Saturday, February 14, 2015
Dr. Anthony Bradley ― The KKK, Selma, and Southern Christianity
Two January 2015 film releases provide great opportunities for Christians to examine the not so admirable aspects of American church history in order to learn from the mistakes and successes of the past. First, the newly released movie Selma tells of the story of the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the public protests leading up to LBJ signing the bill into law.
My parents were born and raised during Jim Crow and the movie does a great job of depicting life during that era for people like my parents and why federal government intervened to override voting restrictions in the South because of overwhelming resistance by white southerners to allow African Americans proper access to voter registration. The film focuses on Martin Luther King, Jr’s leadership of the Southern Christian Leader Conference during the organization of a march from Selma, Alabama to the Alabama State capital in Montgomery as a protest. The film does not shy away from the flaws in the movement, including MLK’s marital infidelities.
During the film, we learn about the murder of Jimmie Lee Jackson, a young African-American protestor, who was gunned down in a town near Selma. After his murder by police, King issued a clarion call to anyone in America who wanted come to Selma and join him in the cause to fight for voting rights.
As a theologian, this is where the movie became really interesting. Those who joined King were mainly Jewish, Protestant mainliners from the North, Roman Catholics, and Greek Orthodox. Conspicuously absent were conservative Protestant evangelicals, especially those from the South. In fact, Archbishop Iakovos of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America was the highest ranking non-black religious figure in America to join King in the Selma march. This raised several questions for me: What was different about Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions that allowed them to freely join the fight for voting rights while evangelicals chose to do nothing or join the cause to support Jim Crow? Where were the Calvinists who believed in total depravity? Where were the evangelicals? Where was Billy Graham? Where were the Jonathan Edwards fans? Where were the Presbyterians, Southern Baptists, Methodists, and so on? I am asking because I do not understand.
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