A group of interfaith clergy, including Bishop Charles Jenkins of the Diocese of Louisiana and led by Archbishop Alfred C. Hughes of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans, is urging serious engagement of the citizens of New Orleans in the Bring New Orleans Back Commission's planning so that a diversity of voices can be heard.
In a statement issued February 2, the group called on New Orleanians to come home and help rebuild neighborhoods. "We raise our voices in support of the most vulnerable and urge a concerted effort to help them become re-established in our midst," the group said.
"We want to build on the positive elements in our culture of the past while urging that our future be purified of those elements that degrade the human person," the group's statement said. "We are people of the spirit. We invite all citizens to draw on the riches of faith and the gifts that God gives to us to respond to our nobler selves as we move forward together."
The leaders also promised to help people engage in the process of planning for neighborhood rebuilding. It encouraged pastors and other leaders to offer opportunities for their congregations to come together to help rebuild their neighborhoods and the surrounding community.
As part of that planning, the group said "we will hold our public leadership accountable. We want them to speak the truth about which land is truly safe for rebuilding and which is not."
"I realize that the rebuilding of New Orleans is about more than structures and even homes," Jenkins said. "It is essentially about transforming values. One of our values as Episcopalians is that we're working to bring together broad based interfaith coalitions to help in the transformation process."
The group also includes the Rev. Anthony Stratis, dean of Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral; Dr. David Crosby, pastor of First Baptist Church New Orleans; Rabbi Robert Lowey, president of the Greater New Orleans Rabbinical Council; Rabbi Edward Cohn, Temple Sinai; the Very Rev. James Tarantino, ecumenical officer of the Archdiocese of New Orleans; Dr. William Mackintosh, Interfaith Communications International; Zebedee Bridges, Asia Baptist Church; J. C. Profitt, Stronger Hope Missionary Baptist Church; Dr. Moses Gordon, Missionary Baptist; Bishop Paul Morton, Greater St. Stephen Full Gospel Baptist Church; Bishop J.D. Wiley, Life Center Cathedral; Dr. Mahmoud Sarmini, M.D., president of the Muslim Association of Westbank; Michael Green; Pastor Michael Raymond, Taylor Memorial Baptist Church; Pastor Charles Duplessiss, Mount Neebo Bible Baptist Church; Pastor Charles Garrison, New Genesis Bible Baptist Church; the Rev. Youstos Ghaley, St. Mark's Coptic Orthodox Church; Archbishop Alfred C. Hughes, Archdiocese of New Orleans; Pastor Fred Luten, Franklin Avenue Baptist Church; and Dan Krutz, Louisiana Interfaith Conference.
The full statement is below.
Statement and Proposed Actions of Clergy Leadership in New Orleans
The New Orleans we knew and loved before Katrina will never return! We are now called to build a new New Orleans on the ruins of the old. Distrust or suspicion must not prevent us from participating at the planning table.
The new New Orleans has to be welcoming, inclusive and just. Hurricane Katrina has made visible throughout the country and the world some of the very real social injustice that has plagued our city in the past. We can no longer tolerate patterns of life that divide us according to race or class in our society. We urge serious engagement with the proposed plan of Mayor Nagin's Bring Back New Orleans Commission. We ask that serious consideration be given to the initiative regarding a new start for public education. We identify as urgent the need to ensure that health and social services are restored to the city. We want to build on the positive elements in our culture of the past while urging that our future be purified of those elements that degrade the human person. We are people of the spirit. We invite all citizens to draw on the riches of faith and the gifts that God gives to us to respond to our nobler selves as we move forward together.
We call upon our public elected officials to avoid divisive or self-serving words and actions. We ask that those elected truly lead us by embracing a wholesome vision that unites us with justice and equality for all. This is no time for political posturing. We will hold our public leadership accountable. We want them to speak the truth about which land is truly safe for rebuilding and which is not. We ask them to move beyond political concerns to seek the common good.
We also urge all citizens to join us in an effort to bring careful study, thoughtful critique and constructive refinements of the master plan offered to our city.
In the name of all the congregations that we represent, we invite all former residents, African-American, Caucasian, Asian-American, Hispanic, Native American, rich and poor, to return to this good city. In a particular way we raise our voices in support of the most vulnerable and urge a concerted effort to help them become re-established in our midst.
As we move forward, we commit ourselves to two initiatives. We will ask the local congregations under our care to provide an opportunity for members of the congregation to come together to study the master plan, critique the plan and propose constructive refinements to it. We propose to do this by February 20. Secondly, during the period from February 20 to May 20, when it is expected that neighborhoods will come together to plan their own future, we commit ourselves to assist in the logistical infrastructure to help people return for these planning sessions by offering to help with residence and also our building for gathering space for the meetings.
We clergy are profoundly grateful for the many members of our congregations who have stepped forward to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, supply shelter to the homeless and assist in the cleaning of flood-ravaged homes. We commend those near and far who have been engaged in these efforts.
This is a moment for us to come together to ensure that the best possible master plan will be ours. Strident voices that dissuade wholesome community dialogue or promote racial divisiveness are irresponsible and reprehensible. We are and want to be a community that welcomes people of every race, ethnic background, economic status and religious faith in mutual respect and harmony. May the God of us all guide and strengthen us at this historic moment.