The standoff outside the courthouse, at the bridge, and outside the capital in Selma and Montgomery, Alabama in 1965 was entirely a clash of religious differences–or should I say, of different religions. One “religion” valued freedom and human life (what Howard Thurman called “the Religion of Jesus”) and the other “religion” valued submission and obedience to an abusive and oppressive system.
Here’s what Howard Thurman said about the religion of Jesus:
“It is my sincere and profound conviction that Jesus is the great enemy of our civilization and culture. And if [God’s] will, as [Jesus] experienced it, becomes operative in our society, not a single stone will be left upon another” (from Alondo Johnson, Good News for the Disinherited: Howard Thurman on Jesus of Nazareth and Human Liberation [Lahnham, Maryland: University Press of America, 1997], p. 102).
What did Thurman mean?
The religion of Jesus challenges all forms of oppression and inhumanity, including racism, classism, and religious bigotry. Society–especially so-called “Christian society”–thrives on injustice and inhumanity. It uses the mask of Christian religiosity to hide the religion of Jesus in order to teach bigotry, hatred, and submission to abusive systems of authority. But the religion of Jesus works to tear these systems down so that all people can live and move in freedom and with dignity.
The religion of Jesus is about making people whole. The religion of the world is about rules and systems aimed at making sure some people and their experiences are seen as more human than others.
The situation with Kim Davis should not be surprising. It is nothing less than a public display of the clash of religions. In fact, I am surprised it is getting as much attention as it is. That means that folks in Morehead are courageous enough to push forward to make something change, rather than accepting nonsense oppressive status quo to continue in operation.
Back to the Selma example. Selma should be a reminder to us that, just because the Constitution says something, or the Supreme Court rules something, it is the actual “law at the street level” that matters most. It took a national movement with lots of press in order to make things change in Alabama back in 1965 before everyone was allowed the dignity to exercise their right to vote.
But the tide is shifting. As the writer of this piece in Time puts it:
“If the fallout from [Loving v. Virginia, the 1967 case that struck down laws preventing interracial marriage] is any indication, those who side with the Kentucky clerk may have years of fight left to go—but their battle will likely be a losing one in the end.”
I pray that the events in my little town of Morehead these last days might call us to join in chorus with Martin Luther King’s with these words about that clash of religions as it was experienced in Selma back in 1965:
“The confrontation of good and evil compressed in the tiny community.. generated the massive power…to turn the whole nation to a new course.”