Even now, with very few exceptions, the American civil rights movement has never been run on a political platform.
Instead, religion was the motivating factor in the ongoing struggles and challenges, starting with the emancipation from slavery to racism and police brutality.
While religion does not find sympathy in progressive political behavior, but among the black leaders in the United States, it has been the driving force to seek justice and freedom from the white establishment.
In the first periods of slavery caused by the civil rights protests of the 1950s and 1960s, a common thread of faith was drawn in the black resistance. And so far except for the current Black Lives Matter movement. But the latter also accepts: “The struggle to save your life is a spiritual struggle,” said BLM co-founder Patrisse Cullers, who describes herself as a “trained Marxist” (New York Times Post).
Rep. John Lewis and Rev. Cordy Tindell Vivian were the youngest veterans to flag civil rights campaigns with strengths based on their Christian beliefs rather than a political ideology. (Rep. Lewis (80) and Rev. Vivian (95) died on July 17, 2020.)
Both were outstanding figures in the post-era of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. They received their Christian theological credentials from the American Baptist College in Nashville, Tennessee. Against this backdrop of belief, Rep. Lewis and Rev. Vivian sought equality and justice for black Americans.
The conviction in their religious community was more alive and focused on their activism than in the sermons within the church walls.
In an interview in 2004, Lewis said: “In my opinion, the civil rights movement was a religious phenomenon. When we went out to sit or to march, I felt and I think there was a strength in front of us and a strength behind us because sometimes you didn’t know what to do. You didn’t know what to say; You didn’t know how you would make it through the day or night. But somehow you believed – you had confidence – that everything would be fine. “
About Martin Luther King Jr. Lewis once said: “He was not concerned about the streets of heaven and the pearl gates and the streets paved with milk and honey. He was more concerned about the streets of Montgomery and the way blacks and arms were treated in Montgomery. “
Religious education was the driving force behind the earliest black civil rights and anti-slavery tours.
“Nat Turner, a leader of the revolt against slavery, has seen, for example rebellion as the work of God and relied on biblical texts to inspire his actions. So did other anti-slavery activists Sojourner truth and Jarena Lee rejected the theology of the “other world” taught to enslaved Africans by their white kidnappers. This theology attempted to divert attention from its state in “this world” and promised a better life after death, “writes Lawrence Burnley of the University of Dayton in a recent article in The Conversation.
A pragmatic approach was the basis for the theological understanding of most black leaders of religious teachings and sermons.
With this understanding of the scriptures, the struggle for racial justice gained solidarity in black Christian leadership.
It was Rev. Al Sharpton, whose words spelled the globe when he asked White America to “take your knee off your neck at George Floyd’s memorial service.”
Equally convincing is the message from Rev. William J. Barber II, a well-known black leader who recently said: “There is no separation between Jesus and justice; To be a Christian means to be concerned with what is going on in the world. “
From Mohammad to Abraham Lincoln and from Martin Luther King Jr. to Nelson Mandela and Dr. Ambedkar all had religious commitments based on humanism, love, compassion and friendliness to their political and social campaigns against slavery, apartheid, discrimination, inequality and untouchability based on color, class and caste.
The Black Civil Rights movement is part of this tradition, in which religion has been an inspiring and motivating force to eradicate racist stigmas in a significant part of white American society.
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