“He shied away from the term ‘integration,’ and when speaking of racial intolerance he often suggested that blacks and white northerners were equally culpable—even when the violence against the civil rights marchers was at its height.”
“Yet even in the summer of 1965 he equated the ‘extremists’ in the civil rights movement with the Ku Klux Klan, saying that Alabama would be an exemplar to the nation if only both quieted down.”
Both of these quotes refer to Billy Graham. They are from Francis Fitzgerald’s terrific history, The Evangelicals. I encountered them yesterday.
The moral equation of white supremacists with those resisting them is not new, and it has been maintained by figures far more religious than the President.
Fitzgerald also notes this, though:
Along with Catholic and Jewish leaders, prominent Episcopalian and Presbyterian clergymen joined the civil rights demonstrations, and around the time of the 1963 March on Washington they gained endorsements from their denominations and from the National Council of Churches. After that, the mainline clergy joined the protests in increasing numbers. A 1968 study of the Protestant clergy in California showed that nearly a quarter had taken part in some kind of civil rights demonstration. Theologically conservative Protestants did not join the civil rights marches or work for civil rights legislation, and some within the large northern denominations submitted resolutions contesting the actions of their leadership.
The previous church I served was in a city with a retirement community for mainline clergy, so I regularly heard stories from ministers (and church members) who had gone to Alabama and Mississippi to march and register voters. Those stories gave me a vivid sense of the people and the church I was a part of: imperfect, for sure, and still shot through with racism, but not undecided about where it wanted to stand when the marches for racial equality started.