After George Floyd’s death in late May, Kathy Branzell, who is white, contacted her nonwhite friends with a request. “There’s a lot that I don’t know that I don’t know,” she said. “I just wanted to lean in and listen.”
One of those friends was political strategist and attorney Justin Giboney, president of the And Campaign, which promotes “Biblical values and social justice.” He shared with Branzell an idea he had for an organization to unite Christians from different backgrounds and political parties to advocate for racial justice.
“I was very excited and just started praying for him,” said Branzell, president of the National Day of Prayer Task Force. “This is such a big subject, and none of us will be able to accomplish this on our own.”
Others like Branzell asked the And Campaign for guidance during the tumultuous summer. “I’m encouraged by how Christians from all different Biblical [backgrounds] are really interested in making changes, really are willing to admit that the church hasn’t always been where it needs to be on racial justice,” Giboney said.
In response, the And Campaign and 15 other Christian organizations formed the Prayer and Action Justice Initiative. Many of the groups had already worked together by donating to or promoting the Churches Helping Churches challenge, a program the And Campaign started to help small congregations, many of which served minority and low-income communities, survive the economic pressures of the coronavirus pandemic.
But maintaining unity on complicated issues such as criminal justice reform and race relations poses more challenges than funding cash-strapped congregations.
Giboney has a background in politics, having been a Democratic National Convention delegate in 2012 and 2016. He and fellow Democrat Michael Wear lead the And Campaign, while Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and a faith adviser to President Donald Trump, signed the Prayer and Justice Initiative’s doctrinal statement. So did the Rev. Gabriel Salguero, president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition and a speaker at the Democratic National Convention.
The Center for Public Justice, a member of the new initiative, tends to back more liberal legislation, while another cooperating organization, Prison Fellowship, typically supports more conservative bills. Other members include the Asian American Christian Collaborative and the Church of God in Christ, the largest African American Pentecostal denomination.
So far, the initiative hasn’t outlined stances on particular policies. It plans to focus on equipping members to advocate for change at the local level. Different states and cities need different reforms, and those governments shape most police and criminal justice policy. Giboney said the group will work to unite Christians and model how to advocate for policy change.
His prescription for unity: Start with the Biblical principles everyone agrees on. The initiative’s website lists five of them with supporting Scripture references: equality, accountability, transparency, proportionality, and restoration. To join, people must sign a doctrinal statement. Then the organization asks signers to gather with other Christians and pray.
“There’s going to be division and discussion, but we’re just going to take that one day at a time, one instance at a time,” said Branzell, who is now on the initiative’s leadership team and prayer committee. She also helped the organization write its statement on race and justice.