Eugene Rivers‘ contribution to the January Series, “Our New Post Civil Rights Reality: A Christian Perspective,” came highly anticipated but turned out to be an exercise in hiding occasional good points in rhetoric and hyperbole.
Rivers is involved in some fabulous projects to revitalise urban areas plagued with gang violence, broken homes, and crippling poverty. In the question and answer time that followed his brief sermon (I’m not sure I can really call it a lecture) he was able to outline some startling statistics of drops in homicide rates in Boston that he argued (with the backing of several studies) were the result of those programmes. His arguments for strong role models, for church groups to advocate on the behalf of those experiencing systemic injustice and to work with law enforcement to assist those who fall foul of law enforcement, and for the need for civil rights mindsets to enter a new paradigm were potent ones.
Those arguments were also at times hard to make out. A plea for recognition of the uniqueness of the black American experience was hidden in a torrent of homophobia, and a call for strong father figures for black children and teenagers came swathed in implied misogyny. It is certainly true that the black American experience and the resultant civil rights movement has many unique qualities, but that does not give it ownership of the phrase ‘civil rights’. Most agree that children are better off if brought up when intimate relationship with strong male and female role models, but that is not in itself reason to numerous times lash out at ‘white upper-middle-class lesbian’ strawmen. And while it may have been a slip of the tongue when he appeared to say that he didn’t care whether white people did anything for Africa, the context was at best confusing.
Things improved a little when it came to questions and answers. Rivers commented that he had joined a march against hate crimes being perpetrated against the gay community. But he did not fully engage with questions on whether the gay community had the right to its own ‘civil rights’ movement, or whether we lived in a time of (wholly precedented) change in the nature of the family.
Disappointing, to say the least.