Marsh, Charles 1958–
Marsh, Charles 1958–
(Charles R. Marsh)
PERSONAL: Born 1958, in Mobile, AL; son of Robert (a minister); married Karen Wright Marsh, August 7, 1982; children: Henry, William, Nan. Education: Gordon College, B.A., 1980; Harvard Divinity School, M.A.; University of Virginia, M.A. (philosophical theology), Ph.D.; postdoctoral studies at the Free University of Amsterdam and the University of Iowa.
CAREER: Writer, theologian, educator. Fellow at the University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland, the Baptist Theological Seminary, Ruschlikon, Switzerland, 1986–87, Free University of Amsterdam, Netherlands, 1989, and the University of Heidelberg, Heidelberg, Germany, 1992. Loyola College, Baltimore, MD, professor of theology and ethics, 1990–99, director of the Project on Theology and Community; University of Virginia, Charlottesville, associate professor of religious studies, 2000–, currently director of the Project on Lived Theology.
AWARDS, HONORS: Lilly Endowment grant, 1996, for the creation and direction of Loyola College's Project on Theology and Community; Grawemeyer Award, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and the University of Louisville, 1998, for God's Long Summer: Stories of Faith and Civil Rights; Lilly Endowment grant for the establishment of the University of Virginia's Project on Lived Theology.
God's Long Summer: Stories of Faith and Civil Rights, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1997.
The Last Days: A Son's Story of Segregation at the Dawn of the New South, Basic Books (New York, NY), 2001.
The Beloved Community: How Faith Shapes Social Justice, from the Civil Rights Movement to Today, Basic Books (New York, NY), 2005.
Wayward Christian Soldiers: Against the Political Captivity of the Cross, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2007.
SIDELIGHTS: Theologian Charles Marsh is editor, with Wayne Whitson Floyd, Jr., of Theology and the Practice of Responsibility: Essays on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Paul Stroble wrote in the Christian Century that "Bonhoeffer's ideas haunt us: cheap grace, religionless Christianity, the coming of age of the world, the secret discipline, Christ existing as community, the call to live in the world as if God did not exist. His epistolary reflections from Tegel Prison are the source of many of these ideas." Contributors include scholars from the United States, Canada, Europe, and South Africa, representing Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox traditions, and "aim less at exploring biography and historical contexts than at enriching our appropriation of Bonhoeffer's theology," noted Stroble.
Mark S. Brocker stated in the Journal of Religion that in Reclaiming Dietrich Bonhoeffer: The Promise of His Theology, "Marsh's effort to reclaim Bonhoeffer for contemporary theological inquiry entails three primary tasks. The first is to examine the complex theological relationship between Barth and Bonhoeffer." The second task, commented Brocker "is to examine how Bonhoeffer utilizes the philosophical tradition of transcendental subjectivity from Kant through Hegel and Heidegger," and the third "is to show how his critical use of Barth's theology and of the German philosophical tradition of transcendental subjectivity leads to a 'new social ontology of Christ's presence in the world.'" Choice reviewer R.L. Perkins found the chapters on Heidegger and Hegel to be the most interesting, and stated that "they reinforce the impression one has of the ongoing importance of idealism for the early decades of this century in spite of the efforts of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche."
With God's Long Summer: Stories of Faith and Civil Rights, Marsh offers a reflection on "Freedom Summer," when activists traveled to Marsh's home state of Mississippi to register black voters. Marsh explores the role of religion in civil rights reform, and in doing so focuses on five people, devout Christians, each with his own individual interpretation of Scripture.
The first is Fannie Lou Hamer, a women in her forties who left the cotton fields to "work for Jesus" in the civil rights movement. Sam Holloway Bowers, Jr., was Imperial Wizard of the White Knights of Ku Klux Klan of Mississippi, a "Christian militant" who led the Klan from 1964 to 1968, when he was convicted of the murders of civil rights workers James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman. Marsh interviewed Bowers over four nights in attempting to determine whether he used religion to cover his terrorism, but found that "one of the things that struck me was that he had a very highly developed idea. He turned to nineteenth-century racist literature, Nazi literature, Southern racist propaganda, and Scripture."
Marsh also profiles two white ministers, Edwin King, who favored integration, and Douglas Hudgins, who did not. D'Lena M. Ambrose wrote in the Chronicle of Higher Education that the final profile, of Cleveland Sellers, a black member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, "illustrates the transformation experienced by some black people in the civil rights movement who abandoned nonviolence in frustration and joined separatist movements." Sellers reversed his position of nonviolence after the shooting of James Meredith, who integrated the University of Mississippi.
Christian Century contributor Gary Dorsey wrote that, "often relying on the subjects' own words and other primary sources, Marsh describes the faulty logic and errant principles of most of the actors, though he does so with compassion and remarkable restraint." "Marsh's theological interpretations," said Dorsey, "are so light and deft that the intellectual scaffolding rarely shows through the narratives. He shows how religious beliefs, which undergirded the activity of five vastly different Christians, either held firm or collapsed. He presents a fresh and inspiring story of faith in action and, perhaps, a view of God's hand in human history." Lewis V. Baldwin wrote in the Journal of Church and State that "Marsh has produced a good work on the connection between faith and activism in the modern civil rights movement. Although much of what he shares is already widely known in scholarly circles, one is impressed with the ways in which Marsh brings his insights as a theologian to bear on his analysis of some of the most complex figures in the struggle to shape the image of the South and indeed the nation around issues of race."
The Last Days: A Son's Story of Sin and Segregation at the Dawn of the New South, called an "intimate and well-written memoir," by a Publishers Weekly contributor, revolves around Marsh's father. Robert Marsh moved his family to Laurel, Mississippi, to become pastor of the First Baptist Church in 1967. The Civil Rights Act had been passed in 1964, and the Voting Rights Act in 1965, but Klan opposition to the federal legislation continued, with Laurel being the headquarters for Imperial Wizard Bowers. "The narrative derives its considerable power from the father's confrontation with his own cowardice," wrote Carol Polsgrove in the American Prospect. "Suspicious of the civil rights movement and the northern ministers who supported it, the Reverend Robert Marsh had believed in equality and justice but not in racial mixing—until a searing event shook his understanding of the world in which he lived," added Polsgrove.
In 1968, Reverend Robert Marsh agreed to present the Jaycee Man of the Year Award to Clifford Wilson, a local manufacturer who was active in civic affairs. Immediately following the banquet, Wilson and other Klan members were arrested and charged with the murder of Vernon Dahmer, a prosperous black man who had arranged for blacks to pay their poll taxes at his store. The Klan burned Dahmer's house and fired into the inferno, killing him. Reverend Robert Marsh was sickened by these events and considered leaving Laurel and accepting one of the teaching positions he had been offered. He visited Marcus Cooley, a black Baptist preacher, and told him that he was now free "to do what's right." Cooley replied that "a man isn't free when he takes a stand because he has nothing to lose. Surely you understand this. Surely you understand that until you are willing to lose everything, you will never know what it means to be free." Christian Century contributor Lovett H. Weems, Jr., felt that "Marsh's story reminds us of the heroic witness of African-American clergy. The Allen Johnsons and Marcus Cooleys of his town had counterparts in every community in Mississippi. They endured limited opportunities, abuse and violence. Yet they remained prophets of reconciliation, sought a better life for all children, and lived to get a small glimpse of the promised land they preached."
Marsh carried his shame and stayed on as pastor of the Laurel church. His sermons included references to racial justice, but at levels that would not threaten his position. Weems noted that "though fair-minded white clergy and laity did make a faithful witness, their efforts took place within such a constricted social context that the results tended to be marginal at best, even when those involved paid a high price for their courage." The minister participated in the integration of Laurel schools when they were desegregated in 1970, and his son attended an integrated public school. Mary Carroll wrote in Booklist that in this memoir, Marsh "seeks to come to accept his beloved father's inability to make certain social changes in the 1960s as well as appreciate those he did make."
Marsh revisits the Civil Rights movement in his 2005 title, The Beloved Community: How Faith Shapes Social Justice, from the Civil Rights Movement to Today. In this work he offers a "a fresh interpretation of the American search for authentic community in the decades since the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement and includes a narrative of the rise and fall of the evangelical counter-culture," according to Marsh's entry on the Project on Lived Theology Web site. Reviewing that work, a Publishers Weekly critic called it an "ambitious, wide-ranging book." David Stricklin, writing in the Journal of Southern History, felt "Marsh's work is perhaps most valuable in confounding stereotypes, some deeply cherished." Thus, he shows, for instance, that not all evangelicals or fundamentalist Christians are necessarily politically conservative. Chris Rice had similar praise for The Beloved Community in Christian Century, noting that "ultimately Marsh's is a profound theological argument about the nature of responsibility and social transformation in America's new racial time."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Marsh, Charles, God's Long Summer: Stories of Faith and Civil Rights, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1997.
Marsh, Charles, The Last Days: A Son's Story of Segregation at the Dawn of the New South, Basic Books (New York, NY), 2001.
American Prospect, April 23, 2001, Carol Polsgrove, review of The Last Days, p. 44.
Booklist, March 1, 2001, Mary Carroll, review of The Last Days, p. 1212.
Choice, January, 1995, R.L. Perkins, review of Reclaiming Dietrich Bonhoeffer: The Promise of His Theology, p. 806.
Christian Century, December 7, 1994, Paul Stroble, review of Theology and the Practice of Responsibility: Essays on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, p. 1167; April 22, 1998, Gary Dorsey, review of God's Long Summer: Stories of Faith and Civil Rights, p. 453; May 23, 2001, Lovett H. Weems, Jr., review of The Last Days, p. 19; August 9, 2005, Chris Rice, review of The Beloved Community: How Faith Shapes Social Justice, from the Civil Rights Movement to Today, p. 34.
Christianity Today, February 9, 1998, Randy Frame, review of God's Long Summer, p. 70.
Chronicle of Higher Education, December 12, 1997, D'Lena M. Ambrose, "God's Long Summer: Studying Faith in the Civil-Rights Movement," p. A10.
Church History, December, 1998, Merrill Hawkins, Jr., review of God's Long Summer, p. 824.
Cresset, August, 1997, review of Reclaiming Dietrich Bonhoeffer, p. 36.
Journal of Church and State, winter, 1999, Lewis V. Baldwin, review of God's Long Summer, p. 151.
Journal of Religion, October, 1997, Mark S. Brocker, review of Reclaiming Dietrich Bonhoeffer, p. 635; April, 2000, Lillian Ashcraft-Eason, review of God's Long Summer, p. 335.
Journal of Southern History, August, 2006, David Stricklin, review of The Beloved Community, p. 719.
Journal of Theological Studies, April, 1996, David Fergusson, review of Reclaiming Dietrich Bonhoeffer, p. 376.
Library Journal, March 1, 1998, Jack Forman, review of God's Long Summer, p. 104.
Modern Theology, January, 1996, George Hunsinger, review of Reclaiming Dietrich Bonhoeffer, p. 121; October, 1999, Michael G. Cartwright, review of God's Long Summer, p. 502.
Publishers Weekly, September 15, 1997, review of God's Long Summer, p. 69; March 5, 2001, review of The Last Days, p. 76; December 13, 2004, review of The Beloved Community, p. 63, Kerry Ose, "Rethinking Religion and Civil Rights," p. 64.
Social Forces, December, 1999, Pamela Oliver, review of God's Long Summer, p. 836.
Times Higher Education Supplement, June 5, 1998, John White, review of God's Long Summer, p. 26.
Project on Lived Theology Web site, http://livedtheology.org/ (September 29, 2006), "Project Staff: Charles Marsh—Project Director."
University of Virginia Web site, http://www.virginia.edu/ (September 29, 2006), "Charles Marsh, Ph.D."