Contact NCC News Service: 212-870-2252  |  E-mail news@ncccusa.org    |  Most Recent Stories   |  NCC Home

National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA
Statement about Jena 6
September 25, 2007
 

In recent days, our nation has once again been confronted with issues of race and justice—this time in Jena, Louisiana. The National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA through its Governing Board understands that this is indeed a tragic situation and many lives, both Black and White, have been negatively impacted by the events that have taken place in Jena: the nooses hanging from a tree, a justice system and community that seemed to ignore this hate crime, violent retaliation against a white youth, excessive criminal charges against six African American teenagers, a community torn apart, and protests and cries for justice from across the country. 

In the Old Testament, the prophet Micah informs us that God requires us to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God. Yet for many in our country, justice is often beyond reach and mercy is a dream deferred. Justice in Jena requires an acknowledgement of the historical context of our nation; a nation founded on the declaration that all people are created equal and have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness but one in which equality and justice have eluded millions of people because of the color of their skin. “Enough is Enough” was the rallying cry for the thousands of protesters who gathered in Jena earlier this month. Indeed it is time for our country to address the still prevalent inequities in the criminal justice system as well as the vestiges of racial inequality and bias that are still evident in our nation. As it stands now, a community has been torn a part, the futures of six African American youth is hanging in the balance and a white youth was beaten and brutalized. Yes, enough is enough! 

As a community of believers in the loving and reconciling power of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we believe that it is time for our nation to recommit itself to fairness, equality, justice and freedom for all of God’s children. Every person is endowed with God-given dignity and worth. Justice in Jena, and in other cities and towns across the nation, requires that we take a closer look at our legal system and the reality of racism in America today: 

According to the “State of Black America Urban League Report,” more than 10,000 youth are presently incarcerated in U.S. adult prisons. African American men are three times more likely than white men to face jail once they have been arrested in the U.S.; 24.4 percent of African Americans arrested in 2005 ended up in jail compared with 8.3 percent of white men; African American men receive jail sentences that are on average 15 percent longer than whites convicted of the same crime. 

There are unreported incidents of racial injustice and hate crimes everyday. In recent weeks a noose was hung in front of the African American cultural center at the University of Maryland and a black woman was bound and tortured by a white family in West Virginia. Disproportionate numbers of people of color receive unequal treatment in education, health care, housing and other aspects of our society.  

These events and others across the country remind us that racism and injustice are still part of the human condition and reignite memories of hatred and racial injustice throughout American history. We are reminded of the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” We are also firmly reminded of other words of Dr. King, “We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.”  

These cries echo the cries of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who said in the Gospel of Matthew, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? (Matthew 5:43-46a, NRSV) 

Therefore, we do not condone the violent retaliation by the six teenagers now being referred to as the “Jena 6.” Nor do we condone the ignoring of the events that created an atmosphere for the mounting tensions that culminated in this violent retaliation. We also recognize that these words of Christ are difficult to live by in the midst of racial injustice, bias and inequity. 

It is particularly difficult to show love as we negotiate our sense of outrage at the injustice that is pervasive in this case: 

  • We are outraged by the continuing acts of racial hatred and the Jim Crow-type tactics being used by the education and criminal justice system in Jena.
  • We are outraged that nooses hanging from a tree could ever be considered a “youthful stunt.”
  • We are outraged by the fact that the white students received no legal consequences at all for their racist actions.
  • We are outraged by the disparity in treatment by the school superintendent resulting in suspension for the white students and expulsion for the black students.
  • We are outraged by the rampant racism that is reflected in the actions of the District Attorney, who threatened the black youth by saying he could end their lives with the stroke of a pen.
  • We are outraged by the selection of an all white jury to hear the case and the abuse of prosecutorial power which has led to unequal and unjust punishment as well as exacerbated racial tensions in Jena.
  • We are outraged by the overzealous and biased prosecution that resulted in extreme sentences, exorbitant bail, and continuing detainment of one of the Jena six.
  • We are outraged by the excessive charges against the black youth.

The National Council of Churches, like its member communions, stands forthrightly with the Jena 6 as they seek equal justice under the law. For decades we have committed time and resources to support those who risked their lives in the name of freedom and justice, and we will continue to do so. Despite the strides that have been made in civil and human rights in our nation in the past, we still have our work cut out for us. We call our nation, our churches and our communities to repentance, reconciliation and righteousness as we strive for a more just society.

We stand with the many students and other voices across our nation who have called on Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco and Louisiana Attorney General Charles C. Foti to do everything within their power to protect the rights of Mychal Bell, Robert Bailey, James Beard, Carwin Jones, Bryant Purvis and Theo Shaw as their trials go forth.  

We pray for all of the citizens of Jena—that their community may find healing and peace even as they extend grace and learn to forgive those with whom they do not agree. We pray for those in specific unidentified places where racial, class and other injustices are present but have not surfaced in the media. We also pray for our nation as we continue to struggle against racism, injustice, violence and hatred, that we might leave our children an inheritance of righteousness and equality, mutual understanding and hope. We pray that God’s presence and guidance will be with us all as we seek to move our nation toward justice, reconciliation and healing.


National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA
Proposed Action Items for Jena 6 Response
Presented to the Governing Board
September 25, 2007
 

Louisiana

  • Letters to Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco, Louisiana Attorney General Charles C. Foti and Louisiana representatives in Congress
  • Remain in consultation with the Louisiana Interchurch Conference to work collaboratively and assist them in their efforts to help
  • Invite Jena church leaders to the General Assembly to give a status report to our delegates and share ways the NCC can lend support to their community

Nationally

  • Letters to our churches about supporting the ongoing work of racial justice in our communities and nation
  • Send letters to all members of Congress urging them to be diligent in their efforts to promote equality and justice in all of the institutions in our society
  • Posting our denominations’ statements on NCC’s website
  • Disseminate our statement broadly to our communions, partner organizations and to media outlets across the country
  • Accept the invitation of the Samuel Dewitt Proctor Conference, an ecumenical body of Black churches, to work collaboratively to promote racial justice

NCC News contact:  Dan Webster, 212.870.2252, NCCnews@ncccusa.org


 

Return to NCC Home Page