Bishop Joseph Walker of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, has built a faithful congregation of 30,000 over the past 24 years. He is now trying to channel congregants’ current anger about police violence into something productive. The prominent minister has formed a political action committee aimed at voter turnout among millennials and minorities.
Walker brought in a well-known political ad agency to produce an online video. Scenes of officers with their weapons drawn on Black men flash before the viewer as a voice-over encourages movement beyond outrage. The video is intended to target those who feel disenchanted with the political process, like many supporters of Black Lives Matter.
“I’m trying to galvanize them beyond protesting and laying in the street, to standing at the poll,” Walker told Nashville Public Radio. “Ultimately, that’s where your voice is heard.”
The Fellowship Unite PAC’s ads do not name a particular candidate, and churches are not allowed to make contributions. Having never publicly backed a particular candidate, Walker is more concerned that people have their voices heard.
“I still don’t see myself as political as much as I do an advocate for people engaging in the political process,” he says. “There’s a difference. I’m not trying to push any political agenda. I’m not trying to publicly endorse any political candidate.”
In multi-state evangelical fashion, the group is asking churches to get their members to take a “Trinity Pledge,” getting three people to register and making sure they follow through by voting. The goal is to raise $75,000, and the total raised so far reportedly stands at $25,000. The PAC, which is focused on swing states like Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia, will make required disclosures to the Federal Election Commission. Though Walker doubts his home state could go either way, the PAC will also work in Tennessee.
Can a renewed focus on civic engagement revive the spirit of liberation that gave birth to the Black church?