Posted on January 29, 2024

Black Pastors Pressure Biden to Call for a Cease-Fire in Gaza

Maya King, New York Times, January 28, 2024

As the Israel-Hamas war enters its fourth month, a coalition of Black faith leaders is pressuring the Biden administration to push for a cease-fire — a campaign spurred in part by their parishioners, who are increasingly distressed by the suffering of Palestinians and critical of the president’s response to it.

More than 1,000 Black pastors representing hundreds of thousands of congregants nationwide have issued the demand. In sit-down meetings with White House officials, and through open letters and advertisements, ministers have made a moral case for President Biden and his administration to press Israel to stop its offensive operations in Gaza, which have killed thousands of civilians. They are also calling for the release of hostages held by Hamas and an end to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.

The effort at persuasion also carries a political warning, detailed in interviews with a dozen Black faith leaders and their allies. Many of their parishioners, these pastors said, are so dismayed by the president’s posture toward the war that their support for his re-election bid could be imperiled.

“Black faith leaders are extremely disappointed in the Biden administration on this issue,” said the Rev. Timothy McDonald, the senior pastor of First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta, which boasts more than 1,500 members. He was one of the first pastors of more than 200 Black clergy members in Georgia, a key swing state, to sign an open letter calling for a cease-fire. “We are afraid,” Mr. McDonald said. “And we’ve talked about it — it’s going to be very hard to persuade our people to go back to the polls and vote for Biden.”

Any cracks in the ordinarily rock-solid foundation of Black support for Mr. Biden, and for Democrats nationally, could be of enormous significance in November.

The intense feeling on the war in Gaza is among myriad unexpected ways that the war has scrambled U.S. politics. And it comes as Mr. Biden is already facing signs of waning enthusiasm among Black voters, who have for generations been the Democrats’ most loyal voting base.


Their pastors said their congregants’ strong reactions to the war were striking.

“Black clergy have seen war, militarism, poverty and racism all connected,” said Barbara Williams-Skinner, co-convener of the National African American Clergy Network, whose members lead roughly 15 million Black churchgoers. She helped coordinate recent meetings between the White House and faith leaders. “But the Israel-Gaza war, unlike Iran and Afghanistan, has evoked the kind of deep-seated angst among Black people that I have not seen since the civil rights movement.”


But since then, the pastors’ Palestinian allies in the United States, Gaza and the West Bank have sought their assistance on behalf of civilians suffering under Israel’s counteroffensive. And the pastors have gotten an earful from their own congregants, especially younger churchgoers, about the conflict and Mr. Biden’s full-throated support for Israel.

That sentiment more broadly reflects a strong sense of solidarity between Black Americans and Palestinians that has shaped opinion since the war began.

“We see them as a part of us,” said the Rev. Cynthia Hale, the founder and senior pastor of Ray of Hope Christian Church in Decatur, Ga. “They are oppressed people. We are oppressed people.”

The Black pastors’ effort has forced the Biden administration to pay attention, as the president readies for what is expected to be an extremely close election against former President Donald J. Trump.

It began in late October, when a delegation of Black faith leaders from across the country descended on Washington, where they called for an end to the fighting in meetings with the White House and members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Hundreds of pastors signed open letters to Democratic leaders and paid for full-page advertisements in national newspapers, including The New York Times, to push for a cease-fire on humanitarian grounds and call for the release of all hostages being held in Gaza.

Since its founding, the Black church has been considered a power center of Black political organizing. In addition to providing spiritual guidance and challenging political leaders on moral grounds, Black religious leaders have galvanized their members to exercise their hard-won voting rights, often with great success.

Mr. Biden, especially, has recognized the importance of the Black church. One of his first campaign events of 2024 took place at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. in Charleston, S.C., on Jan. 8, making him the first sitting president to speak from the church’s storied pulpit. When protesters interrupted his speech with calls for a cease-fire, their cries were drowned out by shouts of “Four more years!”


Still, six Black faith leaders who spoke with The New York Times said they or their colleagues had considered rescinding invitations to Democratic politicians hoping to speak during their Sunday services, or withholding public support for Mr. Biden’s re-election until his administration committed to a cease-fire.