“We appeal to our history as a people, the struggles we’ve been engaged in, the kind of issues that claim our time…. It is days from the day Dr. King died…. When he was shot on the 4th of April, he was there defending the rights of garbage workers … the church tuned in on that and asked what else could we do.”
— Bishop McKinley Young, 11th Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church
A Day of Prayer was in order as the Eleventh Episcopal District of the AME Church, under the leadership of Bishop McKinley Young, gathered recently at Florida’s Capitol in Tallahassee.
“Our denomination was founded in 1787 on a history of being justice-seeking and justice-supporting,” Young told the crowd at the Capitol. “This goes back to our founders in the Free African Society, which emerged at the same time the United States Constitution was being written in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. If we take seriously our cause to be justice-seeking and justice-supporting, then advocacy for people would be our hallmark.”
Out of concern for possible damaging laws and policies, the AME Church prayed for legislative leaders to have an enlightened attitude about education, a fair mind for redistricting, a compassionate heart embracing health care and a generous spirit toward the poor and the unemployed.
The AME church is the only black denomination that participates in a day at Florida’s Capitol. The idea was proposed by the Rev. James Golden, a former Bradenton, Florida, city councilman, following his work with the Florida League of Cities. In prior years, the AME Day at the Capitol agenda was driven by the Legislature, but this year, Golden noted, “There was a spiritual tone unmatched by the previous five years. This year’s agenda was driven by prayer.”
Young said he encouraged participation in AME Day at the Capitol because it aligned with the church’s values and understanding of the ministry of Jesus to the poor, the disadvantaged, women and to those who are marginalized. “If Jesus was in the state of Florida,” Young said, “he would have been there with us for the people that have been marginalized. He would have been in Wisconsin, Ohio and Minnesota, all those places where people are being pressed against the wall, the real people that do not have wealth or money or prestige.”
State Rep. Joseph Gibbons, D-Pembroke Park, minority leader pro-tempore of the Florida House, welcomed nearly 100 AME attendees to the First General Assembly Prayer on the Capitol lawn following an opening fellowship at Tallahassee’s Bethel AME Church.
Gibbons offered the visitors a critical view of the Legislature’s actions. “The issues that have been focused on by the Florida Legislature so far this session hurt the middle class and working families by eradicating benefits and services that are designed to improve their lives,” he said. “The last and final act will be to pass a budget that accomplishes all of these goals by cutting billions of dollars from last year’s budget to justify these draconian actions.”
State Senators Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, Oscar Braynon, D-Miami, and Tony Hill, D-Jacksonville, greeted attendees at the Second General Assembly Prayer. All of the senators thanked the group for their prayers and support and asked that they continue to pray when they return to their churches. “We are outnumbered and we get weary, we need your continued prayers and support,” said Senator Joyner, a member of Allen Temple AME Church.
Young presided over the noonday prayer, which included a circle of ministers around the legislators.
When speaking on the deliberations of the Legislature, Young said, “If you are going to have a tax base to support your people, you have to have jobs. We have to do something about unemployment and make sure people have the opportunity. If you are going to have a democracy, people have to have an education. Education has to be free and available to everybody so that you have an educated citizenry.”
Golden, the minister and former Bradenton city council member, reflected on the legislative session and concluded, “We have experienced a cataclysmic change in the relationship between the governed and the governor to the extent it greatly diminishes the equities of disparate and different views. There is only one viewpoint being pushed, and it is not empathetic with the poor, children, elderly, convicted felons, unions or public sector…. Countervailing forces in the public are not strong enough to be effective. The governor’s first act was to implement a five-year wait for felons to apply for restoration [of their civil rights] to be made retroactive back to the last election. Only the church is capable of doing battle with spiritual wickedness in high places. We were formed out of political discourse. Political uplift is part of the mission. We have a duty to defend and inform. It would not be effective to not be involved in policy. I am convinced that the wall is not because the church is afraid of the state but because the state is afraid of the church. We have not stopped praying the need for prayer still exists.”
Bederia Moore, Esq., is an attorney and business consultant. She obtained a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the University of South Florida and a Juris Doctorate from Florida State University College of Law. She works in Jacksonville, Florida as an attorney with Lawrence & Parker, P.A., and as a business consultant with Linking Solutions, Inc. She is an active member in the Christian Legal Society and the Florida Bar.