taking the words of Jesus seriously

As Rev. Aundreia Alexander, General Secretary for Advocacy and Action for the National Council of Churches, stepped to the stage on the evening of Monday, July 17, at Ebenezer United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C., phones began to ping across the room.

Rev. Alexander, along with Rev. Traci Blackmon, Rev. Dr. Frederick Haynes, III, Rev. Raphael Warnock, Rev. John Faison, and Rev. Dr. Teresa Hord Owens (the first Black woman president of a Christian denomination in the United States), and Essence Magazine’s former Editor-in-Chief Susan Taylor, joined dozens of other renowned black clergy in the nation’s capital that evening. All were drawn by a “Call to Action” issued by a loose network of influential black clergy and faith leaders.

Six weeks before, the core group of Black clergy had the idea for this action. According to organizers, this would be the first major advocacy day organized by and for Black clergy since they united to protest the apartheid movement in the early 1990s.

READ: Christians Unite in Direct Action to Oppose the ‘Better Care Reconciliation Act’

When the organizers conceived the day, the Senate had not yet taken up its health care bill. It was focused on the President’s budget proposal, an unequivocal economic assault on communities of color and poor people. Six weeks later the Senate had tabled budget talks to pass the Republican plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which proposed $14 million in cuts to Medicaid over 10 years and a lifting of the mandate to treat people with pre-existing conditions.

By the start of the praise and worship service that launched the call to action, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had announced he would postpone the anticipated vote until Sen. John McCain could recover from surgery. McConnell could not lose one vote.

“Ping!” “Ping!” Ping!” Ping!” Cell phones alerted the gathering that two more senators had declared their “No” vote on the Senate health care bill. The bill was dead. Within hours, McConnell’s new strategy was quick and dirty: He would move to repeal the ACA full stop. He would delay the repeal’s implementation for two years — until after the 2018 mid-term elections.

If there was a time for Black clergy to march, it was now. If there was a time for Black clergy to engage their GOP senators, it was now. If there was a time to exercise non-violent civil disobedience, it was now. Repealing the ACA would strip health coverage from 32 million people. That is worse than both the House and Senate bills.

Perhaps Rev. Dr. William Barber, founder of Repairers of the Breach and architect of the Moral Mondays Movement, put it best, standing flanked by 50 national Black clergy during the call to action press event, as he warned the gaggle of reporters: “Preachers are going to have to bury folks who weren’t called home by God, but by senators who took healthcare! When you put children, the disabled, and veterans at risk, we know we will be the ones to bury them.”

He added: “We will not stand down.”

READ: Now is The Time for Prophetic Moral Action

Barber led the allies of Red Letter Christians and Auburn Seminary to Sen. Mitch McConnell’s office where they called the leader to stop his assault on the vulnerable. 11 were arrested chanting: “This is what religion looks like!”

Meanwhile, Black clergy met with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Leader Paul Ryan, Sen. Bob Corker, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Sen. Ben Cardin and others.

The day culminated with prophetic witness by Black clergy.

We walked into the rotunda of the Russell building — the grand hall where news agencies talk with congressional members in the upper gallery. Ten clergy locked hands in a circle in the middle of the hall and sang.

We who believe in freedom cannot rest

We who believe in freedom cannot rest

until it comes

 Then…

Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me round!

Turn me round! Turn me round!

Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me round!

Keep on walkin!

Keep on talkin!

Marchin’ up to freedom land!

We prayed for the soul of our nation, for the health and well-being of our children, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, fathers, mothers, and grandparents. And we prayed for the conscience of our congressional leaders!

As we prayed, dozens of police officers swarmed into the rotunda. An officer issued the first of two warnings that we were in violation of the law for praying on Capitol grounds.

Those who could not risk arrest walked to the periphery still singing. I was among them. It hurt to leave the circle, but I had to. I could not risk this arrest because of my recent conviction for “parading on Supreme Court grounds” as a part of the January 17, 2017, anti-death penalty protest. So, I sang at the top of my lungs; yoked together in song with my friends on their knees.

The four who chose to risk arrest continued to kneel in a tight circle and sang.

Woke up this mornin’ with my mind

Stayed on freedom

Hallelu!  Hallelu! Hallelujah!

One by one the police arrested Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Rev. Dr. Leslie Copeland Tune of the Ecumenical Poverty Initiative, Rev. Aundreia Alexander of the National Council of Churches, and Rev. angel Kyodo Williams of New Dharma Community in Berkeley, CA.

I wept as we walked away. It felt like a foreshadowing of glory to come.

We will be back. And we will bring more when we come.

Hallelu. Hallelu. Hallelujah!

About The Author

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Asked why she does what she does, Lisa Sharon Harper's answer is clear: “So that the church might be worthy of the moniker ‘Bride of Christ.'" Through preaching, writing, training, network development, and public witness, Lisa engages the church in the work of justice and peacemaking. She was named “#5 of the Top 13 Women to Watch in 2012” by the Center for American Progress and was awarded the 2013 Faith and Justice Leadership Award by the National Black Women’s Round Table. She formerly served as the Chief Church Engagement Officer at Sojourners. Lisa is the author of "The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right" and the founder and principal of FreedomRoad.us (launching online Fall 2017).

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