He Was a Man

The news that Fred Shuttlesworth died got lost in the flow when Steve Jobs died shortly thereafter. Not to take anything away from Jobs, whom I admired (I was there for his 2005 Stanford graduation speech, and it was certainly the best such I have ever heard–very thoughtful). But Shuttlesworth was the more important, and the more valiant, figure. I’ve read everything I can find on Shuttlesworth, who was one of the great heroes of the civil rights movement. This piece by Diane McWhorter does him justice. (Her book on Birmingham, Alabama, Carry Me Home, is one of my favorites of the many fine books on the movement.) Shuttlesworth is the basis of one of my main characters in the novel I intend to publish next year, Birmingham.

One thing McWhorter doesn’t mention is that Shuttlesworth was a preacher who took the Bible as God’s literal word. He never bought into liberal theology the way King did, nor was he the kind of preacher who used the pulpit for his own purposes and quoted the Bible when it suited his program. The Bible’s vision of justice was his vision, and he took it straight.

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7 Responses to “He Was a Man”

  1. Matt Mitchell Says:

    Will Birmingham have the Nichols family in it? Hoping it’s part of the River of Freedom series–one of my favorites.

  2. James Says:

    Tim, please consider: on the face of it, it is divisive, and a bit holier-than-thou, to contrast Christians who buy into liberal theology against Christians who believe the Bible. [Those who don’t believe in “Christians who buy into liberal theology” may as well skip the rest of this post.]

    I think this piece of evangelical jargon (“believe the Bible”) functions to divide the Church; it’s intended to identify the decently faithful, as against the other. It’s of a piece with August’s Minneapolis meeting of conservative Presbyterians.

    This language stands out to me, since I’m one of the outsiders. And I’m at least equally guilty — I’d strongly resist being tagged with the “evangelical” label — so I sympathize with the desire to choose up teams. But this is a temptation, not a calling.

    Here’s to what you do so well: more struggle against the Romans, less against the Judean People’s Front.

    • timstafford Says:

      Hi, James…. I’m in complete agreement that the spirit of good guys vs bad guys is divisive and often unChristian, and I accept the the phrase “believe the Bible” is neither helpful nor accurate. Mea culpa.

      Still, there is a genuine difference between liberal and evangelical theology, and it affects the way we think about many subjects, and the way we live. Better than pretending it doesn’t exist, I think we need to work strenuously to speak respectfully about each other, and to seek common and sympathetic understanding at every point.

      Believe me, when I refer to ML King’s liberal theology, I am not putting him into the bad guy camp. I think he is a truly great man. I honor and revere him. But I also think it’s worthwhile to know that he had allies and peers who had other theological perspectives. Fred Shuttlesworth was one of them. He too was a great man.

      • James Says:

        I just saw this response, finally; I know we’re in full agreement here. In particular, all respect to the late Fred Shuttlesworth.

  3. David Graham Says:

    Yeah, because apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?

    All joking aside, I think Andy Crouch shared your admiration for Steve Jobs’ commencement speech at Stanford, though with more reservations about its merit. See: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/januaryweb-only/gospelstevejobs.html

    I am sorry to admit my ignorance of Fred Shuttlesworth. Because of your blog entry, I am going to read up a bit on him, so thanks for posting this.

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