(RNS) Banners posted at predominantly white churches across the country in support of the “Black Lives Matter” movement have been vandalized — some of them more than once.
Since the Unitarian Universalist Association passed a resolution last summer affirming the movement, 17 of more than 50 congregations that have posted signs have seen them vandalized or stolen.
The Rev. Neal Anderson, senior minister of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Northern Nevada in Reno, said his largely white congregation posted its fourth sign after the third one was stolen on Halloween weekend. The first banner was vandalized in August.
“For me the vandalism was sort of this physical and visible sign of white supremacy,” he said of the first act of vandalism. “It was literally erasing the word ‘black’ and replacing it with the word ‘white.’”
Many of the affected congregations — most of which are predominantly white — are taking additional steps to address racial justice. Next week, Anderson’s Nevada church will show “Cracking the Codes,” a film about racial inequality, and host a discussion.
“When we say that ‘Black Lives Matter,’ we are not saying that all lives don’t matter but we are saying that at this point we really need to lift up racial injustice in the United States,” he said.
A sign at First Parish, Unitarian Universalist, in Bedford, Mass., was vandalized twice in September.
“Someone spray-painted white paint over the word ‘black,’ leaving the words ‘lives matter,’” said the Rev. John Gibbons, pastor of the church in the Boston suburb. “Another week later, someone spray-painted the word ‘all’ in black over the white stuff so that it would say ‘all lives matter.’”
Gibbons said his congregation posted a second sign in October, higher off the ground in hopes of keeping it intact. And the mostly white congregants visited a predominantly black Roxbury, Mass., for a racial justice dialogue.
Donna Auston, a Rutgers University researcher and an activist in the “Black Lives Matter” movement, condemned the vandalism but praised the affected churches’ response.
“It is heartening to hear that communities are using these incidents as teachable moments and opportunities to grow,” she said.
Some congregations, such as River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Bethesda, Md., have been involved in racial justice before and after the incidents of vandalism.
The Rev. Nancy Ladd said the word “black” was cut out of her church’s signs twice and a third banner was stolen. She traveled to Selma, Ala., with church members earlier this year to commemorate the 50th anniversary of civil rights marches there and her church has since posted signs that said “Selma Is Now.” It is holding Friday night vigils with people holding signs with names of black male, female and transgender victims of race-related violence.
“We have to change the prevailing message in our culture that the civil rights battles are all won because they are not,” Ladd said. “They’re just more insidious and they’re just hidden in different ways under the surface of legal justification.”
Jill Goddard, a UUA spokeswoman, said she was not aware of charges being filed in any of the instances of theft or vandalism of signs of churches in her faith group.
Unitarian Universalist congregations are not the only ones that have been hit by vandalism.
For example, someone cut the word “black” out of the “Black Lives Matter” sign at Rock Spring Congregational United Church of Christ in Arlington, Va., which advertised its yearlong racial justice conversations on the same sign. The Rev. Kathy Dwyer said the vandalism at her church — its second this year — and others is symbolic of a nationwide need.
“I think it demonstrates how important this conversation is and how the issue of racial justice is striking a chord that we need to be paying attention to,” she said.
by Adelle M. Banks