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MLK Day 2022: The Role of the Black Church in Today’s Social Justice Movements

CHICAGO (WLS) — Many scholars say the black church played a central role in the civil rights movement.

“Most social justice movements were led by African-American preachers, Dr. King being one of the most famous,” said Bishop Derrick Fitzpatrick, pastor of Stone Temple Missionary Baptist Church in the North Lawndale neighborhood. from Chicago.

Fitzpatrick said Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave several sermons at the church, including in 1966 when he came to Chicago to lead a campaign to end housing discrimination.

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Fitzpatrick believes the black church is the foundation of today’s struggle for social justice.

“You will never see a social justice movement moving forward, whether it’s Black Lives Matter or anything else, that doesn’t have a vestige or some sort of flavor of the Black Church,” did he declare.

But some young organizers describe a growing rift between activists and the black church.

Allena Bradley, a Black Lives Matter Chicago organizer, said the division emerged during the protests following the 2020 killing of George Floyd. She criticizes some religious leaders whom she accuses of being tied to the systems that many militants want to reform or dissolve.

“I have to be very selective about how our organization relates to these churches and what concessions we make for their comfort and what feels acceptable,” she said.

Tonya Watkins, executive director of Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation (SOUL), said that although King is an ordained minister, some black clergy do not support his efforts.

“Some of the same fears and apprehensions that people feel around the movement today. It’s been around for a very long time,” she explained.

Pastors and activists agree that the church still has enormous power to effect change and that all parties must work together to have the greatest impact.

“I want to see the black church retain young members,” Bradley said. “I want to have a house there.”

Watkins said the black church should be a place where black people can speak freely about issues that affect their daily lives.

“We believe life can be different, especially for black people, and we want the church to stand with us and fight for that reality,” she said.

Pastor Anthony Williams leads MLK International Ministry United Church Of Christ, which is finding a new location in Chicago. Williams said young people want realism.

“We named our church after Martin Luther King so that we can always be reminded that the role of the church is not to be a conformist institution, but a transformative institution,” he said. .

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