Church, African-American

Being a Church with Day Laborers

In June, a predominantly African-American Christian church took the innovative step of hosting a day laborers’ hiring site in one of its worship rooms. The Strait Gate Church in Mamaroneck, New York, opened the worker center on the heels of a local government decision that prohibits police from questioning people about their immigration status or harassing workers who gather looking for jobs. The Hispanic Resource Center, a local advocacy group, will run the hiring site, which offers English and citizenship classes and other educational programs for workers not hired during the day. “It’s an unusual gesture, and it’s a beautiful one,” Pablo Alvarado, director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, told The New York Times. “Particularly because we know there have been tensions between African Americans and Latinos in places where they compete against one another for these types of jobs.”

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Sojourners Magazine December 2007
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Black Church Leaders in Holy Land

A delegation of U.S. leaders from historic African-American denominations traveled to Israel and Palestine in November and determined that Palestinians living in the West Bank suffer the same injustices African Americans experienced in the pre-civil rights United States. At a gathering representing 35 mainline denominations, the trip delegates condemned the 400-mile barrier Israel is constructing. “It makes me sad to see this wall and to hear so many say this wall has been built with money I have sent to the U.S. government in tax dollars,” Bishop E. Earl McCloud Jr. of the African Methodist Episcopal Church told Church World Service.

The group hasn’t determined what steps it will take to address the issues that surfaced from the trip, but Rev. Charles Mock of the National Baptist Convention identified compassion as the first. “We’re neither pro-Israeli nor pro-Palestinian,” he told Sojourners. “We’re pro-love and justice. It is love and justice that equal genuine peace.”

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Sojourners Magazine February 2007
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Epidemic Faith

Historically, African-American church leaders have provided guidance and support in our struggle for civil rights. They lead the songs of nonviolent protest for equality in education, housing, and employment. As Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker once wrote, "If you listen to what African-Americans are singing religiously, it is a clue to what is happening to them sociologically."

Why was the church silent for so long about HIV/AIDS? Early in the epidemic, there were so many mixed messages. HIV was first depicted primarily as a disease of white gay men. Then we were told Haitian immigrants, sex industry workers (prostitutes), and the African green monkey were the cause for the spread of the disease. What response could the African-American church provide, when historically we people of color have been blamed for the social ills of America?

Addressing HIV/AIDS meant discussing man-to-man sex, IV drug-using behavior, and issues seen as problems of the world beyond of the walls of the church. Consequently, persons living with HIV/AIDS (PWAs) were blamed for their illness, feared, and stigmatized. Their families were embarrassed and ashamed. Although this insidious virus was taking a devastating toll, a wall of shame and denial was erected between the African-American community and the church.

Faced with little or no information and support network, African-American gay and heterosexual HIV/AIDS activists had to learn from white gay activists how to discuss the virus and educate our community. When many churches did not respond with compassion, PWAs created their own support systems and even churches. The issue of loss in our community became so great that family members began to knock down the walls of shame to seek guidance and prayer from church leaders.

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 1999
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