Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘Beloved Community’
Book on the Christian Left by U.Va.’s religious studies professor Charles Marsh
By Charlotte Crystal
We hear so much about the Christian Right, especially during presidential election years. But what about the Christian Left?
It’s alive and well — and active in many important social justice causes nationwide — but has been flying below the media’s radar screen, according to religious studies professor Charles Marsh.
“Committed Christians have been working quietly for decades to cope with this country’s social problems,” said Marsh, the son of a Southern Baptist minister. “Many of them have opted out of national politics, putting their faith to work in grassroots efforts to ‘think globally, act locally.’ ”
Marsh believes the faith-based movement has been co-opted by the political right and used by “compassionate conservatives” to justify cuts in federal social spending.
In his new book, “The Beloved Community: How Faith Shapes Social Justice, from the Civil Rights Movement to Today,” Marsh opens with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaking at an Institute on Nonviolence and Social Change in Montgomery, Ala., in December 1956. At that meeting, King urges his listeners to consider the Montgomery bus boycott as a practical way to fight for civil rights and to achieve a greater spiritual goal.
“The end is reconciliation, the end is redemption,” King said. “The end is the creation of the beloved community.”
Part history, part theology, part call to social action, Marsh’s book takes an in-depth look at the influence of Christian thought on the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s. He brings the story up-to-date by including recent faith-based efforts in community development — in Baltimore, Md.; Charlottesville, Va.; and Oakland, Calif. — that continue to serve the goals of civil rights and social justice.
Marsh grew up in the segregated South. A graduate of Harvard Divinity School, he received a Ph.D. in religious studies from U.Va., where he currently serves as professor of religious studies and director of the Project on Lived Theology.