Faith-based advocacy groups are uniting with hopes of making change in Missouri on behalf of the state's most vulnerable and marginalized population.
Representatives from groups around the state met Friday (March 7) in Quinn Chapel AME Church in Jefferson City to share the action they’re taking in their communities, and develop strategies on how to work together.
On their agenda: pushing for early voting. Improving public education. Expanding Medicaid.
And those are just the top three priorities – others include ceasing predatory lending to provide better lending opportunities to poor communities, raising the minimum wage and reducing mass incarceration rates for people of color.
All of these are moral issues, said the Rev. Jimmy Brown, co-convener of the African American Clergy for a Moral Missouri and pastor of St. Luke Memorial Baptist Church in St Louis.
“They’re not Democratic, they’re not Republican. They are just immoral," Brown said. "And if you’re Democrat or Republican or Independent and you’re immoral, then these issues that were talked about, and you’re not supporting them – those are the groups that we’re going to address.”
These issues are outlined in the "African American Clergy Covenant for a Moral Missouri," a 6-point agenda the collaborative group is backing. Although many of the people involved are from Christian churches that are predominantly African American, not everyone involved is – the efforts are interracial and interfaith.
The collaboration started with about 20 African American clergy from around the state who got together last year to find ways to unite in pushing legislators to take action.
"It appears that when we only show from one area, that only the legislators from that area appear to be interested in what we're talking about," Brown said.
The group met again later, and grew to 60 people. Then, in November, 80 people met with Governor Jay Nixon and told him about their plan to pursue the six items on the agenda for the good of the state.
Other groups then heard about the effort of these clergy, read the agenda items and decided to get involved. Friday's meeting was the first time they all got together to share what they were doing and brainstorm ways to take action.
The Rev. Cassandra Gould, pastor of Quinn Chapel, urged those gathered to support each other at action events around the state – in other words, "show up."
She used the story of David and Goliath as an example of a power shift.
"You've been thinking it's just little old me, but I believe God says there's a shift of power going on in the state of Missouri, and it's time for us to show up," she said.
There will be risk, she said. And isolation. Intimidation. Rejection.
"We need some people that are willing to stand toe to toe with those who think that they are the giants, because giants do fall," she said.
And she reminded people to use what they have.
"Saul tried to put his clothes on David, but they didn't fit David," she said. "And so, David had five rocks – and you have a voice. How many preachers are in the room? When a preacher doesn't have anything else, you've got a voice."
As preachers, she said, have the authority to be a voice for the voiceless. They also have an obligation.
"Jesus said 'the least of these,' and so until 'the least of these' are taken care of, you have an obligation to show up."
"When we show up, all of God's children get fed," she said. "When we show up, children will have equal access to education, whether they live in the high-rent district or whether they spent the night in a homeless shelter."
The energy escalated as she continued, repeating the importance of "when we show up."
"If there is anybody in here that wants to show up, why don't you just stand up," she said. Those in the room stood to their feet, with cheers and applause. They turned to each other and exclaimed, "I'm ready to show up."
Who was there
The following groups were represented at the Friday meeting:
- Communities Creating Opportunity
- Metropolitan Congregations United
- Faith Foices of Jefferson City
- More2 (More Squared)
- Missouri Faith Voices
- Missouri Association of Social Welfare
- Southern Christian Leadership Conference
- St. Louis Metropolitan Clergy Coalition
- St. Louis Ministers Union
- National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention
- Baptist Ministers Union of Kansas City
- Jobs with Justice