I thank and commend The Post and Courier’s Shirley Greene for her Nov. 20 column on the Charleston Branch NAACP’s efforts to strengthen its bond with the church. Ms. Greene cited numerous examples of church activities designed to make a difference in the community. Those activities are needed and appropriate, but I’d like to be a bit more specific about what the NAACP has in mind.
Years ago, one of our local college presidents asked me if Morris Brown AME Church would like to participate in their Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day activity — doing simple home improvements in a poor community — and I respectfully declined. As I explained to him, the King Holiday celebrates King, the clergy advocate. As a pastor, Dr. King would embrace and promote home improvements in poor communities. As a clergy advocate, Dr. King would ask why there are still poor communities and work to correct inequitable public policies that relegate some citizens to impoverished circumstances.
The Charleston Branch NAACP wants to strengthen its bond with the church so that more churches and clergy can walk in the footsteps of Dr. King, the clergy advocate. Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference stood, marched and worked together with Roy Wilkins of the NAACP and the leaders of other civil rights groups to combat unjust laws and unequal treatment, and changed our country for the better by doing so. The “foot soldiers” of the civil rights movement came from churches, and civil rights mass meetings were held in churches.
The NAACP wants to rekindle the relationship that once led clergy to be prophetic rather than pragmatic, to inspire those in their congregations to actively advocate for the well being of all of God’s children and to address public policies that create the need for many forms of church outreach.
We do so because while the NAACP celebrates and supports church outreach and community improvement efforts, we’re not a social service organization — we’re a civil rights organization.
We want to work with churches that sponsor programs for senior citizens to assure that no senior citizen has to go to unreasonable and unnecessary lengths to register and vote. We want to work with churches that sponsor health, wellness and exercise programs so that we can demand together that our governor not turn her back on the new federal law that provides quality health care for all citizens.
We want to work with churches that sponsor feeding programs for the needy to advocate for equity in employment opportunity.
We want to see that those in need can find good jobs so that they can feed themselves and to assure that in our “right to work” state, the needy can rise beyond the ranks of the working poor and aren’t the last hired and first fired.
We want to work with churches that sponsor “unity” activities to ask why some Americans want to secede from the Union because of President Barack Obama’s re-election.
We want to work with churches that sponsor tutorial programs to see that all of the young people they tutor have their choice of quality public schools, that funding for charter schools doesn’t diminish funding for regular public schools and that public dollars don’t go for private school tuition.
We want to work with churches that sponsor programs for young African-American males to assure that those young men can drive without fear of racial profiling, are not brought to court on trumped-up charges, and aren’t suspended from school because they run afoul of teachers with no cultural competence.
In my faith tradition, the Prophet Micah says that God calls us to “do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.” We “walk humbly with our God” through regular and devoted worship and we “love mercy” when we provide outreach and helping ministries.
We must also, however, “do justice,” as did clergy and congregations of all colors in the 20th century civil rights movement.
The Charleston NAACP will continue to pursue a strong bond with the faith community so that we can “do justice” together with an eye towards the words of Jesus — “Whatever you do for the least of my brothers and sisters, you do for me.”
The Rev. Joseph A. Darby is senior pastor at Morris Brown African Methodist Episcopal Church and first vice-president of the Charleston Branch NAACP.