Civil Rights & The Complexities of Comparing Movements (Part 2)

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A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit the Monroe Gallery and see the timely exhibit “The Long Road: from Selma to Ferguson.” In this article, gallery owner Sid Monroe explains that the recent photographs from Ferguson are in fact “echoing iconic civil rights images made decades earlier.” The exhibit effectively conveys the pressing message that there is still so much work to do when it comes to civil rights and racial reconciliation in the U.S. Likewise, after the Supreme Court declared the federal legalization of same-sex marriage, a similar message rippled across social media – there is still more work to be done to protect the rights of those who are LGBT.

In Part 1, I emphasized the importance of not equating the campaign for LGBT equality with the Black Civil Rights movement. Nevertheless, I hope that investigating the similarities that these two causes share will help call attention to how the Church can improve its approach in both areas. As Christians, we need to do a much better job of actively promoting racial reconciliation and mending our relationship with the LGBT community.

The first similarity I want to focus on is the fact that in both movements, sincere Christians are/were standing on each side of the contentious issue. Today, we are appalled that Christians supported slavery. Nevertheless, Abraham Lincoln explained in his second Inaugural Address that both the Confederacy and the Union “read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other.” Christians who believed that the Bible justified slavery had the advantage of being able to point to specific verses to support their case. Since Jesus never spoke out against slavery, people like Jefferson Davis felt justified saying things like, “[slavery] is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelation.” Christian abolitionists, on the other hand, were faced with the more challenging task of appealing to general biblical principles such as love, justice, and humanity. In the process, they were accused of not taking the Bible seriously and ignoring the “plain meaning” of the Bible. It is apparent how this history parallels the debates surrounding LGBT equality.

That being said, I also do not want to over-simplify this comparison. For example, in “Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals,” William Webb makes a case for a “redemptive hermeneutic” approach by essentially asking, “What ultimate ethic does the Bible point us toward for each of these groups?” His point is that even though the two movements have many similarities, this should not necessarily lead us to a similar conclusion. On the other hand, Rachel Held Evans cautions that since we’ve been wrong before, we should be “wondering if we’ve done it again, if we’ve marginalized another group of people because we believed the Bible told us to. [… It] does sound familiar. And that should give us pause.”

Regardless of one’s convictions, as Christians we all need to lament. We need to acknowledge that over and over again we have (at the very least) failed to stand against violence, injustice, and continual hate and fear. In this video, Jay Beck explores the prophetic tradition of lamenting and the need for change to be born out of broken hearts. He explains, “[Walter Brueggemann] says a lot about Isaiah and Jeremiah where they lead the people to grieve. They help them understand how far we’ve come, we mourn over what has happened, we remember our distance from God and the pain and the separation and the hurt that we’ve caused each other. And once we’ve been lead to that grief then this new issuing of hope and a proclamation for change can come because the heart has been broken open and it’s not just ideas, it’s not just concepts.”

Lament. Change.

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