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Growing divide between Biden and many Black clergy members over the war in Gaza

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

There's a growing rift between President Biden and many Black clergy members over the war in Gaza. Hundreds of Black faith leaders representing many thousands of congregants are calling for a cease-fire, and they want the Biden administration to do the same. Reverend Leah Daughtry joins me now. She's the national presiding prelate of the House of the Lord Churches, a network of churches throughout the U.S. She was also CEO of the 2008 and '16 Democratic National Convention committees. Good morning, Reverend. The death toll in Gaza now more than 26,000 - that's according to the health ministry there. As a person of faith, how do you view this war?

LEAH DAUGHTRY: Well, good morning. And you're right, the death toll is really heartbreaking. And from the beginning, immediately after October 7, I joined with colleagues to call for the return of the hostages, the ceasefire - bilateral ceasefire, humanitarian aid to flow freely to those who need it, and for an intensified peace process in the region, and to address what we viewed as an escalating war and escalating conflict among the countries there. So what we see now is, of course, there was the horrific attack of October 7. Families are still separated because the hostages are being held. But you have this growing death toll - people who are being killed by the IDF, but also people who are being killed through starvation because they don't have food and water. We as faith leaders have to be concerned about the moral toll of this war and what our authority is and what our responsibility is in ensuring that all people are safe, are able to live their lives in freedom and security, and that all children are able to grow and to live a thriving life.

MARTÍNEZ: Reverend, I grew up in the Pentecostal church. I've always known that there is a spiritual kinship between some Christians and Israel. At the same time, many Black Americans see themselves in Palestinians. Why do you think that is?

DAUGHTRY: Well, you know, we do have a kinship with the land of Israel because it is the land of the book. It's the land of our text. I just came from Israel in the spring, taking a delegation of people to view the sites that connect with our faith. But the land that is written about in the Old Testament is very different from the government of Benjamin Netanyahu. And so we observe that difference, and we believe that we have to be on the side of the oppressed, as God is. And when you see the disparate living circumstances and how they are being disproportionately impacted by this war - 26,000, mostly women and children - we believe that our responsibility is to speak for them and to identify with them in the circumstances that they find themselves in at this moment. We believe that's where God would be.

MARTÍNEZ: Is it difficult, though, sometimes - as you said, that's the land of the book, right? So is there a conflict within Christians, you think, of trying to understand how to support people who are suffering, and then also support what they feel are the people of the book, you know, Israelites?

DAUGHTRY: Well, you know, I think what we're trying to do - of course, first of all, Christianity is not a monolith. So you're going to find...

MARTÍNEZ: Right.

DAUGHTRY: ...Diversities of opinion. However, even in the holy text, God takes a stand against rulers that are that are unjust toward their people. And so God, as much as they are the - as much as the Bible likes to call them God's special people, there still is a responsibility to speak for justice. And that is our moral right and moral responsibility in this moment.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Reverend Leah Daughtry. Thank you very much for taking the time with us.

DAUGHTRY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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