With the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States, the term “post-racial” entered our everyday vocabulary. While the term’s origins and definition are unclear, various commentators have invoked it to describe an American society unbound by race. Yet reactions to the election and presidency of Obama have been varied. Voting patterns in the 2008 election indicated that people living in areas with a more mixed racial population actually were less likely to vote for an African-American candidate than those in racially homogenous areas. And after the election, the nation experienced a wave of racial backlash, including incidents on college campuses like my own (see Huckabee, 16 November 2008).
In his spring 2008 speech in Philadelphia about race relations, Obama himself described the United States as being in something of a “racial stalemate.” As Obama explained, “Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy... But I have asserted a firm conviction—a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people—that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice if we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union” (18 March 2008).
Although in the “Age of Obama,” there have been more discussions about the state of race relations in American society, there do not seem to have been similar levels of discussion about race relations in American churches. American Christians often have been reluctant participants in discussions about the potential and promise of a “post-racial” America. As Time magazine recently observed, “In an age of mixed-race malls, mixed race pop-music charts and, yes, a mixed-race President, the church divide seems increasingly peculiar” (Van Biema, 11 January 2010).
Religion and race have been deeply intertwined throughout American history. American religious history is marked by the evolution of separate white and black churches and denominations, and religion was often used to give sanction to the legalized systems of slavery and segregation. Though the Civil Rights Movement was born and sustained in black churches, it struggled to gain the support of many churches—both black and white—in the fight for racial justice in American society. As Martin Luther King Jr. famously reminded us, “Eleven o’clock Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week.”
King led the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization that organized black churches in the struggle to end racial segregation. This story is well known. Less known is the work of Andrew Schulze, a Lutheran pastor who also was an advocate and activist for better race relations. American Lutheranism is a predominantly white denomination, made up largely of the descendants of German and Scandinavian immigrants. Yet since the colonial period, American Lutherans always have counted a small percentage of African Americans among their number. Schulze was a white Lutheran pastor who ministered to black Lutheran congregations in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. After seeing how his own parishioners were treated by both church and society, he became committed to the struggle for racial justice. Schulze was the leading figure in founding the Lutheran Human Relations Association of America (LHRAA), begun in 1953, which for many years was based at Valparaiso University. While only a few thousand of the nine million Lutherans in America joined the LHRAA, members of the organization actively worked to improve race relations in the church and advance the Civil Rights Movement.
Schulze’s career largely focused on Lutheran churches and communities, and Martin Luther King Jr. was concerned with the larger national and even global situation, but their ministries shared many themes. Both Schulze and King believed in the dignity and equality of humanity, based on the Christian doctrine of creation. Schulze wrote, “‘We are the offspring of God’ (Acts 17:29). This thought is basic to the whole understanding of the race issue. The human family is one” (Schulze 1968, 65). As King explained, “…the image of God is universally shared in equal portions by all men... Human worth lies in relatedness to God. An individual has value because he has value to God” (King 1963, 158). Yet Schulze and King also recognized the fallen and sinful nature of humanity and the reality of evil in this world. Schulze and King both stressed that, despite the difficulties of our human condition, we have both the freedom and the responsibility to take action in this world.
Throughout their ministries, Schulze and King were drawn to the meaning and the message of Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, from Luke 10:25–37. This parable was the inspiration for the title of Schulze’s first book, My Neighbor of Another Color (1941), which called for the integration of the church. Martin Luther King Jr. often referred to the parable of the Good Samaritan in speeches and sermons. In King’s last speech, “I See the Promised Land,” delivered to striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee in April 1968, he stressed the lesson of the Good Samaritan, the need to reach out and help others despite the confines of self and society. In this parable, religious figures, the priest and the Levite, avoided helping the man in need, while an ordinary Samaritan took action.
King and Schulze shared a disappointment in the church’s efforts on behalf of racial justice. They believed that the church should lead, rather than follow, society in social and ethical matters. As King stated, “…often the Church has been an echo rather than a voice, a taillight behind the Supreme Court and other secular agencies, rather than a headlight guiding men progressively and decisively to higher levels of understanding” (Ibid., 157). Schulze also wanted Christians to be in the forefront of racial change, which is why he titled the newsletter of the Lutheran Human Relations Association, “The Vanguard” and his regular column, “That The Church May Lead.”
Both King and Schulze were active participants in the National Conference on Religion and Race. Held in Chicago in 1963 in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement, the conference has often been overlooked by historians. It was a gathering of hundreds of religious leaders from various organizations and religious traditions. It was also largely a white gathering, dedicated to mobilizing white religious groups to greater efforts for racial equality. The conference was planned and organized by Mathew Ahmann, the young lay leader of the National Catholic Council for Interracial Justice (NCCIJ), and was held on the one hundredth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, which suggested that the task that Abraham Lincoln began had yet to be completed (Galchutt 2005, 189–90). This event seems all the more significant in light of the fact that there was scant national commemoration of the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation (Branch 1988, 685; also see Cook 2007).
There were several prominent speakers at the National Conference on Religion and Race, but the event was highlighted by an address by Martin Luther King Jr. King is often remembered for what he had to say about American society, but he also had much to say directly to America’s religious organizations. At the Conference, King issued “A Challenge to the Churches and Synagogues,” an address not included in many of the edited collections of his writings. In his challenge, he acknowledged the tendency for some religious organizations to focus narrowly on explicitly religious matters.
[T]here are always those who will argue that churches and synagogues should not get mixed up in such earthly, temporal matters as social and economic improvement... They make an undue dichotomy between souls and bodies, love and justice, the sacred and the secular. They end up with a religion which operates only on the vertical plane with no thrust on the horizontal. But however sincere, this view of religion is all too confined. Certainly, otherworldly concerns have a deep and significant place in all religions. Religion, at its best, deals not only with the relations of man to his fellowmen, but with the relations of man to the universe and to ultimate reality. But a religion true to its nature must also be concerned about man’s social conditions. Religion deals not only with the hereafter, but also with the here. Here—where the precious lives of men are still sadly disfigured by poverty and hatred. (1963, 157)
Andrew Schulze also called for Christians to become more engaged with their communities and to reach out and help meet the various needs of their neighbors, and he especially prodded Lutherans. Lutherans in America had been known for often taking a quietistic approach to political and social matters. They were often reluctant to speak and act with regard to political and social issues (Galchutt 2005, 52–3 and 92–3). Martin Marty has noted that Lutherans have been better at showing mercy than promoting justice (2008, 153). Yet Schulze’s understanding of Lutheran theology emphasized the need for Christian social responsibility and social action.
Schulze believed that the strong Christological nature of Lutheranism, with its emphasis on Christ and His saving grace, supported an active Christian witness. Schulze stressed the importance of the incarnation and the person of Jesus Christ at the center of Christianity. As he explained, “A faithful witness to Christ is a witness to the whole Christ, to the Christ of Good Friday and Easter, to the Christ seated at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Heb. 1:3), but also the Christ who comes to man in the lowly, the outcast, and the despised (Matt. 25:31–46)... the Christ who through His incarnation identified Himself with all men in their total need, ‘not ashamed to call them brethren’ (Heb. 2:11), whose life is described in the words ‘He went about doing good’ (Acts 10:38)” (Schulze 1968, 95).
Lutheran theology proclaims that all believers are saved through Christ’s death and resurrection. Thus good works are not needed to make us right with God; however, good works are still needed by our neighbors. As is evident in Luther’s commentary on the commandments in the catechism, Lutheran ethics are not just about avoiding what is wrong, but also about doing what is right. Luther explained that we should not only avoid hurting our neighbor, but actively help and befriend our neighbor (Wannenwetsch 2003, 121–22: also see Schulze 1968, 121–22). Following in the spirit of Luther, Schulze believed that the person of Jesus Christ changes our relationship with God and with our neighbor.
Schulze also believed that Martin Luther’s “two kingdoms” theology called for Christians to demonstrate their “faith active in love” in the world. Luther’s “two kingdoms” theology distinguishes between the spiritual and secular realms of life. Some Lutherans have misunderstood this to require a complete separation between church and state, but as Schulze correctly understood, in Luther’s “two kingdoms” theology, God is King of all, and Christians are engaged in both kingdoms. In the kingdom of the right, the spiritual kingdom, God provides new life and grace to all believers. In the kingdom of the left, the kingdom of this world, Christians have to live among “the prince of this world” and the forces of evil, but that does not absolve them from Christian responsibilities. As Schulze understood, Christians are empowered by grace in the spiritual realm to live out lives of faith and action in the secular realm. “The Christian has opportunity and a responsibility to exercise his newly acquired faith and life in every conceivable circumstance in the world in which he lives” (Schulze 1968, 121).
King and Schulze described the state of race relations in church and society and offered suggestions for how Christians could work to improve race relations, and their writings continue to speak to the state of our society more than forty years later. We live in an America with an increasingly multicultural public life. African Americans like Oprah and Obama are among our best known public figures, but our private lives often continue to be limited by the confines of race. Though legalized segregation ended in the 1960s, we remain as segregated as ever in our homes, neighborhoods, schools, and churches (See Patterson 1997, especially 27–51).
The continuing patterns of social segregation in American life affect how we view and relate to one another. As Martin Luther King Jr. explained, people “fear each other because they don’t know each other. They don’t know each other because they can’t communicate with each other. They can’t communicate with each other because they are separated from each other” (Branch 2006, 162). In Fire from the Throne, Schulze spoke of the “invisible, psychological walls” that separate individuals and groups from one another (1968, 151). These invisible, psychological walls continue to this day, both inside and outside of the church.
In King’s “Challenge” to churches and synagogues, he urged religious groups to use “their channels of religious education” to get at the ideological roots of racial prejudice and to hold up the ideal of human unity. In addition, King advised religious groups to “become increasingly active in social action... [taking] an active stand against the injustices and indignities that... minorities confront in housing, education, police protection, and in the city and state courts.” He stressed that religious organizations “must support strong civil rights legislation and exert their influence in the area of economic justice” (King 1963, 161–62 and 162–63).
Schulze’s book Fire from the Throne was devoted to the topic of the church and race relations. The title is a reference to God’s judgment and God’s mercy in the tensions and turmoil of race relations. Schulze described the church as the body of Christ: “the church is always a togetherness, never a separation; and segregation therefore is the direct opposite of what the church is” (1968, 150–151). Schulze wrote that Word and Sacrament, the pastor and the laity, and institutional and personal involvement all have roles to play in improving human relations.
Both Schulze and King emphasized the power of preaching to change the world. They believed that the Word of God is a powerful force that can change the hearts and minds of individuals. King believed that the Word of God can instill in “worshippers the spirit of love, penitence and forgiveness... necessary for oppressor and oppressed alike” (1963, 163), and Schulze wrote that preachers should dispel stereotypes “that deny the humanity of the Negro” and let it be know that they are “unequivocally opposed to segregation in the church and… committed to a program of complete integration” (153). Giving this message is not all that is to be done, but “this is one of the first basic steps to be taken” (154).
As a Lutheran, Schulze also stressed the power of Sacrament, particularly Holy Communion. As Schulze explained, “In the Service of Holy Communion the faithful receive and give in communion, not in isolation from each other. Here the unity of those brought together in God through Christ has its highest expression (1 Cor. 10:16–17). “Man separated from man through sin is once again united with his fellowman” (1968, 149). Though Schulze did not use the term, his view of the Sacrament of communion can be seen as the ultimate expression of the “post-racial” church.
The modern liturgical movement has become more and more influential in Lutheran circles. Lutherans now celebrate the historic liturgy and more frequently celebrate communion; however, some of the original purposes of the liturgical movement seem to be overlooked. As Schulze explained, the intent of the modern liturgical movement is “to renew emphasis on the worship of the church ‘as expressive of the implications of Christian action in personal and social life’... [By] interpreting these liturgies in their original meaning and purpose as expressions of the deepest bonds uniting us as Christians to God and to one another, the movement seeks a focal center in the liturgy for our religious inspiration and common activity, not only in the Church, but also in our life in the world” (Ibid., 176). “The purpose of Holy Communion is not limited to the sharing that takes place in the house of God and at the Communion table... Renewed in faith and life through Holy Communion... the Christian is to go out and to become a part of the life-stream of the secular community, to thank and praise God by sharing with his fellowman the good things that he himself has received from God” (Ibid., 149).
Just as the clergy are responsible for preaching that all believers have the “opportunity and responsibility of inviting and welcoming into the fellowship of the church and at the Communion table all people for whom Christ died” (Ibid., 154), a congregation must work to establish and strengthen its fellowship. “It must keep working on its theology... The fundamental catechism truths... must take on new life as they are applied to the world of today” (Ibid., 153, 152).
Finally, Schulze believed that both institutional and personal involvement were necessary in the work of improving race relations. As early as the 1960s, Schulze had noticed that traditional communities, fixed by a circumscribed geography, where neighbors really knew neighbors, were eroding. The continuing processes of urbanization, suburbanization, and continuing sprawl reinforces patterns of segregation by race and class. To counteract this trend, Schulze suggested that different congregations reach out and partner with one another to form relationships beyond the barriers of race and class. These connections should not be merely financial or technical in nature, but should offer genuine opportunities for Christian fellowship. Schulze saw this fellowship as part of our calling as Christians, but he also believed that this personal involvement with the lives and the needs of others added purpose and meaning to our daily lives. He stressed that the church has the power to bring lonely, isolated, and self-focused individuals together for unity with God and with one another. Schulze also suggested that individuals consider choosing homes and churches in integrated settings, noting that if this were done on a larger scale, many problems in church and society would diminish (Ibid., 157–162; 175).
Over forty years later, observers remain concerned with patterns of increasing isolation and individualism in American society. Some of the most significant sociological studies of recent years have noted the loss of community in modern society. Robert Putnam, a sociologist at Harvard University, explored this phenomenon in his book, Bowling Alone (2000). More recently, Putnam has focused on the impact of diversity and community. Putnam noted that immigration and demographic trends are increasing ethnic diversity in virtually all advanced societies and that: “The most certain prediction that we can make about almost any modern society is that it will be more diverse a generation from now than it is today” (2007, 137). In the United States, projections show that minorities will be the majority by 2042 (Sam Roberts, New York Times, 14 August 2008).
Putnam’s research also uncovered some disconcerting trends. As he examined individuals living in diverse neighborhoods, he found that, in the short term, “residents of all races tend to ‘hunker down.’” “Inhabitants of diverse communities tend to withdraw from collective life, to distrust their neighbors, regardless of the color of their skin, to withdraw even from close friends, to expect the worst from their community and its leaders, to volunteer less, give less to charity and work on community projects less often, to register to vote less... to huddle unhappily in front of the television... Diversity, at least in the short run, seems to bring out the turtle in all of us” (150–51).
While these findings indicate real problems in the short term, Putnam’s research concludes that in the long run, diversity has the potential for “important cultural, economic, fiscal, and developmental benefits.” Putnam notes examples of institutions overcoming the short-term challenges of diversity to achieve long-term benefits. He cites the United States military as perhaps the best example of this; however, he also sees potential in American religious institutions, noting the integration of some evangelical mega-churches. Putnam’s own research shows that “for most Americans their religious identity is actually more important than their ethnic identity.”
Schulze and King shared a faith in the power of the church. While government has responsibilities to promote liberty and justice for all, both King and Schulze believed that religion has an even greater role to play. King called for religious organizations to “lead men along the path of true integration, something the law cannot do. Genuine integration will come when men are obedient to the unenforceable... unenforceable obligations are beyond the reach of the laws of society. They concern inner attitudes... something must touch the hearts and souls of men so that they will come together spiritually because it is natural and right... Here, then, is the hard challenge and the sublime opportunity: to let God work in our hearts toward fashioning a truly great nation” (1963, 165–67). Schulze explained, “In the final analysis, the eradication of prejudice, with all its psychological reactions to the race issue, is outside the realm of the state; the segregationists and others are right when they claim that prejudice cannot be legislated out of, and love into, men’s lives. It is the Spirit of God alone who can make new creatures out of old ones” (1968, 120).
Both Martin Luther King Jr. and Andrew Schulze believed in the need to speak out against social injustice. Silence simply supports the status quo; however, they believed that words must be accompanied by deeds. While we often remember King as a great orator, his legacy is one of oratory and action. At the National Conference on Religion and Race, King told religious leaders that “one must not only preach a sermon with his voice... He must preach it with his life” (Branch 1998, 30). In that same address, King commended religious leaders who responded to his call to join the civil rights protest in Albany, Georgia in the summer of 1962. Andrew Schulze was one of the over seventy religious leaders who responded to King’s appeal and joined the protests in Albany. In deciding to go to Albany, Schulze had this to say, “I have been writing about this all this time, and if I can only write and I can’t put my body where my words are, then I’m not much of a writer” (Galchutt 2005, 179). May the words and the examples of Martin Luther King Jr. and Andrew Schulze spur us to both speak and do our parts to improve human relations and to advance the struggle for racial justice in our own communities.
Kathryn M. Galchutt is Associate Professor of History at Concordia College-New York.
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