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.