In the final days before the election, there is already widespread speculation about who will, and won’t, turn out to vote, with much of it centered on Black voters in battleground states. Amid this commotion, a group of Black clergy and supporters on Monday released an open letter to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton expressing their concerns over the possible negative effect of a Clinton presidency on a group of people to whom they only refer as “the poor.” Though they acknowledge being from a “Pentecostal-Charismatic wing” of an institution they refer to simply as “the Black church,” the letter is written as if to speak for the entire Black Christian population inside the United States and across the globe.
Unfortunately for these messengers, the Black church is not a monolith and cannot be spoken for by any singular ideological voice. Those who try only manage to reduce the church to a one-dimensional caricature of itself that is neither accurate nor productive for discussions about the real needs in Black communities and the lives of “the poor.”
The letter defines four areas as critical to Black communities: education and employment, violence, justice for “the unborn,” and religious freedom. The first section is an attempt to address both education and employment needs in a single paragraph. With an almost singular focus on men, this too-short, oversimplified examination falls tragically short of naming important issues like the complexities of Black women’s struggles for a living wage and the presence of the wage gap among low-income jobs. There is also no acknowledgment of issues regarding educational quality and equity, school closings and/or privatization, or the school-to-prison pipeline.
Similarly, the section on violence is narrow and inadequate, and perpetuates stereotypes about Black communities and violent crime. The analysis only focuses on young Black men—lacking any attempt to address issues such as child and elder abuse or violence against women, including the largely unreported and ongoing murders of Black trans women.
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The section on “justice for the unborn” is longer than the education and employment and violence sections. It appears as if, for these messengers, this issue requires more attention than those others do. But this section is just a regurgitation of worn-out anti-choice talking points borrowed from the religious right, with no mention of the disparities in maternal health and infant mortality rates for Black and poor communities, as compared with their white and wealthy counterparts.
Nearly twice the length of any other section of this letter is their statement on religious liberty, which attempts to set the freedom to discriminate against LGBTQ people as the highest priority in civil rights, using the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to try and justify this warped perspective.
As a Black woman and faith leader who spends her days doing ministry with Black women, low-income people, LGBTQ folks, and other people whose voices are too often left out of conversations about and within “the Black church,” I am compelled to offer another vision for how our next president—whomever they may be—can be in solidarity with Black people of faith.
Our next president needs to understand that “the poor” are not some static, distant group of people to whom we bring charity in return for conformity. The faith leaders who speak to me, and reflect my values, honor the humanity of all people and know that it is an honor to be able to do real ministry with people who need help. Faith leaders who represent the communities I work with every day stand up against violence against all of us, knowing that none of us will be free from it until all of us are free from it. We understand that Black women need better access to health care and policies that address the emergency of maternal mortality, and that we should trust Black women’s decisions about their lives, rather than doling out shame and blame with no regard for their health or human dignity. The Black church leaders I am proud to call my family know that the God we serve does not fit in any box and is still speaking today. My leaders lead from a place of authentic love and justice.
Our next president will have many voices clamoring for their attention, many claiming to represent vast swaths of the U.S. public. I urge caution in taking the word of anyone who claims to speak for all Black folks of faith—especially when the arguments that follow serve only to ignore the real struggles many of us face, and disregard the brilliance, resilience, and diversity of our communities.