[first published March 17, 2015]
by David Pence
One of the themes preached at Brown Chapel Church in Selma, on the day before the 50-year commemoration of 'Bloody Sunday,' was how the liberated Israelites forgot their true destination and were soon worshiping false gods in the wilderness.
In the spring of 1965, local Negro Christians led a procession across the Alabama River in response to the shooting of a black Baptist deacon, Jimmie Lee Jackson, two weeks earlier. The purpose of the march was to link the shooting to the need for black voting rights in the state. The destination was Montgomery, the capital 50 miles away. When the marchers left the city limits and crossed the Pettus Bridge they came under the jurisdiction of the county sheriff and state patrol. The sheriff, Jim Clark, had called all white males over 21 to be deputized as a county posse. The state troopers were George Wallace’s men, and eager to strike a blow for a segregated "Heart of Dixie." Several national TV camera crews recorded the onslaught. A nation still capable of moral outrage was shocked.
It was several days later that Reverend Martin Luther King and ministers from across the land came for the second Selma march. They only went to the end of the bridge, obeying a federal injunction against completing the march to Montgomery. After kneeling in prayer where the violence had occurred, they then turned around. Some of the younger black activists criticized King and dubbed that day "Turnaround Tuesday." It wasn't a compliment.
The third march (Mar 21-25,1965) two weeks later was allowed and protected by federal military policemen, army troops, and a federalized Alabama national guard. They completed the march to the state capitol in Montgomery four days later. This time, preachers from all over the country and famous entertainers were in the crowd to hear Reverend King's "How Long, Not Long" speech. He praised "white Americans who cherish their democratic traditions over ugly customs and privileges of generations to come forth boldly to join hands with us." He gave a history lesson on Jesus and Jim Crow:
If it may be said of the slavery era that the white man took the world and gave the Negro Jesus, then it may be said of the Reconstruction era that the southern aristocracy took the world and gave the poor white man Jim Crow. (Yes, sir) He gave him Jim Crow. (Uh huh) And when his wrinkled stomach cried out for the food that his empty pockets could not provide, (Yes, sir) he ate Jim Crow, a psychological bird that told him that no matter how bad off he was, at least he was a white man, better than the black man. (Right sir) And he ate Jim Crow. (Uh huh) And when his undernourished children cried out for the necessities that his low wages could not provide, he showed them the Jim Crow signs on the buses and in the stores, on the streets and in the public buildings. (Yes, sir) And his children, too, learned to feed upon Jim Crow, (Speak) their last outpost of psychological oblivion. (Yes, sir)He explained the many contorted forms of segregation that it took to divide a Christian nation by color:
They segregated southern money from the poor whites; they segregated southern mores from the rich whites; (Yes, sir) they segregated southern churches from Christianity (Yes, sir); they segregated southern minds from honest thinking; (Yes, sir) and they segregated the Negro from everything. (Yes, sir).But for this Christian movement the cry of "no justice, no peace" was not a threat of violence but the continued soul-power of love restoring men to brotherhood:
"And so I plead with you this afternoon as we go ahead: remain committed to nonviolence. Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man, but to win his friendship and understanding. We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience. And that will be a day not of the white man, not of the black man. That will be the day of man as man."Finally he reminded us that persistence in protest does not come from the defiant wills of clenched fists, but the open hearts of men who trust in God:
"How long will justice be crucified, (Speak) and truth bear it?" (Yes, sir)I come to say to you this afternoon, however difficult the moment, (Yes, sir) however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, (No sir) because "truth crushed to earth will rise again." (Yes, sir)How long? Not long, (Yes, sir) because "no lie can live forever." (Yes, sir)How long? Not long, (All right. How long) because "you shall reap what you sow." (Yes, sir)How long? (How long?) Not long: (Not long)Truth forever on the scaffold, (Speak)Wrong forever on the throne, (Yes, sir)Yet that scaffold sways the future, (Yes, sir) And, behind the dim unknown, Standeth God within the shadow, Keeping watch above his own.How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. (Yes, sir)How long? Not long, (Not long) because:Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord; (Yes, sir)"
After his speech to a joint session of Congress, LBJ ordered that protection be provided to the Selma marchers. He challenged an attentive, wary, sparsely applauding legislature:
"The issue of equal rights for American Negroes is such an issue. And should we defeat every enemy, should we double our wealth and conquer the stars, and still be unequal to this issue, then we will have failed as a people and as a nation. For with a country as with a person, 'What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?' "The Voting Act became law on August 8, 1965.
John Lewis, congressman from Georgia, was one of the few men who spoke at the 50-year commemoration who also marched on Bloody Sunday. In his short and stirring speech before President Obama’s address, Lewis quoted LBJ's opening words to Congress: "At times, history and fate meet at a single time in a single place to shape a turning point in man's unending search for freedom. So it was at Lexington and Concord. So it was a century ago at Appomattox. So it was last week in Selma, Alabama."
Johnson said in the same Selma-inspired speech: "I want to be the president who helped to end hatred among his fellow men and who promoted love among the people of all races, all regions, and all parties." John Lewis began his talk not addressing the dignitaries, not even the president. He said, "Beloved brothers and sisters." He said we are here to "renew the soul of America." The movement was about love -- and John Lewis still remembered. It was about love of God and love of neighbor. It was not about black men yelling 'racist' at white men, but calling them brothers and calling them to love as Christ had commanded us. It always began in churches; and there was a lot of spiritual healing and calling on Jesus to grant courage. It was about redeeming love; and we cannot properly remember this day without remembering that building the spiritual bond of civic charity was driven by the redeeming suffering love of the Gospel.
Lewis remembered: "We walked down that sidewalk over there. With a kind of military discipline, we were so peaceful, so quiet." Listen to the voice of Lewis, listen to his plea, and the spiritual echo of that day will come clear. Only their prayer time in a church when they were not so quiet had armed them for what would come next. It was not "their will against the will of the policemen," as the president said. For when Israel fights its enemies depending only on itself -- on its own will -- it always loses. These men and women knew they were following the will of God, and that is why eventually as Lewis said, "they knew the truth would win out." It was not their will that triumphed that day. Someone else was writing in His own hand, turning the soul-force of unrequited suffering into Victory.
|Rev King flanked (at far L) by Rev Abernathy and (far R) by John Lewis|
It was shortly after Selma that a lot of chosen people forgot, again, where they were marching and Who was directing their march. Five months later the first great urban burning and looting riot would occur in Watts, California. That looked a lot more like the revelry at the Golden Calf, than the redeeming march through the parted waters of the Red Sea. Younger men turned the movement for Christian brotherhood into something very different -- black power, color identity, hatred, and a glorification not of redemptive suffering but redemptive violence. The Christian themes of following God’s will and reuniting a beloved community in the brotherhood of men under the Fatherhood of God gave way to color consciousness, sexual licentiousness, envy, greed, and wrath. “Soul” which once meant that spiritual principle of human life, which was instantly recognizable by men of every color, was turned on its head and came to be shorthand for “Black.” The jutting of the chin, the militant posture on college campuses, and the celebration of the criminal inside the confines of black ghettos had replaced the open hearts and hands seeking love.
The devil loves to tear apart. He is a divider and a liar from the beginning. He loves to come disguised as an angel of light, fighting for liberation but still peddling his same old chains of slavery.
And just what the racists had predicted started to happen. All the moral capital of the innocent, beaten by lawmen, was set aside. The march for freedom was perverted into a license for revelry -- just like the pagan erotic cult at the foot of Mount Sinai that had so angered Moses. The higher morality of love over law became the immorality of disrespect for authority and the law. "The Man" became the enemy. Another kind of male became the Superfly. Then, the greatest metaphysical error in American political history insured that the movement among men for the equality of public brotherhood was hijacked by the protest of middle-class white women against the sexual order of marriage and familial duty. This was coupled with a wild sexual rut among the males, again masquerading as a freedom train. The women said they would not be mothers and clamored for abortion, while the men said they would not be soldiers and ran from their protective duties. So many times during this forty years of wandering, the devious cults of "self" came cloaked in the sacred cloth of Selma.
|"The Adoration of the Golden Calf" by Nicolas Poussin (1634)|
White feminists were quite content that black men were into separatism. Back then, black men did not treat the analysis of the white chick with the obeisance we see now. The feminists left the black man his urban streets and the prisons. She and her soft white male allies took the universities, churches, and public service unions. Later, a crass calculation of everybody against the white male (down with patriarchy!) would lead to the diversity racket of electoral majorities and cottage industries in big cities, universities, and the world of non-profits. As Eric Hoffer said, "Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket."
Black men who wanted to progress in public office drank the feminist Kool-Aid in public speeches and policy, if not in their personal lives. Religious institutions rejected the patriarchy of the Lord's Prayer for the gender obfuscation of inclusion. The widows begged for husbands and the orphans for fathers -- and in the name of civil rights we gave them sexual anarchy, making more spiritual widows and orphans than ever before in our history. Under the rubric of diversity, a coalition was struck of rights and reparation, the black power movement, the feminists, and finally the homosexuals. The party of city immigrants and working men turned into an umbrella for diversity. God was exiled, the beloved community abandoned, and idols erected by a coalition of the oppressed.
The faith-healing, Scripture reading, and Gospel singing that broke the back of racism were sent to the back of the bus. It could be resurrected when needed for nostalgia, but it could no longer be taken seriously as a spiritual organizing principle. It was not a worship of the mighty God, though He still could be evoked for the closing of speeches. It was a celebration of "us," of the humanistic pride that turned worship of God into a celebration of congregations. The people celebrate themselves, savoring the wounds of their parents while rejecting their wisdom. This communal celebration of self had happened long ago. The people set out to make a name for themselves and forgot God. They built a tower at Babel.
The ordered relationship of sexual fidelity in marriage, the purity in thought and speech toward the sacred goods of God’s name and the marriage act -- these ordered relationships became the enemy of the new freedom divorced from freedom’s Author. And that public form of Christian love -- fraternal brotherhood among adult men -- now became the love "that dare not speak its name." It became a mantra of militant black men that they did not seek to love or to be loved by the white man. Brotherhood was for wimps, and soon the wimps would rule in a way no American man of fifty years ago could ever imagine.
The integrated body politic, the black and white males in a posse for justice who would protect the widows and orphans of every color -- that dream became a joke. The marriage of a black man and white woman or a white man and black woman -- that sacred bond was now allowed. But in a bizarre twist that could only come from the twisted Father of Lies, this natural love has now become a rallying flag to honor the unnatural. Those who marched at Selma would wonder at a president who diluted their blood with such acts of sexual sacrilege. All of us who were in the movement, we exchanged our glorious God for a grass-eating bull. Elections indeed were won, a coalition with those serving other gods was struck…but what doth it profit?
|Bloody Sunday in Selma|
There are many more female black faces in high places, and yet so many more male black faces in jail. Every third pregnancy by a black female is aborted -- five times the rate of white women. There are black males in elected offices, but all must worship at the altar of feminism to be admitted to the club.
In his speech at Selma, President Obama broke open the moral capital of the Selma "bank account" and distributed blank checks to the sexual pretenders. It had been his honest claim as a black man to that social capital which helped him defeat an entitled feminist for the presidency in 2008. But any honest assessment of Mr. Obama reveals he has done much more for the sexual revolutionaries than for interracial brotherhood among men. He said he would be Joshua, but the feminist brain chip is the paradigm most deeply implanted in his heart. The sense of solidarity with the men of his country or the men of other cultures who rule by the traditional male forms of patriarchy and fraternity is not part of the moral grammar of this mother's son. He considers patriarchy an evil, and masculine fraternity as fun for the playground but oppressive in religion and politics.
The billy clubs and tear gas of Sheriff Clark could crack open a man's head and break up a marching crowd, but they could never touch the movement's soul. But now the blood of the martyrs has been polluted at an altar to a foreign god in the wilderness. Our souls no longer rest in the Lord. The shame of our president is that his speech at Selma was a sacrilege against a sacred space. The president, whom so many of us voted for as an act of racial reconciliation, once again used his pulpit to preach not the saving grace of brotherhood but the enslaving confusion of the sexual revolution.
The Christian movement brings us back to the original promise of the country and the truth of Scripture. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Real peace comes from deeper and broader bonds. The tenor of the Christian movement, even in its dreams, was a return to some order that lay at the heart of our nature as creatures of God with human souls. It was a check written long ago which we had come to cash. We were not looking for endless change, and more and more categories of the oppressed that might be released from social obligations and rules of decorum. We were seeking something old -- that men might live like brothers, that a man and woman might marry and raise their family in peace, that elders would be called Mister and Missus.
Selma was a place in history where the fate of a nation was hinged. It still is such a place. As President Johnson said:
"There is no Negro problem. There is no Southern problem. There is no Northern problem. There is only an American problem. And we are met here tonight as Americans -- not as Democrats or Republicans -- we are met here as Americans to solve that problem."
Every crucial speech from that era reminds us this was a Christian movement of brotherhood that was deeply resonant with the initial Christian movement that formed the colonies and towns of America’s Protestant seaboard.
We cannot leave the interpretation of this day to the mistaken notion that sexual disorder is Selma's fruit. The bridge from Selma led to Montgomery, not Sodom. Montgomery was the city where the Reverends King and Abernathy first joined as ministers to unite the Negro community as Christians, and renew the whole city as a "Beloved Community" of fellow citizens. Sodom was destroyed; Montgomery was to be renewed. Selma was a spiritual movement that galvanized white and black people across the country. That’s why, within two weeks of Bloody Sunday, armed American white men protected the marchers from their persecutors. That’s why five months later a Voting Rights Act could be passed. If we can unite ourselves again under God and sing His praises loudly, then we can renew a brotherhood of fathers to socialize all our young men -- black, white and Hispanic -- into the Christian form of masculine love that is citizenship.
This spiritual renewal of the American soul is how the South will rise again. Let us be renewed in the public Biblical faith and Christian love of Selma. It is the road to the New Jerusalem which will shine with the glory of God when He comes to dwell amidst His people. Let us not ignore the living Lord or surely we shall be chastised; and the blood drawn at Selma will lose its sacred power "to renew the soul of America."