Faith in Action, Changing the World
In last week’s post, “Refocusing the Black Church, the Shifting Paradigm” we advocated a fundamental shift in the African-American church. We realize that the church exist to preach the Gospel. We nevertheless asked church leadership to not only preach, but to address the many problems which vex the Black community. This entry continues the process of shifting the faith-based paradigm.
Fortunately, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. The Civil Rights Movement provides the model for realizing this paradigm shift. Said Movement provides the following guidelines.
First, if nothing else the Civil Rights Movement was focused, strategic and tactical. Its policy concerns included voter registration, school desegregation and integration, fair housing and equal access to public accommodations, jobs and employment, public works and the passage of meaningful civil rights legislation. It agreed upon the desired outcomes per issue and developed specific goals, objectives, tasks, timetables and responsibilities by which to achieve these outcomes.
More brilliantly, the tactic of direct action in the form of well planned and coordinated mass activities were initiated. These tactics included boycotts, nonviolent resistance, sit-ins, freedom rides, voter registration drives, marches, demonstrations, political pressure, social advocacy and litigation in state and federal courts.
We too should concentrate on problems which bedevils us, e.g. crime and justice, children and families, mental and emotional health issues, work-force development, homelessness, public education and a black culture gone awry. And while the tactics of the Civil Rights Movement have lost some of their saliency, we are still obligated to develop and implement the tactical means by which to overcome our challenges.
Second, the Civil Rights Movement was policy driven. Contrary to current efforts, the Movement was not program/project centric. It neither developed nor managed human service initiatives. It did not help the poor, feed the hungry, house the homeless or provide direct assistance to individuals, as noble as these endeavors might be.
Rather, the Movement focused on the macro rather than the micro. It consider the long-term versus the short span. It centered on public instead of individual change. And it highlighted building people as opposed to merely serving them.
The ultimate goal was to create the greatest good for the greatest number of people. And it achieved this mission by changing public policy and American society.
Ours is a similar mission. We should therefore curtail our penchant for elevating programs and services over policy. It cannot be overstated. Programs and services are a means of mitigating the adverse effects of bad policy. Hence, policy drives programming. Not the converse.
Third, the Movement was collaborative. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the Civil Rights era was neither the brainchild of nor led by a single man. It was instead inspired, conceived and guided by men and women every bit the equal of Martin Luther King, Jr. e.g., Rosa Parks, Bernard Rustin, James Farmer, John Lewis, A. Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young, Jr. and last but not least, Malcolm X.
Nor was the Movement the province of a sole organization. A collaborative effort involving the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the National Urban League was instead the model.
And the organizations had different approaches, roles and responsibilities. For example, the NAACP was assigned to advance legal and legislative initiatives, while the Freedom Rides, which were used as a way of testing the 1960 Supreme Court ruling that declared segregation in interstate travel to be unconstitutional, were the province of CORE. More significantly, it was SNCC, which was created by four black students in Greensboro North Carolina, which completed the effort by imbedded college students into the Rides. http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/index.php/encyclopedia/encyclopedia/enc_student_nonviolent_coordinating_committee_sncc/.
The lesson is that iron sharpens iron and that we all have a role to play. Hence, we need not just one leader or institution but a collection of all working in harmony and solidarity.
But most importantly, the Movement was an example of faith in action. The leaders of the Civil Rights Movement were all people of faith even if they were not members of the same faith. And they did far more than lecture and talk; preach and discuss.
They put their lives on the line. They did not just argue religious values, they lived them. They stepped out of their churches and marched across the Pettus Bridge knowing that at bridge’s end they would be savaged by attack dogs, police batons, fist, boots and guns that would injure, maim and possible kill them.
They boarded and rode buses through the Deep South, knowing that other members of their religion would greet them with bats, axes and fire. They participated in voter enrollment efforts knowing full well that their only reward might be an unkind bullet or an angry rope.
This is faith in action. The faith of David as he faced Goliath, of Daniel as he stood in the lion’s den, of Joshua at the walls of Jericho and of Moses as he led his people out of bondage, a faith made strong by their belief that God would make a way; that the giant would fall, the lion would be made tame, the walls would crumble and that the sea would part.
This is the power of faith, i.e., the ability to change the world. And this is precisely what is required of the church and the faith-based community. Fore if you can change the world, then you must change the world.
Leo Barron Hicks, Founder and CEO
Blackacre Policy Forum