Churches' Situational Ethics

Monday, November 27, 2006

Churches' Situational Ethics

Jim Wallis' bestselling book, God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It, has received a lot of attention over the past year.

Many Democrats have hailed its message, and many of these Dems (Wallis too) often remind us that religious leaders played a critical role in the major social movements of the 1900's, including civil rights.

True. Black religious leaders spearheaded the civil rights effort of the 1950s and '60s. But it's not so true if you're referring to religious leaders of all racial and ethnic groups. (Remember, Martin Luther King, Jr., called 11 o'clock on Sunday morning the "most segregated hour" of the week.)

Although there were some white religious leaders who had the courage to challenge racial discrimination, it's safe to say that there were more white clerics in America who were content to sit on the sidelines, conceal their own bigotry and not address the issue.

An example of this comes from Wallis himself, who was interviewed for this article in yesterday's Washington Post magazine. Wallis describes this experience in the 1960s:
"I was living in Detroit, [in] a completely white world. I was listening to my city for the first time. I was reading newspapers now. I was paying attention to the news.

"... How come we never had a black person in our church? I heard there were black churches, and who was this minister in the South named King? And I couldn't get answers to the questions."

After Wallis spent months trying to get his church to discuss segregation in Christian terms, the elders agreed to hold a discussion on racism. Wallis was selected to represent the black perspective.

"The first question was, 'Well, Jamie [his boyhood nickname], would you want Barbie to marry one?' That was my younger sister. That was the level of response."

Finally, he recalls, a church elder told him, "Christianity has nothing to do with racism. That's political, and our faith is personal."
Many of the same white churches whose leaders felt their faith was too "personal" to take a public stand against racial segregation have no problem taking public stands against same-sex marriage, abortion, and a host of other issues that are at least as "political" as segregation.

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