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This article, the first of two exploring the Brethren in Christ Church’s response to race, racism, and the Civil Right movement, picks up the story in the early 1950s and runs through 1965—that is, after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In the 1950s, the Brethren in Christ Church began to develop programs to address America’s “race problem” (e.g., starting new churches in black neighborhoods), but its support for black civil rights was always minimal. Even as the church expressed sympathy for the goals of the Civil Rights Movement, it condemned activist means of protest that, in its view, were overly assertive and threatening to law and order. Committed to the popular evangelical notion that social change is best and most faithfully advanced through the conversion of sinful individuals, and steeped in an Anabaptist view of nonresistance that shrank from coercive political strategies, the Brethren in Christ Church remained a largely silent observer of the most important social movement in 20th-century America.


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Originally published as:

David L. Weaver-Zercher. “Sympathy and Disfavor: The Brethren in Christ Church and Civil Rights, 1950-1965.” Brethren in Christ History and Life 44, no. 3 (December 2021): 315-353.

David Weaver-Zercher is Professor of American Religious History at Messiah University, Mechanicsburg, PA. The research that resulted in this article and the previous one was funded by the Christian Lesher Fellows Program and the Sider Grants Program, both administered by the E. Morris and Leone Sider Institute for Anabaptist, Pietist, and Wesleyan Studies at Messiah University.