Questions & Answers:
By Elizabeth J. Kenyon M.S.M.E
Q: Why do we want to hang a Black Lives Matter Banner? Why now?
A: In our current national environment, we have seen voices of ignorance, hate and intolerance as well as incidents of vandalism and violence on the rise particularly against people of color, immigrants, Jews and Muslims. Several members of Murray expressed concern about these rising voices of hate to the board, encouraging the church to take some public action – such as hanging a Black Lives Matter (BLM) banner – to signal our religious values of love and inclusion to the larger community as an important alternative to the rising hate. Hence the urgency around “why now?” There is also a desire to signal to people of color in our area that Murray was a safe, welcoming, inclusive congregation, and to encourage greater diversity among our membership.
Since then, a task force was established which identified several key reasons why hanging a BLM banner would reflect our highest religious values and principles as UUs:
- Theologically, a BLM banner affirms our belief in the inherent worth and dignity of all people, calling attention especially to those who are systemically treated as “less than” in a culture that values white people above all others.
- A BLM banner affirms our call for the right of conscience and for the goal of justice for all.
- A BLM banner reflects the work that members of our congregation have been doing around understanding how white privilege and systemic white supremacy shows up throughout American life, including in our own UUA denomination and in our individual churches.
- Hanging a BLM banner recognizes that if we as a people of faith remain silent, then we are supporting the status quo - the continuation of systematic racism.
Q: What do we hope to accomplish?
A: The banner task force is hoping to encourage and to continue ongoing community-wide conversations about the problem of white privilege and systemic racism. We want to become an epicenter of positive change around these difficult, crucial conversations, beginning here in our own congregation and in our own ”back yard”. Consequently, the task force is proposing that the BLM banner verbiage be: Black Lives Matter. Join the Conversation. Thus the banner will be an invitation to our community to get involved in what is arguably THE conversation of our day, given the extreme rise in racial intolerance and hate.
Q: Why Black Lives Matter? Why not All Lives Matter?
A: Our first principle reminds us of the inherent worth and dignity of all people. Sadly, our nation has not been affording black people the same benefit of the doubt, the same respect, the same treatment as most white people automatically receive in our culture. Instead, thanks to generations of systemic racism and unconscious bias, many blacks, especially young black men, are subject to police harassment for carrying out simple daily actions such as waiting for a business associate at a Starbucks. Worse yet, there has been a long string of unarmed black men being fatally shot by police. Consequently, the message of Black Lives Matters was established to demand that our nation recognize that black lives matter as much as all other lives – not more.
Q: What are the challenges that we are opening ourselves up to by hanging the banner?
A: In our first all-church town hall discussion about hanging a BLM banner, congregants identified concerns about potential vandalism to the sign, or to our church building. Unfortunately, this is a realistic concern, as a number of UU churches experienced repeated vandalism either to the sign itself – tearing it down or defacing the word “black” – or, in rarer cases, spray paint on the church building. Once the congregation decides whether or not to hang a BLM banner, this is a possible outcome that we must be prepared to address.
Q: Don’t some people consider Black Lives Matter to be an anti-police movement? How are we going to preserve our relationship with the Attleboro Police Department and the anti-racist community building work we do with them through the Greater Attleboro Interfaith Network (GAIN) and the Greater Attleboro Recovery Network (GARN)?
A: Some Americans have perceived “Black Lives Matter” as a statement against police, prompting some to post “Blue Lives Matter” banners. Clearly education work is needed if people are to understand that justice requires us to call out and change horrific, violent, discriminatory police practices. But it is not a condemnation of all police.
This church can certainly be proud of and value the anti-racism work, anti-police brutality work we have performed by forming the Greater Attleboro Interfaith Network (GAIN) in partnership with local government leaders, including our local police department. Our goal is to help prevent the kinds of tragic deaths of people of color that have happened in Ferguson, Baltimore, Chicago, Minneapolis and so many other cities in the U.S. Thanks to this all-important work, the Attleboro Police Department voluntarily provided unconscious bias training to all of its officers who interact with the public, including those who manage the front desk and phones. It is a good start in helping to create a safer, more loving and just world, beginning in our own back yard.
In addition, we value our partnership with the police and the area mental health and addiction treatment organizations in the fight against opioid addiction in our community. Murray was chosen by the police to host the monthly Greater Attleboro Recovery Network (GARN) community resource drop-in center.
Murray Church will continue to reach out to and work with our local law enforcement community so they may more fully understand how we consider them and value them as a partner – not “the enemy” – in our racial justice work.
Q: The Black Lives Matter activist movement pushes buttons and is seen as polarizing. Isn’t the church worried about polarizing the congregation, or the community at large?
A: The banner task force is fully aware that a Black Lives Matter banner is not without controversy. The Black Lives Matter movement was born on social media five years ago in the wake of George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the shooting death of black teen Trayvon Martin in Florida. The movement gained momentum the following year during street demonstrations following the deaths of two unarmed black men at the hands of white police officers: Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York City. Black Lives Matter has grown to become an internationally recognized symbol of the fight against racial profiling, police brutality and racial inequality in the U.S. criminal justice system. We hope to defuse polarization by educating our congregation and the public about Black Lives Matter.
Q: What’s our timeline for deciding this?
Answer: Murray Church will hold several all-church town hall meetings, as well as offer opportunities for small group discussion, to create the brave space for all people who wish to ask questions and express opinions and concerns to do so. People are reminded that these all-important discussions are the work of justice, and all are encouraged to participate.
In addition to such internal meetings, newsletter articles and other activities, members of Murray Church will meet with key community stakeholders to tell them that the church is proposing hanging a BLM banner.
Finally, the Social Concerns team will submit a proposal to the Board probably sometime early next church year, recommending that the church hang a BLM banner. The Board will consider the proposal, and if they approve it, will call for a congregational question to vote on the proposal. If the congregation approves hanging the banner, then the church will do so in a public celebration, which ideally includes community leaders, elected officials and members of the media.