By Bill Aiken*

NEW YORK — It’s clear that the so-called “Black Church” cannot be defined as one single thing. Especially in a city as large and diverse as New York, black churches embrace a broad range of issues, passions, challenges and concerns – from the traditional work of practical community organizing and preaching of traditional values and theology to the youthful passion of the Black Lives Matter movement with its call for full inclusion of LGBTQ members.

Sitting before a packed room at the Interchurch Center on a spring day in New York City, the panelists represented a rich range of views and experience with these issues. As moderator, Dr. Frederick Harris, Director of the Center on African-American Politics and Society at Columbia University, posed some thought-provoking questions on how African-American churches are responding to a range of issues from the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, to the upcoming national elections.

Terrell Jermaine Starr, a freelance New York journalist and member of the BLM, cited that there are members of the LGBTQ community who do not feel welcomed or embraced by some conservative and traditional churches, and felt that this presented a serious human rights challenge to a number of churches.

The Rev. Que “Q” English, senior pastor at Bronx Cristian Fellowship Church and a leading activist on sex-trafficking and domestic violence issues responded that “I don’t think we can embrace the Black Lives Matter until we embrace justice.”

She continued, “I believe the biggest danger lies in apathy – and apathy that is trapped in the notion that racial injustice ‘is just the way it’s always been.’ It is the role of the faith leader to respond ‘But that’s not how it’s going to stay.’”

All agreed that when it comes to the 2016 election, the key issue for the African Americans across the country is voter registration and staying vigilant towards attempts to suppress voter turnout.

The Rev. Jacques DeGraff of the historic Canaan Baptist Church in Harlem, and a long-time community leader spoke of the need for political approaches beyond simple electoral politics noting that the Mayor and Prosecutor in Ferguson as well as the Governor of Missouri, were all Democrats. “We need to empower the people in the pews and see that the leaders we vote for address our needs.”

*Bill Aiken is Director of Public Affairs for the Buddhist community Soka Gakkai International-USA.

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