Beloved Community: How Faith Shapes Social Justice, from the Civil Rights Movements to Today

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Speaking to his supporters at the end of the Montgomery bus boycott in 1956, Martin Luther King, Jr., declared that their common goal was not simply the end of segregation as an institution. Rather, "the end is reconciliation, the end is redemption, the end is the creation of the beloved community." King's words reflect the strong religious convictions that motivated the civil rights movement in the South in its early days. Standing courageously on the Judeo-Christian foundations of their moral commitments, civil rights leaders sought to transform the social and political realities of twentieth-century America. In The Beloved Community, Charles Marsh shows that the same spiritual vision that animated the civil rights movement remains a vital source of moral energy today. The Beloved Community lays out an exuberant new vision for progressive Christianity and reclaims the centrality of faith in the quest for social justice and authentic community.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this ambitious, wide-ranging book, Marsh, a religion professor at the University of Virginia, argues that the Civil Rights movement was, at its core, a Christian attempt to forge a "beloved community" of believers who identify with the poor and dispossessed and seek justice on their behalf. As his alternative telling unfolds, he introduces readers to a Martin Luther King Jr. they may not recognize (one who looked forward to a life of privilege and comfort until he was forced into leadership of the Montgomery Bus Boycott), as well as lesser-known figures such as Koinonia farm founder Clarence Jordan and Voices of Calvary founder John Perkins. Both of these men, like many others featured in the book, came to activism by way of Christian faith and belie the popular notion of "the civil rights movement as a secular movement that used religion to its advantage." Marsh laces his narrative with powerful critiques of secularism-among both activists and academics-and of white evangelical Christians for shallow, ineffectual concern for the poor and for people of color. He ends on a positive note, however, citing example after example of contemporary Christians eschewing lives of middle-class comfort in favor of attempts to build the beloved community in the most troubled corners of America. (Jan.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
"The revolution begins in the pews." So opens this closely reasoned study of the faith expressed in good works like the Civil Rights Act and antipoverty movement. At the heart of Marsh's (Religion/Univ. of Virginia; The Last Days, 2001, etc.) narrative stands Martin Luther King Jr., who, like Jimmy Carter, found inspiration for a socially active Christianity in the writings of Reinhold Niebuhr but became convinced that the Christ of the theologians is an abstraction-and that "abstractions cannot empower acts of compassion and self-sacrifice, or sustain the courage to speak out against the day." Certain instead that God lives in action, King chose to use faith-based action as an instrument of social change. He inspired many followers but was far from alone, and the great service of Marsh's book is to introduce readers to inspiring figures they may not have heard of. One is Clarence Leonard Jordan, a former seminarian who founded an agricultural/religious community, Koinonia Farm, that didn't set out deliberately to work for civil rights but came to be a center for the nascent movement in Georgia in the 1940s as its members created "opportunities for economic development among rural blacks" and "an organic approach to racial healing." Another is John Perkins, an African-American pastor who came to see racism as an illness and its perpetrators as victims. He remarked that "Racism is satanic, and I knew it would take a supernatural force to defeat it." Fond of twitting conservatives who profess faith but then flock to the likes of Oliver North, Perkins joins many other progressive Christians in the South who are committed to resisting racism and injustice and to founding that city-on-a-hillvision of "the beloved community," a body embraced but not contained by any church. Faith is not about reifying the American way of life, Marsh insists, or other forms of delusional self-worship; it is about doing good. Here, he offers examples of spiritual vision at work-and hard work at that. Author tour. Agent: Carol Mann/Carol Mann Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465044160
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 8/14/2006
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Charles Marsh is Professor of Religion at the University of Virginia and Director of the Project on Lived Theology. He is the author of Reclaiming Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the award-winning God's Long Summer, and The Last Days. He lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.

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Table of Contents

Introduction : souls on fire 1
Ch. 1 From church budgets to beloved community : King in Montgomery 11
Ch. 2 In the fields of the Lord : the God movement in south Georgia 51
Ch. 3 A theology for radicals : the rise and fall of SNCC 87
Ch. 4 The burdens of perpetual freedom : the dream as hallucination 127
Ch. 5 Between the times 145
Ch. 6 Unfinished business : John Perkins and the radical roots of faith-based community building 153
Ch. 7 Building beloved communities : dispatches from the quiet revolution 189
Ch. 8 The contours of an activist faith for the twenty-first century 207
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