Watching Selma in the middle of a crowded movie theater this week, I found myself doubled over in emotion. I knew the faces and their voices. My daddy was a white preacher who was run out of his North Carolina pulpit by the KKK for his civil rights support. In 1964, he and my mother moved to Alabama. She was a teacher who was among the first to work in the integrated schools. I was born the following year, six months after the Selma March and two years to the day after four little girls were murdered at a church up in Birmingham.
Not surprisingly, I got hooked at a young age on the power of prophetic witness. Today, I train leaders of faith and moral courage — as King called them in the film, “people of God and good will” — to speak their truth and stand for justice in the media. A documentary filmmaker with a theological education, I couldn’t bear the fact that the household names who spoke for faith and values in this country in the 1980s and ’90s — people like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and Ralph Reed — bore no resemblance to the prophets who risked and often gave their lives to stand for freedom in the name of faith just decades before.
So I launched a program with my colleague Katharine Henderson at Auburn Seminary to identify and equip today’s voices of moral courage. What I have learned is that voices like King’s are not a thing of the past; they are courageously leading movements in communities all over America. Over the past ten years, we have trained 5000 of them — Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Secular Humanist and more. But I have also learned that the movement and its leaders must up their game to carry the moral frame over and against the mighty and monied Right. It is when the public will requires nothing less that our jaded and cantankerous congress and politicized Supreme Court are most inclined to stand for justice for all.
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