Washington — Hoping to steer national politics in a different direction, black clergy from several denominations came together for the first-ever “African-American Clergy Advocacy Day” on Capitol Hill to protest federal budget cuts proposed by the Trump administration.
As happened last week at a similar protest, 16 protesters were arrested July 18 on charges of "crowding, obstructing or incommoding" while trying to raise awareness of what they said was unjust legislation.
"Since all of these folk make a big deal about putting their hand on the Bible and swearing themselves into office, we've come to let them know what's in the Bible," said the Rev. William J. Barber II, a North Carolina pastor at the forefront of state and national protests focused on poverty and civil rights.
The event was organized by the National African American Clergy Network and included meetings with members of Congress, speeches outside the Capitol and civil disobedience — protesting inside the Senate office buildings.
Politicians such as Rep. Maxine Waters, D-California, reiterated the point that black leaders will keep fighting the Trump administration.
At last week's march, Barber and other clergy members were arrested after protesting planned Medicaid cuts in the now-defunct Senate GOP health care bill.
The July 18 event was a response to a wider range of issues, from Housing Secretary Ben Carson's controversial statements on slavery to cuts in President Donald Trump's budget for programs such as Meals on Wheels.
The Rev. Raphael Warnock, pastor of Atlanta's historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, said that while Trump asked the black community to give him a chance during the presidential election, his budget proposal showed his true priorities.
"A budget is not just a fiscal document. It is a moral document," said Warnock, who was arrested and released after paying a fine. "It says something about the spiritual health of a people. And if this budget were an EKG, it would indicate that America has a serious heart condition."
U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters speaks to an ecumenical group of African-American clergy outside the U.S. Capitol on July 18, 2017. (RNS photo by Madeleine Buckley)
The Rev. Leslie Copeland-Tune, director of the Ecumenical Poverty Initiative, said clergy would keep coming back to fight.
"We will be back knocking on the doors of Mitch McConnell and anybody else ... who decides that they should rob the poor just because they are poor," she said.
The protesters also campaigned through social media, encouraging attendees to use the hashtags #BlackClergyUprising and #BlackClergyVoices.
The event was originally organized to also protest the Senate's GOP health care bill, but support for that bill collapsed July 17.