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Spiritual Outlook: Black churches find strength in unity

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John 17:23, 1 Corinthians 12:12 and Psalms 133:1, along with scriptures like Micah 6:8 and Amos 5:24, describe the importance of unity, justice and freedom, which are scriptural guides for the electoral engagement of African-American churches. Although confessional diversity has always been a part of this family of churches, unity in Christ and a vision of freedom have informed the approach of these churches in their election priorities. After a long period of disenfranchisement, Reconstruction brought about voting rights in 1870. This act of Congress deepened these churches’ resolve to work together for economic and racial justice with the power of the ballot. John Hope Franklin writes that they reorganized their pre-existing coalitions and produced the first generation of political leaders in the Black community during Reconstruction. The early and mid 20th century saw this unity in the founding of such groups as the National Fraternal Council of Negro Churches in 1934 and, later, the civil rights movement.

Today, these churches continue to find ways to work together in unity among themselves and with partners in order to further their vision of freedom and justice with the power of the ballot. There are a host of local, state and national organizations, coalitions and movements led by African-American churches and organizations that include African-American church participation in their election work, including Bread for the World. Some of the current issues informing their electoral platforms are aligned with Bread for the World’s public policy agenda. These issues include issues relative to hunger and poverty. Such issues include criminal justice reform, retaining and increasing funding for food assistance for child and maternal health and nutrition, and increasing the minimum wage. This is evident in a relatively new unity movement called The Freedom Sunday Coalition, which has also developed the Faith Leaders Toolkit for Civil Engagement.

The coalition is comprised of leaders from the denominations of African Methodist Episcopal Church, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship International, National Baptist Convention USA, National Baptist Convention of America, Church of God In Christ, Progressive National Baptist Convention and independent organizational partners such as PICO National Network, African-American Ministers Leadership Council, Samuel Dewitt Proctor Conference Inc., the Global Alliance Interfaith Network and the Global United Fellowship. These leaders represent a network of more than 13 million people of faith across the United States. They are part of this united mission dedicated to year-round voter registration, education and mobilization on issues of importance to communities of color. In 2014, the coalition mobilized more than 3,500 churches, touched more than 1 million faith voters in six weeks leading up to the midterm election, and had an impact in increasing African-American voter turnout by 1–2 percent in Kentucky and Louisiana. The first Freedom Sunday was held on Sept. 25, 2016, and on Nov. 6, the second Freedom Sunday will be held to help ensure maximum voter participation by African-Americans.

 

Dr. Rev. Angelique Walker-Smith is the senior pastor for Pan African church engagement at Bread for the World in Washington, D.C.

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