It has been almost two weeks since the grand jury’s decision not to indict Daniel Pantaleo in the killing of Eric Garner was announced and nearly three weeks since the same announcement was made not to indict Darren Wilson in the killing of Mike Brown. For almost three weeks many in the nation have expressed their disagreement with the verdicts via protests, die-ins, and economic boycotts. The people who have gathered in protest are ethnically and racially diverse, young and old, and from a variety of religious traditions. But this Sunday, a large religious group will gather in their own space and way to draw attention to the tragedies that have beset the nation recently.
The African Methodist Episocopal church, in conjunction with the Church of God in Christ, will participate in “Black Lives Matter” via “National Black Solidarity Sunday.” Bishop John Bryant, bishop of the fourth district of the AME church, is encouraging all members to dress in all black on Sunday morning in order to affirm the value of black lives. Bryant and other clergy are tasked with speaking to their congregations about the events of the last few weeks and reminding them that “right will win.” Finally, during worship service it is asked that those who will, approach the altar to pray that “God will intervene to end the demonic pattern of killing unarmed Blacks, and that God will give us faith and courage ‘for the facing of these days.'”
Like many organized demonstrations of this nature, this campaign is picking up viral steam with individual AME members and clergy forwarding it on social media, It is picking up so much steam that other denominations are joining the movement, most recently the Assemblies of God. Superintendent of the Assemblies of God, George O. Wood, is also encouraging AG churches to join with the Church of God in Christ for “Black Lives Matter.” In much the same way that Bishop Bryant has encouraged AME churches, Wood is encouraging AG churches. But Wood is not in denial about how the church may be split on the issues of the non-indictment of Darren Wilson and Daniel Panteleo. Demographically speaking, the Assemblies of God church is 59.2% White, 21.7% Hispanic, 9.8% Black, 4.3% Asian/Pacific Islander, and 1.4% Native American. Given that, a split of opinions seems inevitable, but Wood was diligent to state that differing opinions should not stop people from affirming the value of black lives. Of this he said,
“I recognize that some of you may find my request to observe Black Lives Matter Sunday controversial because of deep disagreement over the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases. I do not wish to be controversial or to bring further division within the Church or within America. We have enough of that already.
Rather, I wish for us to find points of unity and cooperation across racial lines. We can take steps together in that direction by affirming the value of black lives and by praying for unity in our churches and our society this Sunday, December 14.”
And so on Sunday, the day known as the most segregated day of the week, an alliance will form between several historically black denominations and a predominantly white one to spread the message that “Black Lives Matter.” Their joining together will be a reminder that “Black Lives Matters” can’t just be the concern of the black community, but of the world. And if the church is not at the forefront of this movement, it is unclear what hope we have for change.