This blog originally appeared on Living Lutheran
This Mother’s Day weekend, All Peoples Church (ELCA) spent time honoring mothers, giving flowers, sharing stories, and praying together. But it looked very different than a Sunday morning litany or a sermon theme. All Peoples was a leading partner with the Million Moms March, a gathering of mothers from across the country that have lost children due to police violence and vigilante violence. They came from Milwaukee and New York, Baltimore and St. Louis, Madison and Houston. Organized by Mothers for Justice United, a group led by Maria Hamilton whose son Dontre was shot by Milwaukee police 14 times, the days in Washington DC included advocacy and accompaniment, prayers and protest. Luther Place Memorial Church (ELCA) hosted an advocacy training for those meeting with White House officials. Others went to Capital Hill to meet with Senators and Representatives. Hundreds and hundreds marched to the Department of Justice demanding changes in the ways communities of color are policed. Demands included national record keeping of officer-involved shootings and to stop the militarization of police departments. Mothers petitioned for independent investigations and the same policies that prevent racial profiling at a national level to govern local jurisdictions.
The most powerful moments were the testimonies of the mothers. At John Marshall Park near Judiciary Square, mother after mother told of the death of her child. There were threads that wove through their stories, knitting together common themes. Yet, each story was unique on its own, as unique as the lives lost. The lawn of the park was transformed into holy ground as we were invited to bear witness to these tragic stories.
Religious leaders from across the nation stood in solidarity with the mothers. Rev. Traci Blackmon, a UCC pastor from Ferguson and I opened Saturday with prayers. UU ministers, Episcopal Priests, Lutheran pastors shared in this moment. My congregation sent 5 members to stand with 2 mothers from our church, including Ms. Hamilton. The church was present. People of faith have been engaged all along.
What strikes me about all of this is not the places the church has shown up or the ways it has been supportive. There will always be voices within the Church engaged in this work. What stands out for me is how unique All Peoples and others like it are in our religious landscape. Too often, people of faith want to shift the conversation from #BlackLivesMatter to All Lives Matter. Too often, the stories of police-community violence get dissected into the smallest of nuances, without considering the overarching themes of racial profiling and division that set the backdrop of these situations. We pray for peace without understanding why the cries in the streets declare, “No Justice, No Peace!” Or most often the Church is simply silence.
Our bishop has asked our denomination to have conversations around race. I fear this will fare as well as Starbucks’ #RaceTogether campaign. Starbucks, whose employees profiled Dontre Hamilton calling the police multiple times, including right before the officer that would fatally shoot Dontre arrived on the scene, thought we could have nuanced conversations about race with a barista over a latte. It was dropped after a few days. Is it faring much better in your congregation?
Official language from the ELCA names white privilege as a source of racism, but how often do we see the church engage in a conversation around white supremacy? The seminary from which I graduated saw a declaration of Black Power scribbled over with a White Power declaration – two phrases that evoke very different reactions. Leaders of color speak time and time again of institutional betrayal within our church, though sometimes whispered due to past and ongoing pain. And white colleagues remain silent.
This weekend, mothers refused to be silent. They did not care if the media covered their stories (or twisted them). They did not place their hope in legislative action, executive orders or the blessing of the religious institutions. White structures did not protect their children. White structures would not deliver their justice. Yet, they spoke. They spoke their truth. They spoke with the power of Rhizpa. They cried the tears of Rachel. They hoped with the vision of Esther. They were as bold as the Syrophenician woman.
Members of the Church bore witness. We did not lead, we followed. We did not speak, we listened. I pray more of us can hear the protests and join as protest-ants. I pray the Church can learn to follow so that one day it accompanies these leaders.