demand the kinds of changes that would abolish poverty–though he knew it would cost a huge amount of money. King himself took only $1 per year as salary for leading the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and a modest salary as a pastor. He donated most of his speaking fees to the SCLC.  He divided up his Nobel Prize money between the 4 largest civil rights organizations–and his wife, Corretta, had to demand that he set aside a small amount in a fund for his kids’ education.  He constantly linked the fortunes of African-Americans with the strength of the Labor movement. When he was assassinated in Memphis on 04 April 1968, he was helping out a campaign for the rights of city garbage workers. 
  • The real Martin Luther King, Jr. was committed to peacemaking. As his “Pilgrimage to Nonviolence” essay makes clear (you can find it reprinted as a chapter in Why We Can’t Wait (1964) and in his book of sermons, Strength to Love (1965) ), he was not always a pacifist–not in his youth and early education.  And he began working with Gandhian nonviolence as a mere tactic in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, but was prepared to use violent self-defense in his personal life. But this soon changed, under the influence of reading Gandhi and from pacifist interpretations of Jesus mediated to King by members of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (especially the white Methodist preacher Glenn Smiley and the African American Quaker Bayard Rustin). Most people never understood this: They expected that King, as a good American and as one who wanted the alliance of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson in passing civil rights legislation, would support the U.S. war effort in Vietnam–or, at least remain silent. He tried the latter. In the early days, Corretta spoke out far more against Vietnam than Martin did. (She was a member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom since her days at Antioch College, long before meeting Martin.) When he did speak out, many other civil rights leaders told him to be quiet and he tried to obey–until he could silence his conscience no longer and on 04 April 1967 (one year before his death) gave his famous “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” speech at the founding of Clergy and Laity Concerned About Vietnam at Riverside Church in NY. In that speech King said that he could never again tell young men in gangs to stop their violence if he didn’t confront the greatest purveyor of violence in the world–“my own government.” This lost him Johnson’s friendship and support and led J. Edgar Hoover to call King “the most dangerous Negro in America.”
  • The real King, unlike one of his daughters, was not homophobic. He did not speak out on gay rights–no one did in those days–but he knew that one of his closest advisors, Bayard Rustin, was gay.  After his death and the rise of the modern gay rights movement, Corretta Scott King championed it bravely.
  • The real Martin Luther King, Jr. was not a complete contrast to Malcolm X or the later Black Power movement. Yes, King criticized the Black Power movement, but his criticism was not total and he sought to remain in dialogue with its leaders like Stokely Carmichael.  His chapter on black empowerment in his last book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? criticizes the violent rhetoric and the separatism of the Black Power movement, but praises its emphasis on black self-sufficiency and Black Pride.

But the real Martin Luther King, Jr. was also no plastic saint. The icon is dangerous not only because it is tamed, but also because it makes King seem perfect–and thus an impossible standard for movement leaders. But the real King, despite his many sterling qualities, was human and flawed, as are we all.:

  • The real Martin Luther King, Jr. was a chain smoker, though he kept it mostly off camera. He tried often to quit and failed. (This is somewhat more tolerated by Black Baptists in their pastors than by white Baptists, but it was still considered a major failing in many parts of Baptist life.)
  • The real Martin Luther King, Jr. was not a faithful husband, but had several extramarital affairs–short and longterm.  We know of these mostly because the FBI bugged his hotel rooms and tried to use the tapes of him having sex to extort or scare both him and Corretta. But, sadly, friends and associates mostly tried to cover this up or apologize for it, rather than confront King as friends who were concerned about his marriage.  He needed a community of accountability and didn’t have one.
  • The real Martin Luther King, Jr. was a sexist who was always trying to keep Corretta from being an equal partner in both their marriage and in the movement. This was typical of most men of this pre-feminist era–indeed, the modern women’s movement can be traced to the dissents by the women, black and white, who were demeaned in the struggle for racial equality.
  • The real Martin Luther King, Jr. was subject to depression and to doubts about himself, about God and his faith, and about the movement and his role in it. The confident face he showed to the world did not always reflect his doubts and struggles and wrestlings with himself and God.
  • The real Martin Luther King, Jr. could be high-handed, even dictatorial, in the way he ran the SCLC.  Other organizations, especially the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Council (SNCC, pronounced “SNICK”) and their advisor, Ella Baker, dissented from this personality-driven approach to mass movements. The SNCC students often mocked King as “De Lawd,” and Baker’s slogan was “Strong People Don’t Need Strong Leaders.”

I think we need Martin Luther King, Jr. today as much or more than when he was taken from us 40 years ago. (He would have turned 79 last Tuesday.) But we don’t need King the tamed and perfect icon, King the Dreamer. We need the real, radical Martin King–both because our society needs this radical critique and much bolder vision, and because we need to develop new leaders without expecting that they will be either without flaws or always popular.  And we need to recover King in context: in the context of many others working for freedom and justice and peace–and some losing their lives for it.

We honor King’s memory not by taming it, but by letting it challenge us in all its radical fullness–and by taking up where King left off. We honor King best by rolling up our sleeves and getting into the risky work of justice and peacemaking.

January 21, 2008 Posted by | Baptists, heroes, liberation, love of enemies, MLK, nonviolence, pacifism, progressive faith, race | 5 Comments

Obama’s Ebenezer Sermon

For the record, I think that politicians in Christian pulpits violate AT LEAST the spirit, if not the letter, of the First Amendment’s protection of church-state separation.  Also, and more seriously from a Christian standpoint, politicians in pulpits, like clergy endorsements of political candidates (which I also oppose), give the appearance that the church is simply another special interest group or, worse yet, subordinate to some political party or ideology.  So, I have mixed feelings that the good people of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta (where both “Daddy” King and Martin Luther King, Jr. served) whose current pastor, Rev. Raphael G. Warnock, is a strong peace and justice advocate, allowed Sen. Obama to preach this morning.   But the content of that sermon is amazing(almost as powerful as one of King’s own sermons or speeches)  and so, I reproduce it in full below. UPDATE: The version Obama delivered was better than the transcript below. As most preachers or public speakers know, one includes ad libs and riffs in the version one delivers that are not in the mss.  So, here is a link to the C-Span coverage of the whole sermon for those who can watch video online.

The Scripture tells us that when Joshua and the Israelites arrived at the gates of Jericho, they could not enter. The walls of the city were too steep for any one person to climb; too strong to be taken down with brute force. And so they sat for days, unable to pass on through.

But God had a plan for his people. He told them to stand together and march together around the city, and on the seventh day he told them that when they heard the sound of the ram’s horn, they should speak with one voice. And at the chosen hour, when the horn sounded and a chorus of voices cried out together, the mighty walls of Jericho came tumbling down.

There are many lessons to take from this passage, just as there are many lessons to take from this day, just as there are many memories that fill the space of this church. As I was thinking about which ones we need to remember at this hour, my mind went back to the very beginning of the modern Civil Rights Era.

Because before Memphis and the mountaintop; before the bridge in Selma and the march on Washington; before Birmingham and the beatings; the fire hoses and the loss of those four little girls; before there was King the icon and his magnificent dream, there was King the young preacher and a people who found themselves suffering under the yoke of oppression.

And on the eve of the bus boycotts in Montgomery, at a time when many were still doubtful about the possibilities of change, a time when those in the black community mistrusted themselves, and at times mistrusted each other, King inspired with words not of anger, but of an urgency that still speaks to us today:

“Unity is the great need of the hour” is what King said. Unity is how we shall overcome.

What Dr. King understood is that if just one person chose to walk instead of ride the bus, those walls of oppression would not be moved. But maybe if a few more walked, the foundation might start to shake. If a few more women were willing to do what Rosa Parks had done, maybe the cracks would start to show. If teenagers took freedom rides from North to South, maybe a few bricks would come loose. Maybe if white folks marched because they had come to understand that their freedom too was at stake in the impending battle, the wall would begin to sway. And if enough Americans were awakened to the injustice; if they joined together, North and South, rich and poor, Christian and Jew, then perhaps that wall would come tumbling down, and justice would flow like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.

Unity is the great need of the hour – the great need of this hour. Not because it sounds pleasant or because it makes us feel good, but because it’s the only way we can overcome the essential deficit that exists in this country.

I’m not talking about a budget deficit. I’m not talking about a trade deficit. I’m not talking about a deficit of good ideas or new plans.

I’m talking about a moral deficit. I’m talking about an empathy deficit. I’m taking about an inability to recognize ourselves in one another; to understand that we are our brother’s keeper; we are our sister’s keeper; that, in the words of Dr. King, we are all tied together in a single garment of destiny.

We have an empathy deficit when we’re still sending our children down corridors of shame – schools in the forgotten corners of America where the color of your skin still affects the content of your education.

We have a deficit when CEOs are making more in ten minutes than some workers make in ten months; when families lose their homes so that lenders make a profit; when mothers can’t afford a doctor when their children get sick.

We have a deficit in this country when there is Scooter Libby justice for some and Jena justice for others; when our children see nooses hanging from a schoolyard tree today, in the present, in the twenty-first century.

We have a deficit when homeless veterans sleep on the streets of our cities; when innocents are slaughtered in the deserts of Darfur; when young Americans serve tour after tour of duty in a war that should’ve never been authorized and never been waged.

And we have a deficit when it takes a breach in our levees to reveal a breach in our compassion; when it takes a terrible storm to reveal the hungry that God calls on us to feed; the sick He calls on us to care for; the least of these He commands that we treat as our own.

So we have a deficit to close. We have walls – barriers to justice and equality – that must come down. And to do this, we know that unity is the great need of this hour.

Unfortunately, all too often when we talk about unity in this country, we’ve come to believe that it can be purchased on the cheap. We’ve come to believe that racial reconciliation can come easily – that it’s just a matter of a few ignorant people trapped in the prejudices of the past, and that if the demagogues and those who exploit our racial divisions will simply go away, then all our problems would be solved.

All too often, we seek to ignore the profound institutional barriers that stand in the way of ensuring opportunity for all children, or decent jobs for all people, or health care for those who are sick. We long for unity, but are unwilling to pay the price.

But of course, true unity cannot be so easily won. It starts with a change in attitudes – a broadening of our minds, and a broadening of our hearts.

It’s not easy to stand in somebody else’s shoes. It’s not easy to see past our differences. We’ve all encountered this in our own lives. But what makes it even more difficult is that we have a politics in this country that seeks to drive us apart – that puts up walls between us.

We are told that those who differ from us on a few things are different from us on all things; that our problems are the fault of those who don’t think like us or look like us or come from where we do. The welfare queen is taking our tax money. The immigrant is taking our jobs. The believer condemns the non-believer as immoral, and the non-believer chides the believer as intolerant.

For most of this country’s history, we in the African American community have been at the receiving end of man’s inhumanity to man. And all of us understand intimately the insidious role that race still sometimes plays – on the job, in the schools, in our health care system and in our criminal justice system.

And yet, if we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that none of our hands are entirely clean. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll acknowledge that our own community has not always been true to King’s vision of a beloved community.

We have scorned our gay brothers and sisters instead of embracing them. The scourge of anti-Semitism has, at times, revealed itself in our community. For too long, some of us have seen immigrants as competitors for jobs instead of companions in the fight for opportunity.

Every day, our politics fuels and exploits this kind of division across all races and regions; across gender and party. It is played out on television. It is sensationalized by the media. And last week, it even crept into the campaign for President, with charges and counter-charges that served to obscure the issues instead of illuminating the critical choices we face as a nation.

So let us say that on this day of all days, each of us carries with us the task of changing our hearts and minds. The division, the stereotypes, the scapegoating, the ease with which we blame our plight on others – all of this distracts us from the common challenges we face – war and poverty; injustice and inequality. We can no longer afford to build ourselves up by tearing someone else down. We can no longer afford to traffic in lies or fear or hate. It is the poison that we must purge from our politics; the wall that we must tear down before the hour grows too late.

Because if Dr. King could love his jailor; if he could call on the faithful who once sat where you do to forgive those who set dogs and fire hoses upon them, then surely we can look past what divides us in our time, and bind up our wounds, and erase the empathy deficit that exists in our hearts.

But if changing our hearts and minds is the first critical step, we cannot stop there. It is not enough to bemoan the plight of poor children in this country and remain unwilling to push our elected officials to provide the resources to fix our schools. It is not enough to decry the disparities of health care and yet allow the insurance companies and the drug companies to block much-needed reforms. It is not enough for us to abhor the costs of a misguided war, and yet allow ourselves to be driven by a politics of fear that sees the threat of attack as way to scare up votes instead of a call to come together around a common effort.

The Scripture tells us that we are judged not just by word, but by deed. And if we are to truly bring about the unity that is so crucial in this time, we must find it within ourselves to act on what we know; to understand that living up to this country’s ideals and its possibilities will require great effort and resources; sacrifice and stamina.

And that is what is at stake in the great political debate we are having today. The changes that are needed are not just a matter of tinkering at the edges, and they will not come if politicians simply tell us what we want to hear. All of us will be called upon to make some sacrifice. None of us will be exempt from responsibility. We will have to fight to fix our schools, but we will also have to challenge ourselves to be better parents. We will have to confront the biases in our criminal justice system, but we will also have to acknowledge the deep-seated violence that still resides in our own communities and marshal the will to break its grip.

That is how we will bring about the change we seek. That is how Dr. King led this country through the wilderness. He did it with words – words that he spoke not just to the children of slaves, but the children of slave owners. Words that inspired not just black but also white; not just the Christian but the Jew; not just the Southerner but also the Northerner.

He led with words, but he also led with deeds. He also led by example. He led by marching and going to jail and suffering threats and being away from his family. He led by taking a stand against a war, knowing full well that it would diminish his popularity. He led by challenging our economic structures, understanding that it would cause discomfort. Dr. King understood that unity cannot be won on the cheap; that we would have to earn it through great effort and determination.

That is the unity – the hard-earned unity – that we need right now. It is that effort, and that determination, that can transform blind optimism into hope – the hope to imagine, and work for, and fight for what seemed impossible before.

The stories that give me such hope don’t happen in the spotlight. They don’t happen on the presidential stage. They happen in the quiet corners of our lives. They happen in the moments we least expect. Let me give you an example of one of those stories.

There is a young, 23-year-old white woman named Ashley Baia who organizes for our campaign in Florence, South Carolina. She’s been working to organize a mostly African American community since the beginning of this campaign, and the other day she was at a roundtable discussion where everyone went around telling their story and why they were there.

And Ashley said that when she was nine years old, her mother got cancer. And because she had to miss days of work, she was let go and lost her health care. They had to file for bankruptcy, and that’s when Ashley decided that she had to do something to help her mom.

She knew that food was one of their most expensive costs, and so Ashley convinced her mother that what she really liked and really wanted to eat more than anything else was mustard and relish sandwiches. Because that was the cheapest way to eat.

She did this for a year until her mom got better, and she told everyone at the roundtable that the reason she joined our campaign was so that she could help the millions of other children in the country who want and need to help their parents too.

So Ashley finishes her story and then goes around the room and asks everyone else why they’re supporting the campaign. They all have different stories and reasons. Many bring up a specific issue. And finally they come to this elderly black man who’s been sitting there quietly the entire time. And Ashley asks him why he’s there. And he does not bring up a specific issue. He does not say health care or the economy. He does not say education or the war. He does not say that he was there because of Barack Obama. He simply says to everyone in the room, “I am here because of Ashley.”

By itself, that single moment of recognition between that young white girl and that old black man is not enough. It is not enough to give health care to the sick, or jobs to the jobless, or education to our children.

But it is where we begin. It is why the walls in that room began to crack and shake.

And if they can shake in that room, they can shake in Atlanta.

And if they can shake in Atlanta, they can shake in Georgia.

And if they can shake in Georgia, they can shake all across America. And if enough of our voices join together; we can bring those walls tumbling down. The walls of Jericho can finally come tumbling down. That is our hope – but only if we pray together, and work together, and march together.

Brothers and sisters, we cannot walk alone.

In the struggle for peace and justice, we cannot walk alone.

In the struggle for opportunity and equality, we cannot walk alone

In the struggle to heal this nation and repair this world, we cannot walk alone.

So I ask you to walk with me, and march with me, and join your voice with mine, and together we will sing the song that tears down the walls that divide us, and lift up an America that is truly indivisible, with liberty, and justice, for all. May God bless the memory of the great pastor of this church, and may God bless the United States of America.

January 20, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 11 Comments

Fight Savage’s Anti-Muslim Hate Speech

It’s time to stop the anti-Muslim hate speech. We begin with super-bigot demagogue Michael Savage. Yes, I believe in freech speech. Yes, I love Voltaire’s dictum, “I may disagree with everything you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” But we don’t have to pay for it. Hate speech creates an atmosphere of fear that leads to crimes created by a mob mentality.  In the 1930s, Henry Ford bought a newspaper and used it to spew anti-Jewish propaganda–that was so vindictively anti-semitic that Adolf Hitler praised Henry Ford in Mein Kampf and later gave him a medal. The renegade Catholic priest, Fr. Joseph Coughlin, used a radio show to spew such anti-semitic bigotry across the airwaves. So successful was this anti-Jewish propaganda here in the land of the free that, even as the Nazis began their anti-Jewish campaigns in the ’30s, polls showed that 50% of Americans believed Jews brought at least some of this treatment on themselves! (Source for that statistic: The Jewish Americans series on PBS.  It is worth watching.)

Now, this same kind of bigotry campaign is targetting Muslims. We cannot stand back and let it happen.  Those of us who are Christians have specifically religious obligations to stop it: including the commands against bearing false witness, the commands to love neighbors and enemies, the command to treat others as we would want to be treated.  Some of us come from traditions that have known our own persecution–and in that history we would have wanted others to speak out on our behalf. Now our Muslim sisters and brothers need that kind of courage from us.  This is not about whose religion is right or wrong. This is not about questions of soteriology (exclusive, inclusive, etc.), but about simple truthtelling and defending the rights and dignity of our neighbors and fellow citizens.

We begin by taking on the demagogue Michael Savage.  See the following video. Then go to NoSavage.org and take action: email him and call his talk show to protest. Contact his sponsors and urge them to pull out or we boycott their products–we do not have to pay for his hate speech. (One major sponsor has already pulled out.) Does Savage have free speech? Absolutely. In this country, he can spew whatever bile he wants without fear of arrest. But we DON’T have to give him a microphone. Do something. Fight back against this bile, now.

January 18, 2008 Posted by | civil liberties, interfaith, Islam, peacemaking, prejudice, religious liberty, U.S. politics | 6 Comments

A Shameful Anniversary

Sunday 13 January ’08 was a glorious anniversary: My wife and I have now been married for 18 years.  Great cheers.

But Friday 11 January’08 was a much more shameful anniversary: The Gitmo Gulag Turned Six.  Today, the Director of National Intelligence, while still staying mum on whether waterboarding is torture, said it would be torture–if done to HIM. The Congressional and criminal investigation of the destroyed CIA tapes supposedly showing tortured detainees continues–but with the focus still on obstruction of justice (itself a felony) and not on the underlying war crime of torture.

To date, none of the presidential debates, between Republicans or Democrats, has had a single question specifically on torture or on the Gitmo Gulag.  Stopping this is up to us.

January 14, 2008 Posted by | human rights., torture, U.S. politics | 2 Comments

Mercer Ethicist Dave Gushee on U.S. Evangelicals in Politics

David P. Gushee is a friend of mine who is somewhat more conservative than I am theologically and politically–but not in any extreme sense. We are almost the same age (I’m slightly younger) and Dave is, like me, a former student of Glen Stassen.  Dave then did a Ph.D. at Union Theological Seminary under Larry Rasmussen, a Lutheran expert on Reinhold Niebuhr and Dietrich Bonhoeffer–as well as ecological ethics and the role of Scripture in Ethics.  Dave tried to work with the fundamentalist Mohler administration at post-takeover SBTS before needing to leave for several years at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee.  Now, he has recently joined the McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University– a context in which I am sure he’ll thrive.

Dave shares my commitment to gender equality, but does not share my views on GLBT inclusion. (I’ll keep working on him.) He shares my strong commitment to Jewish-Christian dialogue and is beginning to add Christian-Muslim dialogue to that. He is deeply committed to a 2-state solution in Palestine-Israel for Middle East peace although I sometimes think he is too trusting of the Israeli government’s view of things. But Dave is definitely NOT one of those knee-jerk evangelicals who think the gov. of Israel can do no wrong and who support wiping out Palestinians or permanent occupation of the territories.

Dave is a Just War Theorist, unfortunately, but he is an honest and strict JWTer who opposed the Iraq war and opposes the Bush doctrine of preemption.

Dave is deeply committed to human rights, and started Evangelicals for Human Rights to work on abolitioning torture, beginning with the U.S. 

Dave and I mostly agree on church-state matters, although I think I am slightly more of a separationist than he is.  But in a very important article in USA Today, Dave takes most U.S. evangelicals to task for the way they have turned the majority of U.S. evangelicalism into a religious wing of the Republican Party–something that should not be done with ANY Party or ideology.  Read Dave and show this to other U.S. evangelicals.  It’s that important. The integrity of the church in these United States is at stake.

January 14, 2008 Posted by | Baptists, church-state separation, citizenship, evangelicals, U.S. politics | 5 Comments

War Against Women in the (DR) Congo

Last night CBS’ famed 60 Minutes weekly newsmagazine aired an excellent segment by CNN’s Anderson Cooper, “War Against Women in the Congo.” It concerns the systematic use of rape against women and children in the Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The tragedy of the Darfur region of the Sudan is horrid and should not be underplayed, but it gets far more coverage in the U.S. than the horrors in the DRC–even though both the United Nations and Human Rights Watch conclude that what is happening in the DRC is the worst human rights tragedy in the world, currently. Further, although women have been raped in all wars, this is the most systematic use of rape as a weapon of war anywhere–making even the rape camps during the Balkans civil war which broke up Yugoslavia in the ’90s or the rapes in the Darfur refugee camps now look small in comparison. DAILY GANG RAPE is now the norm–and reaches children as young as 3 and women in their ’90s–and is leaving entire villages traumatized.

The video is disturbing and not for the squeamish. We need to make ending this a high priority of the U.S. State Dept. and the U.S. and international human rights groups and campaigns.

The blog, Texas in Africa, run by a Texas poli-sci grad student whose dissertation is on Congo’s health system and who has spent considerable time in Africa, has regular updates on all matters African, especially Congo related. Texas in Africa is a pseudonymn for a young Baptist woman (a graduate of Baylor University, Yale, University and now finishing her Ph.D. at the University of Texas, Austin) who also lived for some time in Kenya.  One can also find good information on the crisis in Kenya by regularly reading her blog.

January 14, 2008 Posted by | Africa, Baptists, blogs, human rights., torture, war, women | Comments Off on War Against Women in the (DR) Congo

Baptist College President Promoting On-Campus Racial Diversity

Because of the long, tortured, history of my tradition, the Baptists, with racism (Baptists have often been pioneers in racial justice and reconciliation globally, but in the Southern U.S., white Baptists have been mostly known for defending slavery and segregation), I am always delighted to publicize those efforts by Baptists to “get it right” on racial justice and reconciliation.  One current effort right here in the Commonwealth of Kentucky was noticed just this morning in the Louisville Courier-Journal, the newspaper with the highest circulation in the state.  William Crouch, President of Georgetown College outside of Lexington, KY, is working to increase racial diversity on campus among students and faculty, with a specific goal of increasing African-American enrollment from 6% to 17%.

Let’s put this in context:  Although living in Louisville, I tend to forget how “white” Kentucky is, the Commonwealth is 90% “white non-Hispanic” on the latest census report.  Most African-Americans in this former slave state live in just 3 counties, with the largest concentration here in Louisville (Jefferson County).  Unless one is on the campus of Berea College, which was founded by abolitionist Christians, one can literally travel miles throughout Eastern Kentucky (either North or South of Lexington) without meeting an African-American. (I almost wrote “a non-white” but recent immigrant labor patterns have been increasing Hispanic populations throughout the Commonwealth.)

Georgetown College, the first Baptist school of higher education west of the Allegheny Mountains was founded in 1798 by Rev. Elijah Craig, a white Baptist minister who is also generally credited with the invention of bourbon whiskey! (Since most Baptists in the U.S.A. have been, at least “officially,” teetotalers since the rise of the 19th C. Temperance Movement, there is no mention of Rev. Craig’s ties to bourbon on Georgetown College website. No alcohol is allowed on the college campus, even though the initial school endowment is built on Craig’s bourbon patents. For non-U.S. and non-Baptist readers, the ironies will increase. Bourbon County, Kentucky, named for the Bourbon French that first emigrated to that area of Kentucky in the 18th C., and the county where Craig invented bourbon, has been a “dry” county since before Prohibition.  That is, bourbon is manufactured and exported from Bourbon County, but it is illegal to consume any inside the county limits. Only transplanted outsiders like myself much remark on the ironies. Indigenous Kentuckians take this as “normal.” 🙂 ) Slave labor in tobacco production was another early source of revenue and endowment for this college, as with many another Southern college or university–regardless of state or religious ties.

GC has historic ties to the (white) Kentucky Baptist Convention and the (white) Southern Baptist Convention.  Because Georgetown College (which should never be confused with the Catholic-founded Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.) is a “moderate” school theologically, it has weakened ties with the SBC since the takeover in the 1980s and early ’90s of the SBC by far-right, highly politicized, fundamentalism.  Georgetown has formed ties with the moderate breakaway groups known as the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and it’s statewide affiliation, the Kentucky Baptist Fellowship.  Many of the older leaders of the CBF are among those few white Baptists in the South (then Southern Baptists) who were at least moderately active in supporting the goals of the Civil Rights Movement during the ’50s and ’60s.  Georgetown President William Crouch comes out of that mileau–his father was one of the handful of white Baptist ministers fighting segregation during the ’60s.  But the KBF/CBF crowd is still largely white and most have great difficulty learning to travel in the circles of black Baptists.  Like most “white liberals,” they talk a better game than they place when it comes to racial justice.

But Crouch and Georgetown are trying to go beyond the usual cosmetic efforts.  As the Courier-Journal reports, Crouch has taken several courses in African-American culture in order to break down barriers and end miscommunications.  He has established formal relationships between Georgetown College and several historically black Baptist denominations. (We Baptists multiply by dividing–over theology, race, language, politics, gender matters, heck–sometimes we divide over what side of the church to put the organ on!) The education branches of those Black Baptist groups now have representation on Georgetown’s trustee board.  He is recruiting African-American faculty (although only has one “catch,” so far).  He is trying to lure historic African-American fraternities and sororities to establish chapters in the “Greek” culture at Georgetown College. (I’ve never understood the attraction of fraternities and sororities, myself, but I do recognize it.) And, most controversially, Crouch is trying to get Georgetown College to “adopt” the legacy of Bishop College near Dallas, TX.

Bishop College was a historic Black Baptist College that, like many historic black colleges and universities, has fallen on hard times since the end of segregation–unintentional victims of greater choices by African-Americans coupled with ever-rising educational costs. Bishop College went bankrupt in the 1980s, so Crouch is trying to get Georgetown to be host to reunions for Bishop faculty and alumni/ae, to hold the archives of the school and preserve its history, etc. In return, he hopes that Bishop alumni/ae will promote Georgetown to new generations of African-Americans with excellent academic records and potential.  He is increasing the financial aid offered to non-white students, though he has to combat rumors among white students and alumni/ae that he is lowering admissions standards for non-white students and that all incoming black students are on full scholarship–neither of which is true.

There have been missteps along the way, as any such ambitious effort must expect to encounter.  But Crouch is surely right that the 21st C. will be increasingly diverse and that education in a racially/ethnically and culturally diverse environment will better prepare people to live and work in this increasingly global community.  And, although I would want to caution Crouch not to undermine the efforts of historic black colleges and universities to survive and thrive amidst all their challenges, it sure is great to see at least one historically white Baptist insitution of higher education evolve past a history based on slavery, segregation, and racism.

Three cheers for President William Crouch and Georgetown College.

January 14, 2008 Posted by | Baptists, race, social history, theological education | 5 Comments

Global Events Mark 6th Anniversary of Gitmo Gulag

Today is a terrible birthday. 11 January 2002 was the birth of America’s own torture gulag: the “detainee camps” for “unlawful enemy combatants” at the U.S. Marine Base at Guantanemo Bay, Cuba. Here the Bush administration has held people for years without charges, mostly without access to lawyers or contact with families or any human rights investigation except the International Red Cross. Bush has labelled these prisoners “detainees” and “enemy combatants” in an effort to circumvent the Geneva Conventions on the capture and treatment of prisoners of war. It has located this prison outside the U.S. proper in an attempt to deny the prisoners any recourse to the courts. When they have had legal representation it has been with so many restrictions that no fair defense could be given–defendants unable to see the evidence against them, nor confront their accusers and a presumption of guilt. Among the over 700 prisoners have been children and old people that even the government admits were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time–as well as people picked up by Afghani warlords and/or Pakistani police and accused and sold to the U.S. on what would be hearsay evidence in any normal court. The Military Commissions Act of 2006 (during the time the GOP still controlled Congress) stripped detainees of the right of Habeas corpus that had been established for them in the heroic Hamdan v. Rumsfeld case (and for everyone else in the English speaking world since the time of the Magna Carta !). Credible evidence exists, though the government denies it, that detainees have been regularly tortured. It’s time to shut this horror down, charge and try in regular courts the detainees or repatriate them. This must end!

Make no mistake: SOME of these detainees are probably what the Bushies claim: Al Qaeda and Taliban members who have been actively involved in terrorist actions or plots. They still deserve the same human rights protections as everyone else. And we should never accept ANY government’s blanket claims about people without public trials, open evidence, fair legal representation, etc. And then, IF found guilty, punishment must also conform to U.S. (the 8th Amendment protection against “cruel and unusual punishment”) and international human rights standards (protections against cruel, inhumane, and/or degrading treatment).

Stories on the protests worldwide are here. Good op-ed pieces are here, here, & here. There are excellent public statements today by Amnesty International , Code Pink, the American Civil Liberties Union, Peace Action, and Witness Against Torture. People around the world are urged to wear orange today in solidarity with the detainees.

January 11, 2008 Posted by | human rights., torture | 1 Comment

Media Bias Against Democratic Believers

Faith in Public Life has the story here.  Exit and entrance polls asked Thursday night’s Iowa caucus goers whether or not they were “born again,” or “evangelical.” This helped the pundits see what the rest of us knew already–Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR)’s Iowa win was the result of a huge effort by conservative Christians in Iowa. But the media didn’t ask this question of Democratic caucus goers.  So, in a state that is mostly filled with white evangelicals, but in which the Democratic turnout was twice as big as the GOP turnout, we have no data on how many Democratic caucus goers were “born again,” “evangelical” or some other type of person of faith.  Did evangelicals of a different persuasion also make the difference for Sen. Barack Obama(D-IL) or were they evenly distributed between Obama, fmr. Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY)? We don’t know, because the media didn’t ask! Are we to assume that in IOWA, most of those huge Democratic caucus goers are secular or agnostic or atheist? I don’t think so.

I would have thought that the media had caught on this year to the existence of a broad religious left, including an evangelical left (as well as an evangelical center!) in this nation. They have covered the candidate’s faith in great detail, including more on Democratic candidates’ faith than at any time since Jimmy Carter ran in 1976 and had to explain to Time magazine what being “born again” meant. (Time went on to describe 1976 as “Year of the Evangelical.”) They have covered first Barack Obama and then Hillary Clinton speaking at Rick Warren’s mega-church conference on the AIDS crisis. They have covered the resurgent environmentalism among evangelicals. They have covered the Catholic population as the ultimate swing vote (because on issues like abortion and gay rights, Catholics agree more with conservative Republicans, but on issues like poverty, the death penalty, war, and the environment, Catholics think more like liberal Democrats).

And yet, still, the media are stuck in their narrative from the ’80s and ’90s: “Christian,” “evangelical,” and “person of faith,” necessarily means “conservative Republican.” How else to explain their failure to ask about the faith identifications of Democratic caucus goers?  Let’s hope they do better in New Hampshire and beyond.  We need raw data to know whether our stereotypes of the voting patterns of persons of faith are matching the reality of the nation.

Without such data, far too many will assume that if early predictions are right (and early predictions are notoriously shaky) and the Democrats win both the White House and increase their majorities in Congress this year, it will mean that the country somehow has become “more secular.” (Yep. That’s right. We all were overnight persuaded by the likes of Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins to abandon our faith. Don’t believe it.)

Let the media and the pollsters know you don’t appreciate this bias. UPDATE:  Center to Left Evangelical Leaders have now written an open letter to pollsters asking that this be corrected–asking that polls help us find out how many evangelicals are voting Democratic and for which Democratic candidates.  This will keep from giving the public the false impression that all evangelicals vote Republican.

January 6, 2008 Posted by | prejudice, progressive faith, U.S. politics, young people | 2 Comments