PENSACOLA, Florida — Faith leaders from all across Pensacola say they can no longer stand by silently in the face of racism.
For weeks, the nation has been reeling from the death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed when a Minnesota police officer kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes. The incident has reopened deep, longstanding wounds about how little value is placed on black lives in America and how little has been done to change that.
Locally, spiritual leaders are stepping up to say the time for change is now.
Leaders from seven historic churches in downtown Pensacola recorded a video statement calling for racism to be dismantled in America and for citizens, congregations and communities to do their part to help make it happen. And in Brownsville, pastors and congregations from a dozen different churches gathered Friday (June 6) to voice their support for the cause.
“Each of us needs to take what responsibility we can in our own lives and in our circles to bring about change,” said the Rev. Michael Hoffman of Christ Episcopal Church. “And again, I keep saying this, but I think a big part of that is to listen to the voices that are calling for change.”
Hoffman said leaders of several downtown churches of different denominations — Episcopal, Methodist, Catholic, Presbyterian, Baptist and Jewish — meet regularly to talk and share experiences, scripture and ideas.
Recently, Hoffman was struck by how closely the group mirrored the clergymen who Martin Luther King Jr. addressed in a 1963 letter from a Birmingham jail. In the letter, King wrote that white religious leaders have a moral obligation to fight racism and other oppression, and penned the now famous words, “justice delayed is justice denied.”
Hoffman brought the group the idea of sending a united message, and together they penned a script to remind the community of the urgency of now and to commit to help create a more just and equitable country.
King’s Birmingham letter also inspired religious leaders outside downtown.
The Rev. Evon Horton of the Brownsville Assembly of God said about a dozen pastors held a rally on the steps of Brownsville Assembly of God at 6 p.m. Friday.
“We want to show our support for the concerns and the protests (sparked) over the murder of George Floyd,” Horton said. “We want to make sure that we have a positive solution, as well as we want some change to happen.”
Protesters around the nation have called for an end to police brutality and accountability for violators. The protests have also rekindled discussion of institutional racism that sees people of color disproportionately incarcerated, condemned to poverty and marginalized in issues of economics, education and opportunity.
Horton said peaceful protests are needed and justified, but they need to be followed by action. Pastors have a role to play in making that happen, he said.
“Isaac Williams at Greater Vine Baptist Church said to me yesterday, when Martin Luther King was in jail, all these white pastors sent him notes saying ‘We’re praying for you.’ He said, ‘Don’t pray for me, do something.’ So it’s about action as well,” he said. “I think it’s talking to authorities and law enforcement and talking to legislators. It’s getting real change. It’s talking about social issues and having the forum (to discuss them meaningfully) out there. It’s education. It’s a lot of action that needs to happen.”
Faith community leaders said the current demonstrations were a starting point, but there is much work ahead to create the world that we want to see. They are committed to being a part of it.
“We’re not on the front lines of it, but we’re willing to join the struggle,” Hoffman said.