The death of Jamar Clark brought Twin Cities’ faith leaders out of their houses of worship to join hands on the street with protesters demanding justice for the 24-year-old fatally shot by police.
And although the protests have quieted down, religious coalitions have emerged out of the movement that leaders hope will educate congregants and continue the conversation about racial justice.
Faith leaders say it’s a Kairos moment — an opportune time — that they do not want to squander.
Pastor Danny Givens of Above Every Name Church in St. Paul and north Minneapolis clergy members have formed a group of progressive faith leaders, Black Clergy United for Change. They held a community unity church service Sunday on Plymouth Avenue.
Faith leaders need to look at how their religion looks on the front lines of justice, Givens said.
“The group was formed in an immediate response and a call to action to get on the front lines for justice,” said Givens, who is also a clergy liaison for Black Lives Matter. “We are mobilizing a strong community front as a direct response against injustices and acts of brutality.”
Givens’ group is one of several that have spun out of the protests:
• All God’s Children Metropolitan Community Church in south Minneapolis is launching a social justice team, Seeking Peace & Justice. It’s designed to open a dialogue with the community and support movements like the “Justice for Jamar” protests, said the Rev. DeWayne L. Davis.
“Everyone is rushing to get back to business as usual,” Davis said. “I hope everyone will begin to have some hope for change. People will have deep-real conversations and educate themselves about the issues.”
• The Interfaith Roundtable for Racial Justice, a group that materialized during demonstrations for same-sex marriage, came together again for Black Lives Matter. It drew attention after more than 15 of its leaders lined up on the steps of City Hall on Dec. 1 in full religious garb to pray for city leaders and ask for justice.
The roundtable offers a model of how congregations can listen broadly to the leadership of people of color, said the Rev. Rebecca Voelkel of the Lyndale United Church of Christ in south Minneapolis.
“The demands of Black Lives Matter are really at the heart of what I believe as a Christian leader,” she said.
Talking with congregants
The Black Lives Matter protests led some faith leaders to host discussions with their congregations about racial justice.
Rabbi Michael Adam Latz of Shir Tikvah Congregation in south Minneapolis spent 12 days at the protests outside the Fourth Precinct station in north Minneapolis.
“I shared with my congregation that I was present and that we as Jews have a moral obligation to be allies to community leaders working for racial justice and human dignity,” he said in an e-mail.
During the protests, Zion Baptist Church Pastor Brian Herron, of north Minneapolis, prayed with protesters, gave them a shoulder to cry on and listened to them vent.
Herron said he saw leaders from many different faiths participating in the protests and helping bring a sense of peace and calm.
“We have to go out to the people and start being present,” he said. “Churches have to learn how to balance the ministry of social justice with the call of the church.”
At a board meeting for the Minnesota Council of Churches Thursday, clergy from long-established black congregations shared their experiences from the protests.
The Rev. Billy G. Russell of Greater Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, south Minneapolis, called for unity. Protesters had been outraged at Russell and Pastor David Allen Keaton for their comments calling for an end to the Fourth Precinct occupation. Russell said he supports the protesters.
Keaton convened a meeting among religious leaders Thursday night at the Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church in north Minneapolis to address violence in the local community.
“We are going to demonstrate that it takes partnerships to build and strengthen a community,” he said. “We’re meeting to give the black community some direction beyond the Jamar Clark case.”
Bishop Richard D. Howell, Jr. of Shiloh Temple International Ministries, north Minneapolis, volunteers for the Council of Churches’ speakers bureau. Howell, who eulogized Clark at his funeral, oversees the ministry near the spot where police shot Clark and the precinct station where protests later began.
Howell said that whatever steps are taken next in the Clark case, the faith community must be present.
“Our fight must move forward,” he said.