Burning Churches: African American Christian Leaders and Activists Declare WORR (Week of Righteous Resistance)

Join in action against the trend of burning black churches. Even one intentional arson is one too many and is a threat to racial peace in America.
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Emergency personnel continue their work at Mount Zion AME Church in Greeleyville, S.C., Wednesday, July 1, 2015, after it was heavily damaged by fire. The church was the target of arson by the Ku Klux Klan two decades ago but a law enforcement source told The Associated Press that the most recent fire was not arson. (AP Photo/Bruce Smith)
Emergency personnel continue their work at Mount Zion AME Church in Greeleyville, S.C., Wednesday, July 1, 2015, after it was heavily damaged by fire. The church was the target of arson by the Ku Klux Klan two decades ago but a law enforcement source told The Associated Press that the most recent fire was not arson. (AP Photo/Bruce Smith)

In the past two weeks, since the horrifying shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, at least six black churches in the south have caught fire. According to the Washington Post, in an article entitled "Why racists target black churches," the Post acknowledges three of the six as being investigated as arson. Others disagree. Social media, activists groups, and concerned citizens across America are asking what it will take for these burnings to be acknowledged as hate crimes and acts of terror? While the FBI and law enforcement agencies are working with local authorities to investigate these church burnings, the question #WhoIsBurningBlackChurches is increasing online.

Church burnings and attacks have been a horror suffered by the African American community in the United States for hundreds of years. During the antebellum era, churches and Christian worship communities were one of the few places blacks could receive sanctuary from white power and oppression. Thus, Christian conversion of slaves was at times considered a threat to the institution of slavery. A century later, churches played a critical role in the resistance of the civil rights movement and were targeted so overtly that the Alabama center of activities for freedom, Birmingham, became known as "Bombingham." One of the most heinous church attacks was that of 16th Street Baptist Church where four little girls were killed in a 1963 bombing while getting ready for Sunday school. In January 2012, after America elected its first black president, a black church was burned in Massachusetts as an act of hatred and protest to President Obama's election. Now, in the past two weeks, black churches and communities are suffering a similar fate as the nation grieves the grotesque racial attack in Charleston and the question about the presence of the Confederate Flag in southern capitals.

Join in action against the trend of burning black churches. Even one intentional arson is one too many and is a threat to racial peace in America. Take action during the Week of Righteous Resistance!

Week of Righteous Resistance (WORR) #ThisIsWORR
Sunday, July 12 through Saturday, July 18, 2015

Primarily led by African Americans, evangelicals and progressives, Christian leaders have committed to mobilizing a response to the overt racism and hatred being expressed in the South and across the United States toward black church and their communities. Numerous individuals and organizations have declared Sunday, July 12 to Saturday, July 18th as a Week of Righteous Resistance (WORR) #ThisIsWORR.

One of the goals of these organizing efforts is to resist white supremacy in the South and across the nation and to call attention to racial injustice that continues to pervade across our country today. A website has been created which seeks to encapsulate many of the activities and mobilizing efforts happening during WORR.

Michael McBride, lead pastor of The Way Christian Center in Berkeley, CA and director of Urban Strategies at the PICO National Network, is a part of the organizing effort gathering Christians and black communities across the country toward active resistance. McBride asserts that there must be increased efforts to ratchet up a proper faith filled response which addresses the "stunning brazenness and subsequent complicity of the American church sustaining and making possible the sin of white supremacy and structural racism... the cumulative impact of the police shootings, Charleston, black church burnings, and daily micro-aggressions" toward the black community and communities of color.

Lisa Sharon Harper, chief church engagement officer for Sojourners, believes these efforts of solidarity are necessary to "call for the unity of the body." She calls for radical action on three fronts: 1) faith community education, spiritual formation, and engagement; 2) support for local and state-based public engagement toward concrete policy and structural changes; and 3) national faith-based messaging.

Micky ScottBey Jones, director of training and program development for the Transform Network, contributes to this effort through engaging a multi-racial network, faith rooted activists, pastors, lay leaders, and individuals. She mobilizes and equips people who have passion toward contemplative prayer and collective action to the use of their skills and time as a mechanism of righteous resistance.

Other organizers have included, but are not limited to: Leroy and Donna Barber of the Voices Project; Dominique Gilliard of CCDA and ECC; Taquiena Boston, of the Unitarian Universalist Association; organizer and community activist, Dara Silverman of Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ); Susan Barnett of Impact! Communications; Jacqui Lewis of Middle Collegiate Church; Traci Blackmon of The King United Church of Christ, and Lisa Anderson of Auburn Theological Seminary.

Active organizations include, but are not limited to, PICO's Live Free campaign; One Liturgy; the Samuel DeWitt and Proctor Conference; HandsUp United; Transform Network; Christian Community Development Association (CCDA);Voices Project; Sojourners; FergusonAction; Auburn Theological Seminary and Groundswell; Showing up for Racial Justice (SURJ); Evangelicals for Justice (E4J); and the Beatitudes Society.

As organizing groups have been coordinating and mobilizing, there has been an overwhelming response from church leaders across the country. Showing up for Racial Justice (SURJ) seeks to support white people looking to take public and visible actions against racism and white supremacy. They hosted a call last week for white faith leaders against the burning of black churches on Thursday, July 2. With less than 24 hours notice, they had over 425 people on the call and more than 80% committed to taking an action either by building a local rapid response team or by taking action in the Week of Righteous Resistance (WORR).

This outline includes just some of many ideas to mobilize and engage individually or corporately through your church or religious community. Specific ideas for action are in bold.

Sunday, July 12 - Live Free Sunday

Preach, pray, and act. Act to respond to the stories we have been hearing about the churches burning in the south. Leroy Barber, founder of the Voices Project and board member of Christian Community Development Association (CCDA), desired to offer a prayer and liturgy, available on OneChurch Liturgy, as a tool for pastors who desire for their churches to engage and show support to their African American brothers and sisters in Christ. Include this liturgy in your weekly worship service: "A Call to Worship: Standing in Solidarity with the Churches whose Buildings have been Burned."

Include an opportunity to give and raise money for rebuilding efforts within the black churches that have suffered damage through the Rebuild the Churches Fund managed and disbursed by Christ Church Cathedral (Episcopal) in St. Louis. Christ Church has been a key ally to churches across the country engaged in the Ferguson movement. The funds raised will be distributed to Glover Grove Baptist Church, Warrenville, SC; College Hill Seventh Day Adventist Church, Knoxville, TN; Briar Creek Baptist Church, Charlotte, NC; God's Power Church in Christ, Macon, Georgia; and if any other black churches are burned or previous fires are deemed to be arson, they will be added to the distribution list.

Monday, July 13

Join the Moral Monday March. Initially started in North Carolina in 2013 by Dr. William Barber, Protestant minister and president of North Carolina's NAACP, July 13, 2015 will be a historic march in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Learn more about the movement and the July 13 worship service action in response to state legislation regarding voting rights.

Tuesday and Wednesday are committed to teach-ins and trainings on organizing, building justice ministries, and understanding of the historic struggle for civil rights.

Tuesday, July 14

Dominique D. Gilliard, board member of Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) and a pastor at the Evangelical Covenant Church New Hope in Oakland, California, is pushing for a collective Church response. He believes it is imperative to include youth and college students, who oftentimes get overlooked, within recovery efforts. He says, "It would be powerful and transformative for young people to be amongst the ashes and carnage of the desecrated sanctuaries and to give them the opportunity to mobilize and contribute toward rebuilding efforts." Gilliard is advocating for the emerging generation to play an active role in recovery efforts through engaging in relief and the rebuilding of the churches that have been burned. Mobilize young people to engage and get involved. Dominique can be reached at his blog.

Wednesday, July 15

Authors of Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith, including myself and co-authors Lisa Sharon Harper and Soong-Chan Rah, will be hosting a Twitter teach-in on Charleston, the recent church burnings, and ways Christians can respond on Wednesday, July 15 at 9 p.m. EST #ForgiveUsBook Twitter #TeachIn: Repenting White Supremacy. Join us on-line!

In 1996, a National Church Arson Task Force (NCATF) coordinated responses on federal, state, and local levels in the battle against church arsons. Sign the petition asking President Obama to reconvene the task force to investigate and prevent the disturbing trend afflicting black churches.

Thursday, July 16

Visit a screening of the movie 3 ½ Minutes: Ten Bullets which won the US documentary special jury award for social impact by the Sundance Institute. The film highlights the story of African American teenager Jordan Davis, who was killed by Michael Dunn, a white man, at a gas station after an altercation about the volume of music playing in their car. Show times near you.

Friday, July 17

Host or join a Peace Walk in your neighborhood to respond to inter-communal violence and as an opportunity to invite people to join local actions on Saturday. You can learn more about Oakland, California's peace walks here. The Oakland community has started Night Walks as a way of restoring peace in the community and a positive alternative to respond to the ways the community has been ravaged by gun violence.

Saturday, July 18

In South Carolina, there is a planned KKK Rally to respond to the calls to remove the Confederate flag from state capital. Join a counter-rally at your State Capital. There are a number of active organizations throughout the United States still committed to promoting white supremacy and racial violence. Take an active stand by joining a peaceful rally and join in solidarity, action, and righteous resistance.

Traci Blackmon, senior pastor of The King United Church of Christ in Florissant, Missouri, has been a respected leader mobilizing and ministering on the front lines in Ferguson. She contributed to the framing of the Week of Righteous Resistance and says: "This WORR is an opportunity for people of faith to move with solidarity and power against the forces of white supremacy and racism. We are calling all people of faith and good will to join us as we bury the Confederate Flag on Saturday, July 18 and signal the end of any institutional complicity for structural racism and white supremacy. All dead things should buried."

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