Hope from the Ashes

Article excerpt

They say confession is good for the soul. It might be equally healthy for the American body politic. That thought came to me after hearing Ralph Reed, head of the Christian Coalition, acknowledge that many conservative, white Christians opposed the greatest moral crusade of American history.

"There were white evangelicals in the South who justified Jim Crow and segregation and invoked Scripture to do it," Reed said on NBC's "Meet the Press" last Sunday. "There was a time in our nation's history when the white evangelical church was not only on the sidelines, but on the wrong side of the most central struggle for social justice in this century."

Reed was responding to the recent burnings of black churches across the South, but his comments could be seen as a late-20th century call to repentance of biblical proportions.

Since the first African slave arrived in Jamestown in 1619, race has been a fundamental dilemma of American society. The nation's bloodiest war was fought over the issue. Race has been a benchmark that measures America's progress toward its ideals of freedom and equality. The civil rights movement of the 1960s was a transforming event. Many of the nation's most severe problems - poverty, violence, education - are inextricably connected to race. And, as Reed notes, at every point in American history, millions of white, evangelical Christians fought against racial justice.

Yet an integral part of the Christian faith is redemption: the possibility that sin can be forgiven if people understand their errors.

In recent days, Reed seems to be seeking such an atonement by reaching out to black church leaders. The Christian Coalition, for example, is asking its 100,000 member churches to take up a special collection July 14 for black congregations whose buildings have burned.

Perhaps more important, Reed promised to seek a long-term working relationship with black churches.

One of the great ironies of American Protestantism is that - with their strong Baptist and biblical traditions - black and white evangelicals share many theological principles, but they have come to dramatically different conclusions on many political matters.

Nevertheless, in the last few decades, each side has been instrumental in placing moral issues at the center of American politics. The black churches were the organizing arm of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. The conservative white churches put abortion, "family values" and similar social concerns on the national agenda in the 1980s.

Imagine. Just imagine what could happen if members of the Christian Coalition and black churches formed a faith-based alliance or even if they only met in Christian good will and discussed the problems facing America today. …