NEW YORK: A coalition of American Black church leaders is pressuring President Joe Biden to push for a cease-fire — a campaign spurred in part by their parishioners, who are increasingly distressed by the suffering of Palestinians and critical of the U.S. response to it, The New York Times reported Sunday.
More than 1,000 Black clergymen representing hundreds of thousands of congregants nationwide have issued the demand. In sit-down meetings with White House officials, and through open letters and advertisements, they have made a moral case for President Biden and his administration to press Israel to stop its offensive operations in Gaza, which have killed thousands of civilians.
The faith leaders are also calling for an end to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, and the release of hostages.
The effort at persuasion also carries a political warning, detailed in the Times’ interviews with a dozen Black faith leaders and their allies. Many of their parishioners, these clergymen said, are so dismayed by the president’s posture toward the war that their support for his re-election bid could be imperiled, according to the dispatch.
“Black faith leaders are extremely disappointed in the Biden administration on this issue,” said the Rev. Timothy McDonald, the senior pastor of First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta, which boasts more than 1,500 members. He was one of the first pastors of more than 200 Black clergy members in Georgia, a key swing state, to sign an open letter calling for a cease-fire. “
We are afraid,” McDonald said. “And we’ve talked about it — it’s going to be very hard to persuade our people to go back to the polls and vote for Biden.”
Any cracks in the ordinarily rock-solid foundation of Black support for Biden, and for Democrats nationally, could be of enormous significance in the November elections, it was pointed out.
The intense feeling on the war in Gaza is among myriad unexpected ways that the war has scrambled U.S. politics, the Times said. And it comes as Biden is already facing signs of waning enthusiasm among Black voters, who have for generations been the Democrats’ most loyal voting base.
The coalition of Black clergy pushing Biden for a cease-fire is diverse, from conservative-leaning Southern Baptists to more progressive nondenominational congregations in the Midwest and Northeast.
“This is not a fringe issue,” said the Rev. Michael McBride, a founder of Black Church PAC and the lead pastor of the Way church in Berkeley, Calif. “There are many of us who feel that this administration has lost its way on this.”
Seeing images of destruction in Gaza, many Black voters whose churches have become involved in the cease-fire movement have voiced increasing disenchantment with Democrats, who they feel have done little to stop the war, the dispatch said,
“Black clergy have seen war, militarism, poverty and racism all connected,” said Barbara Williams-Skinner, co-convener of the National African American Clergy Network, whose members lead roughly 15 million Black churchgoers. She helped coordinate recent meetings between the White House and faith leaders, according to the Times.
“But the Israel-Gaza war, unlike Iran and Afghanistan, has evoked the kind of deep-seated angst among Black people that I have not seen since the civil rights movement.”