#CloudOfClergy: The Many Ways Faith Leaders Show Up for Justice

#CloudOfClergy: The Many Ways Faith Leaders Show Up for Justice July 28, 2020

The #CloudOfClergy is everywhere! Whether on the front lines, in communities, seminaries, or houses of worship, their justice work is an act of faith.

The crowd of protesters outside Portland’s Justice Center sings “We Shall Overcome,” July 21, 2020. (Still of video by @bethnakamura for the Oregonian. https://twitter.com/Oregonian/status/1285444462253010944)

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely.” (Hebrews 12:1)

Wall of Moms.  And Dads, Veterans, and Nurses. The number of groups who support #BlackLivesMatter in Portland and beyond is steadily growing. Since the first demonstrations arose after the murder of George Floyd, the movement for justice has been constant and increasing.

So where are the faith leaders in the midst of these demonstrations and protests?

Oh, the clergy are definitely present!  But they’re not always given the same media coverage.

Just as many groups have stepped up to be in solidarity with the protesters, clergy have been a constant presence at these events. We might say they are the #CloudOfClergy.  And the #CloudOfClergy is everywhere!  Some faith leaders have been on the front lines. Others have offered care and prayer for protesters needing respite.  Some are engaging in community organizing or teaching in seminary classrooms. Still others are in their houses of worship preaching sermons and teaching their congregations the importance of protest as an act of faith.

The #CloudOfClergy is everywhere!

In Portland, for example, Rabbi Ariel Stone leads the Portland Interfaith Resistance, a group of more than 100 clergy with a visible presence at the protests.  In their purple vests with a “Clergy Witness” sign on their backs, these faith leaders take their cue from ACLU observers, but with an emphasis on bringing a moral lens to the protests.

Another group is the Faith Matters Network, a Womanist-led organization equipping community organizers, faith leaders, and activists with resources for connection, spiritual sustainability, and accompaniment.  Founded by Rev. Jen Bailey, FMN has a “Movement Chaplaincy” training program called “Daring Compassion.” The program equips faith leaders to offer spiritual, emotional and relational support to people engaged in social justice movements. Micky ScottBey Jones, FMN’s Director of Healing and Resilience Initiatives, notes that movement chaplains don’t just show up at protests. They also accompany activists in the spiritually demanding work of fighting systemic injustice.

And, of course, there is the Poor People’s Campaign – A National Call for a Moral Revival, led by the Revs. Dr. William Barber and Liz Theoharis.  Continuing the work of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign of the 1960’s, the current iteration had its genesis in the “Moral Monday” movement in North Carolina in 2013.  With chapters in 23 states, PPC has mobilized thousands of clergy and other people of faith to engage in nonviolent civil disobedience. They address the intersecting injustices of systemic racism, poverty/inequality, ecological devastation, and the war economy/militarism.

Clergy Emergency League

After June 1, a clergy group formed in response to the president’s military incursion against St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington D.C.  It’s a group that I helped to co-found called the Clergy Emergency League (CEL).  CEL is a grassroots network of primarily Christian clergy speaking with a unified voice against the abuses of power at the federal, state, and local levels. The recent events involving the brutality of law enforcement and federal agents across the U.S. compelled the group to form in June. We speak against the unlawful, violent, abusive, and unconstitutional conduct of the State against U.S. citizens.

In less than two months, the group has drawn more than 1,500 members spanning forty states across ten different denominations.

[See the CEL Portland Statement, signed by 350 clergy, here.]

We recognize that BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) have endured oppression and abuse for hundreds of years. This abuse has often been ignored (or even encouraged) by white Christian clergy and their congregations.

CEL draws on the historic work of the Pastor’s Emergency League that formed in 1930’s Germany. With the Confessing Church movement, they resisted the Nazi take-over of the Christian Church. Today, we resist the State’s intrusion on the First Amendment’s establishment clause and the rights free speech, freedom of religion, and peaceable assembly.  We repudiate the fusion of politics with radical, right-wing, fundamentalist Christianity.  And we denounce the growing power of racist white nationalism and a militarized police state.

The goal of CEL is to provide support, accountability, resources, and networking for clergy to prophetically minister in their congregations and the public square in this time of political upheaval, social unrest, and partisan division.

We encourage this #CloudOfClergy to find creative and faithful ways to support the Beloved Community.

Maybe it’s putting on a mask and linking arms with protesters. Or setting up chaplaincy tents where people can find refreshment, a calming presence, and a listening ear. Even if it’s simply finding the courage to publicly preach, teach, pray, or lead worship in a way that supports justice in your own congregation, that work is important as well.

#CloudOfClergy refers to the image of the “great cloud of witnesses” described in Hebrews Chapter 12 who resist evil and oppression, persevere in their proclamation, and look to God to sustain their faith in the midst of persecution.

CEL urges the #CloudOfClergy in cities and towns across the U.S. to connect and collaborate on how they can resist authoritarianism in their communities and be a force for peaceful nonviolent civil disobedience.

This includes reaching out to existing ministeriums and interfaith/multifaith groups. Clergy can also offer support to justice groups who are already organizing. Rather than take the lead, white clergy would do well to humbly listen to those who are already on the ground organizing these efforts.  Find out what is needed and how you can be helpful.

We encourage all faith leaders who attend protests and demonstrations to wear their clerical or liturgical garb to signify that they are a faith leader standing in solidarity with those who are engaging in the struggle for justice. Faith leaders can use #CloudOfClergy in their social media posts to support the movement.

If you are a member of the clergy, a seminarian, or designated leader in your congregation/denomination and you wish to request membership in the CEL Facebook group, click here.  (Be sure to answer the admission questions to expedite your entry into the group.)

Read also:

Announcing: Clergy Emergency League! Resist, Reclaim, Renew

Trump Has Crossed the Line: A Call for Pastors’ Emergency League 2020

Being Theological in a Political World

Clergy Speak Out About Abuses of Power in Portland

Sources:  “In Portland, this rabbi leads the clergy resistance.” Yonat Shimron, Religious News Service.  July 23, 2020.  https://religionnews.com/2020/07/23/in-portland-this-rabbi-is-called-to-lead-the-resistance/

“In emerging role, chaplains are providing spiritual care for activists in movements across the nation.” Alejandra Molina, Religious News Service. July 23, 2020.  https://religionnews.com/2020/07/23/in-emerging-role-chaplains-are-providing-spiritual-care-for-activists-in-movements-across-the-nation/

Leah D. Schade is the Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship at Lexington Theological Seminary in Kentucky and ordained in the ELCA. Dr. Schade does not speak for LTS or the ELCA; her opinions are her own. She is the author of Preaching in the Purple Zone: Ministry in the Red-Blue Divide (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019) and Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology, and the Pulpit (Chalice Press, 2015). She is also the co-editor of Rooted and Rising: Voices of Courage in a Time of Climate Crisis (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019).



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