Reverend W.T. Edmonson is the Vice President of Missouri Faith Voices and serves as Interim Pastor of Second Baptist Church in Jefferson City, Missouri. He sat down to talk to us about his favorite moments at Missouri Faith Voices and the importance of listening to communities.
I am the current Vice President of Missouri Faith Voices.I guess I’ve been on the board for 10 or 11 years. And prior to that I was on the founding group of Faith Voice for Jefferson City. And from there I moved on to the state board Missouri Faith Voices, we, we really came out of the organizing group CCO out of Kansas City who came to Jefferson City to see whether there was a possibility of establishing a faith-based group in Jefferson City.
From that we established an organizing group and we reached out to various church members and individuals in the community who we knew were interested in justice. So we were doing some basically local issues and had some success. And then as the state began to grow they asked me if I would be willing to come onto the board.
I am the former president of the NAACP in Jefferson City. Served for maybe four and a half to five years. And so after leaving there, it was. It provided a venue for me to continue the social justice work, not just as an individual, but as an organization.
And so being able to then come onto the state having a broader scale that would be able to actually impact the state and understanding that by having a statewide organization people of faith demonstrating the importance of social justice issues being able to address issues that individuals may feel that they don’t have the power to address for themselves.
And so Missouri Faith Voices, we not only speak for you, but we speak with you trying to get individuals to understand the importance of speaking for yourself and, you know, recruiting individuals, getting them to become activists in their own communities. Being able to identify issues that maybe the board doesn’t even recognize is an issue.
By having those tentacles out in the community, then they can feed back to us. We can really address some issues, maybe even short circuit some problems before they actually become major issues. And so there are many issues that Missouri Faith Voices can address that other organizations will address from their perspective. But we will be able to address those issues from a faith perspective. We were basically addressing local issues. And then as we became Faith Voice for Jefferson City being a part of a state organization, then we started to address statewide issues and get hot on the dynamics within the state at that time.
One example was Medicaid expansion. So the state had made it known that they were not going to expand Medicaid. And so visiting the capitol, sending letters sending letters to the editor, all of those things simply did, had no impact. And so the board decided to reach out to the faith community, and say, “we are going to convene in Jefferson City. We’re going to protest in the state Senate.” And so we met at First Baptist Church and received our instructions. We sent a delegation in advance to the state capitol to talk to Capitol Police saying we are coming and going to protest.
They were told, “okay, they will be arrested.” And we told ’em we were gonna be in the clinic gallery. And so they said, “well, once you start protesting for the police to come and tap you on your shoulder, that means that you are under arrest and you follow the officer.”
So we went into the state Senate to start. Praying, chanting, and singing. And the Lieutenant Governor, he was a senator at that time. And he pounded the gavel, and pounded the gavel, and pounded the gavel, and went to recess. And so we were then under arrest.
There were 23 of us, and we became known as ”Medicaid 23.” That had some impact, but one thing that we found is it takes more than the demonstration to impact legislators.
They’re not concerned about being voted out. And so we have to continue to find ways of impacting everyday citizens to vote individuals out who don’t represent them. And so that’s where we are now with Missouri Faith Voices trying to galvanize individuals to understand that the decisions that legislatures make are one thing, but the decisions that your mayor and your city council people make impact you directly in the community that you live in. So being on the ground letting people know that there are people of faith who live out our faith.
And there is so much work to be done, but we have to be strategic. In the work that we select to do, if we’re going to be effective. I think our first steps are to decide on the issues that we are going to address. Once we identify those issues, then to do some strategic planning behind those issues.
How are we going to attack those issues? How are we going to galvanize the community behind the issues that we’ve identified? And the key is not to identify issues that the community or the citizens are not interested in dealing with. So we have to engage communities to say what’s important to you.
And once we find out what’s important to them, it is much easier for us to get them on board. And so once we get on board, we will be able to then identify those issues strategically. A layout, a plan that we are going to work. And I do mean work. Setting a strategic plan on paper is one thing, but working on that strategic plan is another.
So that’s where I think our goals are now, is to really identify the things that we are going to attack. This year and the years to come. A long-range plan is very important because if you don’t have a long-range plan, issues can then distract you and you never get back to what you really want to do.
My fondest memory of Missouri Faith Voices is I protested in the Capitol and because that is something that was out of the ordinary. You do not see people of faith. You do not see pastors and ministers getting arrested for what they believe. And so we, we’ll hope that demonstration, that process of saying, I believe in what I say and I’m willing to go to jail for it.
I’m willing to take whatever consequences that the people in power say are the repercussions for what we do. We can’t be afraid to stand up because there may be repercussions. As people of faith, we know what the repercussions are. If our Lord and Savior was willing to give up his life for something. He had done nothing wrong, but he was willing to go to the cross anyway. And that’s where we have to be. We have to be able to bear the cross for people that we don’t know, individuals that we may not even know have a problem. But if the issue has come up and the issue has been elevated to the top, we have to be willing to stand alongside them and say, you are not by yourself.
You’re not alone. I’m willing to go down with you, even if it means going to jail with you.
Missouri Faith Voices is a federation of Faith in Action. To learn more, go to missourifaithvoices.org.