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The black community found refuge in the church. Although there were exceptions, like the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, the church provided some protection from those who would harm black people. And in the church our people found the peace, comfort and strength previously cultivated in the hush arbors. The vibrancy and progressive power of the black church is well documented. It was in the churches that the black colleges were conceived, given birth and prayed for. It was in the churches that a young and vibrant NAACP carried on its membership drives. It was the clergy who often provided the leadership for the black community at large. The powerful building effect of the African-American church cannot be disputed. And it was the church that gave us our drum major for justice, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Those who suggest that Christianity has been a debilitating and pacifying force in the African-American community are ignoring the evidence. The God of the Bible has always been a source of comfort, strength and hope for our people. Faith in Jesus Christ has not created passivity but rather activism in thousands of African Americans.

It is true that there have been those who have attempted to justify their mistreatment of us on the basis of the Bible. But this view has never held up to honest scrutiny. It is true that some of our people have listened to lies that have been told us, and to misinterpretations of biblical passages, thereby developing twisted and unhealthy views of themselves and of our people. But those who have followed Jesus Christ have been some of our most effective leaders, our most impressive achievers, and our most eloquent spokespeople. By their own testimony, these African-American Christians declare that it was their relationship with Jesus that fueled their struggle, energized their activism, and gave them hope for a better future for our people.

What happened to our "Old Time Religion"? Why does the African-American church struggle to gain the allegiance of the emerging generation?
The evolution of the Civil Rights Movement set up young African Americans for a collective crisis of faith. The post-World War II thrust for civil rights found no better incubator than the black churches of the South. Martin Luther King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference was the most visible manifestation of the Christian presence in the Civil Rights Movement. Those early mass meetings were characterized by prayer, the singing of hymns and spirituals, and an orderliness of conduct that revealed the Christian influence of the attendees.

Dr. King's appeal was to the moral conscience of the nation, based on its Judeo-Christian values. Yet, the white church failed to support his pleas for justice, freedom and equal treatment. It took the emerging electronic media's coverage of atrocities in the South to finally shame a reluctant federal government to get involved. It was the government, not the white church, that secured the rights for which so many had prayed, marched and shed blood.

This opened the door for those who wanted to disparage the Christian message. Many progressive whites befriended the Civil Rights leadership, becoming our allies in the struggle. Youthful leadership emerged, enraged by the cowardice and hypocrisy of the white church, to declare the need for new thinking. The new allies were quick to provide alternative ideologies, like dialectical Marxism, radical feminism and political liberalism. The patience of the previous generations began to be interpreted as weakness--a weakness often attributed to the gentle nature of Christianity.

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