They wore clerical collars and vestments, their heads covered with Kippahs and Taqiyahs.
Religious leaders and congregants rallied Monday in Washington to say “the soul of the nation” is at stake. The leaders of multiple faiths near the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial said it’s not about politics, but the moral corrosion of the country that they believe has become increasingly evident under the presidency of Donald Trump.
The “One Thousand Ministers March for Justice” rally, organized by the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, was one of two events led by members of the clergy on Monday in Washington — each with opposing viewpoints. They come on the 54th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where King delivered his famed “I Have a Dream” speech.
That dream, according to rallygoers at Sharpton’s rally, is at stake as religious leaders said they must be public and vocal about fighting white supremacy. And while they said Monday’s rally was about more than politics, they offered blistering condemnations of the Trump presidency.
“We will not be indifferent when transgender individuals are not allowed to serve in the military,” Rabbi Jonah Pesner said. “We will not be indifferent when a sheriff is pardoned,” a reference to Trump pardoning former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio on Friday.
Vincent Herring, a 59-year-old Baptist from Maryland, said politics have turned into issues of morality, and people of faith and moral conscious need to take the lead.
“We haven’t been in the forefront of trying to get things done,” he said. “When you identify it as a moral issue, then that’s what needs to be done.”
Led by MLK's son, Sharpton, former D.C. Mayor Vince Gray and others, thousands now marching singing "This little light of mine" pic.twitter.com/vlInV9xPbk
— Perry Stein (@PerryStein) August 28, 2017
The rally will include a prayer vigil and ceremony in which leaders will “recommit to being at the forefront of social justice and civil rights,” according to a permit from the National Park Service.
“We want to convene ministers from all faiths to make a moral statement that no matter what party is in office, there are certain moral things that should be nonnegotiable,” Sharpton said in an interview last week. “That is voting rights, health care, criminal justice reform and economic justice.”
Meanwhile, another group of clergy members gathered at the National Press Club in Washington, also proclaiming that religious leaders need to do more to confront racism. But this group was made up of pastors with conservative political views who don’t share the marchers’ protest against Trump. Many serve on advisory boards convened by Trump’s White House.
Bishop Harry Jackson, who serves on Trump’s informal evangelical advisory board, criticized the “hypocrisy” of the marchers, charging during a news conference that they don’t actually want to work with Trump on improving race relations.
“Okay, if I want to talk to you, I don’t march down the street to ‘talk’ to you, if you really want access,” he said.
Still, Jackson said he respected Sharpton and the other members of the clergy in the march for acting on faith to confront racism. Two pastors who were part of the conservative news conference, Rev. Frank Amedia and Rev. Mark Gonzales, joined the marchers afterward.
Amedia, who founded a group called POTUS Shield to pray for the president, said he wanted to attend because liberal and conservative members of the clergy share anti-racist goals.
“That’s our meeting point, changing the nation,” he said “We may not agree on how we get there.”
The conservative clergy members were divided on the subject of historic statues, which prompted intense debate after a rally of white supremacists turned deadly in Charlottesville earlier this month. Mike Berry, a radio and television producer on the panel, hailed the removal of former Supreme Court Justice Roger Taney’s statue in his hometown of Annapolis as one of the greatest moments in his 14 years of work in the city.
But Alveda King, an antiabortion activist and the niece of Martin Luther King Jr., disagreed: “Since they’re there, I believe — no. Don’t tear up the country.”