By Jessica Brodie
COLUMBIA—United Methodists were among hundreds who marched in downtown Columbia June 20 in an Interfaith Peace Walk for racial justice and reconciliation.
While organized by the African Methodist Episcopal Church, a host of other people of faith participated, including Bishop L. Jonathan Holston, resident bishop of the South Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church, as well as Lutherans, Baptists, Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, Episcopalians and more.
AME Bishop Samuel L. Green Sr. led the crowd in the walk from Allen University, a historically Black college, to the State House. Families, some pushing strollers, were joined by clergy and other people of faith of all races and ages in the blazing heat.
Holston was one of many church and community leaders to speak at the event, where people sang, chanted “Black lives matter,” carried posters calling for equality and wore shirts proclaiming “I can’t breathe,” in recognition of George Floyd. Floyd, an African-American man, was killed May 25 when a white police officer pinned Floyd’s neck to the ground for more than eight minutes, suffocating him.
Protestors wore masks and practiced social distancing to try to curb the spread of COVID-19, which on the day of the march was on the rise in the state.
“Social justice is the bedrock of our faith,” a mask-wearing Holston told the crowd to fervent applause. “When we witness injustice, anger is understandable. When we witness injustice, protest is appropriate. When we witness injustice, action is vital—because we recognize hopelessness is the enemy of justice.
“We gather to do the hard work today to build the bridges of racial reconciliation.”
Holston read lyrics from the iconic 1971 Marvin Gaye song, “What’s Going On,” which calls for love and understanding amid racial injustice. The song was inspired by a police brutality incident witnessed by one of the song’s writers.
“Only love can conquer hate,” Holston told the crowd. “What’s going on is we can’t breathe—the weight of oppression and injustice is suffocating. Pressure is being applied to the necks of our brothers and sisters instead of being used to change policies and prejudices.”
But just like the prophet Ezekiel found himself surrounded by dry bones in a valley (Ezekiel 37), God made those dry bones come to life for His power and glory—and He can do the same today.
“The time is now,” Holston said. “It’s not just about police brutality but systemic racism …. We can’t breathe because injustice anywhere is a threat to justice anywhere.”
“The time is now—let us work together to find the way to bring some understanding here today. We need frank and thoughtful conversation. We need respectful collaboration.”
The faith walk June 20 was the culmination of a the AME church’s weeklong celebration of Juneteenth, which commemorates June 19, 1865, when African Americans in Texas learned of their freedom from slavery under the Emancipation Proclamation.
The Rev. Alston Lippert, associate pastor at Washington Street UMC, Columbia, was one of many United Methodist clergy who participated in the walk.
“I felt called to attend the peace walk last weekend because God created each and everyone one of us in God’s image and loves us equally,” Lippert said. “Unfortunately, the systems and laws in the United States are stacked against Black people. Since everyone is a beloved child of God, I wanted and needed to march with and support my Black siblings. As a person of faith, I cannot continue to stand by in passive acceptance of the status quo. There was a good turnout Saturday, and I pray that we all will both pray and work for the changes we need so that all people are treated equally.”