*Originally published at the Chattanooga Times Free Press
Protest organizers are concerned about clergy involvement in ongoing movement
Chattanooga residents are again being called to Miller Park this week. But instead of arriving in protest, people are being asked to come for a faith-based service in the park to stop violence against black and brown residents.
Kingdom Partners, an organization focusing on bridging the racial divide among Chattanooga’s churches, is hosting the 6 p.m. Tuesday event at Miller Park.
Pastors will outline the history of systemic racism in the United States. There will be a prayer for truth, justice, love and healing, then 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silence to remember those killed by racism. The service will conclude with a foot washing ceremony, said the Rev. Dr. William Terry Ladd III, the pastor of First Baptist Church who helped organize the event.
The gathering is based on the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa that documented the effects of the Apartheid, Ladd said. The rst step is raising people’s awareness – especially among white evangelicals – to the reality of racism that people of color live every day, he said.
“Nothing can be done in terms of healing and reconciliation until we tell the truth about systemic racism that has been in America for 400 years,” Ladd said.
The service comes during three weeks of ongoing protests across the country over the death of George Floyd, a black man, under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer.
However, the Tuesday service is at the same time as the City Council meeting, something protest organizers continue mobilizing residents to attend virtually to advocate for defunding the Chattanooga Police Department. Last week, more than 140 people spoke during the time for public comment to ask the council to defund the police force.
On Monday, Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said he did not support defunding the police and is expected to present an alternative budget to the council on Tuesday.
Some organizers have been critical of local faith leaders they believe are co-opting momentum from the movement or using it for publicity.
For example, there was concern after a group of at least 12 faith leaders attended a downtown protest on June 1 near the federal courthouse after an interfaith prayer service at Olivet Baptist Church. Some protesters were upset when Bishop Kevin Adams of Olivet took the microphone to address the crowd.
Adams said he was asked by others in the crowd to encourage nearby police of cers to take a knee in support of the protest. However, some thought the pastor was too cordial with police and was being used to divert attention from their demands for reform.
Cameron “C-Grimey” Williams, who has organized multiple protests in the city, said some of the actions of local pastors have been a “slap in the face” to people who have been marching in Chattanooga’s streets for weeks.
“This is about mistreatment of black and brown people,” Williams said. “So if you don’t have black and brown people at the forefront, that’s a problem. And it’s the young people who have been out there walking in the streets while [most] of the pastors have been sitting in the AC.”
Several local pastors are involved in the ongoing protests in Chattanooga but have played supporting roles in the rallies and marches, instead of organizing them. If any group wants to use the momentum local protesters are creating, they need to support the group’s demands, which include defunding the police, Williams said.
Ladd said Kingdom Partners will focus on the spiritual side of addressing racism.
“We told them that our lane is basically calling the country to spiritual consciousness,” Ladd said. “Even though we believe there is some policy that needs to happen, our main objective is not to deal with the policy openly,” Ladd said.
Oliver Richmond, president of Kingdom Partners, said his group supports the right to protest peacefully but Kingdom Partners will not advocate for specific demands. Instead, the organization will continue working through local pastors to build relationships across racial divides in the community.
Clergy with Kingdom Partners will host a virtual town hall on Thursday with Berke, Chattanooga Police Chief David Roddy and Public Safety Coordinator Troy Rogers.