The National Black Church Initiative (BCI) honors the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Today, all over the nation, people will gather together in churches, chapels, auditoriums, and government buildings to celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His inspirational words will be read and recited; his tremendous sacrifice will be honored.
In the midst of the celebration we ought not forget that part of what made Dr. King powerful was the impact he had on policy, not just in the Jim Crow south but all across the nation. We must also remember what Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. pointed out in the afterword to one of Dr. King’s books, “Why We Can’t Wait.” Jackson states that King’s “focus was not merely black and white. It was not merely the racial gap. It was the ethical challenge of wrong and right” (148). This desire to do what is right and the work that King did regarding women’s rights and the sustainability of the black family and community is not far from the mission and goals of the BCI. We seek to bring the moral power of religious communities to ensure reproductive choice through education and advocacy. The Coalition seeks to give clear voice to the reproductive issues of people of color, those living in poverty, and other underserved populations. We must remember that Dr. King often described himself first as a “Baptist preacher.” Indeed his work demonstrated a Christ-like commitment to righting wrongs, confronting the powerful on behalf of the powerless.
It is this idea of speaking for the powerless that is most relevant to our lives today. While the African-American community has made great strides since King was alive and even since Jackson made that statement in 1999, the “dream” has not yet been realized. The need for racial and economic justice and equality is ever present. Now more than ever we must protect and defend the reproductive rights of women and access to comprehensive sexual health education for our young people. The Black Church is still called to “break the silence” and continue the work that King began.
King was by no means perfect; he made mistakes, but we can and must learn from them. In a 1966 interview on The Today Show with Hugh Downs, King responded to a question about the loose sexual morals of young people by asserting that the church needed to talk more honestly and openly about sex. However, there are many indications that King went to great lengths to conceal sexual infidelity in his own life and marriage. King was both a victim and a perpetuator of the silence that still hovers over too many African-American churches when it comes to sex. Unfortunately, in King’s time, these were the options that were available to him. We cannot change the past, but we must seek to create a space where silence does not reign supreme.
In one of his most famous writings, “A Letter from Birmingham Jail,” King speaks about being silenced. He says that the Negro race was repeatedly asked to wait and to put their goals on the back burner so that others could accomplish their objectives. He also makes it clear that the word “wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, as King said in his letter, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.” The Black Church has waited long enough. We have sought to protect our children by ignoring the problems that plague them and we cannot do this anymore. The word “wait” still means “never.” We must address the problem now. We cannot deny our children the right to enjoy the justice that past generations have worked for.
It was this thinking that prompted BCI to come together 13 years ago and began our movement to “break the silence” about sex and sexuality in the Black Church with a small gathering of black clergy and young people at the historic Howard University School of Divinity. Since then we have assisted hundreds of churches and thousands of young people as they have broken the silence on the most sensitive of issues related to sexuality. We have helped young and old alike to affirm God’s gift of sexuality and realize that we are both spiritual and sexual beings.
As we embark on a new decade, BCI promises to continue breaking the silence on sexuality. There is no more urgent time than now for us to address some of our more pressing concerns, including the high rates of teen pregnancy, the spread of HIV, the need for comprehensive sexual health education, sexual and domestic violence and affordable, equitable and accessible reproductive health care for people of color and those living in poverty.
As part of our commitment to serving the needs of the Black Church, we have expanded our social media presence. BCI will host a weekly blog that will provide information, educational resources and opportunities for advocacy. Our featured writers will include Reverend Penny Willis, director of the National Black Church Initiative, and Black Church Initiative consultants Reverends Antoinette Kemp and Nelson Jerome Pierce, Jr., along with guest bloggers from across the country.
I want to invite you to join us as we end the waiting. Help us to expand our voice by becoming a Facebook friend and following us on twitter. Through our on-line advocacy tools take action on issues that impact the health and advancement of African-Americans.
The Reverend Dr. Carlton W. Veazey is President and CEO of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) and a minister of the National Baptist Convention U.S.A. Reverend Veazey is founder of the Coalition’s celebrated National Black Church Initiative.