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Mayfield: Shameful rewrite of King’s history

Rich Mayfield
Vail CO, Colorado

This week’s award for the most egregiously self-serving and downright sinful newspaper column goes to ex-Nixon hit-man, ex-conman turned born-again Christian, Charles Colson’s rewrite of history in The Christian Post this past Martin Luther King Day.

In his column, Colson claimed the great civil rights leader as one of Colson’s own Evangelical Christians, a claim that blatantly ignores King’s neo-orthodox theology and liberal political philosophy. But this was not the extent of Colson’s outrageousness as he went on to align his ultra-conservative branch of Christianity with the American abolitionist battles of the 19th century and the struggle for women’s suffrage at the beginning of the 20th. In truth, Colson’s reactionary religion was indeed a part of all three of these significant social movements … but always as their adversary.

Even a cursory examination of history reveals the insidious role conservative Christianity played in the fight for the civil rights for women and people of color. Nowhere was opposition greater to these fundamental liberties than in churches that claimed the mantle of this Evangelical Christianity.

In his now cherished “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, Dr. King wrote to the clergy of the city that now imprisoned him: “I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South’s beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: “What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?”

I’m sure Chuck would have immediately responded to this clarion call for civil rights … if only he hadn’t been planning some precursor to the Watergate break-in. Of course, Colson saw the light while serving time and came out a changed man. Apparently, he decided to change history as well.

It is simply impossible for the student of history to imagine such Evangelical Christian leaders as Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson or the rabid segregationist Bob Jones in the same camp (or cell) as the revered Dr. King. Evangelical Christians in the 1960s were at the forefront of racial discrimination. Certainly there were exceptions but, by and large, Dr. King and the entire civil rights movement were adamantly opposed from Evangelical pulpits and pews. Colson’s column is a sickening affront to the legacy of a great man.

Colson’s shameful claim is all the more appalling in light of Evangelical Christianity’s continuing fight to deprive gay and lesbian folk their full and complete rights as citizens of the United States. Scratch the surface of almost any anti-gay political movement and you will find it peopled by Evangelicals.

One should also remember that the ridiculous attacks on modern science seeking to deprive school children of the needed knowledge to compete in a rapidly advancing world come primarily from adherents of Evangelical Christianity. When the absurd Creationist Movement finally gasps out its last breath will Colson suddenly claim he was an evolutionist all along? When gay and lesbian folk finally are awarded what has long been their legal due, will Colson claim he was only kidding while his religious relations figuratively and sometimes literally kicked the youknowwhat out of the youknowwhos?

There are encouraging signs emerging among some Evangelical Christians, such as author Jim Wallis and others, to reform their religious tradition by taking seriously the actual tenets of Jesus.

But Colson’s disavowal of Evangelical Christianity’s historical complicity in fanatically opposing the fight against oppression is reprehensible. Repent Chuck!

Rich Mayfield is the author of “Reconstructing Christianity: Notes from the New Reformation.” E-mail comments about this column to editor@vaildaily.com.


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