African-American clergy speak out against proposed federal budget and health care plan

Group says African-American families stand to lose the most

by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE – An estimated 40 to 50 African American clergy gathered on Capitol Hill on Tuesday to speak out against what they call “the immoral” budget proposed by President Donald Trump as well as the “unjust” health bill that currently hangs in limbo. The group of ministers, including the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness, spoke at a news conference before heading to various Senate and congressional offices.

Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, with the Office of Public Witness, speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill. Photo by Ray Chen.

The faith leaders say the budget will have a negative impact on African-American families with proposed cuts in Medicaid and education, as well as community block grants and housing vouchers.

“We believe it will devastate life and most of all, it is unnecessary,” Hawkins said. “We don’t believe in just coming together to say some words. We are going to halls of the House of Representatives and Senate to lobby, advocate and talk with members of Congress against this budget.”

Other speakers at the news conference included Dr. Cynthia Hale, pastor of Ray of Hope Church, who spoke out on behalf of those who stand to be most impacted by Medicaid cuts.

“I am delighted to stand on behalf of those who cannot stand for themselves and lift my voice for those who have no voice. They are American citizens, senior citizens, disabled, men and women who work hard every day of their lives giving us services we rely on,” she said. “They are child-care providers, bus drivers, service providers, who make less than living wage and have no access to health insurance through employers. How can a nation that espouses equality and justice for all do this to our people?”

The Rev. Dr. Barbara William Skinner, co-chair of the National African American Clergy Network, said the group of denominations and mainline church bodies are speaking with one voice.

“We say no to a heartless immoral budget that snatches life-sustaining resources from children and the elderly. This is hardly the image of a great America,” she said. “We want to remind Congress that we are pastors from their districts and states, and whether we voted for them or not, they’re responsible to represent all of the people.”

The Rev. Dr. William Barber, who led the Moral Monday Movement, says America is in need of spiritual surgery.

“To have power and influence and not use it to promote policies of love and justice is immoral, it is hypocrisy and it is sin,” he said. “Bowing down and being silent are not options for us. Arrest us if you will, we’ll send more behind us.”

After the news conference, Hawkins led congressional visits with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.). He says the visits with staff went well.

“For many of the participants, it was the first time African-American clergy had gathered in Washington for advocacy in the form of meeting with members of Congress and talking about national and local concerns,” he said. There was a great deal of excitement generated by the events. This is the beginning of a new movement of social advocacy for the African-American church.”

The clergy represent national denominations, ecumenical organizations and local congregations. The group has also launched an aggressive social media campaign calling on Congress to withdraw the controversial health care bill with the hashtags #BlackClergyUprising and #BlackClergyVoices.

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