How Christianity Helped End Segregation in the South

David L. Chappell’s A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow challenges standard accounts of the civil rights movement and the reasons for its success, identifying religion as the key factor that enabled change. It was the prophetic vitality of the religion of black churches, leaders, and civil rights activists, he argues, that enabled them to overcome the much more economically and politically powerful forces of segregation. On the other hand, it was the lack of religious support that undermined the cause of the segregationists. While “black southern activists got strength from old-time religion, … white supremacists failed, at the same moment, to muster the cultural strength that conservatives traditionally get from religion” (p. 8).

Chappell begins by diagnosing the inadequacy of post-World War II liberalism. Liberals believed in human nature, convinced that reason could and would overcome prejudice and superstition. But this very optimism rendered them passive in response to stubborn southern opposition. If human progress was inevitable, better to allow time to do its work than to provoke a southern backlash that might only delay such progress. Some liberals realized that the problem was liberalism’s lack of spiritual energy and authority. Post-war liberals supported civil rights, but “They were not the ones who made it move”  (p.43).

Read the rest of this review at Reformation 21.

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About Matthew J. Tuininga

Matthew J. Tuininga is the Assistant Professor of Moral Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Posted on March 30, 2015, in African Americans, Black Church, Rights and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on How Christianity Helped End Segregation in the South.

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