Black Methodist leaders organize for justice

JAZELLE HUNT | 9/14/2015, 11:59 a.m.
Flanked by images of the nine men and women at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and the four ...
Rev. John Richard Bryant, senior bishop of African Methodist Episcopal Church, speaks at a National Press Club luncheon in Washington, Aug. 12, on the shooting at the historic Black Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in June where nine were killed. Bryant spoke again during the “Liberty and Justice for All” press conference at the press club, Sept. 2. Andrew Harnik

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Flanked by images of the nine men and women at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and the four little girls killed in the 1963 bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, among other victims of racial violence, a coalition of Black Methodist leaders stepped squarely into the current fight for racial justice.

The coalition announced its social and political goals via a “Liberty and Justice for All” press conference, held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

“We … are complicit due to our lack of follow-through. God alerted us in March of 2010 when we gathered in Columbia, South Carolina, to sound the alarm regarding the plight of African American males. Prior to Trayvon [Martin], prior to Eric Garner, prior to Michael Brown,” said Rev. Staccato Powell of Grace A.M.E. Zion Church in Raleigh, North Carolina.

“We were saying this then. However, to our own shame and detriment, we confess the lack of follow-through. We wrote the check, but failed to deposit the resources to make it a negotiable instrument of fact.”

Comprised of representatives from the African Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal Zion and Christian Methodist Episcopal churches, the coalition hopes to influence federal, state and local governments in changing biased and discriminatory policies. It also aims to call the faith community to political action.

About 150 clergy members, faith professionals, National Pan-Hellenic Council members, media and more – including Black Lives Matter affiliates and a relative of Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, one of the Charleston Nine victims – attended the press conference.

At the event, A.M.E., A.M.E. Zion and C.M.E faith leaders outlined a list of political demands, with criminal justice reform chief among them. Others included a reversal of biased drug laws, body cameras for all law enforcement and deployment of special prosecutors in cases when police kill unarmed civilians.

Other action areas included education reform, economic justice, gun control and a restoration of broad voting rights.

In tandem with its grassroots political approach, the coalition aims to have this agenda addressed during the 2016 presidential campaign. In November, Allen University in Columbia, South Carolina, an HBCU founded by A.M.E. church leaders, will host a Presidential Justice Forum in which all candidates will be invited to present their criminal justice platforms. Additionally, the presumed nominees of both parties will be invited to the general conferences of the A.M.E. and A.M.E. Zion churches in July 2016.

Coalition co-convener Bishop Reginald T. Jackson of the A.M.E. Church, who is based in northern New Jersey, announced that the coalition would be sending letters this week to request meetings with Congressional party leaders. The coalition also informally asked to be included on the agenda for the Congressional Black Caucus Leadership Conference next week in Washington, D.C.

“As people of faith we believe hearts can be changed. But the problems and consequences of racism cannot and should not wait for changes of heart alone. And as has been the case in the history of our nation, political leaders must act to do – in legislative action and fairness and equality – what changes of heart may be slow to do,” said Bishop Lawrence Reddick of the C.M.E. Church, also speaking at the press conference.

He and the other coalition leaders also called for an observance of “Confession, Repentance and Commitment to End Racism Sunday.” Held this past weekend, the day encouraged faith leaders to discuss racism and social responsibility with their congregations. Additionally, all faith leaders are encouraged to lead their congregations in National Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath Weekend, which will be observed Dec. 10 through Dec. 13.

The coalition also hopes to collaborate with community partners and other influential bodies to reach unchurched people in the community.

“The Black Church cannot do this alone. In fact, Bishop Reddick in his sermon last night addressed the fact that folks may not know Christ, may not be in our church, but they have something to contribute – and to their credit, have already contributed,” Jackson said. “We’re making a concerted effort that, this is not just for church folk, but this is for all of us – one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.”