Why Isn’t Ferguson the Start of a New Civil Rights Movement?

The news out of Ferguson has been dominated by discussions of police brutality and the role of race in an in increasingly militarized police force.

While the majority of this focus has been on the protests, police violence (including the use of military grade weapons against unarmed civilians), and the arrests of reporters, a few stories about the role of churches in Ferguson have now begun to emerge.

From starting twitter hashtags, collecting garbage, sometimes marching with demonstrators, churches have, by and large, mobilized as helping centers and places for spiritual renewal. But what’s interesting is that, unlike their predecessors in previous civil rights battles, they don’t appear to be leading the protestors or generating an organizational network to create a larger movement.

Certainly, there are centers of political activism (like the Greater St. Mark Church, which was raided on Wednesday), but a larger moral or faith-based narrative about why these churches are acting to assist protestors has yet to emerge, and religious leaders don’t appear to command the respect those in the past once did.

In the Civil Rights Movement churches operated as hubs of organizationalactivity, offering the movement financial resources, sanctuary, protestors, and leaders. Churches were the backbone of much progressive political activity until the 1980s, so why are we not seeing the same today?

Perhaps the events in Ferguson reflect a larger problem when thinking about progressive religious political activism, which has been disintegrating for the last 30 years. There are churches that have never let the political light burn out, but they haven’t even begun to approach the power they wielded until the late 1970s.

In my research on how progressive religious groups are working in politics I found there were myriad causes for why the movement had faded, from the spread of prosperity gospel, to tension between secular and religious activists within the progressive left, to the dwindling numbers in progressive pews, to the religious right’s monopoly on political religion.

Perhaps in the wake of the tragedy in Ferguson there will be a renewed vigor from progressive churches that will help repair old coalitions, build new ones, and tell a new story about who gets to speak “for religious people.”

  • Jim Reed

    I think you had the war in Vietnam and the peace movement as a reaction to that war. The reaction to the peace movement was widespread hatred of hippies across much of the country. That led to the moral majority, and Christianity selling their soul to the party of the rich. It might make no sense, but that is what they did. Now they can’t get it back. That’s what happened to religion in America.

  • gyena

    Just to answer your initial question, Mike Brown was a thief and instigated an attack on a police officer who was merely doing his job. The officer had the right to defend himself. More people are likely to side with the officer than Mr. Brown – as evidenced in his being able to raise more money in his fundraiser than the Brown family. There is documented evidence all over that the mainstream media refuses to report accurate journalism with such proof, because they, too, want an uprising of a civil rights movement pt. II. They can’t tell the truth AND initiate the movement by decent journalism.

    While the death of Mr. Brown is indeed unfortunate and a tragedy especially for his loved ones, it’s not uncommon for young black men to die in the hands of bullets – but the sad truth is that they die not in the hands of white police officers but other black men. There’s no precedent that could lead to the type of civil rights movement that people want out of Ferguson. Because Mike Brown died in the hands of a WHITE police officer, even though Brown had it coming, people on the Left of the spectrum are so insistent on making a civil rights issue out of this and will not let it go because it’s actually quite rare for an incident like this to happen – white guy killing a black guy – and even if evidence shows that one guy was in the wrong, the Left will do everything in its power to twist the truth and make it a civil rights issue, whether or not Brown had it coming.

  • http://plumstchili.blogspot.com/ Plum Dumpling

    What makes you think it is not the start of a new movement?

    You have not seen the NEGRO SPRING signs? You know better than Fergusonites?

    I think Ferguson is the start of a new movement. Given the church that is being raided by the cops for assisting protesters, I think you need to do more to justify/explicate your article.

  • http://plumstchili.blogspot.com/ Plum Dumpling

    Well said.

  • irene adler

    at the very least black americans can’t ignore the racism anymore. it’s been horrible, and two summers in a row. they know now how vulnerable they are and something is going to have to give.

  • irene adler

    none of that is true and you should be ashamed to post it on a religious website. god doesn’t like ugly.

  • http://plumstchili.blogspot.com/ Plum Dumpling


  • cranefly

    If your unarmed son shoplifted, would you approve of the police putting six bullets in him without a trial? Would he deserve the death penalty?

    Due process in a court of law, and protection from cruel and unusual punishment: Two constitutional rights that you apparently don’t believe in.

  • phatkhat

    Wow. Where to begin with all your misstatements. But, then, it would be a waste of time, because your mind is made up, and obviously you are a bigot. But “coming to him”??? REALLY?!?!? There is no evidence that he attacked the officer, the injury story has been debunked, and if a white kid shoplifted, he wouldn’t have been shot. As well, Darren Wilson evidently has a past that is slowly emerging. And yes, LOTS of black boys/men are shot by white cops. You need to get out more.