So I’ve been thinking about the Sustainable Ministry summit that happened here in St. Louis during this last week. And one thought keeps staying at the forefront of my mind…..
Why the he** was this summit in St. Louis?
Reading through the twitter-feed it looks like this summit could have taken place in Boston at 24 (especially since there is all this talk of the UUA being in financial straits). Other than the local ministers who did a worship service for the participants, there doesn’t seem to have been any local input.
There was no “field trip” to Ferguson.
There was no talk to the local clergy like Rev. Traci Blackmon or Rev. Starsky Wilson or Rev. Osagyefo Sekou or Rabbi Susan Talve about how they are doing the balance of internal congregational work and being in the community and money. (I’m guessing that any of these people would have loved to talk about that, if not all of them)
The consultant was not local; and on top of that was not a UU. (any particular reason Rev. Ron Robinson–who is doing exactly a “new ministry” that is so talked about–couldn’t have been asked to speak?)
So let’s take a minute to look at this……the UUA comes to St. Louis less than a year after things get set off here; within a month of the #BlackLivesMatter banner being stolen from First Unitarian-St. Louis’ fence facing a major city street; and within days of peaceful protestors being tased by St. Louis city police officers while the chief looked on.
Can the UUA talk about sustainable ministry when it ignores what is happening on the ground in the place where they decide to have this summit?
So I’ll ask again….why the he** was this summit in St. Louis?
This is not to begrudge the conversation/focus of the summit. It is something valuable. Yet I’m thoroughly confused by the place aspect of it. Why come to St. Louis and not talk about what’s going on here?
[those of you familiar with Quaker practice know what I mean by query. for those of you with less Quaker experience, queries are questions that members are asked to consider during their silent worship period. if they are being used during a monthly meeting, they are typically concerning subjects that will be coming before the meeting]
Now that we are about 3 weeks away from the start of General Assembly, I thought I would pose some queries that are related to my activities during GA.
So query #1……
Would #BlackLivesMatter to Unitarian Universalists without the protests?
(don’t give me your knee-jerk reaction to the question, really think about it)
Here’s why I ask…
Before the “county brown” [St. Louis County police] decided to mess with reporters here in Ferguson, most Unitarian Universalists had virtually ignored the extrajudicial killings of African Americans by those in law enforcement and the treatment of communities of color by law enforcement in general. One doesn’t have to look at too many of these cases to see the almost universal silence from our end of the liberal religion spectrum.
Having been around Unitarian Universalism for more than a few days, I’ve seen and heard UU talk about issues of law enforcement/criminal justice and race that would make Calvin feel proud.
Then Ferguson happens. (and NYC and Cleveland and Baltimore and N. Charleston and…)
So I’ve been listening to all of the talk about the Pew Religion Survey results with bemused exasperation. Because, as usual, the discussion misses the real news.
The real news….the growth of the “unaffiliated”/”nones” is racially/ethnically/culturally connected.
Yes…white Christianity (of all stripes) is on the decline. But so is the white proportion of the general population. Why is this news?
The Pew report shows that while there is a marked (statistically significant) decline in religious affiliation amongst white millennials and a corresponding rise in the number of nones/unaffiliated, there is not the same corresponding decline and rise amongst millennials of color.
If religious organizations that have been primarily white want to have any relevance going forward, those organizations must face the reality that demography is destiny. In other words, they must change or die.
UUism is not alone in this need for change, but it might be the most resistant to it.
The Episcopal Diocese of Washington, D.C. issued a press release that started with the following lede:
In the wake of the violent deaths of black men and boys in encounters with police across the country, and in response to the unrest these deaths have engendered, churches across the Episcopal Diocese of Washington are dedicating Mother’s Day to “mothers who live with the daily fear of losing their children to violence and the children themselves,” said Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde.
This got me to thinking: how many UU churches would do that? Would the UUA encourage congregations to do something like that and offer resources to support that?
Back in August, people kept talking about how Ferguson (and St. Louis more broadly) needed to “heal.” That same talk has been mentioned in regards to Baltimore.
The other thing that keeps getting talked about in all the recent cases of police brutality is “getting back to normal.”
What does that mean? What normal is Baltimore (or Ferguson or Cleveland or New York or…..) supposed to get back to?
We can’t go back to a normal where Freddie Gray is alive. So what normal is there?
The normal where communities of color suffer huge injustices and white America is willfully blind to it?
The normal where police can patrol communities of color with impunity?
The normal where politicians spout platitudes about dealing with the deep divisions/inequities yet continue to do nothing?
What normal is Baltimore supposed to go back to?
There’s a narrative that is solidifying about what caused Freddie Gray’s death in Baltimore two weeks ago. Not the medical causes (the Medical Examiner has said that the medical cause of death is blunt force trauma), but the circumstances/environment surrounding it.
The narrative that’s floating around is this: West Baltimore killed him. Or more precisely, West Baltimore being a high-poverty neighborhood is the ultimate underlying issue in Freddie Gray’s death.
This narrative is a cop-out.
A little over a week ago, Charles Blow said at the Othering and Belonging conference, “when they pull a gun, you can’t pull a resume.”
Yes, there are issues when it comes to how law enforcement treats communities considered poor. No doubt about that. But, as Charles Blow reminds us, law enforcement doesn’t really see class when they are pulling out their guns/batons/tasers/etc.
Freddie Gray did not die because parts of West Baltimore have high concentrations of poverty. Freddie Gray died because he made the mistake of making “eye contact” with a police officer and ran. That’s it. He died because making “eye contact” while black is enough to cause “reasonable suspicion”.
So while there is a need to talk about all the other issues that plague West Baltimore and other places like it, let’s not use those other issues as a way to avoid the fact that policing in this country is racialized and has been from the start.
“When they pull a gun, you can’t pull a resume.” From Henry Louis Gates, Jr. to Tamir Rice, law enforcement has looked at black bodies as something that needed more control than others and should always be looked at with suspicion, no matter what action they are taking. Until that is recognized/acknowledged, there will continue to be more Freddie Grays.
Not that long ago, the six officers who were directly related to the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore on April 19th were charged with various crimes ranging from 2nd-degree murder down to misconduct in office. And while I am completely surprised that the officers were charged, in the larger discussion of the tragic death of Freddie Gray most of the conversation/questioning has been about what happened AFTER Freddie Gray was apprehended. That, my friends, misses the much larger issue.
As religious people who want to be involved in the work (I am going to make that assumption, even though I know that may well not be the case), we must start with asking the right questions in order to have satisfactory answers when we go out to engage.
So what is/are the right question(s) when looking at the Freddie Gray case?
The right question…Why did police pursue Freddie Gray in the first place?
According to the BPD, Freddie Gray was neither a wanted person nor posing a threat to the public at the time he turned away from the police and started running. The police officers decided to go after Freddie Gray because he made “eye contact” and then ran.
Back in 1985, the U.S. Supreme Court said that it was unconstitutional for police to use deadly force on a fleeing suspect–except in cases where the suspect was posing an imminent danger. Freddie Gray was not a suspect.
So in asking the right question….why did police pursue Freddie Gray in the first place…we may then begin to take a hard look at the criminalization of blackness and where that stems from. Because my friends, a lot of this stems from theology and religion.
Liberal religious people need to take a hard look at the theologies at their foundations and grapple with the hard truths they present. Only then will liberal religion be able to authentically step into the social justice work that the #BlackLivesMatter movement calls for.
If you ask the right questions, you can begin to get the right answers.
I’ve been thinking about my motherhood options lately. And while I have been thinking about the usual things that come along with parenthood, I’ve been stuck on the matter of church. Not whether or not they would be raised in church (they would), but whether or not I would raise them in an Unitarian Universalist church. I have come to the conclusion that in good conscience, there is no way I can raise any children that come into my life in a Unitarian Universalist church.
I know that a good deal of this stems from my childhood in church. I was raised in a wonderful black church and have more aunts and uncles and grandmothers and grandfathers and cousins [fictive kinship, not blood kinship] than any one girl should have. That church was a sanctuary to me. It was a place where I saw people who made a way out of no way. These are the people who showed me and my cousins (both blood and fictive) how to navigate being strong black people in a society that often holds us in contempt. These people showed me the varieties of black religious experience. It is because of them, and their love and care, that I came to Unitarian Universalism.
It’s dangerous for black children in America. From criminal justice to education we are being shown time and time again just how little black life is actually valued. I need the church my children grow up in to help them “pull on the full armor of God” in order to face that.
I cannot entrust an Unitarian Universalist church with the care and feeding of my black children’s souls. Most of them are not prepared for it.
The question is….will most of them ever be prepared for it?
I begin with two questions…
Was Walter Scott mentioned in your UU church Sunday?
Will Eric Harris be mentioned in your UU church next Sunday, the 19th?
With the release of the video in which one can hear a man who was “accidentally” shot in the back being told “fuck your breath” we have entered a whole new dimension of something. Something has happened so that things moved from “I can’t breathe” to “fuck your breath” rather seamlessly.
“Fuck your breath” is the denial of basic humanity. And while I know that some will try to make the case that this could have happened to anybody, it didn’t. It happened to a black man in Tulsa, Oklahoma, site of “race” riots in 1921.
Since the release of the Walter Scott tape on Tuesday, I’ve been asking myself if liberal theology and liberal religion can really say anything to the present moment. With the release of the Eric Scott tape and the news of the death of Natasha McKenna while handcuffed and shackled, I have come to the conclusion that neither one will be able to speak to this moment very clearly. The reason being that the American liberal tradition (religious and political/social), at its very heart, is paternalistic and doesn’t challenge white supremacy at all.
I thought I would be more disappointed with coming to that conclusion, but I’m not. It’s a relief in so many ways. It means that my gaining the most sustenance from liberation theology is not a betrayal at all. It’s recognizing that when some things were being thought about, people who look like me weren’t part of the equation.
What would liberal theology and religion look like if it took into account those who have had to make a way out of no way? Those who have been plundered and pillaged for generations? Those who are condemned and pathologized just because?
My dear friend Tom Schade posted the following on Twitter a few hours ago:
As has been happening a lot recently, I disagree strongly with Tom because the evidence from the last 9 months does not go in that direction.
When news first came out about Eric Garner’s death, the police story was taken at face value, even though witnesses were saying that it was wrong. The only reason that changed is because Ramsey Orta’s video of the encounter was released.
The original police story that John Crawford was waving a gun around the Beavercreek Wal-Mart was taken at face value until the video showed that no such thing was going on.
Tamir Rice was supposedly pointing a gun at everybody who was around him at the rec center in Cleveland. Video shows that Tamir was by himself in an empty section of the grounds and never pointed that toy gun at an actual live human being.
And the police story in the Walter Scott case was that he went for the officer’s taser and that there was a struggle. The video shows that this is not what was happening.
So it’s time to be honest my white friends…y’all don’t believe black people about what happens in our encounters with law enforcement unless we have video to back it up. And sometimes not even then; lest we forget the case of Kajime Powell. It should also be noted here that in the cases where black women are mistreated and/or killed by members of law enforcement, nothing happens to those officers, whether it’s on video or no.
And even when there is video, too often you look for any movement we make or words we say to justify law enforcement overreaction.
There is an assumption in most white communities that the police don’t lie about their encounters with the public. Communities of color (and poor communities) know that lie for what it is.
Without the videotape in the Walter Scott case, there may have been an investigation into the officer’s actions. That we can attribute to the protests that have followed the killing of Michael Brown. But without that videotape, there is no way that officer would now be charged with murder.