Next week, Barack Obama will deliver his nomination acceptance address at Invesco Field in Denver, timed to coinicde with the 45th anniversary of King' s "Dream" speech. This has elicited much predictable commentary.
For a more interesting and historically informed view, Adele Oltman, author of the excellent work Sacred Mission, Worldly Ambition, about black churches in Savannah during the Jim Crow era, offers this intriguing analysis of Obama and religion for The Nation. She finds the recent discussion of faith and politics to echo Martin Luther King Sr.., more than Jr. She writes:
Given all that we know about the leadership of the civil rights movement--King and Ralph Abernathy and their Southern Christian Leadership Conference--it makes sense that we would understand black religion and black churches as immutably political. While studying the churches and their relationships to their respective communities in an earlier era, I was astonished to discover how wrong this assumption is. At the eve of the movement, the institutional primacy of the churches was giving way to a more diversified secular sphere, a necessary precondition before an overtly politicized movement for freedom and democracy using churches as staging areas could take place. The unambiguously political movement of the 1950s and 1960s that drew on many principles of Christianity and radiated from many, although by no means all, black churches was possible only when churches came to exert less control over members' daily lives. It was not until the churches become less insular and more outwardly focused that they would become settings from which to wage political struggles. . . . Obama's eagerness to embrace Warren's political stance (disguised as politically neutral) would have given comfort to the theologically and socially conservative Martin Luther King Sr. and members of his generation, many of whom opposed the explicitly political civil rights activism of Martin Luther King Jr. The pre-civil rights movement generation of black lay and ordained church leaders put God and faith claims before anything else because they were excluded from larger secular civil society.
Read the rest here.