In Black Pulpits Across America, Jobless Benefits Are Addressed

More than 1 million Americans lost their unemployment benefits last week and many pastors say members of their congregations are affected.

Posted: 12/30/2013 11:03 AM EST
In Black Pulpits Across America, Jobless Benefits Are Addressed

At the 11:15 Sunday morning service at the First Baptist Church of Highland Park in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C., a major focus from the pulpit was the difficulty some in the congregation are now facing with the ending of unemployment benefits for more than 1 million Americans.

“We have people in our congregation who are affected by this,” said the Rev. Henry P. Davis, the pastor of the 3,200-member church. “For them, this is a tough period and it places them in a very trying situation,” Davis said, speaking with BET.com. “I think that Congress should come back and do something about this. People are being stretched to their limits and something should be done.”

Davis’ church was one of many largely African-American houses of worship that devoted a good deal of this past Sunday’s agenda to the pain now being felt by people who lost their federal unemployment benefits on Dec. 28.

The federal benefits started during the recession to assist people who had exhausted their state unemployment benefits, which last around six months on average. When Congress came to a budget agreement in the weeks before Christmas, there was no provision for federal jobless benefits, plunging more than a million people into added financial hardship.

And many pastors of largely African-American churches say that the lack of action by Congress has not only financially crippled some of their members, but has deepened the image of the Republican-led House of Representatives as a body unconcerned with the troubles of regular Americans.

“It is an unconscionable decision that completely lacks compassion,” said the Rev. Michael Fisher, the pastor of the Greater Zion Church in Compton, California.

Not only did Fisher address the failure of Congress to extend benefits from the pulpit. He also talked about it on the radio show he hosts on a local Los Angeles station.

President Obama, while vacationing in Hawaii, called again on Congress to take up the matter when they return to work in January, asking congressional leaders to pass legislation to extend unemployment benefits.

In Detroit, the Rev. David A. Bullock, the pastor of the Greater St. Matthew Baptist Church, said that he urged his congregation to look at the issues beyond their individual lives and to hold elected officials accountable for the decisions they make.

“We look at the scripture that says that the just should be concerned about the poor,” said Bullock, in an interview with BET.com. He is also the head of Change Agent Consortium, a civil rights organization in Detroit.

“We don’t have a system in this country that seems to priorities the poor. We have to see ourselves as part of a larger struggle that needs to change the nature of our politics and change who we are as a nation.”

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Follow Jonathan Hicks on Twitter: @HicksJonathan

(Photo: Mark Gail/For The Washington Post/Getty Images)

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