SIMMONS: Ministers see lack of focus on people facing ‘cliff’

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If the truth is the light, Mayor Vincent C. Gray and his leadership team might need to increase the UV protection of their sunglasses.

Saying a lack of moral guidance has the District in the throes of “a near-crisis,” members of the clergy are taking a stand and urging city hall to do the same.

A phalanx of the city’s clergy is lining up on behalf of Faith United Church of Christ and other houses of worship to coalesce around issues of aiding the poor, the aging and other constituencies facing their own “fiscal cliffs.”

“We’re mobilizing to get as many people as we can, as many clergy as we can to lift them up,” said the Rev. Willie Wilson, senior pastor of Union Temple Baptist Church as he left a clergy meeting in Northeast on Wednesday. “We’re going to use our gatherings as a vehicle to build a collaborative around key issues, such as housing and economic development.”

While the weekly multidenominational meetings have been held for years, Wednesday’s breakfast meeting attended by 30 clergy was also used to plan a news conference on Thursday at Faith UCC in North Michigan Park, where residents and the church are at odds over a planned seniors-only apartment building that needs a zoning variance.

Some homeowners in the area complain a proposed four-story structure would be too tall for their neighborhood, which is largely made up of two-story houses. Others said they don’t want zoning laws changed to open the door to scores of residences for low-income and fixed-income people.

Traditionally, neighborhoods give favorable views to programs that feed the people, heal the sick and house the needy. But graffiti on Faith UCC’s walls expressing not-in-my-backyard proclamations, racism and elitism sparked the news conference and the clergy’s call for moral leadership.

Mr. Gray promised during the election to resurrect the Office of Religious Affairs, and he did indeed appoint dozens of members to his Interfaith Council.

The question now is whether the Interfaith Council is following the mayor’s lead.

“That’s not leadership,” said Mr. Wilson, who is never as quiet as a church mouse. “The kinds of issues facing them [Faith UCC] are happening all over the city.”

Another Baptist minister, the Rev. Dr. Joseph Evans, said he is considering attending the news conference because the city needs moral and ethical leadership on both the human development and political stewardship fronts as officials hasten to move on the planning and economic development front.

“Any executive leader of this city would be at the forefront of leadership by helping faith-based programs be a part of the economic viability of the city,” said Mr. Evans, a member of the mayor’s Interfaith Council and chairman of the board of the Mount Vernon Triangle Community Improvement District, where he is senior pastor of the Mount Carmel Baptist Church.

He also said regardless of the socioeconomic issue under discussion, the mayor and his team should reach out to the faith community.

“Our city is in trouble in that respect,” said Mr. Evans. “It’s heart-wrenching to see what’s happening. Churches in the suburbs grow because our people move there. We have a near-crisis of moral guidance in the city and that’s a crisis.”

With elected leadership in distress and the economically distressed fearing the fiscal cliff, the mayor would prove himself a very smart man if he embraced faith and reached out with open hands.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at

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About the Author
Deborah Simmons

Deborah Simmons

Award-winning opinion writer Deborah Simmons is a senior correspondent who reports on City Hall and writes about education, culture, sports and family-related topics. Mrs. Simmons has worked at several newspapers, and since joining The Washington Times in 1985, has served as editorial-page editor and features editor and on the metro desk. She has taught copy editing at the University of ...

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