WASHINGTON, D.C. (PNS) Every spring, you can count on two things happening in Washington, D.C., the blooming of cherry blossoms and the gathering of denominations for Ecumenical Advocacy Weekend. More than 200 members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) joined other denominations for a weekend of worship, workshops and activism, a few short blocks from the Pentagon.
The 2017 theme “Confronting Chaos: Forging Community, Challenging Racism, Materialism and Militarism” was based off of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech at Riverside Church in New York in April 1967. In his speech, King condemned the war in Vietnam and said “the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism,” were the principal challenges of the time. Organizers for this year’s advocacy weekend, say those words still rings true 50 years later.
“When Dr. King spoke of the giant triplets 50 years ago, who would have believed we would still be facing the same giant triplets today?” asked Sharon Watkins, chair of the board of the National Council of Churches, during the opening plenary on Friday night. “Yet racism thrives. The killings of black and brown lives are still a reality today. We are here to say enough to the chaos of racism. We intend on being a part of the community of building justice, inclusion and hope.”
The keynote speaker for the opening plenary was Tamika D. Mallory, co-chair of the National Women’s March in Washington, D.C. in January that drew more than 500,000 people to the nation’s capitol. Mallory told the crowd at EAD that the church “needs to do more” than it is currently doing to meet today’s social justice challenges.
“Do we really get it? Do we understand that some of us are part of the problem?” she asked. “If we can own that, perhaps we can be and do what is necessary to move this country toward the beloved community we are seeking.”
Mallory said the past presidential election was personal to families across the country, referring to those who grew up in poverty or violent homes or those dealing with mass incarceration.
“There are disproportionate amounts of people in races and classes that are effected in ways that many of us will never experience. There are people in jail right now for a crime they didn’t commit and no one is there for them,” she said. “When I was little, the church was the first line of defense. Now you have young people on the ground by themselves standing in the face of militarism, being met with tanks in Ferguson instead of showing up with justice.”
Mallory told the crowd that young adults were doing what many in the church are “afraid to do” and urged the church to provide a collective response.
“It doesn’t mean sitting behind the computer or meeting in the basement of a church. It means going out there and standing between them and that which they fear the most,” she said. “Young people are on the street corners, trying to protect their own communities because we have left them to do it all by themselves.”
Mallory said the church needs to recapture its prophetic zeal or it will become an irrelevant social club with no moral authority.
“When I’m marching, I’m looking around asking what happened to the church. There may be some in here willing to put their bodies on the line for an issue, but its not enough,” she said. “Discomfort is what this is all about. If you say you are an activist and your stomach is not in knots, you’re not doing it right.”