What is a Christian view of the Civil Rights Movement?
If we look at what the Bible has to say about human rights we find that that the Civil Rights Movement should never have been necessary in the first place. From kidnapping people to be slaves to racial segregation and discrimination, all of the actions leading up to needing a civil rights movement were completely unbiblical. The Christian worldview leaves no room for discrimination based on skin color or race. Therefore, Christianity and civil rights are highly compatible.
The slave trade which brought millions of African people to be slaves in the southern United States was totally contrary to the instruction given to the Israelites in the Bible, which states: "He who kidnaps a man and sells him, or if he is found in his hand, shall surely be put to death" (Exodus 21:16, NKJV). Paul includes those who enslave others in his list of rebellious offenders who practice things that are "contrary to sound doctrine" (1 Timothy 1:8–10). Though the New Testament encourages slaves to respect their masters (Ephesians 6:5; Colossians 3:22; 1 Peter 2:18), it does not advocate for nor condone slave traders, slave owners, or the cultural or governmental systems allowing for slaves in the first place. Those practices are contrary to Scripture.
After the emancipation of the slaves in the United States, the racial prejudice and discriminatory behavior against them continued. The Bible calls unfair dealings with people an "abomination to the LORD" (Proverbs 20:10) and strictly forbids murder (Exodus 20:13; Matthew 5:21–26). The Bible makes no allowances for racial prejudice or segregation: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise" (Galatians 3:28–29).
The goal of the Civil Rights Movement was biblical because it was aiming to ensure that people were treated equally regardless of race. The Bible forbids favoritism, so any group advocating for partiality of one race or group above another is going against Scripture. In fact, we are supposed to treat all people equally, loving our neighbor as ourselves: "If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself,' you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors" (James 2:8–9; cf. James 2:1–13).
Much of the work and the protests done by civil rights activists was biblical because many of the leaders advocated peaceful action. Exercising First Amendment rights by protesting in a non-violent manner in order to remind the government of its constitutional responsibilities was important work. Activists who worked peacefully with local and national governments to make policy changes were making cultural changes from the inside out, bringing things more into line with God's views on racial equality. The Freedom Riders were activists who rode public buses in order to challenge segregation laws. These protests that were done at a state level were completely legal, as the year prior the U. S. Supreme Court had ruled in Boynton v. Virginia that racial segregation was illegal on public transportation because it violated the Interstate Commerce Act. The Freedom Riders had to endure physically violent attacks and unjust imprisonment. First Peter 2:19–20 says: "For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God." The Freedom Riders suffered for doing good, but nevertheless they endured.
When we look at the concept of civil rights, we find that it is about the equal value that God has placed on each individual. We are all made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26–27). Nations that actively observe civil rights recognize the equality of all humans. The twentieth century civil rights movement in America should overall be viewed as a positive example of a people group compelling the United States to stand for and incorporate more biblical principles on human rights into the fabric of the nation.
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