Written by Jim Izrael
Five representatives of local churches in greater Cincinnati met with the UCC's Executive Council in Cleveland on Oct. 15 to discuss the impact of the council's resolution on April 22 to support the boycott movement in Cincinnati.
The boycott was called by a coalition of Cincinnati organizations to protest the economic and justice inequities in the Over the Rhine region of the city, especially the shooting by Cincinnati police of 19 black men.
The Rev. Carol Wright of Price Hill UCC, the Rev. John Specht of Lakeview UCC, the Rev. Keith Haithcock of Bellview UCC, the Rev. Henry Marksberry (retired) and the Rev. William Land of La Amistad UCC made up the panel.
Accompanying the group was Ohio Conference Moderator James Meyer of Cleveland and the Rev. Elise Higginbotham, Interim Association Minister of the Southern Ohio Northern Kentucky Association.
"We are here to talk about our experiences and invite further dialogue," she told council members, "to tell about who we are and how the resolution has affected us and our ministry, to tell you a bit of our story."
During the two-hour session, the council heard impassioned accounts of being ambushed by the resolution and of picking up the pieces as the pews erupted in protest and threats to withhold contributions to OCWM (Our Church's Wider Mission), which funds the UCC's basic ministries in both Conference and national settings. Specht told the Council that his Cincinnati congregation was not the hotbed of racism that some had come to believe, and that there are people of good will on both sides of the issue. "But I would be less than honest," he added, "if I did not convey to [this Council] the depth of feelings that still remains."
He also offered an apology to the delegation of national staff members who visited Cincinnati July 23 and who were made to feel "unwelcomed" and "unwanted." In the course of his report, he cited the consensus statement printed in Cincinnati newspapers on July 19 and supported by a total of 27 local churches as evidence that all the UCC churches in Cincinnati were of the same accord.
"Many still feel that a boycott is not the way to go," he said.
Wright expressed her frustration of trying to reach out to youth in the Over the Rhine community while withstanding the rancor of her older, white congregation. "Many of the churches are still bursting with the ugliness of the reaction from the resolution," she said. "And I'm still in awe of the reaction." Marksberry echoed those sentiments.
Churches can bring change
The Rev. William Land said that local churches in Cincinnati thought it was enough to apply "a 19th century missionary approach" to offering help to the people of Over the Rhine by organizing food drives and homeless shelters.
"That approach robs people of their God-given dignity," he said, "and doesn't teach people how to help themselves."
Land said that more needs to be done to change the structure of economics and politics in Cincinnati and that local churches have the power to do so.
After the presentation, some members of the Executive Council admitted that they "fumbled" by not broadening the discussion about supporting the boycott.
"Let's go forward, said the Rev. Bela Poznan, a council member from Fairfield, Conn. "Let's reconcile, let's see how we can fight injustice."