Faith and Politics

Selma: 'To Come Away Changed'

Marchers stopped at Edmund Pettus bridge. Image via Penn State Special Collectio
Marchers stopped at Edmund Pettus bridge. Image via Penn State Special Collection/flickr.com

The white ministers didn’t fly down to Alabama in January, when Sheriff Jim Clark clubbed Annie Lee Cooper outside of the county courthouse, nor in February when a state trooper fatally shot twenty-six-year-old Jimmie Lee Jackson in the stomach for trying to protect his mother after a civil rights demonstration.  

But on Bloody Sunday everything changed. At 9:30 p.m. on March 7, 1965, ABC news interrupted a broadcast to show hundreds of black men, women, and children peacefully crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge toward Montgomery and a sea of blue uniforms blocking their way. The marchers were given two minutes to disperse, and then the screen filled with the smoke of tear gas, police on horseback charging the screaming crowd, burly troopers wielding billy clubs and bullwhips, a woman’s hem rising up over her legs as a fellow marcher attempted to drag her away to safety.

Overnight the nation’s eye turned toward Selma. Rev. Martin Luther King sent a telegram to hundreds of clergy that Monday, urging them to leave their pulpits and join him in Alabama to march for justice. Some supporters, like the reporter George Leonard, packed their things immediately after watching the newscast from Selma.

“I was not aware that at the same momemt ... hundreds of these people would drop whatever they were doing,” Leonard wrote later.  

“... That some of them would leave home without changing clothes, borrow money, overdraw their checking accounts, board planes, buses, trains, cars, travel thousands of miles with no luggage, get speeding tickets, hitchhike, hire horse-drawn wagons, that these people, mostly unknown to one another, would move for a single purpose to place themselves alongside the Negroes they had watched on television.”

Selma changed the course of history by paving the way for the passage of the Voting Rights Act, but its impact didn’t end there. The spirit of Selma rippled outward, forever changing those who made the long journey to Alabama — including a white minister from Washington, D.C., named Rev. Gordon Cosby.

Boko Haram Pledges Loyalty to Islamic State

Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Emmanuel Braun / RNS
A Chadian soldier during battle against insurgent group Boko Haram in Gambaru. Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Emmanuel Braun / RNS

Boko Haram’s leader has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in a new audio message, according to a group that monitors extremist activity.

In the recording, a man claiming to be Abubakar Shekau, leader of the Nigerian terrorist group that has killed thousands, vowed to follow Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the U.S.-based SITE Intel Group, announced on March 7.

“We announce our allegiance to the Caliph of the Muslims … and will hear and obey in times of difficulty and prosperity, in hardship and ease, and to endure being discriminated against, and not to dispute about rule with those in power, except in case of evident infidelity regarding that which there is a proof from Allah,” Shekau said in a tweeted message that went along with the video, according to the Associated Press. Al-Baghdadi is the self-proclaimed head of the caliphate.

Flashpoint Intelligence, a global security firm, confirmed the recording to NBC News and said it was posted on Boko Haram social media accounts. USA Today was not able to independently verify the message.

‘Selma Sowed, But It Did Not Reap' — Anniversary Puts Spotlight on Deep Poverty

Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Tami Chappell / RNS
A woman carries an American flag in Selma, Ala, on March 7, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Tami Chappell / RNS

With the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday this weekend, America was reminded how this small city helped bring sweeping change to the nation.

But while Selma might have transformed America, in many ways time has stood still in this community of 20,000 that was at the center of the push that culminated with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Dallas County, of which Selma is the county seat, was the poorest county in Alabama last year. Selma has an unemployment rate of 10.2 percent; the national rate is 5.5 percent.

More than 40 percent of families and 67 percent of children in the county live below the poverty line. The violent crime rate is five times the state average.

The Birmingham News called the region, known as the Black Belt because of its rich soil, “Alabama’s Third World.”

Gay Marriage Gains Rapid Support with U.S. Public, Including Conservatives

Photo via REUTERS / Carol Tedesco / Florida Keys News Bureau / RNS
Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones are married. Photo via REUTERS / Carol Tedesco / Florida Keys News Bureau / RNS

As the Supreme Court readies to hear a group of cases that could make same-sex marriage legal from coast to coast, support for allowing gays and lesbians to marry is piling in from all directions.

On April 28, the court will hear arguments in four related cases that address whether state bans on gay and lesbian marriages are constitutional. The ruling is expected by late June.

But new opinion polls and friend-of-the-court briefs that were due March 6 show widespread acceptance of marriage as a right for all.

Climbing public support: The rate of growth for supporting same-sex marriage has risen so rapidly even the director of the national biennial General Social Survey is marveling at the speed of change.

Rutgers Muslim Students Fearful for Future in Wake of NYPD Surveillance

A man prays at the Islamic Cultural Center in Newark, included on a surveillance
A man prays at the Islamic Cultural Center in Newark, included on a surveillance list by the NYPD. Image via RNS/The Star-Ledger

There are Rutgers students and graduates whose futures are in jeopardy because they were placed under surveillance by the NYPD — operating outside of its jurisdiction — for no other reason than they practice Islam.

This troubling reality is at the heart of the lawsuit Hassan v. City of New York, which was argued before judges of the Third Circuit Appellate Court in Philadelphia in January. One of the Rutgers plaintiffs taking part in the complaint worries that she will not be able to pursue a career in international social work, since background checks will link her to a spying program that incorrectly claimed it would expose the “likely whereabouts of terrorists.”

Rutgers students had no connections to terrorist activities whatsoever. Their “wrongdoing” amounts to being members of the campus Muslim Student Associations in Newark and New Brunswick, which were infiltrated by undercover NYPD agents.

The injuries caused by the NYPD’s spying do not end with damaged career prospects. The emotional and psychological effects of surveillance can also be seen in the anxiety that the Rutgers plaintiffs express about discussing their religion or praying in public, since any behavior that identifies them as Muslim has been deemed grounds for suspicion.

Last year, Newark District Court Judge William J. Martini granted New York City’s motion to dismiss Hassan v. City of New York during the case’s initial hearing, and denied the plaintiffs legal standing on the grounds that they could not prove “injury in fact.” This dubious conclusion writes off spying as innocuous and harmless.

Faith-Based Aid Groups Face a Hurdle: The Faith that Drives Them

Photo courtesy of Rafael Suanes / Georgetown University / RNS
Ruth Messinger, president of American Jewish World Service. Photo courtesy of Rafael Suanes / Georgetown University / RNS

Leaders of Christian and Jewish international aid groups say their efforts are often met with twin suspicions: That the real purpose is to proselytize; and that a religious message is tied to material aid.

Not so, say Pastor Rick Warren, who has led Saddleback Church to donate millions of dollars and hours of labor in Africa, and Ruth Messinger, president of American Jewish World Service.

The two were keynote speakers at a discussion on “Proselytism and Development in Pluralistic Societies,” sponsored by the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs, at Georgetown University.

Both acknowledged at the March 4 event that their motives — “living like Jesus,” said Warren, and “pursuing justice,” said Messinger — are questioned.

From the Archives: April 1976

THE DIALOGUES I am having with others in my late 30s are in contrast with the ones I had in my 20s when I was a single suburbanite. ... My aroused feminist perspective tempts me to say that traditional evangelical theology was adequate when I was living with a primarily masculine (in the Jungian sense) orientation to life, but has revealed deficiencies as I have related to life out of a more feminine consciousness.

Being pregnant, lactating, and caring for infants and toddlers; knowing isolation in an urban apartment; seeing the effects of racism, affluence, sexism, and waste—these are very concrete experiences and ones that have been often so exhausting that the necessary energy for abstract, focused thinking has often not been available. Life has become more responsive to the pragmatic, and the help that really helps must relate more to my being and my doing than to my thinking.

This is, of course, a false dichotomy, but how it cannot be a dichotomy is troublesome to me. I have been taught that correct doctrine, orthodoxy, is the source and prerequisite to correct living. ... In my saner moments, I hold to the analysis that evangelical doctrine is correct as far as it goes, but it often does not extend far enough into the life situation of women and men and children who are oppressed and bound by realities that rarely oppress evangelical theologians. 

Judy Brown Hull was co-chair of Evangelicals for Social Action when this article appeared.

Image: Lantern,  / Shutterstock

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Coming in From the Cold

JON SOBRINO LAUGHS ever so slightly at my question. His office in the Monseñor Romero Center in San Salvador is a paper cavern, a place where a theological archeologist digging to understand the highs and the lows of liberation movements within the church would find a mother lode of artifacts.

Where is liberation theology going from here under Pope Francis? Sobrino, perhaps one of the most prolific liberation theologians, is thin and thoughtful. He considers his words: Liberation theology is a way of thinking about how a Christian must live—in active, engaged struggle for the flourishing of all life. Liberation is the primary movement of the Holy Spirit. It is the duty of those baptized into the life, death, and ministry of Jesus Christ to live this out, immediately and urgently.

In March 2013, when Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Sobrino’s fellow Jesuit, became pope, liberation theologians and practitioners took a deep collective breath—what would happen next?

The popes of the 1980s and ’90s had removed all support for the promoters of liberation theology who had lived out the “preferential option for the poor,” born from Vatican II and the 1968 Medellín conference of Latin American bishops. The church’s identification with the poor was a direct strike against the closed oligarchic structures that had strangled the lands and peoples since the European conquest.

The oligarchy, which controlled governments and armies, struck back. The Latin American oligarchic wars created countless liberation Christian martyrs.

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Torturous Logic

THE SENATE Intelligence Committee finally released in December its long-delayed report on “enhanced interrogation techniques” employed by the CIA in the U.S. global “war on terrorism.” That these techniques—including waterboarding, “rectal feeding,” weeklong sleep deprivation, threats to harm detainees’ children—constituted torture, in clear violation of the Geneva Conventions, is a reality that is difficult to deny. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and her colleagues should be commended for facing and exposing the grim truths behind our nation’s post-9/11 conduct.

Unfortunately, recent polling has revealed some disturbing attitudes among Americans on this issue—particularly among Christians. A Washington Post/ ABC News poll conducted shortly after the Senate report’s release found that 59 percent of Americans believe the CIA’s treatment of suspected terrorists was justified, compared to just 31 percent who believe it was unjustified. Startlingly, among Christians who were polled, that number rises to between 66 percent and 75 percent who believe the techniques were justified. In this same poll, 53 percent of respondents indicated they believe these techniques produced important information that could not have been obtained any other way, compared to just 31 percent who disagree.

These poll results fly in the face of the Senate report’s findings. Some of the key phrases from the report summarize the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program as follows: “Not an effective means of acquiring intelligence”; “complicated, and in some cases impeded, the national security missions”; and “damaged the United States’ standing in the world.”

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Remembering the Horror of Selma's ‘Bloody Sunday’ 50 Years Later

Photo via Library of Congress / RNS
Participants walk in the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965. Photo via Library of Congress / RNS

The images of that day in 1965 were quickly seared into the American consciousness: helmeted Alabama state troopers and mounted sheriff’s possemen beating peaceful civil rights marchers in Selma, Ala., as clouds of tear gas wafted around the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

On March 7, 1965 — a day that would become known as “Bloody Sunday” — 600 marchers heading east out of Selma topped the graceful, arched span over the Alabama River, only to see a phalanx of state and local lawmen blocking their way on U.S. Highway 80.

The police stopped the marchers, led by Hosea Williams of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and John Lewis, chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and ordered them to disperse. Then they attacked. Lewis, one of 58 people injured, suffered a skull fracture. Amelia Boynton Robinson, then 53, was beaten unconscious and left for dead, her face doused with tear gas.

Photos of that terrible day were seen around the world. Historians credit the beatings, and the public outrage that followed, as a catalyst for the passage of the Voting Rights Act.

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