The American Vision: A Biblical Worldview Ministry

It Depends on Who's Doing the Preaching and Politicking

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We just celebrated Martin Luther King Day. One aspect of King’s legacy that is often ignored by the mainstream press and liberal political pundits is that King was a minister. “As much as a civil activist as he was, as much as he did, Dr. King was a preacher,” said the Rev. Alexis Thomas of Pilgrim Rest Church in Phoenix.  “Everything he did in society flowed out of the well of his relationship with Jesus Christ . . . I think what King was particularly astute at was his ability to convert spiritual truths and put them on the pavement where people live.” I’ve gathered a number of quotation that support this claim:

  • “I still believe that standing up for the truth of God is the greatest thing in the world. This is the end of life. The end of life is not to be happy. The end of life is not to achieve pleasure and avoid pain. The end of life is to do the will of God, come what may.”[1]
  • “We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands.”[2]
  • “Seems that I can hear God saying that it’s time to rise up now and make it clear that the evils of the universe must be removed. And that God isn’t going to do all of it by himself. The church that overlooks this is a dangerously irrelevant church.”[3]
  • “If one is truly devoted to the religion of Jesus he will seek to rid the earth of social evils. The gospel is social as well as personal.”[4]
  • “As Christians we owe our ultimate allegiance to God and His will, rather than to man and his folkways.”[5]
  • “Any religion which professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the social and economic conditions that scar the soul, is a spiritually moribund religion only waiting for the day to be buried.”[6]
  • “The church must also become increasingly active in social action outside its doors. . . . It must exert its influence in the area of economic justice. As guardian of the moral and spiritual life of a community the church cannot look with indifference upon these glaring evils.”[7]

Put these same words in the mouth of a member of the Christian Coalition, and the Blue State liberals will cry in a loud voice: “Intolerance . . . Keep religion out of politics. . . You can’t impose your morality on others. . . . Separation of church and state.” Liberals do not oppose the impact of morality on politics as long as they agree with the morality. They oppose the relationship between morality and social issues only when such an alliance threatens their very liberal social agenda. If they opposed mixing religion and morality with politics, then they would have to disavow the boost the civil rights movement received from the church and its insistence that civil rights legislation is a moral issue.

The civil rights movement of the 1960s was influenced by those who brought morality to bear on issues related to race and equality. “For the first time in history, a single Protestant-Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Jewish testimony was presented to Congress in support of legislation. Congress became aware that the religious community was aroused in a startling way. The participation of the religious groups in the March on Washington was another bit of evidence. Over 40,000 white church people participated in the March.”[8] With just a few changes, this description, the 1964 march could easily describe the activities of the often vilified “religious right” and their efforts to influence legislation. The similarities are not lost on Stephen L. Carter, William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Yale University and one of the nation’s leading experts on constitutional law:

Religious organizations were among the strongest supporters of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination in employment and public accommodations. They testified in support of it. They made public appeals for it. And, once again, only the segregation[ist]s complained. Senator Richard Russell of Georgia charged that those who made religious arguments in favor of the legislation did not understand “the proper place of religious leaders in our national life,” adding that the religions should not “make a moral question of a political issue.” Indeed, there is little about the civil rights movement, other than the vital distinction in the ends that it sought, that makes it very different from the right-wing religious movements of the present day.[9]

Civil rights legislation was passed in the early 1960s because the “moral question” was pressed by religious leaders. “When it was finally passed, friend and foe alike credited the passage of the bill to the persistent power of the church.”[10] Hubert H. Humphrey, the leader of the struggle in the Senate for passage, along with other veteran fighters for civil rights legislation, “insisted that the churches’ efforts had made the difference which had been lacking in other struggles for such bills.”[11] How times have changed.

Endnotes:

[1] From a sermon preached in November 1956. Quoted by William J. Bennett, from the Foreword to Ralph Reed’s Politically Incorrect: The Emerging “Faith Factor” in American Politics (Dallas, TX: Word, 1994), xiii.
[2]  Quoted in Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954B63 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988), 743.
[3] Quoted in Branch, Parting the Waters, 696.
[4] Martin Luther King, Jr., Stride Toward Freedom (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1986), 117.
[5] King, Stride Toward Freedom, 117.
[6] King, Stride Toward Freedom, 91.
[7] King, Stride Toward Freedom, 208.
[8] Robert W. Spike, The Freedom Revolution and the Churches (New York: Association Press, 1965), 106.
[9] Stephen L. Carter, The Culture of Disbelief: How American Law and Politics Trivialize Religious Devotion (New York: Basic Books, 1993), 228.
[10] Spike, The Freedom Revolution and the Churches, 108.
[11] Spike, The Freedom Revolution and the Churches, 108.

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