Yesterday Facebook reminded me that a year-ago was the national Black Solidarity Sunday. This was organized by historically African-American congregations. It was a remarkable moment that connected Sunday morning sermons with afternoon marches and protests.
Of all the actions and rallies under the banner of Black Lives Matter, this was one of the largest seen in Milwaukee. It was by far the largest moment of participation by faith leaders and clergy. When the pastor, priest, rabbi or imam show up, they usually bring members of their congregations. People that would never shut down a freeway or disrupt a Christmas tree ceremony still found it worthy to stand together in the bitter December winds of downtown Milwaukee. It was a powerful moment.
But was it a moment or a movement? Did the call for action just fade into the holiday season or did it do any good?
Any time large numbers are mobilized, leaders take notice. We can’t know for sure if the consistent presence of protesters joined with church-folk impacted what happened 8 days later. When Milwaukee’s District Attorney said he would not press charges in the murder of Dontre Hamilton, the DOJ immediately announced a federal investigation.
We also saw a city-wide effort led by Bishop Walter Harvey of Parklawn Assembly of God and Pastor Matt Erikson of Eastbrook to work toward racial reconciliation. The adoption of the Milwaukee Declaration tells the heart of pastors for things to be different.
Black Solidarity Sunday also reinforced the public cries for racial justice across the country, the need to address disparities in all sectors of society. It gave a choir to preach to.
And yet, it has had so little systemic impact. The federal investigation of Dontre’s death did not lead to charges. Instead of the long-standing cry for a pattern-and-practice investigation of the Milwaukee Police Department, we now learn the DOJ will do a voluntary, non-binding review of the department. Communities of color are still policed differently. Students of color are failed by a failing education system. Economic investment steers clear of communities of color – unless it is to gentrify the neighborhood. Incarceration. Poverty. Health Disparities.
In my own church fellowship – the whitest in the nation – race and racism permeate the institution. The Church actively works against the stated principles of desiring a more diverse denomination. I doubt most even knew there was a Black Solidarity Sunday last year. And am convinced that had it been preached in every pulpit it would not have been met with simple indifference by active resistance. That is the sin-sick soul of the ELCA.
Other churches – of every ethnic background – preach a feel-good gospel that never engages the prophetic call toward Justice rolling down like waters. I went to a funeral for a victim of gun violence. The preacher talked about the “unfortunate way she died,” but never said the words gun or bullets. Nothing was directly said about the plague of violence in our city. But you better damn well believe the sinners prayer was offered and folks were invited to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior (language intentional). How are going to save somebody’s soul and not care about the conditions they are living in?
Where do we go
The movement continues. Activists will lead. Mobilized people, led by young people, queer people, people of color, will agitate, disrupt, deconstruction and continue building an alternative community rooted in justice. People of faith will be there – we always are. There will be good, church going folk hanging out with the resisters. Clergy will show up.
But until Black Solidarity is more than a Sunday, until white denominations aren’t afraid of the phrase Black Lives Matter, until a slumbering sanctuary awakens – this civil rights movement will write off faith communities. If you’re in the pews on Sunday, you’ll still see me. But if we’re in the streets on Tuesday, that’s where I’ll be too.
PC: Overpass Light Brigade (probably Joe Brusky)