The Civil War of American Christians Against Extremism – The Lessons for Muslims Today; By Jeffrey Imm

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Today, a Muslim friend asks the question to American Christians: “Christians, since you haven’t been able to get rid of these terrorists, how do expect Muslims to get rid of ISIS?” The posting is accompanied by a photograph of members of the Ku Klux Klan with an American flag. Having fought this battle against white supremacists for 40 years, I want to reply.
Yes, it is a fair question.
But let us be clear, we will never simply “get rid of” all terrorists. That is not the real challenge we face. When we are challenging ISIS, we not simply “getting rid of” some terrorists, we must challenge and defeat the extremist ideology that it represents, and its views that members of its hate movement are superior to other human beings. We are challenging the views that its ideology has a right to deny life, liberty, security, human rights, and human dignity, to those who have different views or a different religion than the ISIS supporters. We do not fight simply a “war on terror.” – We have a war on terrorist and anti-human rights IDEOLOGIES themselves.
The United States of America has had a long, bloody, and painful war against the anti-human rights and terrorist ideology of white supremacy.
This war started at the founding of the country in July 4, 1776, but it was postponed in the interests of fighting what we thought at the time was a greater enemy. The war against such extremist views did not go away, and it returned again to haunt the conscience of the nation, over and over, until it spilled out into a national Civil War, which ripped the nation apart between April 12, 1861 – May 9, 1865.
The Civil War deaths in this battle on white supremacism resulted in the death of 214,938 soldiers and approximately 750,000 total U.S. deaths. Of the soldiers who died, 140,414 Union soldiers were killed, giving their lives in a national war against white supremacist slavery. The question is asked, “Christians, when will you get rid of white supremacist terrorists?” The answer can be partly found in Arlington National Cemetery where you can see the graves of the thousands who fought and died to stop such terrorism.
Let us also be clear, the Confederate States of America (CSA) army and its supporters also had many supporters who believed that they too were following a Christian path. But the Union American Christians could not accept such a contradiction of white supremacist slavery with the values of America, the freedoms the nation represented, and the contradiction of the majority of Americans who followed the Christian religion.
This was not just a Civil War of Americans.
It was also a Civil War of American Christians.
It is a historical guide to those fighting extremists among them, as to how to defy and challenge those who would use supremacism in their identity group and their values as a rationalization to persecute and oppress others.
In the secular United States of America, many would not immediately consider the American Civil War of the 19th century as a “Civil War of American Christians.” But this was a significant aspect of the American Civil War struggle, the Civil War between Christian defying white supremacy and those defending such an ideology to rationalize continued slavery of African-Americans. As history has shown, American Christians fought this war at great sacrifice and great bloodshed. But while the United States of America fought this Civil War as a secular nation, with people of all faiths involved, it would be naive especially in 1865, to not recognize that this was also a great American civil war in determining how Christian faith would be practiced in America, and what that American practice of Christian faith would and would not accept.
Most of the American Union soldiers fighting against the ideology of white supremacy were Christians, and the common rally song to defeat the white supremacist terrorists, was a song called the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” The national battle hymn is clearly a Christian song. It concludes with the Christian exhortation to those fighting in the Civil War against white supremacy – “As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free.”
This Battle Hymn of the Republic was written by Julia Ward Howe, in Washington D.C., not far from where Freedom Plaza stands today, as she toured Union army camps with Reverend James Freeman Clarke and her husband. The song of American Christianity fighting against the injustice of white supremacist slavery is one of the most fundamental songs of patriotism tied to American’s national capital. The Battle Hymn of the Republic was a national theme in fighting the CSA, and has remained the battle hymn in fighting white supremacy. It remains a standard patriotic song for all Americans and all branches of the U.S. Military Services.
So when the question is asked, when will Christians fight the white supremacist ideology of Ku Klux Klan terrorism, let us never forget that a nation rallied to do just that, and it even based it battle hymn on a Christian imperative to “make men free.” Americans, and certainly American Christians, changed as the result of that Civil War.
The Civil War against white supremacism was the 19th century “reformation” of the American practice of Christianity across the nation. But what Americans learned was that first Civil War was still not enough. We had to fight yet a second Civil War in the 20th century.
The aftermath of the Civil War against white supremacism led to uprising of CSA terrorist groups, chiefly one known as the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), which resulted in a series of Congressional civil rights acts, including the Civil Rights Act of 1871, signed by President Ulysses S. Grant who led the Union army to victory over the CSA. The KKK was created and recognized as a terrorist organization to continue the white supremacist activities of the CSA after its defeat. A series of terrorist prosecutions against KKK members largely defeated the 19th century version of the organization, which would not appear again until the 20th century.
But once again a second Civil War had to be fought in the 20th century, after the all of the changes by the first Civil War had failed to take hold in every part of American society. We realized that fighting white supremacy slavery, defeating the CSA and its views, defeating and imprisoning the KKK, all of these were not enough until we took hold of the extremist ideology of white supremacy itself and we declared total national war on it – everywhere and in every form.
This is the heart of the lesson which America learned, and can offer the world, in defying and defeating extremist views. No victory can begin until the extremist ideology itself is recognized, identified, challenged, defied, disgraced, and defeated.
In the 20th century, there were still parts of America, where rampant white supremacist-based discrimination permeated society and even the law, including legalized segregation in parts of the nation. There were unrepentant supporters of the CSA that sought to reconstitute the KKK, and used the frustrations of difficulties in economic and social issues, and economic depression to try to extend their ideological reach to other parts of the nation.
The CSA-based KKK continued to disgrace American Christians with their attempts to hold white supremacist rallies around a burning cross. But in the 20th century, after the resounding victory against the CSA in the 19th century, largely by American Christians fighting against white supremacy, no major no Protestant Christian denomination officially endorsed the KKK, and it was denounced in Christian publications. However, a 20th century “Civil War” was required to continue to battle this white supremacist scourge, which included defying at some local levels those misguided Christians who continued to support white supremacy, requiring a renewed effort by American Christians and other Americans to challenge the ideology of white supremacy again. This 20th century “Civil War” also saw the white supremacist KKK attacking American Catholics, which ensured that most in the Catholic Christian faith would renounce the KKK organization.
The 20th century Civil War was a different kind of struggle, which still involved troops, but not in the way of the 19th century Civil War. It was instead, a broader, all encompassing “total war” on white supremacy by American Christian and other Americans, as a “Civil Rights movement.” While much of the social struggle started in the 1920s, it returned in the 1950s and in the 1960s, primarily between 1955 and 1968, when I personally began my own fight against white supremacy.
This movement began with a focus on defeating the last remnants of white supremacy in what were called “Jim Crow” laws that legalized segregation between African-Americans and whites in America. We fought this in our schools, in our public places, and in every part of our nation, as a total war against white supremacy. We fought in every part of this nation, in a total war to defeat the evil of white supremacy. Our Supreme Court issued a ruling in 1954 in the historic Brown v. Board of Education, which declared all laws establishing segregated schools to be unconstitutional, and called for the desegregation of all schools throughout the nation.
In Little Rock, Arkansas, where this battle against white supremacy of our schools was first waged, President Eisenhower had to call out the U.S. National Guard to protect African-American students and protect them. It would not be the last time our troops were needed to fight such white supremacy. Our National Guard, as well as the U.S. Department of Justice, under President John F. Kennedy was also used to defy George Wallace in 1963, when he sought to refuse the desegregation of the University of Alabama.
But unlike the 19th century Civil War, the 20th century Civil Rights Movement was a total war led by the common men and women of America defying and defeating white supremacists. This included many churches, and the national leadership of the great African-American Christian leader Pastor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The struggle was long and tumultuous and in this civil war, there were still some recalcitrant local Christians who refused to accept the reformation of American Christian practices to ensure the equality of all people of all races.
But ultimately the forces of American Christian practice reformation achieved a significant victory and change in America, over white supremacy. Pastor King and those American Christians and other Americans who stood on the cause of equal civil rights for all prevailed. Segregation was defeated, laws were made to ensure equal voting protections and civil rights, and in state after state, city after city, the tide had changed in the 20th century Civil War.
The victories were not without costs, as Civil Rights activists were killed, by a new incarnation of the KKK. The criminals in the KKK committed atrocities, murders of Civil Rights activists, and even attacked and blew up Christian churches. In attacking churches across America, the “Christian” mask of their KKK anti-Christian views was now clear for all to see, and the nation rallied to defy the army of white supremacist hatred once again. We used every aspect at our disposal, our courts, our law enforcement, our federal law enforcement (including the Federal Bureau of Investigation), our schools, our newspapers, our churches, and people of all American faiths and conscience who marched and defied the evil of white supremacy.
For every march, rally, and public event which the world captured on film, there were millions of small “civil wars” taking place to end white supremacy in our homes, among families, among neighbors, at work, in public places, and among fellow citizens – who sought to remind America who and what we are. This fight was also a fight to seize and finally reform the practices of American Christianity to ensure equality for all, and was guided by the great Christian Pastor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Christian leader Dr. King led the greatest human rights rally in history on August 28, 1963 in Washington DC at the Lincoln Memorial, a memorial to remember the president who defied the white supremacy of the CSA in the 19th century Civil War. In Washington DC, nearby, what is today the Freedom Plaza, this Christian leader finished writing his speech, which he delivered at the Lincoln Memorial, and which would change the hearts of a nation and a generation. The speech was called “I have a dream.” (The speech is still there, buried in Freedom Plaza, today.)
It was a few years later that I began my own fight in this civil war for the American Christian faith and Civil Rights for all people. It was in August 1967 in the city of Virginia Beach, Virginia, where I found myself as young boy, confronting the obscenity of a sign which read “white clientele only.” One can read or hear of these things, and shake your head in disgust, but to be faced with it, changes your outlook on the world, and the need to fight for change.
I was greatly discouraged from challenging this practice of racial segregation. But I could not and would not back down. I was an American Christian, I knew this was wrong, it was wrong as a Christian, it was wrong as an American, and most of all, it was wrong as a human being.
I began my fight as a child. So when I hear my adult Muslim brothers and sisters in humanity asking me, “when will Christians defeat KKK terrorists,” I will tell you, I have and many I know have, fought such white supremacists all of our lives. We viscerally understand first-hand the disgrace and shame that these white supremacists have brought to our nation and to American Christians. So we know how it feels very much. But I also know that you are never too weak, too powerless, too ineffective to fight.
If a child can rise up to defy extremists, you can too.
This begins with deciding you simply will not accept it anymore. I don’t mean that you don’t want to hear it, or you don’t agree with it, not something passive like that. No. I mean you decide, you will not ACCEPT it any longer. THAT moment is when you begin the fight.
As we all know, Christian leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. paid for his defiance to white supremacy with his life on April 4, 1968, stricken down by a white supremacist assassin’s bullet. 10 days before Easter Sunday. I remember his loss as if it were yesterday. Many remember his birthday and honor his success. I also remember the day he became a martyr to free American Christians from the white supremacist hate which slurred Christians who have given their lives to good in this nation and around the world.
Dr. King did not live to see his successes. But he foresaw it coming, he stated the day before he died on April 3, 1968, “I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!” His last words as a Christian leader fighting white supremacy were “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!”
Yet some still believe that Christians have not struggled to defeat the evil of white supremacy.
It is an insult to injury in the never-ending attack by the evil of white supremacy that it too did not die on April 4, 1968, after it took the life of this great Christian leader.
Yet in the grief of those Christians who remember this leader, they too have to take their tiny feet, and try to walk in the massive footsteps of this great leader. We all are, of course, not sufficient to fill the shoes of such a great man, but we have the obligation as Americans, and for those who are Christians, yes, as Christians too, to soldier on.
We have continued the fight against white supremacy into the 21st century, and someone after I am gone will no doubt write about the continued civil war into the 22nd century too. There will always be hearts that hate. But unlike the views of some, my life has been shaped on the experience and personal knowledge, that, YES, you CAN change hearts. I thank God for that. Because while the scourge of white supremacy still exists, it is the exception, it is the rarity, and most of all, it is the SHAME in America. The reformation of American Christian practice on this matter is beginning to become complete on this.
That does not mean that there are not still white supremacy advocates who continue to challenge common decency, as well as the rag tag members of the CSA-inspired KKK, out of the 300 million plus Americans. But they are the vast exceptions.
In the 21st century, I created Responsible for Equality And Liberty (R.E.A.L.). One of our first major events was on April 4, 2010, where we remembered the martyrdom of Dr. Martin Luther, King, Jr. on the steps of the Washington Monument. On April 4, R.E.A.L. called for the freedom of those persecuted around the world, including African-Americans and people of color still facing pockets of discrimination, and calling for freedom of all people, including the end those religious minorities persecuted around the world, such as Pakistan Christians.
That same year, 2010, Washington DC faced yet another terrorist attack, this time on the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, which resulted in the death of an African-American security guard, which I had met in my visits there. This Washington DC terrorist attack spurred another of R.E.A.L.’s many campaigns for human rights, as we determined to defy such white supremacists inspired by such terrorism in our nation’s capital. As we have challenged more and more of the 21st century white supremacists, one thing is clear, they know that they are not welcome in Christianity. In the hundreds of battles that I have personally had with such white supremacists, it is very clear when we speak to them about their faith, most of them cannot accept the practice of Christianity with the hate of their extremist ideology.
Our God is marching on.
R.E.A.L. faced many threats from white supremacists as a result. I personally received many death threats. My family was affected (in ways I won’t discuss) by white supremacist attacks. As Americans and as Christians, we soldiered on. We defied white supremacist praise of terrorist attacks and calls for additional terrorism. We worked with the authorities to stop threats from materializing. We held protests in multiple states to challenge white supremacist groups. The white supremacists were not finished with me. They sought to slander me. They sought ruin me. They sought to attack me financially. They sought to bring legal action to stop me. But despite everything they tried, R.E.A.L. was not defeated.
R.E.A.L. carried on, on our own, without the help of any national group, because it was and is the RIGHT thing to do. We have challenged white supremacists for over 7 years now and we continue to do so today. We face contempt, we face hatred, we face mockery, and we continue to receive attacks. This website where you are reading this right now today has been a target of such attacks many, many times, including recently.
But we will soldier on. It is the right thing to do. It is the American thing to do. It is the Christian thing to do. Our struggle against the forces of white supremacy has not only been a cause for human rights, it is also a cause for Americans to help fulfill the mission of that great Christian leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to liberate all American Christian practices from such ideologies of hatred in every city, in every town, in every hamlet, and in every heart in America.
To the question “Christians, since you haven’t been able to get rid of these terrorists, how do expect Muslims to get rid of ISIS?,” the answer is by fighting against such evil every day of our lives. Yes, it is our job. Yes, it is our sacred RESPONSIBILITY. The answer is with ourselves.
How can we stop the forces of extremism and evil? By deciding that, we are obligated and responsible to defy their ideology and actions which would harm our fellow human beings.
We have difficult days ahead. But we have faced difficult days before, we have faced heartbreak before, we have had our martyrs before. We did not extinguish our watch-fires, and the light of the truth did not blow out. The gale winds and forces of evil have tried their hardest, but the light of truth remains burning bright. In that light, we must find the courage of acting in faith to stop the supremacist views of those who believe they are entitled to superior rights than others, they are entitled to acts of hate against others, and that they are entitled to violence against others, who they view as inferior human beings. To anyone of faith, God did not make inferior human beings. If we don’t know where to start, let us start right there.
People of all faiths must reject those supremacist views that diminish and degrade our fellow human beings, who are different, as somehow inferior. We can never fight for justice without fighting for freedom. We can never achieve liberty for any group, without respecting equality for all groups. We must accept our responsibility to struggle for such equality and liberty, not just for those like us, but most importantly for those who are different than us. We show the courage of our convictions by consistency in this struggle.
We are all God’s people. We all deserve the opportunity to share in God’s promises. We cannot achieve this by expecting someone else to lead the way. We are the pathfinders to dignity, we are guides for hope, we are the beacons for justice. We have already have the map to righteousness; it is imprinted on our hearts and our souls. We only need to open ourselves to the truth and lead the way.
You will see, the watch-fires are waiting in camps of those fighting the same struggle around the world. You just need to decide to JOIN the battle with your whole heart, and never look back.

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