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New Group Wants Faith Leaders Back at 'Forefront' of Social Justice Causes

Katie Riordan



Historically, African American church leaders have spearheaded civil rights movements and social justice causes. Now a recently formed group called the Black Clergy Collaborative is hoping to build a new legacy of public engagement. 

They’ve started by coordinating efforts to get their respective congregations out to the polls. This past weekend, leaders visited churches serving as polling places across Memphis to energize early voters. Some handed out free coffee as an added bonus.

“Instead of us in our own silos being advocates, we’re working together to create some momentum that we hope will move the needle forward in terms of participation,” says Pastor J. Lawrence Turner, the group’s president. 

Church leaders are now focused on voting, but looking ahead the collaborative aims to create more civic engagement around criminal justice reform and economic empowerment in African American communities. 

Turner says this year’s social justice protests spurred some soul searching for many faith leaders.  

“If you looked into the streets of U.S. cities across this country this summer, African American church leaders were not at the forefront of those marches, and we had to re-evaluate how we’re going to be engaged,” he says.  

Turner hopes to address predatory loan schemes that target African Amercians and create initiatives to promote Black-owned businesses. He’s also representing the collaborative on Mayor Jim Strickland’s citizen advisory committee that is looking into police reform in Memphis. He’ll be conducting focus groups to bring feedback to the mayor. 

So far, Turner has recruited about 30 clergy members for the collaborative. He plans to expand their discussions into community conversations. 

“Most people darken the doors of a church at some point, and so one way to get the pulse of the city is to engage the faith community,” he says. “People look to their faith leaders and to their churches around those critical issues that are at the forefront.”