WWROD: Faith and those news stories about civil rights

It’s been a few weeks — with Christmas season travel and all — since your GetReligionistas checked in with veteran religion-beat writer Richard Ostling and his new Patheos weblog, Religion Q&A: The Ridgewood Religion Guy answers your questions.”

Time to fix that.

Our goal here is to feature at least one post from over there, especially when Ostling — with his years and years of experience at Time and the Associated Press — deals with religion questions that are directly related to religion news and/or coverage of the same.

Well, we’ve gone another one of those posts to spotlight.

In this case, a reader named Joshua — no mention of a home base for this person — asked this question:

What would you say is the biggest political theology story that has gone relatively untold in the last few decades?

That’s an interesting choice of words there — “political theology.” As opposed to “dogmatic theology” or “moral theology”?

Anyway, Ostling decided to focus his answer on religious life in the United States, as opposing to taking on all of Planet Earth.

Nobody missed the rise of the Moral Majority and Christian Coalition etc. Media analysts have expressed continual fascination or dismay over “religious right” activism, often missing the obvious fact that these conservatives merely imitated prior mobilizations by religious liberals.

Which brings to mind the great civil rights movement that began in the mid-1950s.

The Guy proposes that one of the big untold stories if not the biggest was the response by white southern evangelicals. The well-known courage of African-American Protestants in ridding the South of repellent racial bigotry is enshrined in the magnificent “Parting the Waters” by Taylor Branch (Simon & Schuster, 1988). There’s also memorable treatment by University of Arkansas historian David Chappell in “A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow” (University of North Carolina Press, 2004).

But what about whites?

On that, Chappell, an atheist, has added fresh, sophisticated analysis. Alas, we can assume some few Klan-style terrorists were churchgoers. But consider the main body of southern evangelical Protestants. Their performance certainly fell short of northern white liberals’ valor and is open to considerable criticism. And yet, as a reviewer in “The Atlantic” summarized, Chappell has shown that “nearly every important southern white conservative clergyman and theologian averred that there was no biblical sanction for segregation or for white supremacy.” This lack of moral grounding is what finally doomed Jim Crow in that notably pious and theologically conservative region – despite seemingly all-powerful racial traditions backed by many of South’s Democratic Party titans.

Yes, there is more to read. Go check it out.

But, most of all, get on the digital stick and ask The Answer Guy some good news-based questions.

He’s out there. What Would Richard Ostling Do? Use him, folks.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • FW Ken

    Ostling’s blog is a treat. Thank you for the point.

    This seems a journalism issue, though so I’ll ask it here. Based on memories of growing up baptist in Texas, I think he understates the connections between Baptist churches and the KKK, but how would you research that? I’ve been poking around the internet with no luck. I did learn the the Klan its working to make sure people don’t connect their to Westboro Baptist, which is a pretty big hot.


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