Today’s Civil Rights Struggle: Religious Tolerance, by Donna Jackson

As we celebrate the life and accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King, I am convinced he would look favorably on the gains made by African Americans during the Trump administration. Today we have record low unemployment, prison reform, greater faith-based outreach and permanent funding for historically black colleges and universities.

Donna Jackson

Donna Jackson

King was a strong advocate for the economic and social advancement of black people. Under President Trump, these goals are being realized. Yet I think King would be puzzled and disappointed by the growth of hatred amid all this success. In particular, I believe he would be profoundly disturbed about the assault on faith — a key tool in his quest for a more equal America.

Today’s civil rights struggle is mainly over freedom of religion. Liberals have stirred up anger and distrust of faith through fear and intimidation tactics. For example, they have branded evangelicals as “white evangelicals,” trying to make them synonymous with white supremacy.

The fear of being caught up in a racial firestorm has caused some to leave the religion that once gave them hope, lifted their spirits, helped them overcome difficulties and provided peace of mind. Religious expression is set aside and replaced with anger, or even hatred, toward people they don’t know and will never meet.

From King’s perspective, the civil rights movement wasn’t just about bringing races together. It was also about respecting religion. He recognized, like so many of us Christians do, that freedom on the outside begins with freedom on the inside.

Religious faith encourages us to love those who hate us, to respect those who seek to abuse us, and to have peace in the middle of adversity. King’s Christian faith was always on display — serving as a guiding light to attain equality, dignity and economic opportunities for African Americans.

In his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, he paralleled the mountaintop for Moses to those still climbing for equality. Understanding there is a higher power gives us the courage and tenacity to forge ahead in the midst of anger, hatred and fear.

The perception and treatment of the faith-based community is improving under the Trump administration. The Obama administration weaponized the IRS to intimidate and silence evangelical groups with seemingly selective enforcement of Johnson Amendment rules prohibiting church and nonprofit involvement in electoral politics. According to IRS correspondence, it targeted 99 churches for practicing their First Amendment rights. In 2012, two of the largest evangelical organizations — Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association — were audited.

That has changed. In May 2017, the Trump administration issued an executive order designed to rein in Johnson Amendment abuse by limiting the Treasury Department’s power over faith-based groups that speak about moral or political issues from a religious perspective. Yet liberals continue to attack religion. Their targets include groups that support Israel, Jewish and Christian organizations such as the Salvation Army and Chick-fil-A.

While we’ve made great strides in racial tolerance, we still need more tolerance of faith. As we remember King’s legacy, we need to heed what he said at the March on Washington:

“In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.”

Martin Luther King Jr. saw his faith as the solution to hatred. He would strongly disagree with those trying to brand it as the cause.


Donna Jackson is a member of the Project 21 black leadership network. She has worked in accounting, auditing and management roles with Ernst & Young and Marriott International, and was a deputy controller for the Export-Import Bank of the United States. She previously worked on political campaigns in Arkansas, including that of former Gov. Mike Huckabee. This was originally published by The Hill.

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