Southern Conference: Focus on Faith

[The Center for American Progress is co-hosting a two-day conference this week in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, entitled New Strategies for Southern Progress. The conference is convening more than 200 national, state and local political leaders, policy experts, journalists and academics to rethink critical issues facing the South and chart a new progressive vision for the region. ThinkProgress Team member Jon Baskin is on the scene]

Progressive religious voices at today’s third panel, “Rethinking the Role of the Faith Community,” argued over the legacy of the Civil Rights movement in the South. Congressman David Price (D-NC) said his social and political conscience was forged during the North Carolina sit-ins and harkened back to the Civil Rights movement as a moment characterized by interfaith coalitions and progressive ideals.

But Reverend Daphne Wiggins, the Assistant Pastor at Union Baptist Church, cautioned that even as pastors led mass movements to broaden rights and tear down segregation in the South, “in that same period, you had the emergence and increase of segregated Christian day schools. And older people of faith too, who had a particular agenda saying we’re not in the progressive movement, we’re not going to have desegregated schools.”

Wiggins was joined by Alabama Baptist Reverend James Evans in warning that many of the gains of the Civil Rights movement may not be as permanent as they once appeared. The modern Christian right wing, said Evans, wants to “refight battles its already lost. Evolution is back. they lost on Civil Rights but this battle over gay marriage is a way for white Christians to say, ‘by golly I’m right about this and I know I’m right.’” It also wants to dismantle the New Deal, said Evans.

Indeed, Wiggins emphasized the importance of not resting on laurels or “patting ourselves on the back” about past victories. “It seems to me that if we talk about what’s happening currently…good work once done is not being repeated in our pulpits, not being put in our Sunday school literature.” she said. “The people that went through [the Civil Rights movement] are not telling their stories. A generation of people are not getting the lessons.”

Quote That Made Me Hungry But Shouldn’t Have:

“It’s so hard when you have good sweet Anglo pastors who say, ‘Maria, we want to partner with your church and we want to be inclusive and we have decided, it’s taco night!’”

— Reverend Maria Teresa Palmer, founding Pastor of Iglesia Unida De Christo (United Church of Christ), explaining some of the benefits and challenges of inter-racial church activities