A new local black clergy organization apologized Thursday to the “marginalized members of the black community” in response to tensions between some ministers and Black Lives Matter members in the Twin Cities.
Black Clergy United for Change offered an apology to millennials and members of the gay and transgender communities, especially black youths, for what they said is the disparaging attitude of some of the established leaders in the black church.
Intergenerational tensions erupted in the wake of the fatal shooting of Jamar Clark in north Minneapolis in November, which prompted an encampment at the Fourth Precinct station by Black Lives Matter supporters.
“It earmarked our coming together,” Elle Babington Steele, founder and lead pastor at REACH, said at a news conference. “It was time to get on the ground, get out there. And as we did, we recognized immediately that it was a call to join together and then to stand.”
The new group says that some longtime leaders have made unjustified remarks about members of Black Lives Matter, including women and members of the gay and transgender communities.
At the news conference, Black Clergy United for Change described itself as “a collective of black clergy committed to the work of racial justice and social transformation in urban communities and abroad.” The group was founded in December, Steele said.
Pastor Danny Givens Jr., founder and senior pastor of Above Every Name Ministries, said some black clergy have been dismissive and preached a “gospel of intolerance,” criticizing gay and transgender people and women in leadership roles within Black Lives Matter.
Some of the local clergy leaders “want to co-opt the [Black Lives Matter] movement by presenting an olive branch and unity in order to promote their own agenda,” Givens said. “These are preachers who have been doing this for 30 years or more and they don’t want to make room for the next generation of faith leaders.”
He said those clergy “have a problem with the young folk in the queer and trans community who have been leading this movement towards justice for blacks and people of color.” Givens is the clergy liaison to Black Lives Matter Minneapolis.
A generational divide
Nekima Levy-Pounds, president of the Minneapolis NAACP, said the apology is part of an attempt to promote greater inclusivity in the black church.
“This is a bold statement by young black clergy in an effort to make marginalized groups feel as though they have allies within the black church,” Levy-Pounds said. “There is at times a generational divide within the African-American church, and this young clergy is trying to bridge the gap between young churchgoers and the black church, which has been traditionally viewed as more conservative.”
Lena Gardner , Black Lives Matter Minneapolis organizer, commended the organization for its efforts Thursday, thanking ministers for reaching out.
“Personally, as the queer black granddaughter of a Black Baptist preacher who wrote a book condemning homosexuality, BCUC’s message brought tears to my eyes and touched my heart,” Gardner wrote in a statement to the Star Tribune.“I hope they will continue to work with us and collaborate with us as we fight for our collective black liberation.”
Ron Edwards, who has been active in the local civil rights movement for more than 60 years, questioned whether the black leaders at the news conference are taking the right approach.
“This is clearly an attempt to heal a very serious breach within the black ecumenical community,” Edwards said. “This group has been talking for a number of weeks about a process of healing and bringing different factions together for reconciliation. Will it work? Only time will tell.”
Bishop Richard D. Howell Jr., who has served as the pastor of Shiloh Temple International Ministries for more than 20 years, said the apology is an opportunity to create common ground and unity by “uprooting” any misunderstanding between the old and new generations.
“It seems like the unfortunate tension that exists is intergenerational,” Howell said. “I don’t think it’s personal. We differ on the methodology, but I certainly understand the mission that they are trying to achieve — social justice.”
However, David A. Keaton, the senior pastor at Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church, a third-generation pastor, said he was offended by the group’s accusation.
“They are speaking for all of us,” Keaton said. “I have nothing to apologize for. I am not guilty for what they have accused me of, so this apology is unfounded.”
At the conference, the group concluded, “We are sorry for the heartache, the disappointment and the pain that has come from our inability or unwillingness to understand you.
“We know we have abandoned you, but we would like to take this first step toward change.”
Staff writer Liz Sawyer contributed to this report.
Zoë Peterson is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.