While researching for our book, The Struggle Over Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter, Amanda Nell Edgar and I interviewed several white people of faith who supported and affirmed Black Lives. They attended protests and they were active in other social movements that centered Black lives. In short, they publically declared their allegiance to the radical idea that Black Lives Matter. However, when asked how their faith lead them to protest or to serve in those other movements, many of them struggled to answer. Their struggle forced them to see, many for the first time, that the faith they grew up with or the faith that they still professed to practice, did not or could not speak to Black Lives Matter. In short, they had no theological foundation to draw on to justify their actions of being on the street and protesting police brutality, systematic oppression, and white supremacy. And for many of them, this recognition caused some tense moments with family, friends, and neighbors; both in-person and online. Here is what we wrote about this in the book:
Faith worked as an individual lens that allowed many to see their role in BLM as a continuation or renegotiation of Civil Rights history. This was a logical extension for participants with a connection to the Black church, but it posed some challenges for white participants. As we have argued here religion still functioned as the personal lens that united movement history with BLM, but in this case, the relationship was self-reflexive; BLM members who worshipped in white evangelical churches had to reexamine those traditions and find spiritual homes outside of the traditions. This speaks to the fact that a majority of white Christians simply do not affirm or understand BLM. Though most of them have a cerebral understanding of the theological doctrine of the imago Dei (the image of God), in practice, white evangelical Christianity has a legacy of racist and sexist ideologies and structures. Not only were some white Christians drawn to BLM through their religion, then, but their expressions of faith and spirituality were also shaped by the anti-racist, anti-sexist messages of the movement. For participants of faith, BLM offered a way of understanding (66).
So as I continue to watch the different protests throughout the country and saw many white people taking part, I wondered about white people of faith. For those who affirmed Black Lives and who fully believe Black Lives Matter, drawing from our research, I wanted to know how were they doing through all of this. Below are some of the many responses I received.
Working and partnering and finalky feeling hopeful that change is coming! But our hearts are overwhelmed with grief
— Deborah Porras (@revdebporras) June 6, 2020
I left my church and cut my membership. It has a long history of ignoring racism and after the pastor and other clergy said nothin. My siblings have dealt with it (I’m the only white passing). A child told my sister the son of hamm bs & my brother was too ethnic looking.
— Shine Trabucco (@hangryhistorian) June 6, 2020
Pretty frustrated for how naive I was to police brutality/Other white people refusing to acknowledge racial injustice.Hopeful real change can happen.
— David Vaughn (@Dvaughn901) June 6, 2020
Grateful for so many BIPOC people leading the movement work. Hopeful that systems might be beginning to change. Also tired from physical & emotional work. Then, when a loved one notices that tiredness, I hear them calling me weak. Working on receiving it as compassion instead.
— Eric Hoffer (@ericedward) June 6, 2020
Our church actually has responded pretty well. Unfortunately I am still pissed at leadership who chose not to listen for the past many years as a “strategy decision” because it wasn’t the most pressing need in Our community. So now we’re starting st racial justice 101.
— Ryan K.B. (@rbordo12) June 6, 2020
Exhausted. Grateful. Pumped. Losing followers on Facebook. Pissing off former white church congregants. Gathering resources for my blog.
Sooooo thankful for that day you started #whitechurchquiet … your open convo pointed me to the wotk I need to do within and without.
— Rev. Cristine Warring she/hers (@cwarring) June 6, 2020
Grieved by accelerated police violence, grieved and frustrated by the white Christians in my sphere who only have space to listen to the Black people who agree with them, cheered to see more people protesting and getting fired up about justice, but it’s really not about me
— flannery o’cornbread (@clairealsto) June 6, 2020
Frustrating when other Christians try to justify police homicide instead of simply affirming that each person who died mattered.
— Prof. Jen K (@prof_jen_k) June 6, 2020
I have had a few things to refresh me so I can keep explaining and unworking the toxicity in my tradition. Giving thanks for a new home, a relative dropping out of police academy (before this started, actually) and finding a fulfilling career path, and more allies than expected.
— Brooke (@BrookeSalesLee) June 6, 2020
Having lots of frustrating conversations with the “pro life” folks in my life.
— Andrea Terry, PhD (@AndreaJune) June 6, 2020
Tired from writing, explaining, posting- but my tired ain’t nothing compared to how tired y’all must be on a daily basis. Just starteda FB group for white folks who want to learn more but not burden black folks with their questions. It’s 200 strong! #hopeful
— mary mccampbell (@marywmccampbell) June 6, 2020
Wondering how I can be an ally (“accomplice” on @anniefdowns show) in the middle of very white, rural small Midwest town? I hope I am not criticized as I’m trying to learn publicly right now
— Heidi Freidhof (@orangeheidi7) June 6, 2020
STRUGGLING. Struggling with family and friends who are unmoved and unchanged.
— Dr. April O’Brien (@april_rhetor) June 6, 2020
Wondering if I’m going to get a flame war on my timeline, and trying to figure out how to be more open about my anti-cop anti-prison stance in the public sphere rather than just on Twitter.
It’s kind of you to ask. <3
— Clarity Sabbath (@claritysabbath) June 6, 2020
Sad. Disappointed that i lived 36 years without knowing (started to wake up last year). Also devastated because my husband is not on the same page at all and we’ve had some pretty big fights about it.
— kristi ahrens (@orchardmama17) June 7, 2020
Trying to figure out ways to center voices of POC by listening and learning while still showing support. Grieving the racism that exists even in my own family.
— Reid Telando (@reid__tweets) June 6, 2020
I showed this to my mum. She said thank you and also that shes frustrated but nothing compared to the frustration people must be feeling all the time. And she said she also feels ‘lighter’—she cut out those who “perverts my Jesus by worshiping at a blasphemous altar of injustice”
— Glaser-Hille Ildikó, PhD (@GHIldiko) June 6, 2020
Tired and sad….and just beginning to realize the weight carried by my POC friends �
— Lissa Wertz (@lissa_wertz) June 6, 2020
My dad yelled and screamed at me bc I said I have friends that where being tear gassed and trampled by police. My brother is a police officer so I understand his frustration but still I can’t stand but can not and be complicit!
— Kimberly Blake (@fabpw) June 7, 2020
Sad. Sad that we haven’t done more. Sad about white friends/acquaintances who think it’s a political statement rather than a justice issue. Sad that people respond with yes but…instead of saying yes.
— Stacey (@staceycooprider) June 6, 2020