In Solidarity with Poor Churches: Embodying the Faith of Dr. King
Last Thursday, Jan. 12, I was arrested in the Bronx for civil disobedience along with 43 others. It was a group that consisted mainly of clergy and church laity, a grassroots evangelical effort led by Bronx Councilmen Fernando Cabrera. Our protest was aimed at the city’s decision to prevent 160 churches from renting worship space in public schools beginning, February 12.
I would like to clarify the nature of my involvement. I remain a proponent of healthy boundaries between church and state. The church I presently lead does not meet in a public school, and we’re not faced with an impending threat of relocation. My inspiration to protest began when I discovered how the city’s decision would affect churches in the Bronx — the poorest urban county in the country.
If New York City remains a trendsetter, a decision like this could lead to numerous copycat decisions in poorer districts all over the country.
Poor churches are filled with low-income tax paying citizens. These citizens are parents of children who attend public schools just blocks from home. A good majority of the schools they attend are victim to the surrounding poverty. Hence these schools underperform academically, are severely overcrowded, and remain largely underfunded.
In response, many churches contribute resources such as: tutors for children with additional learning needs, school supplies for teachers with shoe string budgets, backpacks for low income parents, and in some cases, beautification and repair when schools experience dilapidated conditions, just to name a few.
Throughout the years public schools and churches have been mutually dependent partners in a fragile, urban ecosystem. If one area of the system falters, the others remain largely affected too. For example, when schools fail to sufficiently educate our young people, incarceration rates increase. When parents and churches instill values such as love for neighbor - schools, neighborhoods and the world benefit.
It is a relationship that goes beyond the mere rental of space on a Sunday. Jeremy Del Rio, Director of 20/20 Vision for Schools says, “The biggest challenge is that we have reduced the relationship between churches and schools to a landlord tenant relationship. We're not just tenants in buildings, but we're partners in the transformation of our schools.”
Partnerships and mutual solidarity are vital to witnessing any positive change in our inner city neighborhoods. In fact, my own solidarity with my Bronx neighbors like, Bronx Household of Faith, Infinity Church, and Promised Land Church (and many others) has been largely inspired by Dr. King’s solidarity with the poor.
Wasn’t it King who said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”?
Our last two protests and impending arrests were the results of a burgeoning movement against mindless, anti-religious sentiment. Small local churches spearhead this movement, while a larger majority remains mostly silent.
What if we could come together beyond our own personal politics, into a politics of solidarity?
My hope is more churches would take up the cause if not for their own benefit — for the benefit of churches committed to remaining in poor communities.
My belief is that whenever we take on the cause of the “little guy”, or in our case, the little church, it is an act that brings us ever closer to the fulfillment of Dr. King’s dream, and ultimately a greater embodiment of our faith.
Join us us at 8 a.m. today (1/18), for a meeting at the city council. Thereafter we march to the NYC Department of Education, Tweed Courthouse in lower Manhattan at 52 Chambers Street.
The Rev. José Humphreys is a faith organizer, and pastor of Metro Hope Covenant Church, a multi-ethinic church movement in East Harlem, NYC. José remains committed to shalom-making in NYC, through facilitating conversation across social, economic, cultural and theological boundaries.