“Black Lives Matter” is another way to express the Christian calling to love our neighbour. It was a joy seeing Christian and non-Christian neighbours living out their love towards Black neighbours in Victoria at the Black Lives Matter rally on June 7 at Centennial Square. Thousands gathered wearing masks, physically distancing, gathering in love. It was wonderful to see other Christian leaders there, members of the Sikh, Jewish, and Muslim communities, and other religious or non-religious traditions. This gathering was a representation of wanting to be better and make things better for Black neighbours right here in Victoria. Many thanks to the event organizers, three young Black women, who are continuing the work.
Black Lives Matter calls us into question, especially within the church. Mainline churches, including the Lutheran denomination in which I serve, are among the whitest in the country. Various diversity efforts have not led to structural change, including equal representation. Today people have grown weary of inaction. Voices demanding change are reverberating within churches and other religious institutions as well.
We’ve recently demonstrated as religious institutions and as a society that we are capable of rapid change. We continue responding to the threat of COVID-19, adopting new protocols and precautions at a fast pace. We see this collective action as our civic duty in order to protect the most vulnerable in our midst, ensuring the safety of us all.
We can apply these same principles responding to COVID-19 for responding to systemic racism. We can name the harm racism is causing our Black, Indigenous, and all neighbours of colour addressing these problems at their roots. We could start with eliminating the reasons Black neighbours and all people of colour feel afraid simply existing right here in Victoria. Our neighbours should not need to be afraid someone will yell a racist slur or physically assault them, being racially profiled by police, being denied a job or housing, and all the daily micro-aggressions that wear people down and affect their health and ability to thrive.
People often ask where they can begin. Before we ask Black folks to do more labour explaining racism to us, we can read books, on-line articles, and listen to videos of talks and lectures about dismantling systemic racism. One starting place could be reading Desmond Cole’s The Skin We’re In. Cole is a Canadian journalist and author who writes frankly about anti-Black racism in Canada in this best-seller.
We should also be prepared for criticism. Inevitably we’ll hear the passive-aggressive rejoinder “All Lives Matter.” No one said all lives do not matter. Black Lives Matter is about recognizing the asymmetries of racism and injustice at play. This is where it is important for us as white folks to have one-on-one conversations with people who express such criticisms, so that Black folks and other people of colour do not have to shoulder these alone. As one Black Christian leader pointed out, the fact there is pushback to Black Lives Matter reveals organizing is working. Rather than being discouraged that there are critical voices, we should recognize the victory when people feel a need to state their position, even though it may be off base.
Following the lead of local Black Lives Matter organizers, together we can think boldly about making community spaces, including churches, more hospitable for Black lives. Collectively we are called to this work. In addition to attending rallies and self-education, let us consider white privilege we are willing to sacrifice and steps we are willing to take, so that Black Lives Matter in Victoria.
Lyndon Sayers is co-pastor at Lutheran Church of the Cross, Victoria.
You can read more articles on our interfaith column, Spiritually Speaking, HERE
* This article was publsihed in the print edition of the Times Colonist in the Faith Forum column, on Saturday, July 25th 2020