Church Pastors See Hope Past Obama Presidency

by: Hamil R. Harris Special to the AFRO
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Eight years ago, the Rev. Derrick Harkins could hardly contain his joy when President-elect Barack Obama and the first family worshipped at the 19th Street Baptist Church in Northwest D.C. on the Sunday before his inauguration. “It was a lifetime moment,” Harkins told the AFRO. “Undeniably, I recognized the history of the moment, the joy of the money and opportunity of the moment because it allowed us to give the president and his family a worship service.”

The Rev. Derrick Harkins worshipped with the Obama family over the last eight years. He, along with other area clergymen, will have to find ways to unite the country under the next administration. (Courtesy photo)
The Rev. Derrick Harkins worshipped with the Obama family over the last eight years. He, along with other area clergymen, will have to find ways to unite the country under the next administration. (Courtesy photo)

For the last eight years Harkin was part of a group of faith leaders with close ties to President Obama. He became the director of faith outreach for the Democratic National Committee and even though he moved on to Union Theological Seminary in New York he has maintained close ties with the White House.

From Harkins to the Rev. Delman Coates, pastor of Mount Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, Md., the last two months have been a time for soul searching because they are part of a group of pastors who now face the reality of having President-Elect Donald Trump and people with a much different ideology in the White House. “I am a veteran of political campaigns and this is completely different than anything that I have ever seen,” Harkins said. “These are people who show complete contempt for justice, equality and fairness for people whether they are women, immigrants or Muslims.”

For the last eight years Coates worked with President Obama to rally the church on a range of issues from criminal justice reform to supporting Maryland’s marriage equality bill. Coates said it is not the time to give up the fight. “We have to remain on the wall, we have to challenge the presidential appointments and not allow Donald Trump and regressive politics to turn back the hands of time,” said Coates, speaking across the country with other ministers to keep people of color and others engaged.

The Rev. Lionel Edmonds, president of the Washington Interfaith Network, said in the wake of the Trump election that there must be an awakening and “The historical ties between the Civil Rights community, the Black community, labor and the African-American church must be resurrected, rekindled and renewed.”

Edmonds, pastor at Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church in Northwest D.C., rejects the view that Obama is partly responsible for Hillary Clinton’s defeat because he didn’t do enough for the Bernie Saunders wing of the party. “His hands were tied by the Republicans in Congress, we had unrealistic hopes and expectations, and he thought that he would be able to do more and that he would have longer coat tails,” he said.

Rev. Jerome Stephens, an associate pastor at the New Shiloh Baptist Church in Baltimore, said “I believed that he was confounded by the resistance of his presidency from the beginning to end. Because of such, it stopped him for doing more. He was the President for all people and did what he could with the resistance.”

In terms of going forward, the Rev. Grainger Browning, pastor of the Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church in Fort Washington, Md. said that despite calls to keep an open mind about Trump it is not going to be easy. “Our people are so anti-Trump, even those who allude to him are crucified,” said Browning, referencing former NFL greats Jim Brown and Ray Lewis who were criticized after they met with Trump in New York. But Browning and the ministers said they hope new partnerships can be forged among Whites and Blacks on economic issues.

“I believe there are more similarities that unite us between the working class of Blacks and Whites,” Browning said. “Our greatest challenge is the affront to voting rights and voter suppression. The reality is, [Trump] is president and we have to find common ground for the betterment of our communities.”

Despite the loss of the White House, Harkins said Clinton supporters are not giving up. “A lot of young people that I talked to are capable and talented. My word to them is to stay on the field and fight for the things that we have believed in for the last eight years.”

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