By Brenda H. Andrews
New Journal and Guide
Publisher and Owner
Rev. Rosalind M. Hairston is the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church West Munden in Norfolk. She is one among many local clergy members who have marched and rallied recently in cities throughout Hampton Roads to show support for the nationwide protests led and inspired by the Black Lives Movement, and their calls for justice in the murder of George Floyd at the knee of a Minneapolis police officer.
I reached out to Rev. Hairston and a few other members of the local faith community about their participation in the protest rallies and how they see the role of the church in either cementing or disrupting the issues now on the table related to racial justice and equality.
Those who responded to my query in addition to Rev. Hairston included Rev. Dr. Keith Jones, Senior Pastor, Shiloh Baptist Church, Norfolk, and President of the Tidewater Baptist Ministers Conference; Rev. Gary McCollum, Member of the Virginia Beach Interdenominational Ministers Conference. Virginia Beach; and Rabbi Roz Mandelberg, Ohef Sholom Temple, Norfolk.
Rev. Hairston honed in on the importance of the church being visibly present during the current wave of protests. “I believe that the world cannot sit down, protesters cannot stop protesting until the church shows up,” she said.
“This may sound preachy, but I’m a preacher and truth is the church stopped showing up a long time ago,” she continued.
“Look no further than Madalyn O’Hare, the atheist who singlehandedly had prayer removed from the schools.
“When Colin Kapernick took a knee for Justice and Equality against police brutality not only did the church not show up, the church failed to bend its knees.
“The World is in a state of unrest and something such as racial injustice, systemic racism, ageism, and sexism—even in the church—won’t stop until the church shows up.”
Rev. Hairston has been the Pastor at First Baptist West Munden for the past eight years of the church’s 115 years.
“If we the church really want to affect change in today’s society, she will have to show up at the polls, show up at the courthouse, the jailhouse and the White House. We have to show up and make some noise if we are going to remain relevant, effective and mission-minded.”
Rev. Dr. Keith I. Jones is the Senior Pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church in Norfolk and the President of the Tidewater Metro Baptist Ministers Conference which represents ministers throughout the local area. The group held a march through the streets of downtown Norfolk in early June, ending at the City Hall where they rallied support for racial justice, equality and freedom.
He spoke of the significance of the faith community coalescing with the Black Lives Movement (BLM) on the issues of justice and liberation for people of color.
“The Black church, the truly Black church, has never lost its voice,” he said. “Part of the Gospel message is that we serve a God who is on the side of oppressed people and we have a Christ who preaches liberation from sordid systems. But not every Black church is truly Black. We live in a time of Black folks who do not want to be reminded of racial strife and injustice. They benefit from what Martin Luther King did but would never do what Martin Luther King did. And they seek worship experiences in places that do not challenge their racial sensibilities.”
Rev. Jones placed the awakening of the historic civil rights struggle for first class citizenship rights, racial justice and equality squarely on the shoulders of today’s young people who are leading the Black Lives Movement.
It is significant to remember the leadership of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s, which led to signifiant civil rights laws impacting voting, housing, transportation and jobs was centered in young Black pastors. Dr. King was only 25-years-old at the time of the Montgomery Bus Boycott which propelled him into the national spotlight. Even the major civil rights groups like the NAACP, CORE, SCLC and SNCC which were prominently involved in the struggle, had young leaders who had close ties to the Black Church.
Rev. Jones said, “This wonderful Black Lives Matter Movement has re-awakened a public discourse that grew silent over the years, causing people and institutions to examine their practices and priorities and saying to some, who take their freedoms for granted, that those freedoms are not afforded to all of our citizenry.”
The current BLM “awakening”, he said, also has jolted the collective conscience of White America which has been disgusted by the graphic display of police brutality in the George Floyd video.
“I speak to so many whites who, with disgust over the George Floyd video, they cry out for justice in this land. Yet, I confess that I wonder if their cry for justice includes the injustice of healthcare disparities, inequities in educational funding and employment opportunities and housing practices.
“I wonder if their cries suggest a willingness to give up some white privilege so that people receive opportunities equally. Any decent human being would be repulsed by the state sponsored violence meted upon unarmed people. But any really decent person should be just as nauseated to know that their whiteness is the defining factor for living wages, fair housing, representation in halls of governance, and blind justice.”
Rev. Jones said he hopes the BLM does not grow weary or disinterested in its mission to bring substantive change to the systemic issues of racial disparity in America surrounding police reform, health care, education, housing and other disparate areas.
“There is a lot to do,” he noted. “This is a struggle that will continue, even when the cameras are not rolling.”
The specialness the Black Church brings to the table to support today’s youth-driven BLM, Rev. Jones believes, are the moral construct and biblical under girding that the true Black church provides.
His hope is that “these two vital forces, the Church and the Movement will merge so that the Black Church, which has always preached liberation can help this energetic Movement to better articulate its cause.”
Rabbi Roz Mandelberg, Ohef Sholom Temple in Norfolk, said she was invited to participate in the Black ministers march and rally organized by Rev. Jones and members of the Tidewater ministers conference where she spoke about “what it means to love your neighbor with all of yourself.”
“As a rabbi in my 25th year, I have been preaching and striving to model the Jewish core belief that all people, created in God’s image, have inherent dignity and worth for a quarter of a century,” she said.
“ . . . but I now realize I have not done enough. The brutal, racist murder of George Floyd has both shocked and shamed me. Knowing this has been the plight of Black Americans for over 400 years and seeing the murders of so many innocents before him, why have I not done more to be a better friend and ally, to affirm that Black Lives Matter?”
Rabbi Mandelberg said she believes changing her way of thinking has to be accompanied by a change of action, as well.
“I have vowed to listen more, learn better and act decisively. I have announced a year-long course of reading and dialogue on anti-racism for my community and we are eager to begin this holy work of examining our own privilege, recognizing our biases, and becoming vocal anti-racists.”
And yet, she wondered if this is even enough. “Yet, I struggle with whether this may be another way of hiding behind the desire to facilitate change without doing more than talking evil to death,” she said.
She explained, “When I lamented to dear friends of color who co-chair HUBB (Hands United Building Bridges) with me that I don’t feel that I or my Jewish community should speak to their pain, I have been told, to the contrary, ‘We have spoken. We have marched. We have cried out. We have died. We cannot do it without your help.’”
Rabbi Mandelberg called her role as a leader in the Jewish faith humbling and supportive against Black oppression.
“And, so, with great humility,” she said, “Jews must stand in solidarity with our African American brothers and sisters. We must speak out when called. We must march side-by-side as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel did with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We must cry out against injustices perpetrated against them. We must put ourselves in harm’s way, if necessary, so that no one might ever again die because of the color of his or her skin.”
It is not an easy assignment, she admited. “This work will require honesty, willing sacrifice, and the courage to speak truth to power, but the Jewish promise of redemption is of a day when ALL of God’s children will be free,” she said.
“I vow that my Jewish community and I will do all that we can to help to realize this vision.”
“You don’t have to be a minister to know that the 8 minute and 46 second torture and murder of George Floyd was evil,” said Rev. Gary McCollum.
“And you don’t have to be a biblical scholar to know the systemic racism that permeates every facet of our society is equally evil.”
Rev. McCollum is a member of the Virginia Beach Interdenominational Ministers Conference under the leadership of its president Dr. James Allen.
“Sadly this evil is not isolated to Minneapolis,” he said about the George Floyd murder. “It’s everywhere.”
Rev. McCollum serves at First Baptist Church Bute Street in Norfolk, but is politically active In Virginia Beach where he lives.
He continued, “In Virginia Beach, we have advanced seven strategies to address racist policies hurting African American communities. We have prayed, marched, protested, met with city officials, wrote letters, and leveraged social and traditional media to advance the cause of social justice.
“These efforts along with the call to paint Black Lives Matter on the boardwalk are not random, thoughtless actions but rather a God-inspired plan to rid our city, state and nation of the systemic racism that has existed for far too long.”
Rev. McCollum said many people do not understand that the BLM protests across America are “not saying all lives don’t matter”.
“We are simply and loudly calling attention to a racist system that has infected this country even before its founding.”
Rev. McCollum made a direct pitch to the white community to understand “there is a fire in the African American community. And while other communities are just as important, we need everyone including you to pitch in and help put the fire out.”
He explained, “To my white brothers and sisters reading this let me pose a question. If your house was on fire, would you want the fire department to stop at every house in your neighborhood or come directly to your house? Of course you would want them to skip the other houses and come directly to your house because it’s an emergency!”
He concluded, “Let’s not leave this to the next generation. Let’s not allow George Floyd to have died in vain.”