On Tuesday, August 31, 2004, leaders of the most historic and revered religious institutions in New York City came together for a massive interfaith service, to direct the nation’s attention to the plight of the poor and the marginalized in the country. Thousands of Muslims, Christians and Jews came out for the National Council of Churches-sponsored rally, during which attendees formed a ‘Ring of Hope’ for justice and democracy by holding hands and flashlights down Broadway and other parts of Manhattan.
Held concurrent to the Republican National Convention in NYC, the ‘Ring of Hope’ was created after a special service at the Riverside Church, where the Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes delivered a sermon, challenging the politicians to change the nation’s policies and reconnect America with its spiritual, moral, and democratic values
The “Ring” symbolizes the hope that there can be true democracy for all Americans, including “the poor, the sick, the unemployed, and the disenfranchised”. At exactly 9 PM, all the churches in New York City rang their bells in a show of support.
The service included introductions by leaders of different faiths with a memorable litany of poverty statistics by The Rev. Dr. Joseph C. Hough, Jr., President of the Union Theological Seminary.
“39 million Americans are in poverty,” said Hough. “By 55 years of age, 45% of those who are 55 and older will be in poverty, and by 65 years, 65% will be in poverty.”
Also during the service, Bridget Smith from New York City's AID'S Housing Network gave a moving testimony of "how much God must've loved her to bring her out of prison" when she was sick from AIDS. Her testimony reminded those present of the need for national healthcare.
Other calls to justice included child poverty, workers without insurance, unemployment of African-American men, AIDS, increase of gun violence, and child care rights.
According to the Rev. John Hienstra of the Council of Churches of NYC, the call to Justice was able to draw in participants from various faiths because the differences in the religious traditions are “overcome by God’s call to help the poor and the underprivileged.”
In the night’s keynote speech, the Rev. Dr. Forbes cited both Franklin D. Roosevelt and God as inspiration for the campaign for Justice.
“It is their hope that faith can lead America to justice, an America that follows in the Martin Luther King, Jr. tradition of equality for all, regardless of race, gender, or religion,” said Dr. Forbes. “The goal is to create a network of faith-based groups and secular organizations that will unite for change in this country’s moral leadership.”
The campaign, inspired by the Scriptures, is organized around ten Prophetic Justice Principles that establish the basic standards for evaluating the morality of public policies.
The Ten Prophetic Justice Principles are:
1. Seek the Common Good
2. Be Truthful in Facts and Motives
3. Promote Unity and Inclusion
4. Take Responsibility for the Vulnerable
5. Appeal to our Higher Natures
6. Disdain the Arrogance of Power
7. Guard Freedom of Thought and Discussion
8. Cherish the Human Family
9. Ensure Stewardship of Creation
10. Provide Moral Leadership
Speaker Wanda Imasuen from North West Bronx Clergy Coalition explained that only when the government takes these ten principles to heart, we can “truly say that this is a country for the people, by the people, and of the people.”
This Ring of Hope service and rally is part of the “Let Justice Roll: Faith and Community Voices Against Poverty” campaign, which is co-sponsored by the National Council of Churches USA and the Center for Community Change. The “Let Justice Roll” campaign, which kicked off in Boston last month, will be held across 20 cities in the US to “challenge voters, public officials, delegates to the Party Conventions and candidates for public office, especially the presidential candidates to make ending poverty a top priority.”
The Ring of Hope rally also served as the kickoff event for “Mobilization 2004,” a campaign launched by Dr. Forbes’ Riverside Church in NYC.
“Mobilization 2004 is to redefine the role of faith in America’s political dialogue, to restore the moral, spiritual, and democratic values upon which the country was built, and to change the public policy in America to one that is humane, open, and inclusive,” explained Dr. Forbes.