A racially diverse group of ministers and civil rights leaders, including former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young Jr., called on President Obama on Thursday to use his State of the Union speech on Tuesday to address the nation’s racial tensions.
Meeting at The Potter’s House on what would have been the 86th birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., the religious leaders gathered in closed-door sessions for what they termed the beginning of a nationwide effort to bring black, white and Hispanic churches together to try to resolve racial conflicts, especially involving criminal justice, education and poverty.
The Rev. T.D. Jakes, senior pastor of the Dallas megachurch, hosted the event, titled “The Reconciled Church: Healing the Racial Divide.”
At an afternoon news conference, Jakes called on Obama to speak about racial conflict, but said people must not expect the president’s speech to be the end of the matter.
“It is important that we challenge all elected officials to line up on these issues,” Jakes said. “We want Congress, federal, state government and local government to work together.
“We are asking the president to lead the discussion, but we don’t want the discussion to stop at the White House. We want it to flow through until it reaches the houses of Ferguson, the houses of Watts, the houses of Harlem and around the world.”
Among those attending Thursday were Bernice King, CEO of the King Center in Atlanta and a daughter of the slain civil rights icon, and the Rev. Alveda King, a niece.
“I believe this summit is a great way to remember a man who was pastor to our nation and to our world,” said Bernice King. “So, Daddy, happy birthday.”
Alveda King also wished her uncle a happy birthday and declared, “We must live together as brothers and sisters and the church must lead the way.”
One focus of the sessions was criminal justice.
“We have had and will have incidents” such as the shooting of a black man by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., Young said at an afternoon news conference. “I think we can build on them, first of all with additional police training.
“I realize that police are much in danger. Quite often they are nervous and they are under tremendous pressure.”
Bishop Harry Jackson, senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in metro Washington, D.C., convened the conference with Jakes.
Jackson said he realized the need for such a conference when he visited Ferguson during the weeks of unrest.
Law enforcement officers from Dallas, Houston and other jurisdictions were at the summit.
Young also called for economic reforms to help people trapped in poverty.
“We come together in a time of racial tension, there are also economic tensions,” he said. “While we’ve made some progress, poverty probably is worse now than when Dr. King was alive.”
The group issued a report declaring support for Obama’s “push to fully fund early childhood education across the nation.”
Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said black, white and brown pastors must take the lead in seeking racial reforms.
Euless evangelist James Robison said he feels the hurt of those in minority communities.
“My goal is to focus on those who are overlooked,” he said.
Leith Anderson, president of National Association of Evangelicals, said he was inspired by stories of churches that are already working to solve problems with crime, poverty and other racial ills.
“The Church of Jesus Christ can do more than the government ever could,” he said.