By Bob Allen
A century-and-a-half after the United States fought a civil war over slavery, two black and two white Baptist pastors in Kentucky say it is time for another war against “fear and racism.”
“This war will not employ guns and grenades but the nonviolent tactics of the 1960s civil rights movement, targeted at capturing hearts even as it liberates cities like Louisville from the residual effects of slavery,” the quartet said in a June 23 op-ed in the Louisville Courier-Journal.
Highland Baptist Church Pastor Joe Phelps and Chris Caldwell of Broadway Baptist Church in Louisville, both white, joined African-American pastors Kevin Cosby of St. Stephen Baptist Church and Bruce Williams of Bates Memorial Baptist Church in a “fight to transform educational and economic opportunities for Louisville’s black community until there is a level playing field.”
“This war will liberate white Americans chained to subtle and not-so-subtle patterns of material and emotional dominance over black Americans,” they said. “These patterns justify racist business decisions that keep black communities poor. They retain ‘us’ and ‘them’ thinking that becomes the seedbed of competition, disdain, and eventually demonization and extermination.”
The pastors said the effects of slavery are still evident 150 years after the last slaves were set free. Educational and economic disparities perpetuated through the Jim Crow era, they said, are now seen in “today’s new Jim Crow laws” that disproportionately “imprison black communities who have few options and understandably give in to despair.”
“Tour certain streets of West Louisville and you will find yourself in Zombieville: a community of living people in whom hope has died,” the pastors said. “These are not bad or lazy or evil people, but people robbed of their institutions, whose communities are stripped bare of the means of economic vitality, who are displaced from one neighborhood to another based on decisions in which they have no voice, and whose family systems are profoundly compromised by despair and destitution.”
The four pastors said “enough is enough.”
“We have been brought together ‘for such a time as this,’” they said. “As such, we will move from truth-telling to action and, when necessary, strategic confrontation, as we assess who is our ally and who is, for today, our enemy.”
“We will not be co-opted by either armies of domination or armies of unholy anger,” they pledged. “Because the human heart is our central domain we will fight to free all hearts enslaved by racism, including our own.”
Cosby, who formerly taught and preached at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary but recently began reaching out to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, praised Caldwell and Phelps on Twitter as “prophets” of social justice and racial reconciliation.