NCC-affiliated churches, their clergy, and members bridge the gap as protests gain momentum
At times, clergy have stood outside protests. In the wake of the Michael Brown and Eric Garner grand juries, clergy are leading them.
The latest wave of protests has stopped motor and rail traffic in Washington, New York, Chicago, and other cities across the United States. Thousands of people took to the streets immediately after New York grand jury’s verdict of “no-bill” last Thursday night. With a few exceptions, these protests have taken place on a massive scale without violence.
At a meeting of the National Council of Churches’ governing board in St. Louis in November, a panel of pastors and community leaders spoke a week before the Ferguson grand jury had declined to indict Officer Darren Wilson. Reflecting on the days of protest that had preceded, the panel pointed out that religious communities had played a key role in the protests.
“They want their voices to be heard, and if those of us who have lived relatively comfortable lives all of our lives have to be inconvenienced for their voices to be heard, I think that’s a fair trade-off,” said Rev. Traci Blackmon of Christ the King United Church of Christ in Florissant, MO, referring to the thousands of young people engaged in the protests. "My prayer is that there is no violence, because violence never wins."
Rev. Willis Johnson, pastor of Wellspring Church, a United Methodist congregation in Ferguson, drew from the story of the Exodus in a recent reflection on the protests, often cited in calls for justice.. “Without their civil resistance and resoluteness for the sake of the Hebrew boys, there would be no Moses for any of us. These outsiders’ acts of simple heroism echo in the prayer/protest, ‘Black lives matter.’”
Protests have spread beyond Ferguson and New York to envelop America’s largest cities including Philadelphia, Washington, DC., and Berkeley, where protests have turned violent. Chicago’s Otis Moss, III, pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ, senses a new spirit of engagement in the youth of his congregation.: “The young people were excited because for many of them this is the first time they were a part of a movement,” Moss stated. “They could take their anger, their energy, their frustration and put it into something positive.”
In the days that followed the grand jury decision not to indict Daniel Panteleo in the death of Eric Garner in New York, many NCC member communions issued statements calling for accountability for police officers when they kill.
In a statement, 34 American Baptist leaders decried “the evolving national pattern of erecting “blue walls” of immunity and lack of accountability in far too many of our police forces... It is an outrage when excessively reactive responses on the part of law enforcement officers, who should be trained as professionals, result in loss of life.”
National Council of Churches General Secretary Jim WInkler stated, “I am asking our member churches to engage in a sustained and honest discussion on the ways that systemic racism is a major element that has led to the situation in Ferguson, and New York, and across our nation today.”
NCC member communions the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, and the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church are joining together in an action in which members are asked to wear black in worship this Sunday “in solidarity with the message that ‘Black Life Matters.’” Participating congregations are being asked to tweet photographs using the hashtag, #BlackLivesMatter.
A list of relevant statements follows.
The National Council of Churches:
African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church:
Progressive National Baptist Convention: http://storage.cloversites.com/progressivenationalbaptistconvntioninc/documents/PROGRESSIVEBulitinfinal.pdf
Evangelical Lutheran Church of America:
Presbyterian Church (USA):
Other Churches or Christian Organizations:
American Friends Service Committee: http://afsc.org/story/mo-grand-jury-shows-impact-systemic-racism
Black Methodists for Church Renewal: http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/a-response-from-ferguson-justice-postponed
Methodist Federation for Social Action: http://mfsaweb.org/?p=8381
Reconciling Ministries Network: http://www.rmnblog.org/2014/11/fergusondecision.html
Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference: http://sdpconference.info/samuel-dewitt-proctor-conference-response-to-the-refusal-to-prosecute-darren-wilson-for-killing-michael-brown-jr/?utm_source=SAMUEL+DEWITT+PROCTOR+CONFERENCE+RESPONSE+TO+THE+REFUSAL+TO+PROSECUTE+DARREN+WIL&utm_campaign=%23FAILURE+TO+INDICT&utm_medium=email
Washington National Cathedral: http://www.nationalcathedral.org/press/PR-6UV5I-25001C.shtml
National Religious Campaign Against Torture: http://nrcat.org/about-us/nrcat-press-releases/1035-statement-after-the-ferguson-grand-jury-decision
Other Faith Based Organizations:
Council on American Islamic Relations: http://www.cair.com/press-center/press-releases/12741-cair-calls-for-national-action-on-racism-after-ferguson-grand-jury.html
Central Reform Congregation: http://zeek.forward.com/articles/118430/
Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism: http://rac.org/Articles/index.cfm?id=23647&pge_prg_id=18080&pge_id=2541
Unitarian Universalist Association: http://www.uua.org/news/pressroom/pressreleases/299350.shtml
Unitarian Universalist Service Committee: http://www.uusc.org/updates/a-national-tradegy
Religions for Peace USA: http://www.rfpusa.org/rapid-response/
Local and Regional Councils of Churches and Ecumenical Organizations:
Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon: http://www.emoregon.org/pdfs/Press/2014_EMO_statement_Ferguson_grandjury.pdf
NCC News contact: Steven D. Martin: 202.412.4323 or email@example.com