At the National Prayer Breakfast on February 5, President Obama urged humility about “a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith” to the point where we commit atrocities, like slavery and Jim Crow, in the name of Christ. Critics quickly denounced Obama’s comments as un-American, while supporters defended their accuracy. But few have asked why Obama did not also link Christian conviction to the campaign against slavery and racial injustice.
Sitting beside my best friend, we tensed as policemen clubbed civil rights protesters. We teared up as Martin Luther King Jr. marched alongside James Bevel, as Coretta Scott King talked with Malcolm X, and as the leaders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee strained to relate to their elders. Selma was an experience: visceral, soulful, inspiring, and shocking.
A visual image that struck me was based in sound: microphone before King, organ pipes behind him.
President Barack Obama’s State of the Union proposed to enlarge the American promise of prosperity by introducing a new tax structure for the very wealthy, tax credits for families outside of the wealthy stratum, increased access to retirement plans for more American workers, and a plan to subsidize community college tuition. While there will be resistance to the president’s proposals, the impulse behind them is an appeal to an idealized form of decency that Lyndon B. Johnson believed would make his idea of a Great Society an American reality.
Fifty years ago this month, Johnson introduced his vision to Congress.
When Pope Francis thinks of climate change, he thinks of social justice. In his 2013 inaugural homily as pope, Francis implored “all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political, and social life” to “be ‘protectors’ of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.” Speaking at an Italian university a year later, Francis announced, “This is our sin, exploiting the Earth and not allowing her to give us what she has within her.” In 2015, Vatican-watchers expect Francis to produce an encyclical that situates climate change within the framework of Catholic social teaching.
Francis’s position on the injustices of climate change is not new to the Roman Catholic Church.
2014 demonstrated that, whatever the significance of Barack Obama’s two terms as our first African American president, we have hardly moved beyond national struggles over race and class. Failures to indict white policemen accused of the unjust killings of black men precipitated protests and online shouting matches about racial inequality, or just how to talk about race. Christians participated in (hopefully) profitable discussions such as the December 16, 2014 “A Time to Speak” event, hosted by Pastor Bryan Lorritts of Fellowship Memphis, at the Lorraine Motel and National Civil Rights Museum.
December 16 was also the 300th birthday of George Whitefield, the most important evangelist of the Great Awakening of the 18th century.
Franklin Graham, son of the famous evangelist, recently warned that the rise of Ebola signaled that we are living in the last days. Few people noticed. Christian filmmaker Paul Lalonde released an awful movie in October about the end of the world. Despite snagging Nicolas Cage for the lead role, Lalonde’s retooling of Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins’s bestselling Left Behind books fell flat with audiences.
Once again, the epic drama of slavery and freedom is upon us. No, I’m not referring to Ferguson, although others have written extensively on links there to the nation’s history of bondage, legal violence, and avoidance of justice. While others protest, this weekend millions of moviegoers will behold Exodus: Gods and Kings. “Let my people go” will square off against law and order. The fish will die; so will the first born males. The Red Sea will separate, for a time, and then its crashing waters will destroy an army.
Exodus has been with Americans since the nation’s birth.