More than 1,000 gather for 15th annual meeting in Washington, D.C.
by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Each spring, you can count on two things happening in Washington, D.C. — the blooming of cherry blossoms and the gathering of denominations for Ecumenical Advocacy Weekend. More than 200 members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) joined other denominations for a weekend of worship, workshops and activism, a few short blocks from the Pentagon.
The 2017 theme “Confronting Chaos: Forging Community, Challenging Racism, Materialism and Militarism” was based off of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech at Riverside Church in New York in April 1967. In his speech, King condemned the war in Vietnam and said “the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism,” were the principal challenges of the time. Organizers of this year’s advocacy weekend say those words still ring true 50 years later.
“When Dr. King spoke of the giant triplets 50 years ago, who would have believed we would still be facing the same giant triplets today?” Sharon Watkins, chair of the board of the National Council of Churches, asked during the opening plenary on Friday night. “Yet racism thrives. The killings of black and brown lives are still a reality today. We are here to say enough to the chaos of racism. We intend on being a part of the community of building justice, inclusion and hope.”
The keynote speaker for the opening plenary was Tamika D. Mallory, co-chair of the National Women’s March that drew more than 500,000 people to the nation’s capital in January. Mallory told the crowd at EAD that the church “needs to do more” than it is currently doing to meet today’s social justice challenges.
“Do we really get it? Do we understand that some of us are part of the problem?” she asked. “If we can own that, perhaps we can be and do what is necessary to move this country toward the beloved community we are seeking.”
Mallory said the past presidential election was personal to families across the country, referring to those who grew up in poverty or violent homes or those dealing with mass incarceration.
“There are disproportionate amounts of people in races and classes that are affected in ways that many of us will never experience. There are people in jail right now for a crime they didn’t commit and no one is there for them,” she said. “When I was little, the church was the first line of defense. Now you have young people on the ground by themselves standing in the face of militarism, being met with tanks in Ferguson instead of showing up with justice.”
Mallory told the crowd that young adults were doing what many in the church are “afraid to do” and urged the church to provide a collective response.
“It doesn’t mean sitting behind the computer or meeting in the basement of a church. It means going out there and standing between them and that which they fear the most,” she said. “Young people are on the street corners, trying to protect their own communities because we have left them to do it all by themselves.”
Mallory said the church needs to recapture its prophetic zeal or it will become an irrelevant social club with no moral authority.
“When I’m marching, I’m looking around asking what happened to the church. There may be some in here willing to put their bodies on the line for an issue, but it’s not enough,” she said. “Discomfort is what this is all about. If you say you are an activist and your stomach is not in knots, you’re not doing it right.”
On Saturday, attendees heard from government affairs groups on congressional budget priorities and the risks facing health care and Medicaid recipients. Eric Mitchell, director of government relations for Bread of the World, says U.S. foreign policy is motivated by national interests including economic and military.
“There is so much at stake right now both domestic and international,” Mitchell said. “In the 20 years I’ve been on the Hill, I’ve never seen such a tremendous threat to so many programs that save millions of lives than what we are seeing right now. God is calling us to be here at this critical moment.”
The Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer, general minister and president of the United Church of Christ, spoke on “Overcoming America’s Possessive Investment in Whiteness.” He addressed wealth, education and income disparities between whites and people of color.
“In 2009 when the economy collapsed, the impact on communities of color was three times larger than white communities because of the housing industry,” he said. “Regardless of where you are economically, if more than 10 percent of families in a neighborhood are families of color, your property value will drop. This is what causes white flight.”
Dorhauer says there is no excuse for white America to say they didn’t know, adding that the information is there.
“It is chosen ignorance that allows you to perpetuate the privileges you have because of the color of your skin,” he said. “It’s time to take down the veil of ignorance and see what needs to be seen. But seeing is only the first step.”
Dorhauer says that every institution created in America today is a byproduct of what occurred over 200 years ago. Whatever access people have to education, jobs, government and better neighborhoods derive from investment in “white-skinned privileges.”
The Peace & Global Witness Offering supports Presbyterian ministry engaged in the Christian witness of peacemaking and reconciliation. It invites individuals and congregations to deepen their involvement in God’s work of reconciliation in cultures of violence by providing educational resources, connections to global peacemaking leaders, and supporting advocacy efforts on the global level.
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Categories: Advocacy & Social Justice
Tags: Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic, compassion peace and justice, cpj, ead, ecumenical advocacy days, facing racism, office of public witness, pcusa, Peace and Justice, presbyterian, race, racism
Ministries: Compassion, Peace and Justice, Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries