Faith, Action, and Inaction

While Boycott and Four Little Girls present religion as being very connected to the Civil rights movement, “The Sky is Gray” and Nothing But A Man both present a conflict between preachers who trust God to solve their problems and the student and Duff who both view this form of religion as unhelpful and unconnected to action. In the article we read, this debate is described as a conflict about “waiting on God to deliver black people from racial discrimination or relying on logic to create socio-political change” (4). In Nothing But A Man, this debate is between Duff and Josie’s father, a preacher who doesn’t take action and is much more willing to appease white people than Duff. He tells Duff to be more reasonable and go along with what his white employers want, which Duff disagrees with, telling him “you’ve been stupid so long, Reverend, you don’t even know how to stand straight no more. You’re just half a man.” He takes issue with the Reverend’s willingness to go along with what white people want, rather than taking action to make things better and standing up for himself and his community. At one point even Josie comments on her father’s lack of action. When Duff says that he’s seen hundreds of men who sit around and don’t have jobs, Josie adds “and my father’s never done a thing for any of them.” In this film the preacher is shown as being useless and unwilling to take action to either help his own congregation or stand up for civil rights.

Duff and Reverend Dawson at the beginning of their argument

In “The Sky Is Gray,” the preacher is presented in a similar way, with the preacher and a student arguing about religion as they wait in a dentist’s office. The student tells the preacher, “a white man told you to believe in God. And why? To keep you ignorant so he can keep his feet on your neck,” and then later argues with the women next to him, telling them “words mean nothing. Action is the only thing” (Gaines 97, 101).  Throughout the scene, he is dismissive of the idea that God can help the Black community, instead advocating for people to take action to change their circumstances. However, he does make a distinction between the preacher he argues with and religious leaders who still choose to act. When one of the women asks if he means that all the people working to change things don’t believe in God, he says, “I’m sure some of them do. Maybe most of them do. But they don’t believe that God is going to touch these white people’s hearts and change things tomorrow. Things change through action” (Gaines 102). In the scene, the student condemns those who use their faith to justify being passive, rather than taking an active role in fighting for change. This quote describes some sort of middle ground where religious or civil rights leaders can be people of both faith and action as opposed to the preachers of “The Sky Is Gray” and Nothing But A Man who rely solely on God to help them.

1 thought on “Faith, Action, and Inaction

  1. I really like this comparison you made between Duff and the student. They both do have strong critics of religion and how religion leads to inaction. Both of them also have conflicts with religious leaders because of their fundamental differences. I enjoyed reading your post a lot!

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