Mississippi Praying: Southern White Evangelicals Defending Segregation

Carolyn Renee Dupont’s Mississippi Praying is a thoroughly stimulating analysis of the ways in which the theology and faith of Mississippi evangelicals shaped their opposition to the civil rights movement. A professor of history at Eastern Kentucky University, Dupont argues that, in contrast to the widespread assumption that southern religious opposition to the civil rights movement was the result of the church’s cultural captivity to a racist society, white evangelical theology was the decisive bulwark of segregation in the years 1945-1975. Because civil rights activists often relied on the social gospel for their critique of segregation, white evangelicals viewed the battle over segregation as a battle for theological orthodoxy. They stressed that social change would only follow the regeneration of individual souls, not the interference of apostate religious liberals from outside the state.

Not that most southern pastors and theologians espoused racial violence or explicitly defended white supremacy. The crass apologists who appealed to the curse of Ham or to Israel’s separation from the nations as evidence of a biblical mandate for racial segregation were always in the minority. But the vast majority of southern religious leaders interpreted the faith individualistically such that the Bible could at least allow for racial segregation. Given widespread assumptions about race as a natural phenomena, a product of God’s divine providence, it was enough to emphasize that the New Testament did not condemn segregation as unChristian.

Read the rest of this article here 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 July 17, 2015, in African Americans, Evangelicals, Presbyterianism, Racism, Social Gospel, Southern Baptist Convention, United Methodist Church and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Mississippi Praying: Southern White Evangelicals Defending Segregation.

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