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Needed: A Civil Righteousness Movement

With no end in sight to prejudice and bigotry, we need a fresh perspective and a new movement.

In mid-January, the United States observes an annual national holiday commemorating the life of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. Ironically, around the same time is an anniversary of the speech that defined the life of George C. Wallace, perhaps the most famous icon of everything King opposed.

As Alabama’s newly elected governor, on Jan. 14, 1963, Wallace declared in a fiery inaugural speech that he stood for “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” In this short statement, many historians claim, Wallace strengthened the hand of those perpetrating violence against those striving for equal rights.

In the public’s eyes, Wallace was arguably the representative figure of every racist who wanted to keep the Black people “in their place”—if not in literal slavery, certainly in economic, political and social repression.

At the same time, King was the representative figure of the movement to free the Black people from their economic, political and social chains. Only seven months after Wallace’s inauguration, on Aug. 28, 1963, King gave his passionate “I Have a Dream” speech.

A rare epiphany

Both of these men met violence in their causes. King was killed by an assassin’s bullet on April 4, 1968. Four years later, on May 15, 1972, as he campaigned for president, Wallace somehow survived being shot five times. He spent the remaining 26 years of his life in pain, permanently paralyzed and in a wheelchair.

But something changed in Wallace, nothing less than an epiphany. His views altered, he spoke of remorse and renounced his previous stance on segregation. He confessed he needed to seek love and reconciliation and that he did not want to meet his Maker with any unforgiven sin. He went to Black churches, sought out Black civil rights leaders and asked for their forgiveness.

Maybe that explains why, in 1982, when Wallace won his last governorship of Alabama, he did so with more than 90 percent of the Black vote.

Why are we still struggling?

So why, after all these years, are so many people all over the world still struggling with prejudice and bigotry? Why aren’t these curses distant memories of an age long past?

The simple answer lies in a principle you have read before here in the pages of Discern but one that bears repeating: our problems are spiritual in nature, and spiritual problems require spiritual solutions!

What so many people fail to see is the root cause. Hatred, injustice, discrimination, condescension, anger and disrespect are all spiritual issues! So are the solutions—peace, goodness and self-control, and the love and forgiveness that George Wallace came to see he needed.

At one time some said the civil rights movement was the final step for Blacks in the U.S. in coming out of the age of slavery. But have we been able to grasp the spiritual issue the apostle Paul explained nearly 2,000 years ago: “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?”

Haven’t you figured out yet, Paul was asking, that we’re all in slavery? Apparently not, given the state of prejudice that continues to plague all societies today! Until we see that these evils come from choosing sin over righteousness, we will continue to wear the shackles of sin and reap the consequences.

Fifty years ago we were in the midst of a civil rights movement that had limited success. If we want to see prejudice and bigotry really end, then it’s time for a civil righteousness movement—moving from sin to righteousness.

Clyde Kilough


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Discern Article Series

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Christianity in Progress
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