David Stokes

Forty-five years ago this summer Martin Luther King, Jr. gave the address he is best known for – long remembered as the “I Have a Dream” speech. He said things like “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’”

Slightly less than five years later the Dreamer was assassinated on April 4, 1968.

Thirty-five years ago this month the Supreme Court handed down the infamous “Roe v. Wade” decision hastening our societal slide toward a culture far too comfortable and familiar with violence and death.

Both the legacy of Dr. King and the fallout from that 1973 legal bombshell sail very close to each other again over the next few days. This is viewed as an awkward convergence by some.

But it shouldn’t be.

Back in the sixties, while black preachers were mobilizing masses in the pursuit of civil rights, conservative, Evangelicals stayed largely on the sidelines. They weren’t the least bit interested in changing anything. In fact, it was not uncommon to hear white Fundamentalist-Evangelical preachers of the day, with voices animated by indignation, decrying the very idea that preachers should be activists in the streets, mocking them to get back into their pulpits where they belonged.

Many, if not most, some notably, would later change their minds – and eat a lot of words (not to mention erasing a lot of reel to reel tape).

Recently, much has been made of the fact that Mitt Romney’s Mormon religion was, shall we say, a bit behind the curve on race – finally receiving the “revelation” that black men were welcome to participate with other “worthy males” in Temple ordinances in 1978. But, the fact is that social and theological Christian conservatives were every bit as passively-active on the wrong side of that great and compelling moral and social issue in the fifties and sixties. In fact, the largest white Baptist congregation in Detroit did not elect to admit its first black member until nearly a decade after the Mormons received their word from on high.

What was the catalyst bringing change to how conservative, white, clergymen viewed and lived out their roles? What issue convinced these dogmatic men of the cloth to be willing to scramble out of the pulpit-pocket and into a measure of political involvement after decades of silent separation? Well, the winds of change began to blow in the aftermath of the landmark decision on January 22, 1973.

David Stokes

David R. Stokes is a best-selling author, pastor, columnist, and broadcaster. His latest book is a novel: CAPITOL LIMITED: A Story about John Kennedy and Richard Nixon. Based on a true story, it's about a unique moment in 1947, when Kennedy and Nixon shared

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