US faith leaders lead congregations through tumultuous time

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Protesters move along a highway, Friday, May 29, 2020, in Minneapolis. Protests continued following the death of George Floyd, who died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on Memorial Day. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

NEW YORK – American religious leaders across faiths are grappling with the heavy burden of helping to heal two active traumas: rising civil unrest driven by the police killing of George Floyd and the coronavirus pandemic.

Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders have raised their voices to condemn racial bias in the justice system while discouraging violence in response to the killing of Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee into his neck. Those words of solidarity, for many clergy, came as their worship routines remained upended by a virus that has forced them to rely on digital or outdoor gathering.

At Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, which has provided relief and medical help to demonstrators this week as protests roiled the city, associate pastor Angela T. Khabeb said the shared pain caused by Floyd’s death was exposing the brutal double toll being exacted on people of color.

“There were other pandemics we didn’t always talk about that faced black communities, indigenous, Latinx” before the virus outbreak, Khabeb said, citing “institutionalized racism” and poverty. “And then we layer on COVID-19, which disproportionately affects black, indigenous, Latinx communities.”

Khabeb acknowledged that she felt challenged by the task of tending to her congregation during the current crisis when the latest police killing of a black American had caused “a crisis of my own that’s very personal.”

Rev. Raphael Warnock, senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, the Atlanta church where Martin Luther King Jr., preached, said during Sunday’s Livestream service that his virtual congregation needed to stay focused.

“Don’t allow undisciplined provocateurs of hate who engage in looting or who tweet about shooting to highjack the high moral message," said Warnock, who is running for the U.S. Senate. "Stay on high moral ground and we will win.”

Among the religious leaders in Minnesota organizing for spiritual care since Floyd’s death was Bernard Hebda, the Catholic archbishop of the Twin Cities. Hebda held a Friday online prayer service “for racial justice and peace" alongside Rev. Erich Rutten, the priest of a historic African American parish in St. Paul. The Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton also traveled to Minneapolis on Thursday, with Jackson speaking at a local Baptist church.