Charles Marsh thinks the religious motivations of civil-rights workers don't receive enough attention in mainstream accounts of the civil-rights movement. In The Beloved Community, Marsh tells the story of the civil-rights movement, beginning in Montgomery, Alabama, in the context of the Christian faith of those who risked their lives not just for equal rights, but also for the gospel. Marsh says that many of those who are carrying on the work of reconciliation today are those in the faith-based community who have taken up the calling of early civil-rights activists. Marsh is professor of religious studies and director of the Project on Lived Theology at the University of Virginia. Marsh spoke with CT online assistant editor Rob Moll.
What is the Beloved Community?
The "beloved" community phrase has been used by social philosophers to describe the culmination of world history in some kind of universal brotherhood. But King believed in original sin, so he didn't share that understanding of beloved community. He understood beloved community as something that is a gift of God. He often tied that to the new order, which came in to time in the event of the Cross and the Resurrection. For him, the beloved community had a distinctively Christian understanding. The very possibility that there can be reconciliation between black and white, for King, was grounded in the Incarnation.
Your book talks about Christian radicals who worked to create beloved community. What is a Christian radical?
I get that term from the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I think of the wonderful term he offered in Cost of Discipleship, "costly grace." Cheap grace is that sense that we are entitled to the benefits of our salvation and can luxuriate in it and not ...1