Re: Why is the church always lagging?

From: Ted Davis <>
Date: Wed May 12 2004 - 13:21:01 EDT


It's a strong theme in American historical literature that, without
Christian faith and the churches--both black and white--MLKJrs message about
civil rights, which was delivered in sermons that secular historians call
speeches, would simply not have succeeded.

I don't doubt your personal testimony on this, but let's properly
contextualize it. My father (e.g.), a very conservative Presbyterian, was
involved in civil rights marches in Atlantic City in the 1960s. His church
also included the first black (or at least one of the first, though I think
honestly the very first) state policeman in NJ. With my father's strong
support, that man got that position.

As for voting rights, etc, it might depend very much on which church(es)
you are speaking about. My great-grandparents, for example, were
Salvationists. THey ordained women long before most other churches and
fought for human rights for many people--including those women whose lives
were destroyed by their husbands' alcoholism, hence their very strong
prohibitionist support.

As for "gay marriage," I would agree that as a civil rights issue it *can
be framed* to resemble other civil rights issues. But so can the right of
an unborn child to be born. Twenty years ago a colleague at Vanderbilt,
editor of a leading journal in American history and very liberal himself,
told me that he found deep similarities between the rhetoric used to support
antislavery in the mid-19th century and that used to support "the right to
life" in the 1980s. He was personally quite disturbed by that rhetoric,
which went against his own position on the issue. But it was there, he was
honest enough to admit.

So, let me ask this columnist whether a similarity in framing an issue on
the basis of civil rights is sufficient to justify overturning Roe v Wade,
as well as to justify overturning traditional marriage. I'd very much like
to know the answer to that one.

Received on Wed May 12 13:21:58 2004

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