3/10/2015 5:30:00 PM
CHICAGO (ELCA) – Some members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) joined civil rights activists, faith leaders and elected officials, including President Barack Obama, in Alabama March 7-8 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights march.
Judith Roberts, program director for ELCA Racial Justice Ministries, attended the anniversary events. “My grandfather, CC Bryant, testified before the United States Civil Rights Commission in February 1965. His testimony, along with several others, named the racial discrimination and intimidation experienced by African Americans (who were) trying to exercise their constitutional right to vote. Today, we are still facing voter disenfranchisement through public policies in the form of preserving state’s rights (through) voter identification legislation and the criminal justice system that can temporarily or permanently deny access to the ballot,” she said.
On March 7, 1965, protestors demonstrating for the right to vote departed Selma for Montgomery and were met by law enforcement as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The events of that day – also known as Bloody Sunday, – led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
“This moment in our current history is about lifting up the values of living in an electoral democracy where every citizen should have the right to cast a ballot for the elected officials that will represent their communities. This church adopted a social statement policy to ensure just that,” said Roberts.
The ELCA 2013 Churchwide Assembly asked ELCA members to call on local, state and federal governments to guarantee the right to vote to all citizens and to discourage or eliminate all laws, ordinances or regulations that would have the effect of racial and ethnic discrimination in the exercise of that right.
The ELCA social statement "Freed in Christ: Race, Ethnicity, and Culture” was adopted by the ELCA 1993 Churchwide Assembly. The statement expresses the ELCA’s calling to regard seriously culture and ethnicity, confront racism, to engage in public leadership, witness and deliberation, and to advocate for justice and fairness for all people.
The Rev. Joseph Ellwanger, Hephatha Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, also attended the anniversary commemoration. In March 1965, Ellwanger, then pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Birmingham, Ala., was chosen by Martin Luther King Jr. to be the only White pastor among 14 pastors who met with Alabama’s Gov. George Wallace at the end of the Selma to Montgomery march. Ellwanger, who served at St. Paul’s from 1958 – 1967, became involved in the civil rights movement of the 1960s and worked with King.
Nathanial Viets-VanLear, an ELCA member from Chicago who traveled to Alabama for the anniversary, said the events in Selma are important “not as an observation of a moment in history, but as a reminder that the past and present are only two parts of a continuum. Already steeped in the Black-lives-matter movement in Chicago, I traveled to Selma to offer testament to the fact that a movement began long before I arrived on this earth, through the work of many young men and women before me,” he said.
“This trip is an important moment in time for me,” said Ryan Martin-Yates, an ELCA member from Oklahoma City, Okla. “I've grown up always oriented towards seeking justice, but only recently have I found the bravery to use my voice in that. This past year has been a year of growth that has been facilitated by what has gone on in this country and how those events began to affect my daily life. For me, this weekend was a moment to reflect on a powerful moment in our country's history and to engage in dialogue about how the fight for justice is to keep moving 50 years later.”
“I am attending for those who stood 50 years ago and were knocked down, beaten and humiliated because they wanted the right to have a voice. Those who were denied but never gave up,” said Jackie Maddox, office manager for the ELCA Advocacy office in Washington, D.C. “Fifty years later I want to stand for the people, including my parents, who struggled for me and are the reason why I and many others can vote today. Although the events that led up to having a right to vote were horrific, I will feel privileged to be among people who fought for justice and won.”
Ian McConnell, from Augsburg College in Minneapolis, also attended the 50th anniversary events. “I am a White, middle-class male originally from the suburbs of Minneapolis. In the cultural and social systems I grew up in, this has afforded me a louder microphone than many others have the privilege of having. I feel called to listen, to learn, and then to strategically speak into issues of injustice.”
The ELCA's social statement “Freed in Christ: Race, Ethnicity, and Culture” is available at www.ELCA.org/Faith/Faith-and-Society/Social-Statements/Race-Ethnicity-and-Culture. The social statement “The Church and Criminal Justice: Hearing the Cries” is available at www.ELCA.org/Faith/Faith-and-Society/Social-Statements/Criminal-Justice. The ELCA’s social policy resolution “Voting Rights To All Citizens” is available at http://bit.ly/19a0blJ.
About the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:
The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with more than 3.8 million members in nearly 10,000 congregations across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region. Known as the church of "God's work. Our hands," the ELCA emphasizes the saving grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, unity among Christians and service in the world. The ELCA's roots are in the writings of the German church reformer, Martin Luther.
For information contact:
Candice Hill Buchbinder
773-380-2877 or Candice.HillBuchbinder@ELCA.org
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