How Churches Talk About Racism, Police Brutality, and Black Lives Matter

Dr. Kenneth Kemp, senior pastor at Antioch Missionary Baptist Church. Credit: Scott Ball / Rivard Report

On Sunday, Dr. Kenneth Kemp took his place at the pulpit and read a Bible story about Abraham, his wife Sarah, and Sarah’s Egyptian servant Hagar, who gave birth to a son fathered by Abraham.

When Kemp finished reading the passage, he told his congregation, “I would ask that you pray with me and pray for me for just a moment, as the Holy Spirit shall lead the discussion in this theme, ‘Say her name.’”

Kemp was referring to recent Black Lives Matter protests where demonstrators shout, “Say her name! Breonna Taylor!” to remember a 26-year-old woman shot and killed by police officers after they entered her apartment without warning in March. Following the police killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, people in San Antonio and around the nation have been protesting police brutality.

Kemp serves as the senior pastor for the historically black Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, which celebrated its 85th anniversary on June 7. In addition to his church leadership, Kemp works full time as a pulmonologist. Between those two roles, he often works anywhere from 60 to 80 hours a week.

Though current events inspire his sermons, his congregation has always spoken openly about police brutality and social inequality, Kemp said.

“It’s new for some other people, but it’s not new for us,” he told the Rivard Report. “I pastor an African American church. My constant message is about freedom and justice and equality and enfranchisement of African American people. My message has been accentuated because of what has been going on, but the core of it hasn’t changed, because I always talk about this.”

Kemp also spoke out following the 2016 death of Antronie Scott, a 36-year-old black man shot by a San Antonio police officer who opened fire after mistaking a cell phone in Scott’s hand for a gun.

While the topic of racial justice isn’t new at Antioch Missionary Baptist, the recent high-profile deaths of Floyd and Taylor prompted other churches and their leaders to speak about racism. Ed Newton, a white pastor who heads Community Bible Church, joined other faith leaders at Travis Park earlier in June to call for equality.

“The church of Jesus Christ here in San Antonio has the opportunity to lift their voice on behalf of a God who loves us. … Our phrase has been this, ‘We will rise,’” he said. “The church has a voice in equality, we have a voice in justice, and we have been a part of this ongoing work.”

Pastor Les Hollon of Trinity Baptist Church urged his congregation on June 7 to “put skin in the game” to promote equality – especially racial equality. Hollon, who is white, said in an interview that, though he regards the church as apolitical when it comes to speaking about candidates and parties, the church should not stay silent on issues like racial injustice.

“When we talk about specific situations, people have ‘listen’ filters and may hear through the filter of Democratic or Republican,” he said. “I’m recognizing people have filters, but I’m not speaking as a member of a political party. We’re to live heavenly lives on earth, and our earthen lives will reflect heavenly call. When we’re not treating people equal, that’s a spiritual issue.”

His ministry has always been focused on racial reconciliation, Hollon said.

“In terms of Black Lives Matter specifically, the reason why that’s important is because there’s been a social practice in America that hasn’t guaranteed that black lives matter,” Hollon said. “Someone of a black skin color has experiences in our society that too frequently that skin color makes a difference where they are ‘less than’ whites. To make it really clear, absolutely, black lives matter.”

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Source: Rivard Report