On Sunday morning December 7, 2014, the Living Water congregation walked out of the meetinghouse and into the street. We fell to our knees and lifted our hands, together insisting that Black Lives Matter. Several days earlier, a grand jury in New York City had failed to issue an indictment in the death of Eric Garner, who had repeated “I can’t breath” while a police officer held him in a chokehold before he died.
Throughout 2015, we continued to lament, both corporately and individually, the deaths and sufferings of the many African Americans whose lives were cut short or were devalued through other means of injustice.
In the fall, two women spoke at a Racial Justice Group meeting at Reba Place Church about their efforts to post Black Lives Matter signs. Their talk set in motion many conversations within our own congregation about the history and present realities of racism in our country, about the Black Lives Matter movement, and about the implications of hanging a Black Lives Matter sign. Many in our congregation initially came to the United States as refugees. These brothers and sisters from Cambodia, Nepal, Bhutan, Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, and elsewhere have much to teach the rest of us from their own experiences of responding faithfully to oppression, racism, and violence. We made sure that our discussions about hanging a sign included people of all language groups in our church, as well as members of minority groups who might be affected by the hanging of a sign in ways we hadn’t anticipated. The conversations are ongoing and have so far been deeply enriching and unifying for us as a church.
While these conversations developed, some of us participated in protests after release of a video depicting the police shooting of 17-year-old LaQuan McDonald. It seemed a crucial time to make our collective voice heard in our neighborhood. On Epiphany Sunday, Pastor Kristin Jackson preached about Paul, a Jew with much privilege, who used his privilege to advocate for inclusion of the Gentiles. Together we read a litany and walked outside to see the Black Lives Matter sign unfurled.
By hanging the sign we are stating publicly that as a congregation we affirm the value of black lives, which our society has too often to devalued. We express to black sisters and brothers in our church and neighborhood that their lives and experiences matter to us.
The hanging of this sign is not intended to be an end in itself. Rather, it is an invitation and exhortation to each other and to our neighbors from all backgrounds to reflect more deeply, to learn and grow, to love our neighbors, and to work hard to affirm the value of people whose lives society has devalued.
We long together for the day when it is no longer necessary to proclaim—with our voices or bodies or signs—that Black Lives Matter. We long for the day when all people understand that every life matters.