By Karl Kumodzi
We arrived in Birmingham, Alabama today and visited the historic 16th Street Baptist Church. At 10:22 a.m. on September 15th, 1963 a bomb went off inside the church, killing four little girls who were attending Sunday school. We sat in the pews of the very same church today and watched a video recounting the bombing and the national response it got. As I sat there, I found myself thinking the very same thoughts I had when I first learned of this bombing in a high school history class – how could someone bring themselves to plant a bomb in a church?
The bomb was planted by members of the Ku Klux Klan. Ironically, the Klan can be classified as a radical Christian group. I have a hard time wrapping my head around how any Christian group, even a radical one, can bomb a Christian church while people are worshiping inside. It’s fascinating that the crusades, the holocaust, and slavery were all defended using religion. It is even more fascinating that during slavery and segregation, the oppressed used the very same religion to find hope and to fight back. The KKK uses the same text to terrorize and oppress that African Americans used to justify equality and nonviolence. As I sat in those pews today, we sang and danced to old freedom songs and church music. Somewhere in the middle of the experience, it hit me. I felt why demonstrators had the courage to march, sit in, and ride the bus. I knew that in that community, with those beliefs, and the networks, resources, and organizing power that laid in the church, anything was possible. Somewhere between singing about Jesus’ love and “We Shall Overcome,” I understood why a young person like me would risk his or her life to change an unjust status quo. Faith in the promise of the word, coupled with the rising tensions of the time, and reinforced by a community ready to take action would move anyone to act for justice.
Religion can be used for good or for evil. I’d like to think that its use for good is a correct interpretation, and its use for evil is a false one. I’d like to think that the feeling that overcame me in church today and made me want to take action is truer than a similar religious feeling overcoming Hitler or a Klan member and inspiring them to take action. I’d like to think that slaves interpreted the bible right, and slave masters interpreted it wrong. However, I cannot know for certain. One thing does give me hope, and it is this: In every case I have mentioned so far, the good interpretation of religion has always outlasted the evil one. Perhaps this means that it just takes a little while to get to the truth, and that what we see as the good interpretation is indeed truth. Either way, deep down in my gut I know that the feeling I had was true, and very few radical interpretations can sway me from it.