Tuesday, January 20, 2015

"Selma": A Call to Be Our Better Selves

I have seen the movie Selma.  For a more nuanced review, see this post on my creativity blog.

Because this is my theology blog, I want to think about the spiritual aspects of the movie.  I was oddly surprised at how deeply spiritual the movie felt.  Much of the music came out of African-American spirituality, many of the scenes were set in and near churches, and at key moments in the plot, we see people pray.

The movie also does a great job of showing the mixed motives of the leadership, especially the younger SNCC leaders, who aren't necessarily as committed to non-violence.  I particularly liked seeing that the way wasn't necessarily clear--it seems clear from a distance, but it wasn't.

One of the stories that the movie didn't tell, but hinted at, was the role of white churches.  We see some white church leaders come down for the second march at Selma, and we see their numbers grow by the third march.  I was inordinately happy to see the nuns appear, although they don't play much of a role.

My grandfather was a white, Lutheran pastor in Greenwood, South Carolina at the time.  My mom remembers much conversation about how the white churches in Greenwood would react if anyone tried to integrate the churches.  I wish I could say that my grandfather was on the side of history and justice, but he wasn't.  He planned to call the police.  I need to check with my mom, to make sure I'm remembering the story correctly.

I want to make excuses for my grandfather.  I know that part of his desire to call the police would have been because he saw integrators as outside agitators.  I want to believe that if a young black family came to church with a sincere desire to be Lutheran and enter the life of the church, he would have made sure that they were welcome.  I want to believe that, but I'm fairly sure it's not true.

I now go to one of the more integrated Lutheran churches I've ever been to--I wouldn't be surprised if it's one of the most integrated churches in the U.S.  We have black members who are descended from slaves, in addition to black members who come from the Caribbean.  We have a wide variety of white people, people descended from Northern Europeans as well as a wide variety of Hispanics.  We have at least a third of the church who can fluently speak at least one other language.  We have some native Floridians, a rare species.  At one point, we had a transgendered member, and we were fairly welcoming; she changed churches when her work schedule changed, but I also suspect it's because it became exhausting to be the only transgendered person, no matter how welcoming we were.

I realize that my church is rare, that the average church is still as segregated as it was during the 1950's and 1960's.  But at least many of us understand why that segregated state is less than optimal.

I want to believe that now, more churches would stand with Martin Luther King, but again, I know that is likely not true.  We are a fearful people, and just because a prophet has powerful words, it doesn't mean we will be courageous.

It is good to have a movie like Selma to remind us of what we are called to be and of why it is important.  It is good to have a movie like Selma that calls us to be our better selves.

1 comment:

John Flanagan said...

Most churches in America are integrated today, but bear in mind many African Americans gravitate towards mostly black congregations because of the energy and style of worship as their preference. Hispanics seem comfortable with Catholic and mainstream Protestant churches, and they are especially drawn to Pentecostal denominations. As for transgendered people and homosexuals, the liberal churches accept them, but those of us in conservative denominations refuse to accept or affirm their lifestyles as normal or natural, but rather as sinful. As for their souls and salvation, only God can say, but do not even suggest we must accept these lifestyles as positive things. Sin is still sin, and we cannot say wrong is right for the purpose of making some people feel good about their choices which are contrary to God's word.