June 5, 2020—In front of the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., more than 20 faith leaders representing the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim communities united in prayer at the historic site where the funeral of Frederick Douglass was held in 1895 and the same place which celebrated the life of civil rights leader Rosa Parks after her death in 2005. They called on the city and nation to pray against the injustices which continue to impact communities of color.
The Capitol Area Coalition for Religious Freedom joined with the members of the Washington Interfaith Network to embrace and demonstrate the power of prayer. As upbeat gospel music reverberated from the outdoor speaker, faith leaders, community leaders, and residents greeted each other warmly as they attempted to respect the social distancing requirements however, they did not allow social distancing and mask wearing to damper their joy, as this community of believers and fellow neighbors greeted one another with a fist or elbow bump. The opening prayer set the tone as passionate and heartwarming testimonies were delivered.
Pastor Karen Brau, from Luther Place, shared the history of her all-white Lutheran congregation and made this appeal, “I ask that we recommit to following leaders of color in acting in ways together that build power for a more equitable future… Black lives have to matter to white clergy, because they matter to God more than we understand”. The resolve to move beyond color and acknowledge the disparities that black people in Washington, DC have faced for years was the theme through each speaker. Rev. Dr. Joe Daniels, from Emory Fellowship, eloquently stated, “When America begins to value all people who have been denied for so, so long, for 400 years, [when] you and I begin to value each other and see each other for who God has created us to be…then we will be whole.”
Rabbi Aaron Alexander, of Adas Israel Congregation, reminded listeners of the responsibility we each hold as stewards of this world. He said, “Here’s what happens, God: When you left us here to co-create your world with you…we forgot, we ignored, we dismissed that your enough could be enough for all of your children… We are here to represent you, God, to organize for your enough, and we’re not leaving until we win.” As the prayer vigil was concluding, Imam Dr. Talib Shareef, of the Nation’s Mosque and member of the Capitol Area Coalition for Religious Freedom, came forth to remind all how our Creator cares for us all equally. Imam Shareef prayed for God’s protection, mercy, and blessings upon the District of Columbia and this nation.
This diverse group of faith leaders collectively are calling people of faith and conscience to follow this example of prayer. Prior to taking action and promoting efforts necessary to bring about positive change and healing for our nation, we need to start with prayer and then move into action.
Bishop Dr. Paul Murray is Co-Chair of the Capital Area Coalition for Religious Freedom. He is also on the Board of the International Religious Freedom Roundtable, and is Senior Pastor of The Lighthouse Church in Millersville, Maryland.