The Christian Right has argued this activism was a legitimate expression of the prophetic voice, challenging power and an unjust government.
These same operatives had in the 1960's criticized the Black Church in the United States as overstepping its boundaries and transgressing the line between religion and politics. They considered it theologically dubious that ordained ministers such as ML King Jr. should be so vocal in the cause of social justice and demand for political change.
It's kind of ironic isn't it? But historical veracity has never been the concern of political operatives. History is often a mere plaything, a substance to be molded for the agenda. Truth is appealed to only when it is a means to serve the end. A principle is often 'right' because the historian (or journalist) approves of the goals, and yet the same principle can be viewed as 'wrong' or erroneous if its goals and doctrines are disagreed with.
As the Church we are the faithful bride to He who is the Truth. Pragmatics and Consequentialism cannot dictate either our ethics or our understanding of history and current events.
American Evangelicalism zealously turned itself into an adulteress and spiritual whore in the late 1970's and has been re-writing history ever since, today even claiming to have supported the Civil Rights movement they had so viciously critiqued and opposed... even well into the 1980's.
"Preachers are not called to be politicians, but to be soul winners".
So said Jerry Falwell in the days before he formed the so-called and greatly misnamed political faction known as the Moral Majority. For once the old reprobate was right.
Not in his views or the causes he supported... in the name of Christ I might add. He was almost always wrong and even when he was right, still stood on the wrong ground and for the wrong reasons. Despite his claims, he cared little for the Bible and what it teaches. It was America and power that were his god and gospel.
But he was initially right in that the Church's calling is not to politics but to matters spiritual. Recognizing the reality of sin and the curse, the Church tells the truth in a world of lies. We don't politic and caucus for political control. Let the dead of Babylon bury their dead. We are strangers and pilgrims from the land of Truth. We proclaim the truth and declare the true nature of reality. We proclaim the coming Judgment and the Eternal One who can either be your Judge or your Saviour.
Rejection of political activism is not retreat. It's a rejection of the model part and parcel. It's a rejection of the notion that somehow Babylon can be transformed into Zion. Always an embattled minority we don't fight our battles using the weapons of the world. We will always be rejected, spat on and persecuted but we'll never stop declaring the truth to the world. We'll speak of the heavenly Zion while at the same time we expose and denounce the deeds of darkness at work in the world.
But especially when those dark forces are at work in the larger context of the Church.
If the "Church" has embraced the world than we have to expose the world in order to wake up the Church. If the world doesn't like it and lashes out at us, or the world-embracing Church feels threatened and calls upon the state to silence us, then so be it. You can bruise us but you cannot silence us.
While we can to some degree appreciate and admire the leaders of the Civil Rights movement we cannot go along with the ecclesiastical-political synthesis... the very thing championed by Falwell's Christian Right.
There's a difference though. The dominionist fusion enacted by Falwell was a deliberate ideological platform formed by the theology of Francis Schaeffer, and thus ultimately found its origins in Kuyper and Calvin. The Falwell/American Evangelical variety was modified but found its primary impulse in Protestant Sacralism. It was just an old hydra rearing its head in a different context.
What happened within the American Black Church and Polish Roman Catholicism was a bit different. In both of these cases the Church was the one institution that was still free from the oppressor. It was the one institution the state could not fully control or penetrate. Of course the Church isn't an institution let alone a political club. That's what it was turned into and the theological harm has been palpable.
Polish Roman Catholicism had already been apostate since (at least) the Counter-Reformation but the American Black Church soon fell into a trap... a gospel of empowerment and self-esteem. It has yet to emerge from this theological mire.
This is not to suggest that we wish African-Americans had stayed socially inferior. They've made some deserved gains but at a great spiritual cost. If the country had truly been Christian to begin with we wouldn't have had slavery nor the subsequent century of racial oppression. Christians would have ignored Jim Crow and turned their backs on the racist churches of the South. Sadly it was often the liberal "Christians" who had rejected Scripture and embraced the Enlightenment who ended up acting virtuously and with moral conviction. Their Christianity was fraudulent but even its humanistic ethics (often couched in Christian language) shamed the so-called Bible Belt.
But once it's all politicized, the theology and ethics of the Bible are quickly abandoned. Any political operative will tell you Scriptural principles don't work. Thus we end up with myriad of "Christians" running about claiming to speak for the Christian position... and yet the true Biblical witness is all but silenced.
Christian Truth and its manifest doctrines are not meant to 'work' in a practical application or political sense. They are spiritual ideas and consequences. They lead to antithesis and opposition, to meekness and persecution.
If it was legitimate for Poles to utilize their 'church' to resist the Warsaw Pact then it was perfectly legitimate for the Black Church to organize in order to resist Jim Crow. And yet the Truth as revealed in Scripture ultimately rejects these models and certainly rejects those who think they can manipulate theology and history to serve political ends.
As usual the truth is more nuanced and far less pleasing to worldly ears.