Rev. Al Sharpton’s thousand-minister march gains steam after Charlottesville

(RNS) — The Rev. Al Sharpton says his thousand-minister march is all the more urgent now than when he began planning it months ago.

The Pentecostal-turned-Baptist minister says the recent violence in Charlottesville, Va., has sparked more interest and a greater need for clergy of many faiths to speak up at the march set for Aug. 28, the 54th anniversary of the March on Washington.

The march will begin at the Washington memorial honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and end at Justice Department offices to protest increased hate crimes, discrimination and mass incarceration.

The 62-year-old president of the National Action Network, a predominantly black, Christian organization, talked with RNS about his plans. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How would you sum up your reaction to the events of Charlottesville over the weekend?

Charlottesville was a very startling and repulsive reminder to us of the issue of hate and the issue of racism and anti-Semitism that is still alive and practiced in the country. It seems now to have been revived and, in many ways, given moral equivalency with those that protested by the president of the United States. We need a president that’s clear that anti-Semitism and hatred and the kind of public display of bigotry that we saw is unacceptable.

How do faith leaders need to respond to President Trump’s series of comments about the violence in Charlottesville?

We had already called for 1,000 ministers of all faiths — Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim — to meet at King’s memorial and march to the Justice Department, saying we do not want to see the moral authority of Dr. King’s dream undermined no matter who the president. And we’ve had several hundred ministers already sign. After Charlottesville happened — and then the president’s reaction — it has intensified and we’re getting calls from all kinds of ministers from all faiths saying we must make a statement.

Our hope is that when you looked at those Nazis carrying torches talking about “You will not replace us,” we can contrast that with rabbis linking arms with Baptist ministers and Muslims marching in the spirit of Dr. King. They went to Robert E. Lee’s monument. We’re going to King’s monument and marching to the Justice Department. I heard growing up that the best way to expose a dirty glass is put a clean glass next to it. Faith leaders must stand up and show a dignified, nonviolent way.

Have your plans for the Ministers March for Justice changed in light of Charlottesville, whether in numbers or logistics or security?

Our security concerns have grown ’cause we always now have to be concerned about whether some people will try and do a counter thing — I’m talking about from the right. I get up every day facing death threats. That’s normal when you’re high-profile. So our security concerns increase although we’ve had no direct threats.

As I’ve talked to a lot of the ministers that have called and joined in now, a lot of them said that, yes, we always agreed with the idea of a march but I think we didn’t understand the urgency until we saw that footage on Saturday night. I think what that has done is brought back, into everyone’s living room, why we need to keep marching. This is much worse than we thought in terms of a spirit of hate and immorality.

How does this march compare to some of the previous ones you were involved in – including the march just before the Trump inauguration and the one on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington?

This one is for faith leaders. We’ve only asked for ministers. Now, others might come but it will be led by — and the program will be — rabbis, clergy members of the various parts of Christendom, Muslims and Hindus. Because we want to make a statement that hundreds of faith leaders came to Washington on the day of Dr. King’s dream. That is a big difference from us bringing tens of thousands of people —  we want to make a clear statement from the moral and the faith leaders of this country.

Don’t forget Dr. King’s organization was named the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He was very specific that it was religious-based and National Action Network is that as well. We’ve not heard from the faith community in a very public, united way and that’s the difference this march is.

What does it say to you about where we are as a country, or about its people of faith, that ministers are going to gather this way?

It gives hope that there are people that are willing to stand up. We’ve gone through rough periods in our history before and faith leaders lead us through. What do we remember about the ’60s? We remember when Rabbi (Abraham Joshua) Heschel joined Dr. King in Selma. We remember how it was a rabbi that was the speaker right before Dr. King at the March on Washington. When we all started coming together and raised the high moral questions, it set the climate for change. And you will always have other things going on, but when people know that those whom they go to on their Sabbath to get guidance are standing up, it brings it to another dimension. And I think it is extremely important that we do this, particularly at this time.

What do you think clergy and other people of faith should be doing at this time beyond sermons and marches?

I think that they’ve got to get into the community. They’ve got to get into the schools. They’ve got to get into the local gatherings, the town halls, the planning board meetings. And we’ve got to beat back this spirit of hate. We’ve got to go and do the work. Faith without works is a dead thing, the Bible says. And I want to lay that challenge out at the march: We’ve got to come off our pulpits and out of our cathedrals and save the soul of this nation.

Copyright 2017 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

The Scroll: A Documentary on African-American Ministers

The Scroll Movie, airing each February Sunday evening on the ASPiRE network at 8 p.m. (Photo courtesy of

Like many children, film director Parrish Smith, the son of a Baptist pastor, often fell asleep in church. Still his father would manage to awaken his son from time to time. “When my father used parables and stories in his sermons they somehow woke me up,” says Smith. In a good story, you can extract jewels of information and knowledge.” And thus seeds were planted for the future visual storyteller.

A desire to highlight the gifted storytelling of pastors and ministers inspired Smith to interview some of the 21st century’s highest-profile ministers, evangelists, and church leaders, examining the journeys of faith, hope, and perseverance that led these individuals to the positions of positive influence they now today in the documentary “THE SCROLL: Evidence of Life Unseen.” The four-part documentary will premiere this Sunday, Feb. 3 at 8 p.m. on the ASPiRE network, a television network launched June 27, 2012 by Magic Johnson Enterprises. The remaining parts of the documentary will be air at 8 p.m. on the following Sundays: February 10th, February 17th, and February24th.

Some of the faith leaders featured in the documentary are: Bishop T. D. Jakes, Rev. Al Sharpton Jr., Rev. Bernice A. King, Dr. Calvin O. Butts III, Rev. Dr. Jamal Bryant, Bishop Noel Jones, Pastor Floyd H. Flake, Bishop Kenneth Ulmer, Bishop Charles E. Blake, Rev. Dr. Della Reese Lett, Bishop Paul S. Morton, Pastor A.R. Bernard, and Bishop Joseph L. Garlington. A trailer of the THE SCROLL is included below:

“In THE SCROLL, I wanted to uplift and pay homage to pastors and to ministers and to my father who is deceased,” says Smith, who directed the documentary and served as its executive producer along with Leona D. Willis.  “People often see the negative side of ministers – the buffoonery, money, cars. In THE SCROLL, the ministers share stories from their life and the common link is faith.”

Smith spent three years conducting extensive interviews with more than 50 of the country’s most respected pastors and ministers, and many share parts of their lives that they have never shared so publicly before.

“My interview with Rev. Bernice King was a hard interview because of who she is, and she is very guarded,” says Smith. “She talks about how her faith wavered when her mother and her sister passed away. She was mad at God. How can you be a minister and be angry with God? Just her being candid about being mad with God is not something you hear a minister or pastor saying. And just to hear a minister say that gives you hope when you go through the same situation.”

His interview with Rev. Dr. Jamal Bryant was very revealing as well. “Everyone or most everyone knows that Jamal Bryant committed adultery and lost a good chunk of his congregation,” says Smith. “Many people shunned him, and he felt isolated. At the same time, God said to him I can bring you through this if you don’t lose sight of me. Adultery affects a lot of people. About 50 percent of marriages end in divorce, and adultery is one of the number one reasons for divorce. These pastors are sharing a lot of candid stories and show that we are all flawed.”

Some faith leaders even shared what some may believe is unthinkable. “Bishop Noel Jones revealed that he sometimes questions the existence of God. People think if you’re a bishop, your faith should be so strong all of the time.”

Smith admits it wasn’t easy to get these pastors and ministers to share personal stories from their lives. “That’s why it took three years when I was hoping it would take one year to make,” says Smith with a laugh. “I had to go through executive assistants and publicists. When I was growing up, the ministers were touchable. I got a lot of “Who are yous?” I had to call three and four times and sometimes 10 and 15 times, but little by little, they started to say yes. The more we did, the more we were able to do.”

Also, Smith enabled the pastors and ministers to feel comfortable by establishing some parameters around the interviews. “I limited the amount of people in the room to three people when I interviewed them,” says Smith. “When you had more than three people in the room, you got a sermon, but under three people, you got a conversation. Each interview was about one hour or so and they loosened up after an hour.”

And now the faith leaders are helping to promote the documentary. Bishop T.D. Jakes of The Potter’s House in Dallas, another of the church leaders profiled, says the program represents “an opportunity to know, intimately, the persons behind the message. It’s like the distinction between reading the Old Testament and the New Testament. In the Old Testament we learn what the Apostles said, but we don’t learn much about who they were. Sometimes our greatest messages are not in our lips, but in our struggles.”

Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr., pastor emeritus of the Trinity United Church of Christ on Chicago’s South Side, says THE SCROLL “captures a slice of African-American faith life that probably nobody else has captured, from a wide variety of clergypersons…conservative, liberal, young, old, pastors, teachers, and persons who have labored long and below the radar.”

Bishop Paul S. Morton of Greater St. Stephen Full Gospel Baptist Church in New Orleans, adds: “I think people need to hear from people of influence in the body of Christ that they really look up to: Have they really been through anything? Has anything happened in their lives? What are they dealing with in their lives?”

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