While many of the leaders of the Black Freedom Rights Struggle during the 1950’s and 1960’s were pastors and lay leaders, the concept of non-violence that they preached and practiced was not based on Christianity. Many Christians love to kick that Jesus was this long haired hippie but there were several instances in the Gospels where Jesus was far from that. While we can discuss the myriad interpretations of Jesus, that’s not the point. My point is that the concept of non-violence practiced during that time came from the teachings of Gandhi. While Gandhi practiced Hinduism, he did not get that idea from his religion. Gandhi pulled his ideas from Jainism. If there is a religion of peace, Jainism is it.
It was Bayard Rustin (a socialist and an atheist by the way) who introduced the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King to these concepts of Jainism. If one were to check King’s life after the March on Washing in 1963, one would learn that King began to do research on Jainism and the teachings of Gandhi. I am not trying to take anything away from those church folks who put in work. I just want folks to realize that those concepts and tactics used during that era did not come from Christianity.
The thing about Christians, and yes I mean ALL of them, is that they like to pick and choose certain quotes in the Bible. The problem with the Bible is that it contradicts itself on almost every page. While Jesus did discuss “turning the other cheek” there were moments in the Gospels where he was violent and talked about violence. Let’s not mention the fact that Jesus was really exclusive about who was down and who wasn’t. So this idea of tolerance in Christianity is fiction.
It’s unfortunate that folks like Rustin and A. Philip Randolph get written out of the Black Freedom Rights Struggle. The narrative that is written is that church folks did it all when that is not the case. And yes, the black clergy came from the stance of Liberation Theology as preached by Martin Delaney (another Martin you should read about) in the 19th century. And it’s a crime that Liberation Theology has also been written out of history or seen as a form of “communism.” But that is another post for another day.