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My view: Help save Salt Lake African Methodist Episcopal Church

Alan Scott Bachman

Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable.

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 1 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

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To those, in the words of Bishop Richard Allen, that "love the God of love," urgent help is needed for the downtown Salt Lake African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church.

The historic downtown Salt Lake AME Church is a gem and relates to our spiritual diversity and the critical message of the positive power of religion. Unfortunately, the AME Church is suffering from drainage and facility issues which are impacting its viability.

The AME Church, at 239 East 600 South, has its roots from a black slave born in 1760 and now known as Bishop Richard Allen. As a slave, he had a religious awakening as he was taught about Christianity in 1777. Bishop Allen saw the beauty in the Christian faith and separated it from people who did not follow the faith. After seeing black people removed from their seats in a church, Bishop Allen and others created their own Church. Non-blacks such as Robert Ralston, (a Presbyterian philanthropist), Dr. Benjamin Rush (a signatory to the Declaration of Independence and considered a founding father) and William White (Bishop of the Episcopal Church), supported this effort, both financially and morally.

Black people in Utah started the congregation in the late 1800s. The cornerstone for the Salt Lake AME Church was set in 1907.

There are many reasons to support this effort:

1. The AME Church is an important downtown landmark showing our great diversity.

2. This church symbolizes the important message that religion was used to tackle the moral dilemma of America: the need to abolish slavery and racial discrimination.

3. Bishop Allen is a founding father, among the best of America. He understood that both the oppressor and the oppressed were confined by slavery. He wrote in an eloquent letter addressed to slave owners that it was God who first undertook the cause of the slave.

4. He understood that love, not hate, was the responsible manner of dealing with the oppressor. As he wrote over two centuries ago, " … God who knows the hearts of all men, and the propensity of a slave to hate his oppressor, hath strictly forbidden it to his chosen people, 'Thou shalt not abhor an Egyptian, because thou wast a stranger in his land'" (Deut. 23:7). Bishop Allen further writes: "If you love your children, if you love your country, if you love the God of love, clear your hands from slaves, burthen not your children or your country with them. … "

5. At a young age, Bishop Allen saw his mother and several siblings sold away from him, and they were never to be seen by him again. Despite all the painful acts he witnessed, he espoused love and peaceful activism. His epiphany can be linked to Henry David Thoreau, Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

It is my prayer that together many people and foundations in Utah can help to save the AME Church. For more information about how you can help, please visit www.interfaithroundtable.org or send an email to webmaster@interfaithroundtable.org.

Alan Scott Bachman is the chair of the Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable.

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