Role Of Religion In Racial Injustice And Segregation

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Racial Injustice and Segregation has a long history in America, which dates back to the 17th century. Many historical events have stemmed from Racial injustice throughout America. Certain factors can be seen as influential in causing problems between races, including Religion. Religion can be seen to play a role in the creating and furthering racial problems throughout the history, this can be shown throughout historical events such as slavery and segregation; religion can also be seen as playing a role in trying to fight racial injustice by causing the Civil Rights movement.

Slavery itself had caused a major divide between races, but what most people might not know is how slave religion played a big role in creating this divide. Slavery started in 1916 when the first group of slaves arrived in Jamestown. Due to Triangular Trade, the America’s received slaves from Africa. English common law had considered Africans as foreigners, and they were used to the colonist’s economic benefits.

“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free.” (Ephesians 6:5-8)

Due to this bible verse, as well as others, that somewhat justify slavery, the colonist believed they were doing nothing wrong and just following God’s words.

Not only did slavery itself create this divide but slave religion had deepened this divide. Slaves had still maintained their religions and traditions, despite efforts to restrict them from doing so. Slaves adapted what is known as the “Invisible Institution”, where they would meet in private to worship without the slave master’s knowledge of it.

“The religion of the slaves was both institutional and noninstitutional, visible and invisible, formally organized and spontaneously adapted. Regular Sunday worship in the local church was paralleled by illicit, or at least informal, prayer meetings on weeknights in the slave cabins. Preachers licensed by the church and hired by the master were supplemented by slave preachers licensed only by the spirit. Texts from the Bible which most slaves could not read were explicated by verses from the spirituals. Slaves forbidden by masters to attend church or, in some cases, even to pray risked floggings to attend secret gatherings to worship God.”

The Invisible Institution became a way for slaves to protect their freedom and religion, and to forget the suffering they are enduring; which was very important to them and they did so knowing they are risking possible punishment from slave masters. This physically separates the races by establishing two separate church systems.

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Not only did slave masters, but segregationists also used religion as a way to defend their beliefs and support of the color line. In 1865 through 1869, three amendments, amendments 13-15, were made to the Constitution in order to establish Civil Rights. These amendments abolish slavery, established due process and protects the rights of all citizen being able to vote despite race. Although this had legally put a stop to slavery and this color-line, this did not stop segregation as a whole. In the 1870’s states had put “Jim Crow laws” in act, these were laws that had taken away these civil rights and enforced segregation, mainly in the southern states. Many segregationists had believed that this divide was justified by God and were by no means ready or trying to get rid of it. 'God created and established the color line in races, and evidently meant for it to remain. Therefore, we have no right to try and eradicate it.” Segregationists viewed racial injustice as justifiable by god, and that this was Gods intentions so why should it be changed. Religion and its interpretation is what caused segregationist to have such a strong position in the matter of the division between races, due to belief that they are simply obeying God’s words.

Although religion plays a role in separating religion it also played a role in the attempts to bring them together. Well known Civil Rights activists, such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X, used religion to guide their actions in this movement.

“Kelsey's theology was clearly manifested in another assessment of King. The civil rights leader 'took very seriously the Christian doctrine of cre- ation,' which 'meant that every person is created in the image of God and love is the fundamental law of life.' Racism and segregation violated these principles, and King and other religious activists, on those grounds, opposed these pernicious ideologies.”

Religion is what drove Martin Luther King to fight for Civil Rights for all races, his belief of God creating everyone as equals is why he decided to take a stand. Without MLK’s religious beliefs influencing his thoughts on segregation, he might have never fought for Civil Rights and caused the change in America that he is recognized for.

Malcom X is another Civil rights activist who used religion as a way to spread his message and bring unison into the black community to fight for Civil Rights.

“Keep it between you and your God. Because if it hasn’t done anything more for you than it has, you need to forget it anyway. Whether you are a Christian, or a Muslim, or a Nationa- list, we all have the same problem. They don’t hang you because you’re a Baptist; they hang you 'cause you’re black. They don’t attack me because I’m a Muslim; they attack me 'cause I’m black.”

Malcom X uses religion in his fight for Civil Rights, but in a different aspect. Religion is being referenced as something that should be kept personal due to diminish furthering problems. This quote is an example of Malcom X trying to unite the Black community by showing that the problem isn’t their religions, nor should it be a factor, but that it is the treatment they get in comparison to other races. He is trying to get the message through to everyone that this is purely a race problem and they should not let religion deepen this divide between races. The Civil Rights movement is what truly led to changes in America, and without religion being used to inspire the movement or spread the message America might have never changed and Civil Rights might have never been obtained.

The divided between races in American History has been a major conflict for centuries. Religion played a role in fueling this division and causing historical events, such as Slavery and Segregation. Slave Religion had physically separated the races by establishing separate churches and institutions, segregationist’s interpretation of religion caused them to maintain a strong position of support against uniting the country and races. Religion did not just deepen the division between races, but was used in attempts to bring them together, such as the Civil Rights Movement. Well known civil rights activists such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X, used religion as inspiration to fight for civil rights and as a way to spread the message and meaning of this movement. Overall, religion played a big role in the notions of race which most people are not aware of.

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Role Of Religion In Racial Injustice And Segregation. (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 26, 2024, from
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