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Since October 2023, Israel's war on Gaza has killed more than 30,000 people. (Mohammed Ibrahim via Unsplash)

Why the Black Church Is Calling for a Gaza Ceasefire

Is Joe Biden listening?

Words: Pastor Michael McBride, Rev. Dr. Jacqueline A. Thompson
Pictures: Mohammed Ibrahim

The leaders of one of America’s oldest and most storied traditions — the Black Christian African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church’s Council of Bishops — recently issued a call for a permanent ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian armed groups and an end to US aid to Israel as its government wages a war of slaughter in the Gaza Strip. 

It was an AME Church — South Carolina’s historic Mother Emanuel church, the site of the horrific white supremacist massacre that killed nine Black churchgoers in 2015 — where protesters demanding US support for a ceasefire in Gaza made headlines in January when they interrupted President Joe Biden’s campaign speech.

Though the protesters’ calls for peace were eventually drowned out by chants demanding “four more years” for Biden, the AME council’s courageous new call to conscience underscores how mistaken Biden’s team is if they’re counting on campaign rhetoric to silence the growing upset in the Black church over America’s support for Israel’s war against the Palestinians. After all, it is a war that the International Court of Justice found that Israel’s actions could plausibly constitute a genocide.

From the Pulpits

As Black church leaders, our faith and our history call on us to oppose militarism and oppression in all its forms. And while it may not always make the headlines, Black congregations across America are answering this call to action — from the pulpit and in the pews — as we grapple with the violence being committed against our Palestinian brothers and sisters with Biden’s unconditional support. Just this past weekend, students held a silent protest at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta to call for a ceasefire while US Senator Raphael Warnock, a senior pastor there, delivered his Sunday message.

We know that violence and dispossession do not create the conditions for peace or justice — dialogue, accountability, and restitution do. Yet throughout our lives, politicians in Washington have relied heavily on force and coercion, not diplomacy, to try to solve conflicts throughout the world. 

From direct US interventions in Vietnam to Afghanistan to Libya, to reverberating effects of US militarism that can be seen in the spike in terrorism and recent coups in West Africa and the Sahel, the results of such policies have been nothing short of disastrous for the very people we claimed to be helping through our warfare. And it gets even worse, as the ever ballooning Pentagon budget America “needs” to sustain these wars is made on the backs of its own working poor, starving critical social infrastructure from healthcare to education to housing. 

Latest Chapter in US Militarism

President Biden’s embrace of Israel’s war in Gaza is another chapter in the same tragic story of US militarism. The Biden administration tells reporters that it is doing its utmost to protect innocent Palestinian civilians. Biden spoke to his efforts of securing a Ceasefire last week, punctuated by a very spirited similar call by Vice President Kamala Harris in Selma, signaling some movement and possibly shift in the current approach. Yet, meanwhile, the administration is sending Israel 2,000-pound “bunker buster” bombs so that they may continue an aerial bombardment campaign that the president himself described as “indiscriminate.” 

Helping our congregations live their faith is a sacred duty. Yet every week, new images and stories of slaughter in Gaza — done with our tax dollars, and in the name of our “security” — raise urgent questions within our congregations. Can any of us walk a moral path so long as the  government we elected continues to fund this war effort, which has now killed more than 30,000 Palestinians, including over 11,500 children

As Black church leaders, our faith and our history call on us to oppose militarism and oppression in all its forms.

America’s unconscionable role enabling this slaughter simply can’t be washed away. Since Hamas’ deadly Oct. 7 attacks, the US has supplied Israel with 10,000 tons of arms and military equipment. As a retired Israeli major general admitted, “All of our missiles, the ammunition, the precision-guided bombs, all the airplanes and bombs, it’s all from the US … Everyone understands that we can’t fight this war without the United States. Period.” 

That is why we issued a moral call for a ceasefire in November, imploring Biden to use his enormous leverage to bring about a ceasefire, the return of all hostages from Gaza, and humanitarian relief to Palestinians. As the presidential election approaches and disapproval of Biden’s Israel policy grows, his team has made increasing efforts to show they’re “listening” to our demands. But are they hearing them? Evidence suggests otherwise. 

Bypassing Congress

Since our call for diplomacy and de-escalation, Biden has instead repeatedly bypassed Congress to provide new arms to Israel and used America’s veto powers to defeat multiple United Nations efforts to increase humanitarian aid or impose a ceasefire. No one should be fooled by what Biden administration officials are saying from the podium — it’s what they are doing that matters. And what they’re doing is continuing to provide unconditional military support and diplomatic cover to an Israeli war effort, which South Africa and many governments across the Global South argue is a modern genocide. 

A year before he was assassinated, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. issued a searing condemnation of the Vietnam War and US militarism in a speech at Riverside Church. He warned that “If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read: Vietnam.” 

If Biden is to have any hope of living up to his promise to “restore the soul” of America, ‘ he must act — now — to bring about a permanent ceasefire and end Israel’s war on Gaza. If we fail to intervene for peace and humanity, the destruction of the Palestinian people will forever stain what remains of America’s war-weary soul.

Pastor Michael McBride, Rev. Dr. Jacqueline A. Thompson

Pastor Michael McBride is the co-founder of Black Church PAC and the Lead Pastor for the Way Church in Berkeley, California, and a board member of the Quincy Institute. Rev. Dr. Jacqueline A. Thompson is the Senior Pastor of The Allen Temple Baptist Church in her native Oakland, California.

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