Editor’s Note: A “Black Lives Matter” banner was hung on the South Road side of First Parish on the Common several weeks ago. This past weekend it was vandalized when someone sprayed white paint over the word “black.” Senior Minister John Gibbons offered to share the statement sent to members and friends of First Parish with the Town via The Bedford Citizen.
Submitted by Rev. John Eric Gibbons,
Senior Minister at First Parish, Unitarian Universalist, in Bedford
Several questions have been asked about our Black Lives Matter banner. I’ll address a few and, if you’d like to know more, please contact me privately at firstname.lastname@example.org.
At the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association in June, an action of immediate witness was overwhelmingly passed, encouraging UU congregations to support the Black Lives Matter movement.
This is its text: https://www.uua.org/statements/support-black-lives-matter-movement. Recent issues of the UU World Magazine and various UU websites document the growing and diverse forms of UU participation in the BLM movement.
Across the country, many houses of worship of all denominations have displayed such banners as, notably, has the City of Somerville in front of its City Hall.
Because I believe that racial justice is a paramount moral imperative of our time, I proposed that a banner be displayed at First Parish. I discussed this with both our Board and Leadership Team. No formal votes were taken as this was consistent with hanging banners or posters advocating for civil marriage, “Standing on the Side of Love,” “No Place for Hate,” opposing anti-Semitism, etc.
In our September newsletter, I announced that the banner was coming. It was designed by Nancy Daugherty (using the heart symbol that is part of the UUA’s Standing on the Side of Love campaign), and it was hung by Rich and Nancy Daugherty on Labor Day weekend. It was paid for with funds from my discretionary account.
Because the banner includes our web address, there is a statement there that gives background and explains why “All Lives Matter” – while surely true – is an inadequate slogan in the present racial crisis: https://www.uubedford.org/component/content/article/82-featured-items/1248-blacklives.html
Even prior to hanging the banner, I have been in conversation with our Police Chief Robert Bongiorno because some extreme conservatives, most especially Fox News, have tried to equate the BLM movement with anti-police violence. I utterly reject that slur and I am entirely supportive of our police. Chief Bongiorno assured me that he and his officers do not take offense, and – knowing that the banner could be vandalized – he pledged to protect our right to free speech.
Since hanging the banner, I received one phone call from a Bedford resident who found the banner offensive. We had a very civil conversation. Though some negative reaction has been posted on our Facebook page by non-parishioners, almost all response I have heard has been positive and proud. Indeed, the banner has provoked many thoughtful conversations and, indeed, such provocation is exactly what I hoped would happen.
Sometime last Saturday night, someone sprayed white paint across the word “Black,” attempting to leave only “Lives Matter.” I believe that this was done, not in a goodwill spirit that “ALL lives matter,” but in protest of our proclamation that BLACK Lives Matter. I believe there are elements in our society that regard Black Lives Matter as threatening to a still-entrenched white supremacist status quo.
The police were called Sunday morning and Officers Moloney and Barbieri responded with concern and professionalism. Chief Bongiorno also has expressed his regret.
For the time being, I think we’ll leave the vandalized banner in place. Its original message is still legible and its defaced condition speaks volumes. I’ll continue to discuss this with our Board and Leadership Team, and I welcome respectful conversations with concerned parishioners and residents. I expect diverse opinions. I do not think we’ll break into a unison chorus of Kum Bah Ya, nor is now the time to do so.
Black Lives Matter is, indeed, a provocative message that provokes both thoughtful conversation and resistance. We welcome the former and regret the latter; but we are not surprised.
We live in times that demand not just a recommitment to racial justice but a willingness to engage, insist, provoke and demand change.
Black Lives Matter is not an organization but a movement, and it is a diffuse movement with activists, some of whom we’ll agree with and some with whom we’ll disagree. It is a still-unfolding movement.
For my part, I’ll explore these issues in future sermons. Other initiatives will emerge. I welcome all ideas.
I am proud that First Parish is a small part of the Black Lives Matter movement.