Today’s ministerial attitudes toward segregation, desegregation, and integration are strikingly similar to those expressed almost a century ago toward slavery. In that earlier day, extremists soon inflated the alternatives of “slavery or abolition” into the ultimate social issue. They used the Christian religion mainly to justify or to condemn one or another alternative. And they saw their antagonism at last ranged in a conflict that was as much a battle over States’ rights as over freedom for the Negro.
Radical abolitionists who demanded the immediate end of slavery prized the Church only if it swiftly promoted their social objective. If necessary, they readily invoked moral criteria independent of scriptural revelation and of the churches. In fact, they tended to judge the churches themselves by these external criteria. Intentional elevation of the abolition cause above the unity and peace of the nation, and above the mission and message of the churches, attested to the radicals’ primary interest in social change (if not in social revolution) rather than in personal regeneration. It revealed, too, their openness to incendiary methods of social reform. The extremists left in doubt the essential nature of the new social order wherein manumission of slaves was to be the central feature.
Like these radicals, moderates denounced slavery as evil. But they hesitated to support a social program that seemed devoid or neglectful of those spiritual resources that energize moral attitudes and actions. They hesitated to detach social justice from its necessary relationship to the Christian redemptive mission as the extremists were prone to do.
The decades since the Civil War have sharpened the segregation controversy now at its peak. ...1
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