Bishop Darin Moore, Chair of the Governing Board of the National Council of the Churches says his group has been deeply involved in the civil rights struggle for decades.
“Their history involves their early support for the civil rights movement including being present with Dr. King at virtually all of his marches,” he tells the AFRO. “They even started and established a bail fund for those who were protesting civil rights to help bail them out if they were arrested. So they have a very strong history of being involved with justice issues,” he says.
Nowadays, many of the 100,000 member churches are tackling the civil rights causes of police brutality and criminal justice reform. However, these dangerous and racially charged times demand even more of a commitment.
“We came to the place where we recognized that although our individual , many of them had made statements repenting of racism within their churches…as the National Council of Churches, we felt compelled to engage in some truth telling about the complicity of the predominately white churches with regard to the issues of racism and white privilege.” The NCC is made up of churches from 38 Christian faiths.
That’s where the Council’s upcoming A.C.T. to End Racism rally comes in. It’s scheduled for April 3-5 in Washington, D.C.
The event coincides with the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, and that is not a coincidence. “It’s time to finish the work,” reads a statement on the event’s website.
A.C.T. stands for awaken, confront, and transform – the things that members of the Council say must happen before racism in this country can be defeated. That means awakening those who may not know that racism is still an ever-present threat, confronting it head on, and transforming the way that we all think about race and the things that separate us.
Rev. Sharon Watkins, the National Director of the National Council of Churches’ Truth and Racial Justice Initiative says she knows that is a big task.
“We know that White people and people of color live different experiences in this nation and that’s not the way we need to be in the United States of America,” she says over the phone, a little less than a week before the event is set to take place. “So we want White people to wake up to this reality and to claim our privilege and to claim that we can be critical allies in helping to make our world and our nation a better place.”
They will do that person by person, community by community.
“In every city, and every hamlet and town of our country, there are faith communities, there are congregations,” she says. “So a big task like this, we think we can address congregation by congregation and our plan is to awaken through truth telling about the reality of racism that still exists today, to confront the realty by right action that right the wrongs and that way we will transform our nation into the United States we have always thought we would be.”
Watkins says that she and other leaders feel that church members and leaders have a special call to tackle the problem of racism –that they have no choice but to take up this work.
“We really understand that we are involved in a moral struggle that comes out of our faith,” she says “God created all people with equal dignity and it is up to us to treat people in that way and to move our communities – our faith communities and our national communities – toward living out that reality that all are created equal.”
The event will feature religious services, a prayer walk, and big names like singer Yolonda Adams, actor Danny Glover, and activist DeRay Mckesson.
“We wanted to have people who can speak to different aspects to how it is we are going to end racism, who can talk to the morality of it, and who can talk to the way that racism is institutionalized,” Watkins says. “Racism is personal and institutional. So the question of how a young man holding a cell phone can be shot 20 times by police bullets in his grandmother’s backyard is the kind of question that to us must be addressed. Where is the personal reality in that? Where is the institutional reality that is bigger than any one person?”
“So,” she continues, “we wanted speakers who can talk to the oral call, to the call to do right, people who can inspire us. It is a big job and our biggest enemy sometimes is cynicism and despair.”
She says that she and other organizers have made sure that the event is not just centered in one type of religion. The National Council of Churches have partnered with people from all over the religious spectrum, including the Franciscan Action Network, the Religious Action Center of Reformed Judaism, and the group Religions for Peace.
“They have practically all the major religions of the world as part of their membership,” Watkins says of Religions for Peace. “So through them we also have Sikhs and Buddhists and others who are also part of this.
Watkins also stresses that this is only the beginning. The Council of Churches plans a multi-year initiative where they will look for the ways racism perpetuates itself in church life, help churches make changes, and advocate for policies and laws that address racism in the criminal justice system, among other things.
She hopes that people will come to D.C. looking to do the work, looking to chose hope over cynicism.
“Come to the rally…and be inspired, be motivated, meet other people who like you see a better world and want to join hands and make it happen,” she says. “This is not the kumbaya joining hands, this is the joining hands of hard work together. Looking each other in the face, telling the hard truth about what we experience and then identifying how we work on it together.”
Find out more about the National Council of Churches and the event at rally2endracism.org