I’ve wanted a discussion of “powers and principalities” with regard to racism for a while… and Eugene Rivers has brought it!
To the extent that a biblical conception of supernatural forces informed King’s analysis of the challenges he faced and his strategic decisions regarding the direction of the movement, this aided his success. And whenever the movement failed to reckon with the entrenched principalities it was up against, this contributed to its failures.
Christians today must likewise adopt a more discerning posture and a supernaturally informed wisdom, recognizing the hold that the principality of white supremacy still has in the United States. We need a political theology of the Spirit building on the best traditions of King, incorporating both a radically biblical understanding of intercessory prayer and solidarity with the poor.
A lot of people critique Ta-Nehisi Coates’ recent work for its emphasis on white supremacy as a spiritual power; I find Coates’ descriptions pretty compelling, if unfortunately anemic due to his own disconnection from Christian tradition. If we can recognize white supremacy and racism as one of many powers and principalities influencing the spiritual and social direction of our world, then I think we will have a much stronger understanding of how to pray and work for reconciliation and justice.