Statement Regarding Black Lives Matter Signs in Front of Unitarian Universalist Congregations

from the Organizing Collective of Black Lives of UU

Recently, several Unitarian Universalist congregations have chosen to stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement by publicly displaying prominent signs and banners that say “Black Lives Matter” outside their buildings. We affirm and promote these simple but daring acts in the communities of faith that make up our liberal religious tradition. Each sign that stands sends a message to the world that Unitarian Universalists will not turn away from the brutality and the carnage that destroys black bodies through unchecked police authority and pathological attacks by anti-black men on innocent civilians.

We see you, River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Bethesda, Maryland. Though vandals cut the “Black” out of your Black Lives Matter sign twice, you replaced it with the exact same sign, and promised to do so again and again if necessary. “Yes, all lives matter,” RRUUC Religious Educator Gabrielle Farrell told the Huffington Post. “But the ‘Black Lives Matter’ phrase is voiced by real people calling attention to situations that we wish to call attention to as well. So we don’t change the words.”

We see you, Lake Country Unitarian Universalist Church in Hartland, Wisconsin. You had the “Black” cut out of your sign on the one-year anniversary of Michael Brown’s death at the hands of the police in Ferguson, Missouri. “We’re not intimidated by it,” your minister Rev. Amy Shaw said. “Of course all lives matter, but people seem to forget sometimes that black and brown lives are part of that ‘all.’’ … We’re going to continue working for social justice and for the inclusion of people of color in everything that we do.”

We see you, First Unitarian Church of St. Louis. You and at least three other local congregations all had your Black Lives Matter signs stolen. Rev. Bob Molsberry of Peace United Church of Christ said, “It’s frustrating because it’s part of our religious expression … People are telling me to buy a bigger [sign]. We’re going bigger.”

We see you, Unitarian Universalist congregations in Evanston, Illinois; Columbia, Maryland; Silver Spring, Maryland; Boulder, Colorado, and the dozens of locations where people are living out their liberal religious values boldly under the Black Lives Matter umbrella.

We also see congregations that have been attacked and are stepping away from the unifying Black Lives Matter message, creating their own alternative statements. While we affirm the right of every congregation to choose how they relate to Black Lives Matter as a movement, we are left with questions about the potential impact of removal of BLM signage from public spaces when hateful people point their anti- blackness toward UU congregations. What message does that send to black people within those congregations about whether their lives matter? What is the message to black people in the communities that surround those congregations? Do black lives matter only when people are not mad at Unitarian Universalists for having boldly said they do? How does stepping away from the Black Lives Matter message honor the memory of our faith’s own fallen, Rev. James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo, who lost their white lives in the struggle for black ones?

To any congregation that is considering removing your Black Lives Matter banner, we strongly urge that you don’t. Answer the above questions and reconsider. Get connected to the many other congregations — UU and otherwise — that refuse to play nice with bigotry and are not backing down from their confident stand for the inherent worth and dignity of black lives, which are often carelessly denied.

To the Unitarian Universalist congregations who are standing strong with Black Lives Matter — We see you and we thank you. You are the ones that bolster our strength in the waking nightmare of the global phenomenon that is anti-blackness. To all black Unitarian Universalists and to all our Unitarian Universalist congregations, including those that are hiding away from or buckling under the heat of their newfound relationship to anti-blackness — We see you, too.

We see you, and we offer these words of hope from the Rev. Wayne Arnason:

“Take courage, friends. The way is often hard, the path is never clear, and the stakes are very high. Take courage. For deep down there is another truth — You are not alone.”