Tag Archives: politicians

Eisenhower and Empire

Bipartisanship, Patriotism, and the  Politics of Congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr. of Harlem

Harlem had spent close to two decades mired in an economic depression when the city burst into flames in March 1937.  Adam Clayton Powell Jr. was a tireless advocate for nonviolent community action as a form of protest against economic and racial injustice.  The reason being, according to Adam Clayton Powell Jr., was that Harlem had become the world’s largest racial ghetto, and while the population had quadrupled, not one new hospital or school had been built.[1] The area hospitals refused to serve African Americans; to make matters worse, the unemployment rate was on the rise.  The black community was without leadership or organization.  Powell Jr. started the Coordinating Committee for Employment; Reverend Powell opened up the group and included disciples of Garvey and Harrison.[2] They followed him because in the pulpit, Powell preached to his congregation about self-respect.  Left-wing radicals from the West Indies also placed themselves under Powell’s leadership because he had aided them in their fight to save the Scottsboro Boys (a group of nine young black men accused of raping two white women in Alabama; eight of them were convicted by all white juries and sentenced to death).  After successful boycotts under the motto, “Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work!,” Powell ran for and then served as City Councilman (as an Independent) and then won election as Congressman.[3] Clayton Powell learned early on from his ministerial experience how to work with people of differing ideologies.  Years later, Powell would defend Christianity against the arguments of Harlem’s own Malcolm X who claimed that Christianity was the white, blue eyed, blond man’s Jesus; Powell countered by pointing the Coptic cross in Abyssinian Baptist church, stating that Christianity was first recognized as a religion in Ethiopia.[4]

Powell did not see himself as being limited only to represent the people of Harlem.  Because there was only one other congressman of African descent besides himself, Powell viewed his purpose in Congress as representing the black people in the South who had no one to hear their concerns.[5] He committed himself to fighting racial discrimination, defamation of all forms, as well as rolling back the tide against any and all forms of colonialism and imperialism.[6] Washington, D.C. was still racially segregated and Powell was on a mission to make it more racially inclusive.  Among other actions that he took, he brought with him as many African Americans as he could in the hopes that he could “bring down the prejudices within the Capitol itself.”[7] Later on in his political career, Congressman Adam Powell Jr., during the Montgomery bus boycotts of 1956, called for and lead a National Day of Deliverance, in the hopes that the spiritual forces at work in the United States would change people’s minds about racial injustice.[8]

The most significant convert on the issue of desegregation was Powell’s new political ally, President Dwight Eisenhower (a Republican), whom Powell (a Democrat) campaigned for out of disgust at Adlai Stephenson’s weak Civil Rights agenda and Eisenhower’s surprising record during his first term.[9] During President Eisenhower’s second term, the first Civil Rights legislation since the days of Reconstruction was passed.  In a sermon entitled, “Brotherhood and Freedom” based on 1st John 2:9-11, Powell first calls all Negro churches to take a leadership position in battling segregation and fight for economic rights as well; and then secondly, he says that all black leaders should be “armed with the Christian spirit” in order to join the frontlines of international relations and “to apply the imperative of the Christian spirit.”[10] Powell demonstrated this new vision for Christian foreign missions by his unofficial participation in the Bandung Conference of 1955.

Powell saw the world changing as decolonization movements continued to grow stronger.  When Powell arrived back in Washington, D.C., he suggested to President Eisenhower and the State Department that the United States no longer remain neutral on the question of colonialism. “With our Yankee courage, our Madison Avenue know-how, our religious heritage, and the bulwark of the Bill of Rights behind us, we can launch a drive for peace and for full equality now in Asia and Africa.”[11] Powell was working to disprove the Hubert Harrisons of the world that the Negro church, as well as the Christian religion in general, could be used as a source for decolonization.   Perhaps looking back, however, there seems to be a danger in having too much confidence in our system, especially if we look at critics of neocolonialism, where the world is arranged by international markets and monopolies.  Perhaps it was Congressman Powell’s anti-imperialism and influence as friend of President Eisenhower in Ike’s farewell address as the 34th President warned us:

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”


Powell,  Adam Clayton. 1967. Keep the Faith, Baby! New York: Trident Press.

1971. Adam by Adam; the autobiography of Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. New York: Dial Press.

[1]( Powell 1971), 61-62.

[2] Ibid, 62.

[3] (Powell 1971), 64, 68,70.

[4] Ibid, 244.

[5] Ibid, 74.

[6] Ibid, 72.

[7] Ibid, 82.

[8] Ibid, 125.

[9] Ibid, 129-131.

[10] (Powell 1967), 237.

[11] Ibid, 117.

Blogger Responds to the Terrible Two Party series

Damon Eris of Poli-Tea Blog brought up my four-part series on the Terrible Two Party system in American Politics.

part 1 ; part 2 ; part 3 ; and the conclusion.

Although he commended my stance against the two-part system, as we call it, the duopoly, he has some questions concerning my use of Martin Luther’s Priesthood of all believers, and the contradictions within Luther’s theology.

d.Eris says,

“It would be interesting to see how Rod squares the central contradiction of Luther’s theology with the call for consensus democracy and proportional representation. In On Christian Liberty, for instance, Luther employs a dualistic metaphysics of body and soul to allow for the possibility of spiritual freedom despite the reality of human bondage:

A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one.

In other words, Luther’s notion of Christian freedom is consistent with human slavery. Luther himself denounced peasants who were at least partly inspired by his teachings to rise up against their feudal overlords. During the Peasants’ War, the protestant reformer admonished the “murderous thieving hordes of peasants” first and foremost for breaking an implicit oath of “submission and obedience” to their social and political masters.”  “

I am glad Damon mentioned Luther’s dualism. It is something that I addressed in a presentation (and blog post last week).

First, we have to remember that no one’s theology can be applied universally, and we must take into context a person’s historical context.  When Luther was writing Against the Murderous Hordes of Peasants, he was reacting to criticism that he himself was the blame for the Peasant wars and rebellions leveled at him by the Catholics in Germany in the early 16th century.  Luther had to reject those arguments and he also had to persuade the princes to save the lives of women, who were being shared through wife swapping in the heretical anabaptist New Jerusalem.  His call was an act of mercy, not terror.

Second, Damon made a great point about Luther dividing spiritual freedom from all other freedoms, and the need for self-giving (submission) among Christians when it comes to political authorities, especially in his On Christian Freedom. It is this very dualism that is at the heart of Luther’s Two-kingdom theory, in which God had created two orders, one that is under the law (politics and society) and one under the edicts of the Gospel (the church).  The community of believers belongs to the second kingdom.  Civil authorities have no reign in the kingdom of the Gospel.  Christians owe no allegiance to the state, but because Christians are at the same time both made righteous and remain yet still sinners, we have to obey the law.[1]

What this means in the future of German history, after Martin Luther, is the German church’s submission to Adolph Hitler in the name of law and order.  However, if one want to continue in the tradition of Martin Luther, I would suggest to look to Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Bonhoeffer, like most of the orthodox (non-violent revolutionary) Anabaptists in Germany, practiced Christian nonviolence, but he also opposed Hitler in his regime.  Bonhoeffer had to reject Luther’s Two Kingdom theory because Bonhoeffer re-examined Luther’s doctrine of grace, and what it meant for the church; the church was in the world, as Stanley Hauerwas noted, for all to see and not invisible while the state/government remained visible.[2]

Therefore, dualism is unnecessary.  Those who have been set free by the power of the Gospel are free in the world, to engage the world.  What this might mean for proportional representation and consensus democracy in the US? It means that rather than Christians fighting for power, being bought off by politicians through horrendous programs such as the Faith Based Initiative, Christians would have the liberty to created their own parties, that are openly Christian, like the Christian Social Democrats in Germany and the Netherlands. That would be a practical implication. a proportional representation system would benefit the church, third parties, the poor, and every American.

I hope that helps.

Truth and Peace,


[1] The Story of Christianity: Volume II by Justo Gonzalez , Page 36-37.

[2] Stanley Hauerwas. Performing the Faith: Bonhoeffer and the Practice of Nonviolence. Page 43

The Terrible Two Party System, Conclusion

Conclusion: A Christian case for  Proportional Representation

This nation was founded by men whose motto was, “No taxation without representation.”  I believe that we need to go back to our roots and learn a lesson from history.  Mother England ignored the plights of the colonists, all of whom were from different countries and resided in different colonies with different cultures.  Eager to remain in power and greedy for more revenue, the British parliament repeatedly stifled the colonists’ rights and taxed them without their having a say in their own affairs.  The American Revolution broke out and Britain lost the prestigious treasure that was once theirs.  In the   same way, a political revolution imminent here in America.  It will not be a war where a bunch of gory battles wage until that last soldier is standing.  There is beginning to be a backlash in the United States against the lack of connection that the two major parties have with the people.  The Donkeys and the Elephants have become almost synonymous with the words American democracy; yet, the leadership is hardly American or democratic at all. The popularity of Dr. Howard Dean’s anti-establishment rhetoric confirms that the American people are becoming weary of the status quo.   The Supreme Court ruled that Congress’s futile efforts to contain itself through the McCain-Feingold Act are unconstitutional.  This was clearly a victory for third parties all across America.

Third parties should celebrate because the Supreme Court ruling protected their rights to free speech and paved the way for them to be included in American democracy; but ethnic minorities have reason to be happy as well.  Projections for the American population in the year 2025 suggest that as the minority grows, the population will become more diverse (Census, 1997).  Since the percentage of the population that is Caucasian will decrease and the minority population as a whole will increase, the status quo will no longer have a clear majority.  In the event that this trend continues, the time will come when ethnic minorities will be the ethnic majority.  Americans should learn the lesson from the American Revolution that taught us that if an establishment continues to violate its citizens’ natural rights, only agitation will be the consequence: therefore it only makes since to transform the system into one that includes everyone so that everyone feels that they are empowered.

David Held (1987) observed in his Models of Democracy that Jean- Jaques Rousseau’s concept of democracy meant that the highest role an individual could achieve was to a be an active citizen (75).  I agree with developmental democrats like Rousseau and Mary Wollstonecraft that the most vital function a democracy should have is to give its citizens the power to exercise their own will into law.  In order to do so, the maximum number of preferences should be incorporated into the decision-making process.  The consensus model would be the best model for achieving that objective because its institutions, particularly the proportional representation electoral system, allows the optimum number of voices to be heard.

What is obviously missing from Held’s and Lijphart’s cases against majoritarianism and its view of power in our democratic-republic is any recognition of a a religious dimension in political thinking.  One of the most revered political theologians in the late 20th century is Jürgen Moltmann.  In his The Spirit of Life, Moltmann gives a hint that his Social Trinitarianism expressed publicly may mean a form of Christian social democracy (247).  Hierarchal and centralized forms of governments, especially within churches, are unnecessary because they are incompatible with Moltmann’s pneumatology (view of the Holy Spirit as equal along with Father and Son).  Governments should ideally be covenantal and decentralized, in order to avoid becoming military states [i.e., empires] (252).  However, while I can agree for the most part with Moltmann’s theology and its political theology, there is something lacking. The view of power and representation that are crucial for democratic societies.  And it is so much easier for him to make suggestions such as having social democracies when, he himself, lives in a country [Germany] where there is PR (proportional representation).

Perhaps it is best if we begin with the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers developed first by Martin Luther.  This is the Reformation notion that all members of the body of Christ have connections to God through Christ the mediator.  Rather than a priest who represents God for us stand between us and God, every Christian has direct access to God’s presence, by the power of the Holy Spirit.  If we expand this doctrine politically, in terms of representation, we must come to the conclusion that everyone has rights, given to them by God, and that they should be allowed to be represented by the person that they choose.  Also, secondarily, since the priesthood of all believers is not a doctrine that was originally intended to sustain rugged individualism, representation must be seen as a power to be shared by all citizens in a free society.  Thus, we have a theological undergirding for proportional representation.

Truth and Peace,


Works Cited

American Civil Liberties Union.  (2000, March 22) Testimony of Executive Director Ira Glasser on Campaign Finance Reform Legislation before the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration.  http://www.aclu.org/FreeSpeech/FreeSpeech.cfm?ID=8806&c=20

Held, David.  (1987) Models of Democracy. Stanford: Stanford University Press

Lijphart, Arend. (1999) Patterns of Democracy: Government Forms and Performances in Thirty-Six Countries. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary On-line.  (2004) http://m-w.com

U.S. Department of Commerce.  (1997) http://www.census.gov/prod/3/98pubs/p23-194.pdf

Wickham, DeWayne.  (2004, March 3) Sharpton’s presidential campaign disappoints.

USA Today, p.13A.