Churches unite in call for United States to confront racism

(Photo: REUTERS / Joshua Lott)The casket containing the body of Michael Brown is carried to its final resting place in St. Peter's Cemetery located in St. Louis, Missouri, August 25, 2014. Family and supporters on Monday celebrated the life of Michael Brown, a black teenager slain by police in Ferguson, Missouri, with a music-filled funeral service and calls to remember him with peace and political change. Brown's body lay at the Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in a black and gold casket, topped with the St. Louis Cardinals baseball cap he was wearing when he was killed on Aug. 9 in nearby Ferguson by a white police officer.

Leaders from historically African-American Methodist churches have joined in Washington, D.C. to publicly call for the United States to confront racism and demand legal solutions to bring about racial equality.

Members of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, AME Zion Church, Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, and Union American Methodist Episcopal Church held a Sept. 1 and 2 event entitled "Liberty and Justice for All."

"With the election of the first black president in the United States, many people may think that the country has entered an era in which racism has ended," said Bishop Reginald Jackson, ecumenical officer and chair of the social action commission of the AME Church.

The meeting convened by churches, many of which belong to the World Council of Churches, was called to discuss criminal justice reform, education, economic justice, gun reform and voting rights, the WCC said.

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"Anyone who is honest and sincere cannot argue that the United States has made great progress in civil rights and race relations," said Jackson.

Participants discussed a "Male Investment Plan," a toolkit that guides African-American males ages 5-25 through a mentoring program related to academics, civil responsibility and spiritual formation.

"But people who think racism doesn't exist are simply not facing reality," Jackson noted.

"Many in the United States are in denial that racism is a major problem in this nation," he said.

"It is not only obvious and clear that racism must be confronted, it is also discrimination and bias built into laws and policies, the racism of being stigmatized and targeted because of the colour of our skin."

Christian Methodist Episcopal Bishop Lawrence Reddick; Bishop John Bryant of the AME Church, and Bishop George Battle of the AME Zion Church spoke together and worshipped in a united call to end racism.

A worship service was held Sept. 1, during which Bishop Reddick preached and a press conference was held in Washington, D.C. the following day to express the urgent need to address racism and plan the next steps.

Rev. Garland F. Pierce, senior assistant to the WCC general secretary, said on behalf of the WCC. "We stand in solidarity with the churches engaged in this important global effort, and will keep them in prayer as they continue their pilgrimage toward liberty and justice for all."

The movement to end racism must not be limited to the United States but must be a global effort, said Rev. Staccato Powell, event co-convenor and pastor of Grace AME Zion Church in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Powell is a member of the WCC's main governing body, its central committee.

"We will not go away but we are coming to initiate a movement that will permeate this entire nation, not just a nation but globally, we will connect with those who are our progenitors, who gave birth and rise to us," he said.

"We come to repent and confess for not being as active and proactive as we should have been long before now."

Kathryn Lohre, assistant to the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America said, "We are interconnected as the body of Christ.

"All of us are suffering together. I stand here today representing the solidarity of the churches and our inter-religious partners," she said.

"We believe that black lives matter - to us and to our Creator. We believe that our diversity - religious, racial or otherwise - is a God-given gift.

"We believe that our solidarity cannot be demonstrated by words alone but that our actions must speak louder than our words."

Churches were encouraged to celebrate Sunday, Sept. 6 as a Sunday of "Confession, Repentance, and Commitment to End Racism."

AFRICAN-AMERICAN METHODIST CHURCHES

This movement began at the end of 2015 at the call of the senior bishops of the historic African-American Methodist churches. It has gained momentum after a shooting massacre at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

On the evening of June 17, 2015, a mass shooting took place at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, United States.

During a prayer service, a gunman killed nine people, including the senior pastor, state senator Clementa C. Pinckney; a tenth victim survived.

The day after the attack, police arrested a suspect, later identified as 21-year-old Dylann Roof, in Shelby, North Carolina. Roof , a young white man confessed to committing the shooting in hopes of igniting a race war.

WCC general secretary Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit said he sees this movement as a critical part of a worldwide pilgrimage of justice and peace, in a letter commending their ongoing racial justice work.

"We feel that it is important that the WCC stands with the U.S. churches and particularly the historic black churches at this kairos moment in your country," he wrote.

"Please be assured of the prayers of our global fellowship as you offer a clarion call to end the systemic as well as relational sin of racism."

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