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The outside steps of the capitol building
Christian minister Jason Coker, a native of Shaw, Miss., is looking for other white religious leaders to break their silence and stand up against House Bill 1020 and the revised Capital City Improvement District. “Stand with me and ask our elected officials to pass policy that creates a better future for all Mississippians,” he writes. Photo by Kayode Crown

House Bill 1020: An ‘Immoral Circle of Racism and a Blight Against All That’s Good’

Our state legislators are considering many important policies at this moment, but some of the most significant policies are not on the table at all. Health care that could cover over 300,000 working-class citizens in Mississippi is not on the agenda while hospitals are closing. Additionally, why taking care of new mothers for a year is even controversial is absurd. But the focus of many Mississippi legislators has fallen on our state’s capital city—and their proposals are immoral and disturbing.

Mississippi history teaches us that we are historically one of the most racist states in the nation, and we continue to hold that position. Jim Crow segregation was racist to the core, and it relied on the belief that white people were superior to people of color to the extent that white people deserved their own schools, their own hospitals, their own stores, their own libraries, their own churches, their own neighborhoods, etc.

That line of thinking is directly against a God of love that sent Abraham to be a father of many nations and Jesus to save the world—the whole world.

‘Attack on Democracy as We Know It’

As a Christian leader in Mississippi—who is also a white, heterosexual man—I’m looking around the state for people who look like me to stand up against the injustice that is happening right now in our state Legislature regarding the proposed changes to the Capital City Improvement District. 

House Bill 1020, which the Legislature passed and sent to the governor’s desk on March 31, is as racist as anything I’ve seen anywhere in a long time. The majority of our state legislators, who are almost all white and wealthy, want to draw a line around the whitest portion of Jackson and take governing control over it.

This would take power away from democratically elected judges and institute judges appointed by our Supreme Court’s chief justice, who happens to be white. This, along with Senate Bill 2343, would give the State of Mississippi policy jurisdiction over the entire area where the vast majority of Jackson’s white citizens live as it pushes the Jackson Police Department aside. That means that white state leaders would control the citizens of Jackson and push the democratically elected mayor of Jackson, who is African American, aside—along with the democratically elected city council.

House Bill 1020 is an attack on democracy as we know it and plunges Mississippi backward 50 to 60 years. This policy says boldly: “Black Lives Don’t Matter.”

Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike Randolph, Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch and Mississippi Public Safety Commissioner Sean Tindell (House Bill 1020)
If H.B. 1020 became law, Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike Randolph (left) would appoint judges to the new inferior courts and Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch (center) would appoint prosecutors to oversee the district. Mississippi Public Safety Commissioner Sean Tindell, right, oversees Capitol Police and could be in charge of a force with expanded jurisdiction under Senate Bill 2343. Photos courtesy Mike Randolph, Lynn Fitch, Sean Tindell

Rather than draw a line around the wealthiest and whitest part of Jackson, why can’t our state leaders draw a line around the poorest and most disenfranchised parts of Jackson and promise to work tirelessly with the democratically elected officials to ensure a Jackson that works for everyone? 

Why won’t the state government promise to give Jackson what it needs? Why don’t they pass a policy that would fully fund Jackson Public Schools and all the public schools in Mississippi that are historically underfunded since the integration of our public schools? 

Why won’t our elected officials do what is right rather than what is wrong—over and over again? 

And for me, as a religious leader, how can they claim a Christian faith, whose savior demanded Good News to the poor and freedom for the oppressed, while systematically creating policy that imprisons and kills? And to be very clear, not providing health care for hundreds of thousands of people in our state and leaving mothers and babies with no care, is utterly against the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Deafening Silence of White, Religious Leaders

The only thing that may be worse than the bottomlessness of so many of our elected officials’ immorality when it comes to policy is the deafening silence of other white, religious leaders in this state who haven’t said a word. That silence is the same silence that white clergy maintained during the Civil Rights Movement when they were complicit in segregation and the moral decay that followed. 

The lack of moral courage among the vast majority of white religious leaders in Mississippi is utterly discouraging, but not surprising. If you are a white clergy in Mississippi and you ever wondered what you would have done if you were a pastor of a white church during the Civil Rights Movement, what you are doing now answers your question. 

Senate Judiciary A Committee Chairman Brice Wiggins, R-Pascagoula, responds to a question about legislation. (House Bill 1020)
Sen. Brice Wiggins, R-Pascagoula, told lawmakers on the Senate floor that “our goal (with H.B. 1020) is to get a safe Jackson.” AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

I beg the religious leaders of this state to have moral courage and stand up for what is right and good. As a famous benediction encourages us: “Risk something big for something good.” Or maybe my alma mater’s logo from William Carey: “Expect great things from God, and attempt great things for God.” 

Religious leaders of Mississippi, specifically white Christian leaders, the God of all creation who loves us with all-encompassing love, called us into the Gospel Ministry of Jesus Christ. Be bold in your proclamation like Jesus was when he preached his first sermon in Luke, saying, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of the sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free….” (Luke 4:18). 

Jesus was rejected after that sermon, but he continued his work. I pray for all of us to have this same courage. The same God who sent Jesus to proclaim that first sermon in Luke is the same God who called you to Mississippi for this moment. 

Stand with me now and tell our state leaders that H.B. 1020 is immoral, a circle of racism and a blight against all that is good. 

Stand with me and ask our elected officials to pass policy that creates a better future for all Mississippians, where health care and mercy are the rule and not the exception. 

Stand with me and encourage our elected officials to create a Mississippi that can be a positive example for the rest of the country rather than a mockery of governance.

This MFP Voices essay does not necessarily represent the views of the Mississippi Journalism and Education Group, the Mississippi Free Press, its staff or board members. To submit an opinion for the MFP Voices section, send up to 1,200 words and sources fact-checking the included information to We welcome a wide variety of viewpoints.

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