Clergy planning General Assembly protest

May. 25, 2013 @ 04:48 PM

Clergy in Durham are meeting to build support for a June 10 gathering near the Legislative Building in Raleigh in protest of the Republican-led General Assembly’s agenda.

Rev. Jimmie Hawkins of Covenant Presbyterian Church hosted a clergy meeting at his church Friday with fellow organizer Rev. William Turner Jr., pastor of Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church and professor of the practice of homiletics at Duke Divinity School. Hawkins said the purpose is to rally clergy across denominational and faith lines to speak out on General Assembly actions that hurt the poor.

Clergy will gather at 5 p.m. June 10 at Bicentennial Plaza on Jones Street. It is a separate gathering from the NAACP Moral Mondays protest, and clergy may acknowledge the NAACP protestors in some way but do not plan to cross the street or be arrested.

On Friday, interested clergy included Rev. Mark Davidson of the Church of Reconciliation, a Presbyterian Church in Chapel Hill. He thinks the General Assembly “isn’t the old Democrat/Republican divide in North Carolina, but part of a national movement to make statehouses as regressive as possible.”

“Our Lord identified himself totally with the least of these,” Davidson said. “Our people feel powerless, but faith is always powerful.”

Rev. Susan Dunlap, a parish associate at First Presbyterian Church in Durham, said what motivated her to come was North Carolina’s turning down federal Medicaid funding. It upsets her, she said, “because I see the fallout.” Dunlap is also chaplain at Urban Ministries of Durham, a homeless shelter.

Hawkins said that people are asking, “Where are the clergy? Where is the church?” He has joined the NAACP protests in Raleigh, but thinks a clergy gathering will be a powerful statement.

“I want no one to say this is a radical, NAACP, leftist movement,” Hawkins said. He wants them to see a range of people gathered.

Marion Phillips, a Presbyterian teaching elder and retired associate dean in the UNC School of Medicine, was involved in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. “North Carolina seems to be the head dog in this thing of going back,” Phillips said.

Rev. Greg Brown of Covenant Presbyterian said that Eastern North Carolina is as conservative as it has ever been. He remembers Ku Klux Klan signs in Kinston. He said it’s still underlying.

He said that Durham is a progressive enough city, but clergy across the state may worry about taking risks with their churches. “This is an opportunity to show the vast majority that church has a purpose,” Brown said.

Turner said that North Carolina once appeared to be the New South, but “it just might be some of us went to sleep.” He said he has reached out to the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and wants to send a letter that can be read in any congregation. He said it could be a version of a letter that Hawkins sent last week to African-American pastors, which Turner described as chastising. Hawkins characterized it as challenging them.

Hank Eichin, vice president of Durham Congregations In Action and a layman who is Catholic, said he’d like to see Catholic churches involved.

“I’m very concerned about everything going on,” Eichin said.

“I want to see clergy lift their voices,” Hawkins said. The issues in the General Assembly include “something to concern everyone,” he said.

Turner said those gathered at Covenant Presbyterian on Friday hold a theological position not shared by all.

“If you polled the General Assembly members constructing this agenda, they’d consider themselves devout Christians,” Turner said.

Hawkins said he wants clergy involved from all Christian denominations and other faiths. Another clergy meeting will be at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday at Covenant Presbyterian Church, 2620 E. Weaver St., Durham, in preparation of the June 10 gathering in Raleigh. For information, contact Rev. Jimmie Hawkins at