Byline: Tonyaa Weathersbee
One of my heroes of the civil rights movement, Vivian Malone Jones, died last week. But last year, she talked the historic role that religion has played in influencing social progress of that era.
"It was a very, very hot day -- extremely hot," Jones said at a press conference in Pritchard, Ala., in recounting the events of June 11, 1963. That was the day when then-U.S. Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach ordered former Alabama Gov. George Wallace out of the doorway so that she and James Hood could enter the University of Alabama.
"I was never afraid. I did have some apprehensions in my mind, though, especially having gone to segregated, 'separate but equal,' " schools," Jones said. "God was with me."
So it seems that Jones, who two years later became the first black person to graduate from that school, prayed a lot. And she wasn't alone. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., as well as many of the activists who marched on Washington that year, called on the Almighty as well.
But they used prayer and religion as a source of personal strength, and, on a larger scale, as a means of moral persuasion toward ending unjust laws. They didn't try to create an atmosphere that was more about imposing or trumpeting religion than about fostering social justice and equality.
Lamentably, we've lost our way.
As a Christian, I find myself more and more disturbed about how religion is being politicized; about how it has become a public end, rather than a private means, toward creating a fair and just society.
For example, a bigger deal has been made over Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers' church membership than her legal qualifications for the highest court in the land. For some reason, I thought religion didn't belong on a professional resume.
There are other examples as well.
Just two years ago, Roy Moore, the former chief justice of Alabama, was removed from his job after he refused to remove a 5,300-pound granite monument inscribed with the Ten Commandments from the central rotunda of the state judicial building. A higher court had ordered him to remove it because it violated a constitutional ban on government promotion of religion, but he defied the order. He said he believed that it was important to publicly acknowledge God.
That's silly. The way to publicly acknowledge God is by living the commandments and encouraging others to live them. That can be done …