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'Justice is connected to Jesus': Church leaders advocate for change

'Justice is connected to Jesus': Church leaders advocate for change

AACC Black Lives Matter Solidarity March

Marchers gather outside the state Capitol as part of a Black Lives Matter solidarity march June 7 organized by the African American Council of Churches.

In response to heightened awareness surrounding issues of racial injustice and disparity, 65 Madison pastors and church leaders have co-signed an open letter to the African American community and local pastors pledging to preach “against the sins of racism.”

“We felt like it was very important for churches to stand, specifically with the African American churches and community, and express sorrow for all that has happened and ask for forgiveness,” said City Church Pastor Tom Flaherty, who developed the letter. “These things keep happening in our country and we want to step up.”

Saying the church had not adequately addressed the issue in the past, Flaherty said in coming weeks his predominately white congregation will have a discussion led by a black member of the church on how it feels to be a person of color in the community.

“This thing about race is something that, if you’re a minority, then you are carrying this cross that white people don’t carry,” said Flaherty. “If we hear about it and we know about it, frankly then it lightens the burden just to have someone hear about it and say, ‘I care’.”

In the letter, released June 4, the pastors promise to “lead in the way of love, and to seek ways to heal the divisions that separate races and cultures in our region.”

“We resolve to listen to those who have been wounded and dehumanized by racism,” it said. “We resolve to pray fervently for God’s healing and reconciliation. We resolve to help our churches become more hospitable and welcoming communities to diverse people. And with the help of God, we resolve to be intentional about being agents of transformation in the systematic problems that we see in our community.”

Church leaders acknowledged the letter is just a start.

“This is an ongoing conversation,” said Carter Baldwin, director of Youth Ministries at Christ Presbyterian Church. “A lot of our conversation is that we’re not just going to be anti-racist and say, ‘So we’ve got to get more black people in here.’ We want to create an environment that truly is welcoming to all and doesn’t feel foreign.”

People of all religious backgrounds were called to action on June 7 to participate in a march organized by the African American Council of Churches. The letter, which urges white people and churches to lift up the voices of African American people, is a first step in acknowledging the in-person action church leaders feel is needed, Baldwin said.

“There is a direct connection between our faith and social justice,” Pastor Marcus Allen of Mt. Zion Baptist Church said in a sermon on Sunday posted to the church’s Facebook page. “This scripture is enhancing and empowering us to cry out for justice in the streets and in the church.”

Pastors who signed the letter focused their messages Sunday on acknowledging injustice within faith communities.

“Our churches will use our pulpits to speak about the evil of racism in our land and calling our congregations to love all human beings, all of whom have been created uniquely in the image of God,” their letter read.

For many, the question now is: How does the work continue following Sunday service?

“I don’t have the luxury of skipping over what’s going on in America that’s not involved with the current situation of our climate because I know what my people are enduring,” Allen said. In his church, whose members are predominately black and older than 60 — the weight of racial inequality and injustice is an unavoidable aspect of his messages on faith.

To live with justice and mercy and walk humbly in faith, one must also acknowledge, beyond prayer and donation, how change can be enacted, he said.

“What are our white counterparts saying to their community?” he asked. “What is our response to our community when we see black men are dying in the street, that people are unable to get homes, when black students from (the Madison School District) are not learning at the same rate as their white counterparts?”

Allen said he admired the other church leaders for signing the letter and continuing to ask for ways to help.

“Justice is connected to Jesus,” Allen said.

Photos: Black Lives Matter solidarity march

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