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Religious Beliefs on Issues of Segregation

Introduction

The 1950s were a challenging time for Americans concerning racial tensions. To many white Protestant Americans, the majority of which resided in the South, desegregation directly challenged their way of life. In the light of the Brown v. Board of Education, some chose to accept it while others continued to challenge the issue. White Protestant Americans adopted two distinct positions of either Christian inclusivity that supported desegregation or exclusivity targeted at maintaining the segregation of church and other social institutions as an inevitable status quo, but ultimately it is the position of inclusivity that supported a peaceful transition, rather than the racist quasi-religious ambitions of opponents for desegregation.

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Gillespie Perspective

Gillespie acknowledges when beginning to discuss the religious grounds for his argument, that the Bible maintains “no clear mandate” for segregation of races. However, he suggests that a wide variety of evidence can be used to draw “valid inferences” that emphasize segregation as a “feature of the Divine purpose and Providence.” Previously in the publication, Gillespie argues that segregation is a natural occurrence that can be observed in the animal world, has been practiced for centuries in various places around the world, and ultimately serves for the betterment of both races and society. He holds a strong belief that any form of desegregation will lead to interracial marriages and sexual relationships that would compromise the integrity of the white race which is morally unjustifiable. At the same time, the author believes that segregation is legally and morally correct, while prejudice and discrimination are wrong.

Graham Perspective

Graham recognizes the injustices of racism, including segregation, which he recognizes exists everywhere in the world. Unlike Gillespie, he views it as a terrible mistake of human civilization, for which “we have reaped a harvest of racial strife” – drawing parallels to the famous Bible verse “Whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.” Graham recognizes the fears that are involved in desegregation, including intermarriage, but suggests these can be resolved with the aid of experts, legislators, and finally the church. However, he does state that neither race may be ready for full desegregation, while churches and other social institutions may be easier to accept, it may have been too early for school integration at the time of the writing in the mid-1950s.

For the majority of the article, Graham goes on to counterargue many of the extremist Evangelical perspectives, some of which were present in Gillespie’s publication. Graham repeatedly emphasizes that Christianity is meant to be inclusive, based on the Golden Rule and neighbor-love that never distinguished between races in the New Testament. Graham views racial discrimination as a “social sin” and a violation of the neighbor-love comandante, but instead of confessing and taking responsibility, American society chose to undertake the “sterile morality of self-justification” or a deep entrenchment of these social ills, which leads to “man’s soul sickness.”

Impact of Religious Beliefs

As the authors were known religious leaders and scholars in the Protestant American community, both texts utilize extensive Biblical referencing and religious ideology in their perspectives. However, a fundamental difference is that Graham uses religion as a foundation largely to drive his argument and form an ideological perspective, while Gillespie uses religion to justify an ideology that he has already established. Religion only comes as the 5th point on his list of various social, historical, and philosophical justifications for segregation. At which point he provides a wide variety of examples of segregation in the Bible, the majority stemming from the Old Testament where various tribes were deliberately separated and later on, the Hebrews are directly commanded not to intermix with other people. A significant number of these examples are far-reaching such as the First Separation placed upon Cain, whose descendants were then not regarded as “The Sons of God.” It is questionable as to how this can be related to racial differences. The basis of Gillespie’s religious arguments comes down to the principle that since God had been displeased with racial integration in the Bible, it would still apply in the modern-day, and forcing it would disrupt the natural order of things that Christianity strongly opposes.

Meanwhile, Graham calls upon the restorative and redemptive nature of the Christian belief. He suggests that “human nature must be transformed, changed, and redirected” part of the “born anew” principle of the faith. He refers to Biblical passages as well, emphasizing the numerous times that the Bible promotes equality and inclusivity. Graham provides examples of how Jesus and His apostles closely interacted with the Gentiles when it was forbidden and preached that the Jews should see everyone else as a fellow man. Christianity is meant to be a religion that sees no barriers of the natural order that Gillespie states, but rather inherently unifying. Graham argues that by truly embracing Christianity, an individual realizes the wrongs of segregation due to the “supernatural love for his fellow man.” Therefore, churches are essential to creating an environment that contributes to acceptance and inclusivity through desegregation, and by doing so, resolving racial tensions. It is appropriate to have “voluntary alignments based on social and other preferences” but only when an individual has a choice, otherwise Christian ethics are directly endangered.

Discussion

In reading both texts, an interesting contrast arises on how both authors use the institution of the church and Christianity. Notably, in his text, Gillespie does not bring up the role of the church in society, other than to mention how desegregation will impact churches, and contribute to interracial marriage. Meanwhile, Graham deeply analyzes the institution of the church and its role in race relations. The church, not just in the metaphysical and spiritual form of Christianity, but also the concrete and physical building and its congregation and community. Graham acknowledges that the church in the South holds a significant societal role in guiding people and potentially setting precedents. Thus, Graham calls upon the churches around the country, to “practice what it preaches.” Graham realizes that most Christians are not extremists, and acts of discrimination and segregation are driven by social influences. However, removing what he calls “secular” influences, and applying Christian values to both the church and daily lives, it becomes evident that there is no evidence or reason for segregation which is inherently driven by fear and hate. Graham believes in the inclusivity of the Christian church and breaking down racial and other potential barriers when it comes to the neighbor-love and salvation beliefs.

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In contrast, Gillespie lays the foundation of social segregation and elements of eugenics before invoking Christianity in any manner. His fixation on what he identifies as the “real issue” as the potential interracial marriages if desegregation was to occur emphasizes that the core of his argument stems from a highly racist standpoint. Gillespie directly acknowledges that the Anglo-Saxon (in other words, white Christians) racial integrity would be under “serious threat to the whole cultural pattern and community life,” leading to an eventual merging into a mulatto race. From a modern-day perspective, and observing this publication in a historic and academic context, it can be said that Gillespie engaged in fear-mongering. Without a doubt, Gillespie sought to create fear over the compromises of the white race if desegregation occurred and used every possible means including religious grounds to justify racial segregation. It is this fundamental difference that distinguished the perspectives of white Protestant Americans at the time. The church was either exclusive to them based on numerous other elements of racial politics which they sought to maintain segregated, driven largely by fearmongering to support this standpoint. On the other hand, for the other perspective, the church was inclusive regardless of external politics and Christianity was viewed as an all-encompassing belief that could be used to resolve racial tensions.

Conclusion

White Protestant Americans adopted two distinct positions of either Christian inclusivity that supported desegregation or exclusivity targeted at maintaining the segregation of church and other social institutions as an inevitable status quo. Unfortunately, proponents of segregation demonstrated highly controversial arguments that sought to draw connections from passages in the Bible based on ancient societies and fallacious logic in comparisons that supported their fearmongering position. Those Protestant Americans arguing in support of desegregation sought to draw more intimate connections with religious beliefs demonstrated in the Bible, placing the focus on the New Testament which emphasized inclusivity while also sustaining a logical argument regarding the role of the church as a leading societal institution for peaceful change and transition.

Bibliography

Gillespie, G.T. A Christian View of Segregation. Greenwood, MS: Citizens’ Council Educational Fund, 1954.

Graham, Billy. “Billy Graham Makes Plea for an End to Intolerance.” Life, 1956.

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