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
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
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. …