A few days ago, Fred Clark at Slacktivist posted a video of James Baldwin and Reinhold Niebuhr being interviewed in the wake of the 1963 Birmingham church bombing.
Fred also points to a Commonweal interview where Niebuhr comments on the white evangelicals of his own day, in words that are equally germane today:
One of the ironic facts of American history is that both slavery and post-slavery injustice prospered in the states that were formed by two kinds of idealism — a Jeffersonian idealism and evangelistic Protestantism. All the horrible racial cruelties that are practiced in Alabama and Mississippi are done by people who have been “converted” five, six, seven, or eight times. …
Then along comes Billy Graham for his great evangelistic meeting. His manner is bland and he’s a great biblicist. He speaks in a convincing way and, while the choir sings softly, he tells the people to pray and to give their heart to Christ and sign the decision card. He tells them in the words of St. Paul that “if any man be in Christ, he will be a new creature.”
This is fantastic, because it shows the weakness of Protestantism — individualism. It deals with collective sin, particularly the race question, in purely individualistic terms. You can’t overcome race prejudice by simply signing a decision card. Yet Billy Graham tells them that if they sign the decision card they will become “color-blind.” Why is it that we see no evidence of the color-blindness when these people leave the evangelistic meetings?
Fred comments: "What Niebuhr condemns here as “individualism” is the idea of religion — of “salvation” — without justice. He was as unconvinced of the possibility of such a thing as the prophet Isaiah was. ... Evangelical individualism, he believed, divorced love from justice, turning it into something sentimental and gormless and vapid."