Black clergy, policymakers, civil rights leaders and others will gather Dec. 3 through Dec. 5 in Prince George’s County, Md., to design a plan of attack to address pressing concerns facing the Black community at the inaugural meeting of the Black Church Center for Justice and Equality.

Speakers are scheduled to include the Rev. Al Sharpton, founder of the National Action Network; Rev. William Barber III, president of the NAACP-North Carolina and founder of the Moral Monday Movement; Bishop Yvette Flunder of City of Refuge United Church of Christ; Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock, senior pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta; and Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner, co-founder and president of the Skinner Leadership Institute. The group will address this year’s theme, “Taking it to the Streets: Reviving the Black Church,” speaking to what organizers said has been a decline in the role of the Black church in effecting social change.

“I’ve felt for quite some time that it was critically important for us to reclaim the social justice tradition of the Black church,” said the center’s founder and president, the Rev. Dr. Delman Coates, Senior Pastor of Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, Md. “We have seen a proliferation of the megachurch movement across the nation in the past 25 years, but it has not resulted in a commitment to address social ills affecting the Black community.”

Poverty, unemployment, police brutality, LGBT equality, gun violence and access to quality healthcare are just some of the burdens borne by the Black community that need attention, Coates said. The situation in Ferguson, Mo., where a White police officer was recently not indicted for his fatal shooting of an unarmed African-American teen, is a perfect example.

“It is a metaphor for what is happening all over the country and we have to do a better job of making sure our community is ready for proactive action instead of reactive responses raising the profile of progressive African-American clergy and churches that are on the frontlines fighting for justice and equality on these issues,” said Coates, “When we bring together the best of the spirit of the Black Church with a commitment to social justice then we’ll see the kind of vitality in our community that we had in the past.”

One of the first steps to reclaiming the Black Church’s role in public life is reexamining its theology, Coates said. As a result, several theologians will be contributing to several workshops and lectures to foster better understanding.

“It is a comprehensive conference designed to address the theology of the church because African Americans aren’t going to respond to social justice issues if it is not in line with their theology,” said Coates. “In many respects, our theology has been co-opted by the very interests that seek to undermine our community. So, we have to reclaim our theology—a theology of liberation and social justice—and update it for the 21st century.”

The inaugural gathering of the Black Church Center for Justice and Equality will kick off with a town hall meeting at Mt. Ennon Baptist Church on Dec. 3 at 7 p.m. The remainder of the conference will feature plenary sessions, workshops and panel discussions at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Md.

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