‘Liberty and justice for all’

Black Methodist historic gathering issues clarion call: Churches encouraged to celebrate Sept. 6 as a Sunday of ‘Confession, Repentance & Commitment to End Racism.’

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Four historically African-American Methodist denominations issued a clarion call this week to end racism. They issued the call in a series of events here that concluded with a meeting at the White House Sept. 2.

Leaders of the Christian Methodist Episcopal (CME) Church, the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion (AME Zion) Church, and the Union Methodist Episcopal (UAME) Church joined to launch this initiative to make an end to racism a national priority. They issued their clarion call at a press conference at the National Press Club.

When President Obama was elected in 2008, pundits declared that the United States was entering a “post-racial era.” At the historic gathering of Methodist denominations here, AME Bishop Reginald Jackson, chair of the denomination’s Social Action Commission, reminded the crowd that with the gross inequalities that persist, and with vicious acts of race-based violence ongoing, a new struggle for “liberty and justice for all” should be the priority of churches across America.

Over the last six years, however, there has been an increasing and polarizing spirit in the nation motivated by race and racism seen in every area of American life. In a recent New York Times poll, over 60% of Americans believe that race relations have gotten worse during this period.

The predominantly African-American Churches have historically been the conscience of America, repeatedly moving the nation to act on important issues such as these. The Church must do it again. At the press conference the bishops of the nation’s largest and most influential predominantly African-American denominations boldly called upon the entire faith community to act together to confront the demonic spirit of racism.

Priority for all churches

“It seems that 239 years after our nation’s founding, and 151 years since the Civil War, we are still not ‘One nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all,’” emphasized Jackson. “It is also discrimination and bias built into laws and policies: the racism of being stigmatized and targeted because of the color of our skin … that must be confronted.”

Bishop Lawrence Reddick, CME senior bishop, announced the objectives of the “Liberty & Justice for All” campaign. Its agenda includes criminal-justice reform, education reform, economic justice, gun-safety reform, and voting rights.

“As people of faith, we believe hearts can be changed,” Reddick said. “But the problems and consequences of racism cannot, and should not, wait for changes in the heart alone. Political leaders must act to do in legislative action for fairness and equality what changes of heart may be slow to do.”

Core of the Gospel

Kathryn Lohre of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, called for all Christians to join in this partnership. She said it touches issues at the core of the Gospel. “All of us are suffering — all of us together,” she said. “We are called first to confess and repent for our complicity in racial injustice, and then to recommit ourselves to overcoming racism in our houses of worship, and in society.

The Rev. Dr. Stephen Sidorak, ecumenical staff officer for the United Methodist Church Council of Bishops, expressed his hope that The United Methodist Church would become full participants in this historic partnership of Methodist denominations.

Jim Winkler, chief executive of the National Council of Churches, brought the gathered crowd to its feet as he spoke. “Today, all Americans, whether they admit it or not, have to be prepared for the possibility each and every day they may be shot and killed or wounded, whether they are in Bible study in church, sitting in a movie theater or attending school, driving their car down the street, standing at a bus stop, or reporting on tourism for the local TV station,” he pointed out. “This is insanity. This is a crisis of faith that most houses of worship do not address in any way.”

Churches are encouraged to celebrate this coming Sunday, Sept. 6, as a Sunday of "Confession, Repentance & Commitment to End Racism.” A litany has been developed for use in congregational worship and can be found at End Racism.

Event supporters included the United Methodist and UAME Churches, the National Council of Churches, and representatives from communions that comprise the NCC, and the Conference of National Black Churches.

Editor's note: Since its founding in 1950, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA has been a leading force for shared ecumenical witness among Christians in the United States. The NCC's 37 member communions from a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African-American and Living Peace churches include 45 million persons in more than 100,000 local congregations in communities across the nation.