Bree Newsome and the True Meaning of Civil Disobedience

As she scaled the flagpole on the state capital grounds in Columbia, South Carolina this morning to remove the Confederate flag, Bree Newsome recited Psalm 27 (“the Lord is my light and my salvation…”) Led away in handcuffs by the police, Newsome recited Psalm 23 (“the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…)

For taking down the Confederate flag, Newsome was arrested. She told police she was prepared to be arrested and did not resist. This is civil disobedience.

Meanwhile, in another galaxy, which regrettably is not far, far away, opponents of yesterday’s Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage say they will be engaging in civil disobedience against it for the foreseeable future. As I wrote yesterday, they will be spurred and encouraged by the dissenting justices who fueled their imagined persecution with phrases like “judicial putsch” and “marginalization of the many Americans who have traditional ideas,” and the claim the decision will be used “to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy.”

Bree Newsome is a black woman living in America. I think she knows a thing or two about marginalization and vilification.

Activists opposed to marriage equality have long compared themselves to Martin Luther King in what they portray as their civil disobedience to laws protecting equal rights for LGBT people. It’s an argument of those so unwilling or unable to comprehend the enormity of the risks and sacrifices of civil rights activists and so absorbed in their own inflated sense of besiegement that they have the nerve to conflate the two.

This week, more than ever—as Charleston buries the slaughtered from Emanuel AME Church, as at least six black churches in the south have been set aflame in what authorities believe are arsons, as the south is belatedly addressing its long-standing reverence for the flag used to support slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation—it is mind-boggling to see these activists compare their opposition to people who are in love getting married to the struggle for freedom and equality for black people in this country. Yet Brian Brown, in a statement for the National Organization for Marriage yesterday, cited King’s Letter from A Birmingham Jail and its discussion of “the moral importance of disobeying unjust laws, which we submit applies equally to unjust Supreme Court decisions.” (Does it occur to NOM that it is more like opponents of Brown v. Board of Education than like King, in opposing a Supreme Court decision protecting the rights of fellow citizens?)

But the NOM statement compares yesterday’s “immoral and unjust ruling” to the 1857 ruling in “the infamous Dred Scott v Sandford case that African Americans could not become citizens of the United States and determined that the government was powerless to reject slavery.” That’s right, anti-marriage equality activists compare themselves to slaves.

Black people are being terrorized and murdered in their churches. The Supreme Court held that the Constitution requires marriage equality, but that people who oppose it can continue to do so because of their rights protected under the Constitution. Bree Newsome is in jail. Can you name a single person in jail for expressing anti-gay views?


  •' Eric says:

    Yes, this: “It’s an argument of those so unwilling or unable to comprehend the enormity of the risks and sacrifices of civil rights activists and so absorbed in their own inflated sense of besiegement that they have the nerve to conflate the two.”

    I think there’s need for another RD post looking at the actual contents and contexts of “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and how egregiously the religious right have appropriated, or rather plundered, MLK’s moral authority.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    I think that letter was about the inaction of most churches to help with the struggle. Since then, the conservative church has fully embraced contradiction, so they logically can be on any side of any issue with no problem because contradiction can be a powerful tool, and its power continue to grow with every new contradiction added to the mix.

    In a way you can see MLK as anti-Christian since he was for the arc of history bending toward the righteous and working to reach the promised land, and Christianity seems to favor the arc of history bending toward deeper evil so that Jesus will come and wipe out the bad guys.

  •' Fired, Aren't I says:

    Yeah, he was so “anti-Christian” he became an ordained reverend in his church.

    The only type of Christianity you’re referencing is Fundie Christianity, which most Christians in America do not ascribe to – especially not Dr. King.

    Stop conflating fundie Christianity with every type of Christianity ever. It just makes you look childish.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    That every type of Christianity ever thing opens up the question, what is Christianity? Once the crazy fundi part finally implodes, what is left? Is it a religion on the path to secular humanism, or is it something more, and what more could it be?

  •' Fired, Aren't I says:

    What’s left? Catholicism, Episcopalianism, Presbyterianism, American Baptist, Methodism, and MCC, to name a few.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    What is Christianity? Maybe having all those variations really comes down to a way to avoid the question. Does Christianity mean you have to believe the Bible is the word of God, and belief in Jesus saves you and gets you into heaven? All the basics of Christianity seem to be questionable, so all you have left is everyone agrees to split into different segments, so there won’t be any single point of failure that will bring down the religion.

  •' Fired, Aren't I says:

    You need to demonstrate that MLK is “anti-Christian,” a thoroughly ridiculous statement considering he was an ordained reverend.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    He was a leader, and doing what he had to do to help his people. He was concerned with justice and humanity, and probably not so much with what is the definition of Christianity. That is our question for today, and he is no longer here. So what is Christianity? It is easy to understand what right wing evangelicalism is because they make it plainly known. It is not so easy to figure out about the rest.

  •' Fired, Aren't I says:

    That doesn’t even make sense. Stop trolling this website already, you’re so tiresome.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    He was a leader for his race, and for the nation. He did it in the guise of a preacher, and there were many time in the past when the church was in control, and you could only accomplish things by fitting into their environment. In today’s world we are ready to go beyond that, and ask what is Christianity really all about? There is still a mismatch between what people want to hear, and what makes sense.

    I think Christianity evolves through the ages because it is of man, and our society evolves. If it was of God, things would be different for the religion. The next step for society might be the understanding that God did not start and drive the religions. Humans did, and that has always been their essence. Only when we understand that can we truly understand the value and importance of a man like Dr. King.

  •' conjurehealing says:

    Many conservatives have already disowned King, saying that he was a serial adulterer, a plagiarist, a leftist, etc. etc. It’s not too far for them to say that he was not a true Christian either.

  • I think you’re conflating two issues here — what a church/religious community believes itself and its membership to be, and how they appear from outside. There is no “Christianity” from outside; terms of social practice are a constant site of struggle. (For example, I’m a Jew. I’m a reform Jew, which Israel’s most powerful religious body views as an abomination, though they haven’t used that word yet. Is that religious body “Jewish,” or am I? Or both? People get murdered discussing such things — see the history of Catholics and Protestants. In fact, look up the death of Peter Ramus for one vivid example.

    I guess my short comment is: you’re asking a question which any Christian might be tempted to answer, but by its nature, the answer won’t be definitive.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    There may be no definitive answer because once the problematic traditional parts of Christianity are removed, there may be nothing left but a gradual slide into humanism. That is OK because the question is more important than the answer. The whole point of the question is to show there is no answer.

  •' NancyP says:

    I wouldn’t characterize them as disowning King, I would consider that they never respected his mission anyway and only quote him in order to get cover for their racism.

  •' nightgaunt says:

    I admit that I wanted to burn it. And each it was replaced I would burn it again and again till they failed to return it. Though I am lily white, I would have done so. I am happy that she took it down. Though was arrested and fined along with several others which I am disappointed at.

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