Rev. Phillip Schanker
On the foundation of the historic and diverse Million Family March, the American Clergy Leadership Conference has taken a major step forward as a truly interracial, interreligious and headwing movement of clergy. Now, the 2000 Presidential Election presents our nation with both a challenge and an opportunity. With the presidential vote and the House of Representatives near evenly divided, and the Senate an exact 50-50 split, the next president will need to build consensus, harmonize, and be able to forge unity and build consensus. As a truly diverse and headwing organization, the ACLC can fulfill an important role in gathering religious leadership to inspire this spirit of unity and cooperation.
But as the election dispute grows more partisan and divisive, the foundation of unity and support for the first American president of the new millennium is threatened. While most of us may have a strong opinion as to who is the actual winner of the election, even if our own chosen candidate were to emerge triumphant, if the supporters of the one who falls short are unable to accept the result or trust the process, they may act to undermine or oppose the president's agenda in a near evenly-divided congress. Public confidence in America's democratic process is also being tested. Who can speak out on this issue, and call the nation to reconciliation and unity?
Texas Regional Vice-director Rev. John Jackson felt called to gather religious leaders in Dallas to prayer, and to hold a press conference emphasizing reconciliation, and the need to focus our nation upon the true foundation of our democracy, which is God. Rev. Jackson gathered some 50 clergy and community leaders, and local media immediately recognized the contrast between the partisan bickering in Florida and the unified spirit expressed in this ACLC event in Dallas.
Immediately upon hearing of Rev. Jackson plans, Rev. Michael Jenkins felt that it was exactly what our ACLC movement could and should do. We immediately planned a national level event before the majority of our men were to leave for Korea to join their spouses at the Chung Pyung Lake training center. But while Rev. Jenkins found many of our key leaders, such as Minister Benjamin Muhammad of the MFM, Dr. Billy McCormack of the Christian Coalition, and others were responsive and willing to participate, strong political winds were blowing in our nation's capital, and we wanted to be sure to have all of our coalition strongly united and completely non-partisan. Rev. Schanker had prepared a location in front of the U.S. Capitol, but we decided to wait.
Upon our return from Korea, at a breakfast meeting at East Garden, True Father, who has been following the American election closely, stated that the ACLC should stand up clearly and call for an end to the divisive struggle. We were inspired to know that we had somehow anticipated the need for such action, and knew that the time was now right.
On Friday, December 1, the United States Supreme Court was scheduled to hear arguments from lawyers for both candidates on the constitutionality of decisions made by the Florida Supreme Court. Realizing that the national and international media would be focused upon the Supreme Court at that time, we made plans for a small, dignified and clear pronouncement of the need for reconciliation and unity. We scheduled a press conference in front of the Supreme Court at 11:00 AM Dec. 1.
Immediately key ACLC leaders supported the idea, and made plans to arrive in Washington DC. We had no idea how many thousands of people were planning to be there and demonstrate for their candidate and against the other. When we realized that Rev. Jesse Jackson would be leading one march, Rev. Al Sharpton another, and that many diverse groups would participate, we decided that the clarity and spirit of our message was far more important than trying to gather a huge crowd to rally. As we arrived at the Supreme Court across from the U.S. Capitol building, crowds filled the sidewalks on both sides of the street, and repeatedly spilled into the street, blocking traffic. Police lined both sides of the streets, attempting to keep demonstrators on the sidewalks, and to avoid confrontations between the two opposing groups. Confrontations occurred spontaneously everywhere, as arguments turned to shouts, chants to insults, and face-offs nearly turned violent. Not surprisingly, media was everywhere, focusing in on the fighting and controversy.
Just before our event was scheduled to start, a huge group of demonstrators who had crammed the court front sidewalk began to march, creating a sudden space and moment of relative calm. We unrolled a simple banner which said: The American Clergy Leadership Conference calls America to FORGIVE, LOVE, UNITE! and that included the date and location. Our sound system and some accessories were stuck somewhere in the traffic jam caused by the overflowing crowds. Somehow a megaphone appeared, and Reverend Jenkins pulled it all together, moderating the presentations and introducing each speaker, each of whom had come out of support for the cause, love for True Parents, respect for Dr. Yang and strong personal commitment to Rev. Jenkins.
Standing side-by-side behind the banner were Dr. Dan Perkins of the Christian Coalition, who carried with him a message of support from C.C. founder Rev. Pat Robertson (which he later read), Dr. Hycel Taylor, former National Director of Operation PUSH (whose founder, Rev. Jesse Jackson, was leading a demonstration across the street), and Minister Benjamin Muhammad, National Director of the successful Million Family March. Joining them were Rev. Jenkins, Rev. Levy Daugherty, President of the Pentecostals of Philadelphia Rev. Jesse Edwards, civil rights veterans Dr. Milton Reid of Norfolk and Rev. Charles Kenyatta of Harlem, representative DC pastors such as Rev. Cleveland Sparrow, and additional supporters and friends.
During our press conference, these righteous leaders spoke out one-by-one, calling America to return to its great tradition of faith in God, reminding us that this nation was founded as One Nation Under God, and that God is above the Supreme Court. They cried out: If my people who are called by my name, will humble themselves repent then will I hear from Heaven and heal their land. They expressed confidence that our democracy, though imperfect, was founded upon our faith in God and respect for diversity, and that if people come together, God would guide our nation. They challenged our next president, whoever that may be, to lead our nation toward renewal, to work with religious leaders to rebuild the family, restore the community, and renew America. And they called America to repent, and to bring God back into our national life. Dr. Hycel Taylor's message is attached and follows as just one example.
The streets were filled that morning with chants, shouts, and demonstrations - some comical, some dramatic. Signs reading: "Florida was Bushwhacked!" or "How the Gore-inch stole Christmas!" were everywhere. Darth Vader marched by with a sign that read: "Keep Counting Till the Dark Side Wins!" People were dressed as Uncle Sam, butterfly ballots, or one of the two candidates, among others. But in the midst of it all, only one event was truly non-partisan, truly unifying, and it therefore impressed all who passed by. We had pre-arranged coverage from many media outlets through the contacts we have developed during the Million Family March. But the diverse and dramatic events were like a smorgasbord for the media appetite for controversy. So we tracked them down, and led them over to our event one by one: CNN, NBC, BET, CBS, and the Associated Press. Others passed by on their own, some who had promised and some just looking for stories, and spent time filming and interviewing our event: Copley News Service, Radio America, The Washington Post, and many, many more. Local Newschannel 8 called later for interviews, for their report on the religious community role in the election controversy. They noted the uniqueness of this coalition and its message. Rev. Schanker did a local religious radio program the following day.
As the excited and angry demonstrators marched by, they reacted at first as if we were from the other side. But as they recognized and understood what we were saying, they nodded their heads and signaled their approval. Many of the media were hard to attract, but once they recognized our uniqueness, they were interested. One national network reporter interviewed Dr. Taylor and Dr. Perkins together, and the whole point of his interview was how incredible to see the Christian Coalition and Operation PUSH together. We distributed press releases and statements to the media. Although our message was certainly not the media main interest, in the next few days we will collect the reports, photos and stories that may have come out.
After the event, our key ACLC leaders brainstormed and planned over lunch. It was obvious that this event itself was an education for all of us. We made plans how to draw together other major religious leaders, such as Pat Robertson. We considered an interfaith reconciliation prayer service or event around the inaugural, and recognized the need to speak out on a continuing basis, to build upon the spirit of the MFM and this event, and bring the religious leaders together centered upon God providence.
Rev. Phillip Schanker