The Progressive National Baptist Convention, the denominational home of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., publicly endorsed calls for a ceasefire in Israel-Gaza on Monday (Jan. 22).
“We’re calling for a ceasefire,” Rev. David Peoples, PNBC president, announced during an event in Memphis, Tennessee.
Speaking during a press conference at the Lorraine Motel, the site of King’s assassination in 1968, Peoples connected the PNBC’s call for a ceasefire to their concern for Black lives in the United States. His remarks about Gaza came after he talked about Black people killed by police, specifically mentioning George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota; Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky; and Tyre Nichols there in Memphis.
“We the Progressive National Baptist Convention, we not only are concerned about our brothers and sisters and the killing that’s taking place in the streets and even in our own communities. We are not only concerned about the havoc that’s taking place in our families around this country. We’re not only concerned about the economic pressures that people are feeling,” he explained. “We are concerned not only about this country, but we’re also concerned about affairs on the waters and across the seas. We are concerned about what is taking place in Gaza.”
As he made the case for a ceasefire, Peoples warned that “if you’re not careful, that which you are against, that which you are fighting against, you will become yourself.” His remark aligned with the preaching of King, who pushed against the Vietnam War before that was a popular position: “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
“We as the Progressive National Baptist Convention, we do not apologize for our prophetic voice. We are who we say we are,” Peoples added. “We’re here to call into account, we’re here to tell you that God is watching.”
Organized in 1961 by pastors who left the National Baptist Convention USA, the largest Black Baptist body, the PNBC came into existence out of a desire to see more active support for King and the civil rights movement. King addressed the PNBC’s meetings every year until his death. Other civil rights leaders in the new convention included Rev. Ralph Abernathy, Rev. Benjamin Mays, and Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker. The most prominent PNBC minister today is Rev. Raphael Warnock, who is also a U.S. Senator and senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, where Martin Luther King Sr. and Martin Luther King Jr. were pastors.
Peoples, who is a pastor in Lexington, Kentucky, on Monday started his remarks by honoring Dexter King, the youngest son of MLK and Coretta Scott King. Dexter died earlier that day after a battle with cancer.
Peoples also noted the ongoing efforts to undermine civil rights and voting rights in various states across the country, pledging the PNBC would continue its advocacy to protect such rights. He praised proposed legislation “named after one of our legendary members,” the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
“The post-Jan. 6 America depends on moral cooperation and political courage of Washington” to pass the bill, Peoples said, adding that voting rights are essential for the development of “the beloved community.”
The press conference in Memphis occured ahead of a four-day joint gathering of the nation’s four largest Black Baptist convention. In addition to the PNBC, representatives are participating from the National Baptist Convention USA, the National Baptist Convention of America, and the National Missionary Baptist Convention of America. The gathering will include times of preaching, worship, fellowship, and dialogue about ways to partner together.