I’ve got the light of freedom
I’m gonna let it shine.
Jesus gave it to me,
I’m gonna let it shine. Gonna shine all over the Delta, I’m gonna let it shine.
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.
Over the last few months I’ve been nourished by stories from Freedom Summer 1964, when black and white people joined hands across the state of Mississippi to stand for freedom and justice for all people. What has most intrigued me is the central role that faith had in the work of Freedom Summer. Expressions of faith in the Way of Jesus areheard in the electrifying sermons and songs that belted out of the mouth of Fannie Lou Hamer, they are seen in the significant role clergy from the North had in Freedom Summer training and events, and they are witnessed to in testimonies of Hattiesburg residents, like Peggy Jean Connor who testi- fies to God’s love abiding in and through her that long summer. If we’re honest, interpretations of the Bible also grounded the faith of those who resisted the work of civil rights, even those who worked violently against Freedom Summer efforts often quoted Scripture to justify their actions (a sober reminder to us about how easily we can twist the stories of Scripture to justify the evil in our hearts and actions).
This summer, we have a tremendous opportunity to pause for a moment and look back into the history of our state and to reflect upon what it means to live our faith. In one sermon, Fannie Lou Hamer said:
“People need to be serious about their faith in the Lord; it’s all too easy to say, ‘Sure, I’m a Christian,’ and talk a big game. But if you are putting that claim to the test, where the rubber meets the road, then it’s high time to stop talking about being a Christian. You can pray until you faint, but if you’re not gonna get up and do something, God is not gonna put it in your lap.”
My hope is that through our remembering and through our exploration of key biblical texts that defined the Freedom Summer experience, we will think deeply about our call to put faith into action today.
Along with the Sunday morning sermon series, I encourage you to register and attend the Freedom Summer Conference taking place at USM, to join me in July for book discussions about Charles Marsh’s God’s Long Summer: Stories of Faith and Civil Rights, and to participate in other events that will take place around our community and through UBC this summer. I also invite you to begin your remembrance of Freedom Summer at the Backdoor Coffee House this Friday, June 6.
Fannie Lou Hamer helped make one of our childhood favorites an anthem of Freedom Summer. This Little Light of Mine, I’m Gonna Let is Shine. May UBC continue to shine the light of Christ into our community!