On September 21, members of the African Methodist Episcopal Church from across America will descend on Washington, DC for the inaugural session of â€œAMEâ€™s on the Hill,â€ an event spearheaded by the denominationâ€™s Social Action Commission, of which Iâ€™m blessed to be a member. The day will include a White House visit, briefings from the Obama Administration and Congressional leaders, visits to Senators and House Members and a Banquet to benefit the AME Churchâ€™s Service and Development Agency – the denominationâ€™s humanitarian relief and development entity.
Our presence in Washington will affirm the role of the African Methodist Episcopal Church as an agent for positive change and underscore the need for people of faith to be involved in shaping public policy. Many members of historically black denominations and congregations now downplay that aspect of the work of the church, arguing that the work of civil rights is done and that the focus of the church should be on what they see as â€œspirituality.â€ Thatâ€™s wrong on both counts.
The work of civil rights is far from done. The passage of civil rights laws in the 1960’s did little to change the hearts of those who held onto their bigotry and passed it down from generation to generation. Thatâ€™s why President Barack Obama is blatantly disrespected by those on the right side of the political coin, questioned by those in the â€œTea Partyâ€ – the Ku Klux Klan 2.0 – as to his true religious faith and true citizenship, and criticized for things that other Presidents have done as a matter of routine. That why many states have enacted voter ID laws to counteract voter fraud, which was a â€œnon-issueâ€ until President Obamaâ€™s 2008 election victory. Thatâ€™s why thereâ€™s a sudden need to combat illegal immigration at a time when many immigrants are now people of color.
The subtly framed issue of race still enables some political opportunists to rise to prominence on the politics of division and fear and still drives much of what passes for public policy today. To say otherwise is to say that those who elected Congressmen like South Carolinaâ€™s Tim Scott and Floridaâ€™s Allen West would have voted for them if they championed the positions of African-Americans instead of pandering to those on the extreme right. The African Methodist Episcopal Church still needs to be a voice of prophetic conscience, for equity and fairness are still works in progress in America. Those who make public policy need to hear our voices as clearly as they hear the voices of those on a â€œChristian Rightâ€ thatâ€™s dubiously Christian and questionably right.
Those who say that we should focus on what they call â€œspiritualityâ€ need to re-read their Bibles. The prophets of the Old Testament conveyed Godâ€™s displeasure with Godâ€™s people not only because they tried to worship God and false gods at the same time, but because they were legally scrupulous yet morally bankrupted by their callous treatment of those shackled by poverty and infirmity. Jesus ran afoul of the religious and political establishment of his day because he reached out to and championed the rights of those conveniently written off and ignored by the pious as â€œsinnersâ€ not worthy of their care, concern or attention. The Apostle Paul was able to make disciples in places the other Apostles couldnâ€™t safely go not only because of his Jewish birth, but because he was also a naturally born Roman citizen.
The heros of our faith who diligently pursued our Saviorâ€™s Great Commission to â€œmake disciplesâ€ in Matthew 28:18-20 clearly understood that those who are hungry, harassed and hurting are best able to hear the Good News when their basic needs are met. Meeting those needs today requires the church to pursue and promote positive and progressive public policy. Weâ€™ll do so in Washington, DC on September 21 and the Church Universal needs do so every day, so that those elected to public office will discharge their duties with an eye towards the well being of those Jesus called â€œthe least of theseâ€ and an eye towards Godâ€™s directive through the prophet Amos that we work to let justice and righteousness flow freely.