Most organizations that try to influence public policy generally run highly choreographed press conferences and tightly controlled communication campaigns. As a result, these groups often remove, scrub or separate their faith from public platforms and limit the exploration of new friendships and unique partnerships.
Driving faith out of the public square to appease or pacify is a mistake and weakens the nation. On the contrary, creating opportunities to shape communities and transform individuals takes faith and requires people to come together as friends for a greater good.
First Amendment rights, including freedom of belief and expression, are at the center of that American experiment, and they were at the center of the opening of the 110th annual convention of the NAACP in Detroit, Michigan. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is one of the few associations left in the country that still embraces faith as part of its identity and its ability to influence policy outcomes in the community. Its commitment to the free expression of belief and the importance of religious institutions as building blocks of society is to be applauded.
The opening press conference of the convention was faith-filled and politically spirited. The topics ranged from the work being done within churches to the work of Congress in Washington and the words coming from the White House.
The Rev. Wendell Anthony, who leads the largest NAACP chapter in the country and the Fellowship Chapel church in Detroit, welcomed participants to the city. The Rev. Anthony shared a biblical reference to kairos moments — those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to do something extraordinary — and powerfully and properly surmised that, “One does not begin the journey on the day the journey begins.”
One kairos moment from the conference was found in the unique unity of the NAACP and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns this paper, in an expanding relationship driven by a shared commitment to education, self-reliance and financial literacy. With the leadership of the Rev. Theresa Deer, the NAACP has tailored the church’s self-reliance materials to meet the needs of inner-city individuals and families. Bringing faith and finance together is a natural instinct for NAACP members.
A second kairos moment occurred Sunday evening as President Russell M. Nelson, president of the church, addressed the conference attendees. In a week Utahns celebrate the pioneering spirit of those who trekked across the American plains, the Rev. Amos Brown introduced his friend President Nelson by describing him as “a bold, humble trailblazer.”
The powerful alliance, which is already producing profound results, didn’t begin in an instant but was nurtured and cultivated over time with meaningful conversations between players in both organizations. President Nelson, in his typical side-by-side leadership style, “linked arms” with his newfound friends and together forged a partnership of faith and good works.
President Nelson concluded his remarks Sunday evening, saying, “I pray that we may increasingly call each other dear friends. May we go forward doing our best to exemplify the two great commandments — to love God and love each of his children. Arm in arm and shoulder to shoulder, may we strive to lift our brothers and sisters everywhere, in every way we can. This world will never be the same.”
We commend the leadership of the NAACP and President Nelson and encourage all to see that faith remains a factor in the public square and friendships should be fostered to build bridges of understanding. Then our communities will never be the same.