The weeks since the killing of George Floyd have seen some of the most sustained protests in US history, with swelling outrage at racial injustice and a growing acknowledgment of the reality of systemic racism in policing and throughout society. We in the church may celebrate the promise of justice so rapidly pooling and beginning to roll down. Yet as a pastor of a majority white church, I also wonder what it means that this has happened at this particular time—when so many of our church buildings are closed.
American voters’ support for the Black Lives Matter movement increased almost as much in late May and early June as it had in the previous two years, according to a June 10 New York Times poll. A Washington Post poll the day before found that 74 percent of Americans support the protests. These numbers are reflected in daily headlines of mainstream acceptance, everywhere from NASCAR to the NFL to the block letters leading down the road to the White House. As many have noted, at worst this is performative allyship seeking to keep pace with inevitable change. At best it is a long anticipated and worked-for generational moment to enact substantive reform. In any case, it is a markedly accelerated public shift that represents a great deal of social-political power.
Such progress is owed primarily to the expertise and long, hard work of black activists, organizers, and leaders—as well as to the legacies and loved ones of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and the countless others whose names we say. Some have argued that the power of the moment is also tied to the conditions of COVID-19 quarantine, which Black Lives Matter cofounder Opal Tometi describes as “a period that has been deeply personal to millions of Americans and residents of the United States, and that has them more tender or sensitive to what is going on.” This period of heightened awareness has afforded many people—especially late-arriving white allies—more time to listen, learn and act. That’s because of altered schedules and closed buildings at schools and offices—and churches.
It makes me wonder if the acceleration of the movement among white people in this moment is in part because so many historically white churches have closed their buildings. This has left them unable to respond in ways they traditionally have—ways that historically have served to moderate tension.