The emails troubled the signers of the open letter, who stressed the value of black churchs' freedom to serve their neighbors and communities in accordance with their faith.
“Will black pastors and intellectuals be free to lead and guide our communities in accordance with our widely accepted faith-based knowledge tradition?” they asked. “How will your policies encourage or discourage our authority to lead?”
They requested a meeting with Clinton during her first 100 days in office to discuss critical issues in the black community such as education and employment, religious freedom, violence, and “justice for the unborn.”
According to the letter, about 80 percent of 41 million American blacks are members of historically black churches.
The letter’s signers said that where religious freedom and conscience is at stake, “we are prepared, for the sake of the gospel, to suffer the consequences of standing on our convictions.”
“We must resist what Pope Francis has called the ideological colonization of people of faith,” they added. “We do not organize to suppress the freedom of other groups. We do, however, insist upon having freedom to fulfill our call to righteous living and service to humankind.”
“A well-financed war is now being waged by the gay and lesbian community in the U.S. and abroad on the faith of our ancestors,” they charged. The letter questioned “the drive to normalize immoral sexual behavior.”
“Their argument that religious freedom laws are historically and existentially equivalent to Jim Crow laws rests on false assertions. Partisans who make these arguments have declared war on the truth of the black experience as well as on the freedom of faithful Americans to follow their consciences.”
The letter’s signers said a fundamental concern is their right as religious leaders to minister to their congregants and to the black poor regardless of religious belief “in a manner consistent with their faith convictions.”
The open letter to Clinton also voiced a Christian view against abortion.
“The vast majority of black churches hold biblical teaching, which is eternal, as authoritative for doctrine and practice,” the letter said. “Abortion is the deliberate destruction of a human life in its most vulnerable state … For the same reasons that we as black Christian leaders oppose racism, unjust wars, capital punishment and euthanasia, we oppose the violent denial of life to the unborn through abortion.”
The letter’s signers said abortion has had a “catastrophic impact” in the black community, with 365 black babies aborted for every 1,000 born. In 2013, more black babies were aborted in New York City than were born.
“How do you justify your unconscionable silence in the face of such destruction of innocent black life?” they asked Clinton. “Don’t black lives matter? What policies would you pursue as president to reverse the soaring abortion rates among black women?”
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The letter called for justice in cases of “egregious behavior” by police officers, citing the death of the New York man Eric Garner, who died when police officers attempted to detain him and appeared to use a prohibited chokehold. It voiced an urgent concern about police violence against blacks that appears to go unpunished. It also lamented the high murder rate among black men.
The open letter cited concern about unemployment, especially among young black men, whose unemployment rate is as high as 33 percent.
The letter also cited overseas religious freedom problems, including the displacement of millions of Christians from their homes in the Middle East.
The letter’s signatories include Pentecostal Presiding Bishop Charles E. Blake of the Church of God in Christ in Los Angeles; Jacqueline C. Rivers, executive director of the Boston-based Seymour Institute for Black Church and Policy Studies; Bishop Frank Reid III, chairman of the Social Justice Committee of the African Methodist Episcopal Church; Bishop Lemuel F. Thuston, vice chairman of the general assembly of the Church of God in Christ; and Prof. Frederick L. Ware of Howard School of Divinity.
The letter was also critical of Clinton’s April 2015 remarks before the National Organization of Women. That speech discussed girls’ education, women’s mortality rate, and access to safe childbirth and “reproductive health care,” a common euphemism for abortion.
Clinton said rights must be put into practice and “deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed.”