The Conference of National Black Churches, a coalition of the eight historically Black denominations, meeting in Charleston, S.C. under the theme, “The Healing of our Nation: Race and Reconciliation,” issues the following statement:
“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, Because the LORD has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn,” (Isaiah 61:1-2 NKJV)
Senior church leaders, clergy and lay, representing more than 20 million African American members in the following denominations: African Methodist Episcopal Church, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, Church of God in Christ, Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship International, National Baptist Convention of America International, National Baptist Convention U.S.A., and Progressive National Baptist Convention; have convened and consulted, worshiped and worked, prayed and planned, studied and strategized, to develop a consensus on naming racism, confessing the reality of racism’s virulent and lingering damage to the humanity of all, and to chart a course of conduct over the next three years to work towards true justice and reconciliation. Our gathering included a powerful Ecumenical Worship Celebration at Mother Emanuel AME Church, where in June of this year, nine men and women were martyred in an act of racial terrorism.
Participating in this week’s Worship Celebrations and Consultation were leaders from the National Council of Churches USA, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church, USA, The United Methodist Church, and the Episcopal Church. In addition, members of the United Church of Christ, The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) US and Canada, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and American Baptist Churches USA were also present. Other denominational leaders who could not be present sent word of their support and willingness to join us in the fight against racism. These predominately white denominations are welcomed partners in honest conversation and continuing engagement as we challenge one another to do the often painful, but essential work of confronting institutional, individual, and internalized racism.
There is a pernicious “Value Gap” between black and brown lives and the lives of our white brothers and sisters in America that demands an end to the sin of silence, apathy, and cultural co-opting of the contemporary church. The CNBC refuses to betray our legacy of spiritual transformation inextricably connected to social activism. We have throughout our history, and continue to affirm, that Scripture must be viewed through a hermeneutical lens of justice and liberation.
As ambassadors of Christ, we are called to a ministry of reconciliation. During this consultation we have begun to live out this call with a cross-racial dialogue among ourselves and with our sister denominations. We have opened the door to authentic conversation and relationship with one another that we might begin to root out the deep-seeded causes of racial hatred and violence as well as the lingering vestiges of racism that have sprouted up in education, housing, employment, the criminal justice system and in every aspect of our lives.
We commit to continue the dialogue and deep conversation that has begun during this consultation in our local churches, where we are calling on our member congregations to reach out to churches in their communities from different racial and ethnic backgrounds and engage in honest and thoughtful dialogue, corporate worship and fellowship and in opportunities for collective ministry efforts. By doing this, we hope to build and strengthen relationships across the racial divides in ways that do not diminish the rich genius of our diversity, which confirms our authentic unity and responds to Jesus’ prayer in John 17 that we would be one.
Black Lives Matter
The churches that comprise the Conference of National Black Churches are rooted in redemptive revolution and resistance to oppression and as such, we stand in solidarity with a new generation of activists who are defiantly affirming the value of black lives. Smartphones and video cameras have brought to light painful realities long known in the black community: the injustice of arbitrary abusive policing and state sponsored violence that treats black lives as disposable. The criminal justice system continues to be criminal and unjust in its’ devaluing of black life.
We salute Black Lives Matter activists for courageously refusing to accept second class citizenship. We stand with the Black Lives Matter movement and applaud their determination to disrupt the status quo of racial and social control. The politics of disruption has prophetic roots, from the woman called Moses, Harriet Tubman, to Martin Luther King, Jr., and to which the CNBC proudly is an heir. The CNBC counts itself as a prophetic partner with the Black Lives Matter movement and warn this nation that without justice there will be no peace.
Economic Inequity and Gun Violence
It has been said that a civilized society is best measured by how it treats the poor and vulnerable. America has been a dismal failure in this regard, particularly towards black and brown people in our country. Nationally, over 20% of our children live in poverty. That number more than doubles in the African American community. The history of racial inequality and economic injustice in the United States continues to challenge the nation and disenfranchise communities of color across the length and breadth of the nation. Economic disparities based on race and its root causes must be honestly confronted in order to advance a collective goal of equal justice for all.
Poverty is an insidious, devastating, and life threatening reality that causes African Americans to disproportionately suffer. Fueled by the lack of economic opportunity, quality education, and proper health care, poverty breeds crime, violence, disenfranchisement and permanent barriers for gainful employment, which maintains an ever increasing underclass. Within this underclass are millions of low-income young people who have been written off by society as hopeless, worthless, and expendable. Poverty, produced and maintained in African American communities on the basis of racial discrimination is a form of economic violence. Tragically, crime and violence are dysfunctional responses to economic violence.
Our communities have also been disproportionately impacted by gun violence. We view this as residue of the economic wasteland and despair that plagues our neighborhoods. The slaughter of our youth and the ever increasing body count must end. We commit to a comprehensive strategy that reduces the access to guns while fostering a sense of hope and opportunity for our youth.
The U.S. leads the world in incarceration with 2.2 million people currently serving time in prisons and jails…a 500% increase over the last 40 years. More than 60% of those who are incarcerated are people of color. Black men are nearly six times as likely to be incarcerated as white men and Hispanic men are 2.3 times more likely to go to jail. For black men in their thirties, 1 in every 10 is in prison or jail on any given day. Additionally, the “Prison Industry” (the building of prisons to advance economic endeavors) has arguably become one of the most lucrative industries of our time.
According to Michelle Alexander in the groundbreaking book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, “Like Jim Crow (and slavery), mass incarceration operates as a tightly networked system of laws, policies, customs, and institutions that operate collectively to ensure the subordinate status of a group defined largely by race.”
Given the aforementioned factors, the CNBC decries the abhorrent practices inculcated in the U.S. penal system. The current structures are designed to perpetuate a “minority class of the incarcerated.” It is therefore our mission to identify and dismantle unjust laws and practices that unfairly target minority individuals for the express purpose of economic gain of the perpetrators and architects of this manner of oppression.
The Silence of the Church and the Acrimonious Tone of Politics in this Nation
As representatives of the historical African American churches, we denounce the blatant disrespect and disregard shown to the President of the United States of America. He is the President of us all and the unprecedented vitriol directed toward him from certain factions has contributed to the debasing of honest political differences. Such has been apparent from the halls of the U. S. Capitol, where a congressman from this very state, pierced the sanctity of the State of the Union Address with the brutish scream, “You lie!” in violation of all rules of civil discourse. This perverse attitude, like a toxin, spread to a Supreme Court Justice at a subsequent State of the Union who registered his personal disdain with exaggerated facial distortions and body contortions. The toxin spread further becoming manifested in racist epithets being expressed at Tea Party events, on social media, and even recently by two commentators on a cable news network. Is it any wonder that the candidate currently leading in the polls of Republican Primary Voters is one who engages in vial, demeaning language towards the President, immigrants, women, the physically challenged, and anyone else who becomes the object of his disdain and derision? While there may arise false prophets, like Balaak in the Old Testament, who lust after fame and fortune rather than remaining faithful to our ethic of love, justice, and mercy, we, the leaders of the historically Black Churches remain “un-bought and un-bossed.”
Coming forth from this Consultation, we issue a clarion call to our constituency to remain committed to engage in the electoral process. We must redouble our mutual efforts at voter education and registration, holding every candidate regardless of political party, accountable for addressing unambiguously the issues of race, poverty, justice, and inequality. Our Conference rejects and denounces out of our Christian ethic any candidate who employees divisive rhetoric or tactics designed to incite fear, hatred, religious bigotry and racial resentments.
In 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr., sitting in his jail cell in Birmingham responded to white moderate clergy with these words: “The contemporary church is often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch-supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent and often vocal sanction of things as they are.” The church he lamented, is “…largely adjusted to the status quo, standing as a taillight behind our community agencies rather than a headlight leading [persons] to higher levels of justice.” In far too many incidents, it is a painful reality that Dr. King’s words still ring true today.
Often, the church is still silent on the issues of race and justice. Yet, this Advent Season reminds us that the promise of God is that One would come who would establish justice. The prophet declares the WARNING; “Thus he shall judge the poor with equity and decide with justice for the lowly of the land. (Isaiah 11:4).” Therefore; the church cannot continue in the sin of silence. WARNING: We must “Hate evil and love good, And establish justice in the gate.” WARNING: We must protest and cry out until justice wells up like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Rachel Noerdlinger 212-681-1380
Historic African American Denominations Call for Cross Racial Dialogue, Begins Initiative to End Racial Hatred, Disparities and Violence
Charleston, S.C., Dec. 17, 2015—The Conference of National Black Churches released a statement today at the conclusion of their 2015 National Consultation, “The Healing of our Nation: Race & Reconciliation,” which focused on race and reconciliation. The statement calls the member churches of the eight historically African American denominations, along with sister denominations from predominantly White traditions, to intentionally engage in dialogue, worship and ministry efforts together as a mechanism for reconciliation and to tear down the lingering vestiges of racism that are so pervasive in American society. In addition, the statement calls out the hateful rhetoric currently coming out of the presidential campaigns and urges African Americans to register and vote in 2016.
According to the statement, “There is a pernicious “Value Gap” between black and brown lives and the lives of our white brothers and sisters in America that demands an end to the sin of silence, apathy, and cultural co-opting of the contemporary church. The CNBC refuses to betray our legacy of spiritual transformation inextricably connected to social activism. We have throughout our history, and continue to affirm, that Scripture must be viewed through a hermeneutical lens of justice and liberation.”
Nearly 300 people have gathered in Charleston this week for the Consultation, which has included speakers who addressed racial hatred, white privilege, poverty, gun violence, mass incarceration and the criminal justice system as well as racism in the church and the road to reconciliation. Those gathered engaged in “truth-telling” and honest dialogue about how to root out institutional, individual and internalized racism. A corporate worship service at Mother Emanuel AME Church, where the massacre of nine faithful worshipers in June by a white assailant who wanted to start a race war, set the tone for participants in the National Consultation to begin a new era of cross-racial dialogue and to come up with new solutions for the pervasive impacts of racism in America.
The CNBC has issued a three-year initiative to engage in cross-racial dialogue on the local level in partnership with sister denominations, to work with seminarians to come up with new solutions for ending racism and to continue to fight the systems that continue to perpetuate racism and inequality for African Americans.
THE CONFERENCE OF NATIONAL BLACK CHURCHES (CNBC) PRESENTS
THE HEALING OF OUR NATION: RACE & RECONCILIATION
A CROSS – RACIAL DIALOGUE
DECEMBER 15-17, 2015
Charleston Marriott 170 Lockwood Boulevard Charleston, SC 29403
DON’T MISS IT! REGISTER TODAY!
CNBC is comprised of the national leaders of the eight largest historically Black denominations in America. The organization represents more than 70% of the African American Christians across this nation. Our mission is to serve as a unified voice of black religious bodies that seeks to improve the quality of life for African Americans and other underserved populations. We are convinced that this national gathering will inspire local efforts, as well as cement CNBC as a permanent point of coordination in the ongoing struggle against racism.
The Conference of National Black Churches (CNBC)
The Conference of National Black Churches has a long history of working to convert Faith into Advocacy. Thus, by calling and conscience, we offer our humblest, heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims of the senseless shooting at historic Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, an evil act resulting in the deaths of its pastor and eight of its members. We offer our prayerful concern for the three survivors of the senseless attack.
The African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church is one of the founding members of CNBC, and has been a steady partner in our continuing mission of Advocacy for just causes. Even so, when one of our number has been hit, we all feel the pain.
The Conference of National Black Churches is a collaborative group of eight historic Black Christian denominations speaking to the multiple and systemic ailments in our culture. Our mission is advocacy regarding matters pertaining to social justice issues, public policy, health, hunger, economic empowerment, violence and education on behalf of millions of our congregants and to the benefit of persons who are without church affiliation.
CNBC is therefore compelled to lift its collective voice in sympathy with the Mother Emanuel AME Church, a tragedy so extraordinary as to defy logic. It was an assault on black life in America, in the continuing struggle for justice and equality long denied, and where senseless violence has been the norm. It was the full definition of evil that brought a misguided young adult, welcomed into a Bible study, and too intentionally, ruthlessly killed his hosts.
No one could have imagined that such an atrocity would be unleashed on a small group of people practicing their faith. It is difficult to fathom why and how such a thing could happen in what is alleged to be an advanced civil society. We should only hope and pray that our world is not reverting to the chaos of lawlessness.
While this tragedy has cut our individual communions to the core, it is necessary that even as we mourn, grieve and pray, we must lift the collective voices represented in CNBC to call attention to several lingering concerns. In the days since that awful night of death and despair, we have reason to feel hopeful about the future on the following public policy matters:
The Confederate flag and Race in America
The Confederate flag is still a contentious symbol of bigotry, hatred and treason flying at the State Capitol in South Carolina and at many county courthouses. It is still an offensive symbol for African Americans in particular and for people of goodwill in general. It is representative of a painful era of our nation’s history. We join with a swelling chorus of voices in saying to the state legislature that the time has come to remove the flag from view at the Capitol. Tax payers should not be forced to see it as they pass to do business at the Capitol or anywhere on public property as the continuing symbol of oppression and misery, upholding injustice as the norm for Black humanity.
Sensible Gun Laws
We also call for sensible gun laws. We believe many lives could be saved when guns are not so accessible. President Obama has been accused by the political right of politicizing these tragic deaths by invoking the nation’s attention to a conversation that should lead to meaningful legislation on gun ownership around the second amendment of the constitution; a policy which at a minimum should include a serious background check. So be it; we stand with the logic and concern of the President. The shooter at Mother Emanuel was a disaster waiting to happen, and it did.
Security at Churches
The conversation has already begun to find ways to have meaningful security at our churches. With the callous act at Mother Emanuel, we know that not everyone shares our worldview about sacred space and will take advantage of what is normative for our congregations, a welcoming environment. It is unfortunate that our sanctuaries and sacred spaces are routinely disrespected. It is our hope that the Church can preserve its open door policy without the threat of unwelcomed intrusion and without having to resort to practices that are antithetical to our essential message of love and faith, peace and goodwill for all.
Again, we offer our sincere prayers on behalf of the families of the Emanuel Nine, and for the congregants and ministry of Mother Emanuel Church. We pray that our gracious God will bring healing and comfort that God alone can give, and will inspire progress for good out of this appalling tragedy.
“In the Conference of National Black Churches (CNBC) we have inherited a great legacy of faith from our fore bearers who stepped up to the ecumenical challenge and who understand that though we are many, we are one. We are one in our attempt to lift Christ through the prism of hunger, social justice/public policy, health, economic empowerment, anti-violence and education on behalf of millions of our people. This is a daunting task especially in these harsh economic times, but we must remain faithful.”
Dr. W. Franklyn Richardson, Chairman, CNBC Board of Directors