March 02, 2017
Love and Action
Sometimes I find myself sounding like the son of a Southern preacher. Which is understandable, given the fact that my dad was a Southern preacher. He was many other things: priest, scholar, theologian, psychologist, author, hair stylist, fast-pitch softball pitcher, wrestler, Scrabble master, Heaven Hill Bourbon connoisseur, and on and on. But he was also a Southern preacher who was introduced to the idea of religion in the form of the Christian fundamentalism of a north Georgia mill town. He moved well beyond that, but there were aspects he clung to defiantly. And sometimes I sound like his son, which I offer as a soft warning for the paragraphs that follow.*
When I speak of my heritage, I usually speak of East Tennessee and the Appalachian Mountains, and my roots do run deep in that region (like, 300 years deep, not counting the occasional Cherokee branches, which presumably run deeper), but I probably spent more years living in Middle Tennessee (it might be close to 50-50), which is actually different in many cultural aspects, if nuanced (for instance, Middle Tennesseans says “y’all,” whereas folks deep in the mountains of East Tennessee say “you’uns”). Both qualify as being in “the Bible Belt,” but Middle Tennessee is closer to being the buckle … Anyway, I know what “Bible Belt” means up close and personal, the good and the bad. I also know of folks like my friend John Green and many, many others who oppose the hateful, negative aspects of the Bible Belt with Love and Action.
Love and Action. That’s what fueled the Civil Rights Movement of the South in the 1950s & 60s—a movement primarily lead by Southern Christians guided by love against Southern Christians guided by other agendas (important to remember that the Jim Crow laws, the KKK, etc., were/are considered by their supporters to be representative of Christian values.) And that is often lost in the re-telling of the history of the South and in the portrayal of Southern Christians. It’s actually quite complex. Southern Christians—and Southerners in general—come in many flavors, and the ones screaming on the news are only a portion of the population, albeit a loud and obnoxious portion.
Now, as this article in Mother Jones discusses, the complexity stretches well beyond the many brands of Christianity. The article specifically details the ongoing struggle of a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, some of which has made the national news. Much like the work of MLK, Ralph Abernathy, Will Campbell, and thousands of others in the Civil Rights Movement of the mid-twentieth century, the progress has been slow—but slow victory is still victory. Yet the current energy is, to say the least, volatile. As the article points out, according to a report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, anti-Muslim hate groups have tripled since 2015. And I suspect that the increase in hate-groups, anti-Muslim and otherwise, has risen at an even faster rate since 2017 began. That last sentence is just a guess based upon observation—not to be confused with a fact—but the data is presenting itself daily.
The Movement itself was a remarkably successful campaign in an ongoing struggle—though at a great cost. And, beyond Love and Action, the most important lesson to pull from those who suffered and sacrificed in that movement is that there was a clear goal with precise leadership. “Keep your eyes on the prize,” the soldiers were often reminded, and that often meant suffering violence, indignity, and sometimes death for the greater good.
The answer hasn’t changed, whether in the hands of Christian, atheist, Muslim, or whatever flavor. Stay focused, follow precise leadership, and meet hate with Love and Action. Love alone ain’t enough, and action without love will ultimately just feed the problem. Love and Action. A powerful combination.
*Note: for the record, my intended focus is on the civil rights aspects, which in this instance involves religion. I’m not interested in peddling or debunking religious views of any sort. But when religious behavior causes harm to others, that’s another matter–regardless of which religion is causing the harm.