Need for churches to act in their communities
In this excerpt, Mangum speaks at greater length on his belief in an imperative for Christians to be active in their communities. He describes some of his efforts to engage his church community in the problems faced by his county community. For example, he believes that a Christian vision supports unions, because unions are a way of securing better lives for workers.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Robert Lee Mangum, November 18, 2003. Interview U-0008. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Full Text of the Excerpt
MM: I was interested in what you said about some of the differences between the Indian and Black church, or Indian Christians and African-American Christians. I think there’s the perception of the Black church’s involvement in the Civil Rights Movement has been very directive and very assertive politically. Would you say that was true here in Robeson County as well?
RLM: Of Blacks being—yeah. Very much so. There were some Black leaders that were milking the system as much as possible without overly challenging the system, and pragmatism. There were others that were challenging the system with more risk, but Blacks essentially have been able to exploit the system for good, or to challenge and try to change the system for good.
Our Native American people have been doing that too over the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s like I’m saying, but the church often has allowed it to happen among Christians coalescing in caucuses rather than a local church being committed. Now we’re coming to the stage with the Healing Lodge where we are at the point where we’re trying to get the whole church to be open, committed, and aggressively engaged in the whole life of the community from the drug issue, to addiction, to STDs, abuse, and all of this, as a part of the Christian conscience and Christian holistic ministry. That’s beginning to happen.
In past years one of our major Indian denominations had a vote opposing the unionization of Converse [shoe factory], I think it was, years ago. Well, no matter what you believed, if you knew the labor movement you knew it came out of Christian vision, that people who are exploited at the workplace needed opportunities. As a church you should always want that to happen, and if unions would help make it happen rather than non-union bargaining with your employers then a union becomes necessary. It may not be the best thing in the world, but it may be better than exploitation that’s being perpetrated.
Unions can help a just cause. In this county where there were no unions at least as a church you don’t want to say, “We oppose the union,” because that was an opportunity for people to get a better opportunity to be treated with greater dignity, get better wages, etc., better benefits. There are a lot of efforts that have been made in this county that have proven well without unions. My concern is the worker, that the worker get the best opportunity possible to work with dignity and to make as much money as possible related to the type of job that they’re in compared to the cost of living and compared to the nation.
Typically in the South we’ve been denied, and our wages have been lower because we haven’t had unions, and you know that. I do, too. Unions can be corrupt. They can be as sinful as a snake, and I know that and you do too. But it was disappointing that one of our Indian denominations had a vote apparently in their official meeting that they opposed the unionization of Converse. That was my understanding.
MM: You see some movement in a slightly different direction there with the Healing Lodge?
RLM: Yeah, yeah. One of our leaders of a major denomination, a Native leader, said, “Folks, this is the church’s problem,” when little April Locklear Oxendine and Commander Craig Wilkins came to share with us. They came to us at our co-op, and we helped bring together over at the Baptist building an ecumenical group of people to hear what this terrible problem was in Robeson County, this STD problem two or three years ago. One of our Baptist leaders said, “Folks, this isn’t someone else’s problem. This is our problem, and as a church we must deal with our problem.” Boy, that’s a powerful statement.
The church is beginning to deal with life as it is, and the ways we can put our love into action to bringing about change for others. Not just treating the symptoms, but dealing with root causes. Why are people in this problem and in this trouble, and what can we do to empower people to get out of it?
I believe in a church that promotes Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and promotes personal salvation and personal spiritual growth, but I believe in a church that understands that God expects his people to be a people of justice, and of love, and of mercy. What does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? To do justice. Love, as John points out in his letter, “See people in need and say, ‘I’ll pray for you,’ or ‘God bless you.’” He said, “How can you expect that you’re loving people when it’s just in tongue and in word?” He said, “Love must show itself in action, in word. It must show itself in deeds, in action.”
So I believe wherever the church is being the church it not only is bringing people to a personal knowledge of Christ and the forgiveness of sins, it’s empowering people to care about each other and to care about the systems that affect people’s lives, and to work to bring about change in those systems, and to bring about redress to people’s circumstances, and to bring service to people wherever possible. Love must show itself in action.
I have a little saying that probably I borrowed and then adjusted it. But anyway, love is drawn by opportunity, not driven by obligation, and I think that’s where the church is. We have to respond to opportunity.
MM: Well, you’ve been a living example of it.
RLM: I’ve tried to be faithful, and I’ve been a team member. I’m no big daddy. I’ve been fortunate to be able to align myself with people who care, and people who want to see something happen, and who are task oriented like I am, and who believe it’s Christian, that this is God’s work, and that we must do all we can do while we live to bring about the change. That’s the way I’ve tried to act. There are times when I’ve had to be up front and pulling. As leader there’s times when I’ve tried to push. There are times when I’ve walked along side, but I’ve tried never to be a paternalist. I’ve tried to be a partner in the struggle, and I continue to try to be a partner.