Easter Sunday is a sacred day in the Christian tradition however this year a group of black ministers are planning to take advantage of those numbers to combat voter ID laws by registering one million voters in the pews.
Nearly 31 states currently require voters to produce identification at the polls, something the NAACP considers to be a violation of civil rights.
The Empowerment Movement, led by Rev. Jamal Bryant, stated in a press release that there are an estimated 500,000 black churches in the United States and over five million unregistered voters. The campaign was organized when Bryant met with other Baltimore-area ministers to discuss issues of mass incarceration, high unemployment, and restrictive voter ID laws. The group resolved to fight new voting laws that often keep elderly, young and black voters from casting ballots.
“In 1965, Rev. Martin Luther King, a Baptist, Rev. Joseph Lowery, a United Methodist, and Andy Young, a Disciples of Christ preacher, walked out of an AME Church and marched together in Selma for voting rights,” said Rev. Jamal Bryant, leader of The Empowerment Movement.
“Leaders in the black church today must step up in unity,” Bryant said in a phone interview with BlackAmericaWeb.com, as he walked Monday in the 2012 commemoration of the Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights march.
Ministers and civil rights leaders this year are walking about 54 miles this week to Montgomery, Alabama from Selma, where the first group of voting rights marchers in 1965 were brutally beaten on Bloody Sunday on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
“We have to speak up and be vocal. We cannot be on the sidelines,” Bryant said. “Right now, there’s an attack across this country on health care and on programs that help HBCUs.”
Bryant has broken the stereotype of yesterday’s clergyman. He is the leader of a new breed of ministers who embrace the idea of capitalizing on the ever-increasing marketplace of the internet and technological innovations to spread the gospel.
With more than 8,000 members in his Empowerment Temple in Baltimore, Maryland and approximately 35,000 followers on Twitter, Facebook and MySpace, Bryant believes that “God is not just in the church; He is also in technology.” His mission, he says, is to “empower people spiritually, develop them educationally, expose them culturally, activate them politically and strengthen them economically.”
Easter Sunday was chosen for several reasons, said the Rev. Steven Green, a 19-year-old minister and student at Morehouse College in Atlanta.
“Easter is about resurrection. That which was dead comes back to life,” Green told BlackAmericaWeb.com. “We will have had our Good Friday experience. What better way to celebrate on Easter Sunday than the renewal of spirit.”
More people come to church on Easter, and many may not be regular participants, he said. When they do come, “they need to see the black church doing more than raising money on Easter. They need to see the black church raising awareness.”
Green’s role in The Empowerment Movement is to reach young Christians and encourage them to register to vote.
“Voting is important, especially for our generation,” he said, “because we have never seen a time like this, with so many assaults on a president.”
The goal is to register 1 million black voters in church on Easter Sunday, April 8. With more than 500,000 black churches in this country and many of them filled to capacity on Easter, the goal could be reached with an average of 20 registrations at each church.
The Empowerment Movement, a non-partisan organization, was launched with the support of the AME Church, AME Zion Church, Church of God in Christ, Progressive, Bible Way Churches, Full Gospel, Gospel Music Workshop of America, CME, United Covenant Churches, Harvest Churches, Fellowship of international Word of Faith, Church of God, Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, and members of the Congressional Black Caucus, the NAACP and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
If the goal of 1 million voter registrations in one day is reached, it will break a Guinness Book world record, Bryant said.
“What a way to break a record,” he said, “for democracy.”