Crossing Religious Lines for the Race

William Ackah

There is an iconic photograph of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X together in 1964.malcolmandmartin

Their only known face to face meeting. People look at that photo and wonder what might have been if the two powerhouses of 20th Century African Diaspora religion and politics had combined forces and worked together to confront the injustices faced by Black people in America and around the world. Towards the end of both their respective lives, they had increasingly similar perspectives on the key issues.

Both were of the opinion that the Black struggle for dignity and justice was a human rights issue.  Both were moving to the view that confronting capitalist inequities and fighting for economic justice was of critical importance in the struggle for racial justice and equality. Both perceived that Black struggle in America was connected to the struggles of Black and Brown people across the globe. Even though their thinking was aligning; their backgrounds, religious affiliations and circumstances sadly kept them apart, even when the social conditions and racial realities of the era cried out for them to work together.

Step forward nearly 50 years from the death of King, and I would argue that the social conditions faced by Black people and the racial realities they confront in the USA and around the world demand a coming together of our Black religious leaders and communities in ways that King and X did not accomplish. There is a pressing need to cross the lines of religious organizational separateness and division for the good of the race.  Seventh-day Adventists, often known for their insularity and lack of engagement with other religious and community-based organizations need to reach out beyond the confines of our denominational exclusivity and speak up for the marginalized and terrorized. And they need to do it NOW.

Black SDA voices need to be joining with others speaking up for the rights of immigrants. It is disgraceful that people who are trying to create better lives for themselves and their families are facing uncertain and precarious futures due to resurgent nationalism, racist immigration policies and the me-first greed on the part of many Western hemisphere nations. Most immigrants contribute vast sums of time, energy and resources to churches and the broader community and now they need those churches and communities to stand up for them in their time of need. It would appear that some churches including the SDA church are happy to utilize immigrant resources, but when it comes to fighting for immigrant rights, there is a WALL of SILENCE. That silence needs to be broken and SDA voices need to be in solidarity with others across religious lines in support of immigrants.

Black SDA voices need to be joining with others to challenge the injustice of the mass incarceration of African Americans. This past week I thought about smashing my TV so frustrated was I when listening to some politicians and commentators talking about the opioid epidemic sweeping working class America. They exclaimed that this was a pressing societal and public health issue that needed to be tackled. How is it that when White people have drug problems, it is a societal and public health issue? But when Black people have the same problems, the diagnosis and prognosis is personal responsibility, criminality and mass incarceration? The hypocrisy and double standards on display is stunning. Harvard Professor Dr David Williams has brilliantly articulated that racism is the pressing public health issue that confronts the U.S. It is racism that shortens Black life expectancy, racism that impacts the health of Black families and communities and racism that is taking so many Black males out of their communities. This situation is worse than intolerable and demands an angry collective response from Black religious communities including SDAs before it is too late and we are all in jail, in hospital or dead.

I could go on and on, Living Wage, Affordable Housing, Education Gender Justice, but let me end with this. We are living in precarious times, but we should not be running to the hills or closing our doors to the outside world. We need to be joining arms with our Black and Brown brothers and sisters in the U.S. and across the globe and affirming their dignity and standing up for their rights. And we should be crossing religious lines to do it. In so doing, we practice the highest principles of our faith and contribute meaningfully to our common humanity.

William Ackah


William Ackah is Lecturer in Community and Voluntary Sector Studies at Birkbeck, University of London and a co- founder and co-convenor of the Transatlantic Roundtable on Religion and Race. He is 2016-17 Fulbright Scholar and from October will be based at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary researching the impact of gentrification on African American Church Congregations.

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