From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. 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.
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Marsh brings fresh perspective to the civil rights movement and the role of religion in social reform. Lamenting efforts by historians to secularize the civil rights movement, Marsh asserts that Christian principles of healing, reconciliation, and redemption were at the heart of the movement. Martin Luther King Jr and others sought not just social justice and national redemption but the "creation of the beloved community" to include citizens of all races living in peace and overcoming a long history of hatred and oppression. Marsh explores the theology behind the more radical approach of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the intentional interracial communities that continued efforts at reconciling religion and social reform. Recounting the struggles for racial justice and the spiritual tumult engendered in that search, Marsh offers personal portraits of courage rooted in faith as well as the ongoing debates about personal relationships with Christ and liberation theology and continued tensions between fundamentalists and social progressives. This fascinating, compelling book will appeal to readers with broad interests in religion and social justice. Vanessa Bush
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