Last year, in the wake of two shootings that brought issues of race to the fore, the Conference of National Black Churches decided to convene its first “National Consultation” in Charleston. The event, called “The Healing of Our Nation,” was meant as a grassroots, faith-based response to racism and violence, an effort “to move beyond cheap grace toward true reconciliation.”
The multi-denominational, interracial event brought many together to confront the issues, “but we left feeling that it was not complete,” said Conference Chairman W. Franklyn Richardson. And in the intervening year, things got worse in America. “There’s a new tension in the air caused by the election.” The Trump administration and the president-elect’s rhetoric and recent appointments “suggest hostility toward the area of race,” he said.
So the Conference of National Black Churches, a national alliance of eight denominations and 30,000 congregations representing about 70 percent of black churchgoers, is coming back to the Holy City this month.
The three-day Consultation event, this time called “From Anger to Answers: Race and Reconciliation in America,” runs Dec. 13-15 at the Charleston Marriott Hotel on Lockwood Drive. An ecumenical service is planned for 7 p.m. Dec. 13 at Emanuel AME Church, 110 Calhoun St.
All are invited to attend the service and participate in the consultation. Registration costs $149. Go to http://thecnbc.org.
This year’s event was planned and named before the election of Donald Trump, but now seems more urgent than ever, organizers said. It will take place not just in the immediate aftermath of one of the nation’s most contentious presidential elections, but at the same time the Michael Slager and Dylann Roof trials are underway. Slager is the white North Charleston police officer who shot and killed Walter Scott, an unarmed black man, on April 4, 2015. Roof is accused of killing nine black parishioners at Emanuel AME Church on June 17 last year.
The first day of the meeting will be devoted to an exploration of the anger that’s percolating among blacks and whites, and the sources of that anger, according to Richardson. Day Two will include a morning presentation on hatred and fear, a panel discussion on racism from a white perspective and an afternoon session that will consider how civil rights leaders respond to current social, economic and political issues.
Representatives of the Urban League, NAACP, National Action Network and the Black Women’s Roundtable (a civic engagement network of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation) will participate in the meeting. Scholar and pundit Michael Eric Dyson will offer closing remarks.
Richardson said he was deeply discouraged by the appointment of Steve Bannon, an enabler of white supremacy, as Trump’s chief strategist. News of other major appointments — charter school advocate Betsy DeVos for head of the Department of Education, Obamacare opponent Rep. Tom Price for head of the Department of Health and Human Services, and Sen. Jefferson Beauregard “Jeff” Sessions III for attorney general, whose anti-immigration stance and alleged past racism doesn’t sit well with many blacks — is not providing much reason for optimism, Richardson said. All advocate positions that don’t serve the interests of most blacks.
“There is no acknowledgement by Trump that race is an issue,” he said. “So the church ought to be the place where we can lead the way.”
What do he and his collaborators hope to accomplish? First, to “climb over barriers that usually keep us from engagement,” he said. Second, “to create space for people to articulate their anger in a civil way.” And third, to create a covenant — a signed agreement — that obligates church leaders to organize similar interracial, ecumenical conversations within their communities.
Community engagement already has grown locally thanks to the Charleston Area Justice Ministry, noted the Rev. Nelson Rivers, pastor of Charity Missionary Baptist Church and vice president of religious affairs and external relations for the National Action Network. Though the Justice Ministry, an alliance of about 30 congregations dedicated to addressing social and economic justice issues, still isn’t as diverse as he’d like it to be. There are no Baptist congregations involved, and no United Methodists, for example.
“I never thought we’d be where we’re at right now,” Rivers said.
Jacqueline Burton, president of the Conference of National Black Churches, said she has reached out to many people, including members of the younger generation and one angry AME bishop who questioned the purpose of the convention. Angry voices are also necessary, she assured him.
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SOURCE: The Post and Courier – Adam Parker