Occupying MLK Day

Paul Harvey

Over at Religion Dispatches today, Kerry Pimblott, Anthea Butler, Edward J. Blum, and myself participate in an online forum/dialogue in which we offer some reflections on MLK and his legacy. I conclude that:

 It is impossible to conceive of the civil rights movement without placing black Christianity at its center, for it empowered the rank and file who made the movement move. And when it moved, it was able to demolish the system of legal segregation. The history of black Christianity in America made that transformation possible, even as it frustrated some of the deeper-rooted aims of some activists who sought to address issues of income and wealth inequality as much as the formal legal structures of “civil rights.” That remains the prophetic task of the generation misleadingly labeled as “post-racial.”

Kerry extends her reflections further at her own blog Marginalife, in her post "Remembering King: From Survival to Protest," She writes of trying to foster dialogues between churches and activists, in the way that King partially accomplished (but only through dint of great effort, and even then with sporadic success):

I wonder how we go about pushing our churches toward a more activist ministry in the context of a politics of charity or survival. For those of us that are on the margins of institutional church life – often because of our gender, class, race, age, or political views – how do we use the limited influence we do have to carve out spaces of survival that might lead to protest when the time comes? Should we devote our energy to building spaces within congregations or to secular groups outside of them that require less compromise? . . . 
On the flip side, in my activist work I find that a lot of organizers not rooted in evangelical church traditions are often surprised and frustrated by the failure of church leaders to support local struggles against racial and economic injustice. They assume that the ties between such battles and a vaguely defined sense of “Christian mission” are logical and essential. The failure of churches to participate, thus, becomes a further indictment of Christian hypocrisy and church irrelevance. However, what this perspective fails to recognize is that religious institutions, like all institutions, must be recruited into the movement – a reality that requires considerable time, energy, and labor.


Rev. Bob said…
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Bob Crispen said…
Would segregation, Jim Crow, and Massive white Resistance to equality and justice have been possible without the white southern church?
Anonymous said…
Many of the Black theologians that followed King during the Black Power era would answer that question in the affirmative situating a white slaveholder religion at the center of not just southern, but American, racial formations.
Anonymous said…
Just to finish that thought... I am also arguing that our contemporary neoliberal moment is underpinned by a set of theological assumptions. Questioning those assumptions and posing alternative frameworks will be a critical part of any future struggle in my opinion. The broader point is to emphasize the malleability of religious traditions and their servicing of multiple political and economic projects simultaneously.

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