Three who embody faith-based justice work will lead $8 million Join the Movement appeal
Three prominent figures in American religion will lead the United Church of Christ’s new campaign to raise $8 million for racial-justice work.
The trio will be present as the UCC kicks off the campaign in an online event Thursday, Sept. 15, at 7 p.m. ET. The entire UCC is invited to “How to Grow a Movement: Invest to End Racism.” People can register for it here.
The honorary co-chairs of the Join the Movement appeal are:
- The Rev. Otis Moss III, Senior Pastor, Trinity UCC, Chicago.
- The Rev. Naomi Washingon-Leaphart, Director of Faith-Based and Interfaith Affairs, City of Philadelphia.
- The Rev. Starsky Wilson, President and CEO, Children’s Defense Fund and CDF Action Council.
All three will be online, live, for the Sept. 15 launch. In videos released in August, they explained why they agreed to lead the campaign. And they invited everyone in the UCC to join them in supporting it.
The appeal’s purposes are described here. Half of the $8 million will fund an endowment for generational work — to equip and empower churches and programs for years to come. The other half will fund current antiracism programs, new initiatives, and church growth and development over the next three to five years
The co-chairs were chosen because they embody what the initiative is all about, said Join the Movement’s leaders, UCC Minister of Racial Justice Velda Love and Curator Sharon Fennema.
Moss: ‘Transform our planet’
Moss said he accepted the role “because I deeply believe in the transformation of our world.”
The UCC’s racial-justice work, he said, “is about linking love and justice together — two important values that will transform our planet, transform our hearts and transform our world.”
“But love without justice is problematic,” he said. “Love without justice simply becomes sentimentality. Justice without love can become legalism and can become brutality.”
Love said Moss has been true to those values for years. She heard him regularly when she lived in Chicago and was a Trinity member. “His commitment to social and racial justice were evident in his preaching and speaking,” she said.
Then came the murder of a Black jogger by white men in Brunswick, Ga. In May 2020 — still two weeks before the Minneapolis murder of George Floyd — Moss released “The Cross and the Lynching Tree: A Requiem for Ahmaud Arbery.” The 22-minute “sermonic movie” has more than 140,000 views on YouTube.
Love noted that Moss and Washington-Leapheart “remained key advocates during the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests and uprisings” surrounding the 2020 killings of Arbery, Floyd and Breonna Taylor. The two appeared in a UCC webinar on May 31, 2020, also titled “The Cross and the Lynching Tree.”
Among possible co-chairs, “these two names rose to the top of the list because they exemplify what it means to lead a movement toward racial justice,” Love said.
Washington-Leapheart: ‘Make words believable’
In her video message, Washington-Leapheart urged UCC members to back their pronouncements with dollars.
“The United Church of Christ has indeed spoken rightly,” she said. “White supremacy is sin. Black lives matter to God. Black lives matter to us. I’ve agreed to be an honorary co-chair of Join the Movement to help make our right speech righteous.
“Financial investment is what makes our words believable. Through this campaign, we can do the holy work of transforming our budgets into moral documents that express our unflappable commitment to racial justice. Through this campaign, we can subsidize the gospel good news of racial justice for generations to come.”
Washington-Leapheart has lived out that conviction, not only as an official of a major U.S. city but in a variety of earlier work, Fennema said. “She knows firsthand the ways that sustaining financial support puts flesh onto and breathes life into the bones of our racial justice commitments.”
“She’s been on the front lines of movement organizing and activism — from LGBTIQA+ advocacy to Black Lives Matter, from climate justice to economic justice,” Fennema said. She said Washington-Leaphart is among “the cutting edge of theologians who are helping give voice to the relationship between a life of faith and intersectional movements toward racial justice.”
Wilson: ‘For all our children’
Wilson noted that he, too, lives out his “vocation and ministry” beyond the church, in a historic, civil-rights-rooted advocacy agency for children. “Yes, I’m an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ,” he said, “and I serve 74 million children in America. These children are now, according to census reports, majority Black or brown.”
The UCC’s racial justice work, he said, “is helping to create a context for the well-being of the next generation — the most diverse generation in American history.”
That context is needed, he said, to “combat the ideology of hierarchy of human values that is grounded in white supremacist ideology.” The antidote “is to let people know that they are children of God, that they are God’s favored humanity, that they are the apple of God’s eye,” Wilson said. “That’s the work of the Join the Movement campaign: making sure there is a witness within the United Church of Christ to combat white supremacy, to nurture and affirm human identity, to create a space for all our children.”
Love recalled seeing Wilson in action when, as a seminary professor, she took students to St. Louis in 2015. At the time, he was CEO of the UCC-related Deaconess Foundation and pastor of St. John’s UCC, which was hosting a racial-justice conference. It was not long after the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. “I wanted students to see the work being done through churches and organizations to hold the Ferguson police department accountable, while challenging the policies and practices contributing to segregation and blatant racism in St. Louis and Ferguson,” Love said.
“Starsky was leading the charge at his church and on the leadership team with other churches and organizations to bring about significant changes in St. Louis in African American communities. The conference was transformative and life-changing for some of the white students. It affirmed the role of faith in advocating for racial justice for students of color.
“Starsky was then and remains a leader and a drum major for racial justice. His presence and profound commitment racial justice will transform the Join the Movement campaign.”
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