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In America, black lives don’t matter; only black deaths says civil rights activist and minister

In America, black lives don’t matter; only black deaths says civil rights activist and minister

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, is a civil rights leader and minister in North Carolina. Following the killings in Charleston, and the removal of the Confederate Flag, he has published a meditation on the need for prophetic pastoral counseling to address racism in America.

Barber notes that as a nation we seem incapable of doing the right thing until a tragedy occurs, and criticizes statements from South Carolina suggesting that the removal of the Confederate Flag makes up for the mass-murder of men and women at Emanuel Church in Charleston.

Barber explores the racism inherent in the removal of the flag, noting that it only occurred when the people hurt by racism demonstrated subservience in the eyes of lawmakers.

From the essay:

The assassinations at Emanuel A.M.E. Church, followed by the public forgiveness from the grieving families, were similarly cited by several South Carolina lawmakers as their reason for voting to remove the flag. What they are really saying is that Black Deaths Matter, not our lives. Black people in the US are only deemed worthy of action in their death, not in their life. In a year that has seen thousands in the streets, young and old, black white and brown, saying to the nation, “Black Lives Matter”, the painful and dangerous message coming from South Carolina this week is:Only Black Deaths Matter. That’s the painful and dangerous narrative being developed out of South Carolina; it’s a narrative that the oppressed of this land have known for a long time: Only Black Deaths Matter. Our nation is capable of doing the right thing – such as taking down the Confederate flag in the year 2015, a flag that represents the racist, immoral, unconstitutional defense of slavery and Jim Crow – but only when Black deaths happen and are met by a response deemed acceptable by those in power. Ever since this flag was raised in 1961, to send the message that South Carolina would not honor equal protection under the law, tens of thousands of small and large protests have not been enough to move the power brokers to take it down.

Barber expands on the sermon he preached at New York’s Riverside Church, exploring themes of forgiveness and reconciliation, and stressing the need for radical change if we are ever going to move past our legacy of racism and oppression.

Dr. Rev. Barber full sermon at New York’s Riverside Church (Transcript at Sojourners)

Can we answer Barber’s call to continue working, even when the media isn’t reporting deaths? Do you see sustained pastoral counseling on racism is happening anywhere? Is there anyone already engaging in this type of work whose voice and reach can be shared?


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Marshall Scott

No response will do all things. That said, I would point to resolution A182 Using Education, Community Dialogue and Internal Audit to Respond to All Forms of Racial Injustice, passed in General Convention in Salt Lake City. It includes this paragraph:

Resolved, That the 78th General Convention urge dioceses and congregations to create vehicles for listening to diverse neighbors and developing reconciling relationships; such options might include (a) listening campaigns in local communities, (b) partnerships with churches and organizations comprised predominately of a different race or culture (especially those targeted by oppression), (c) neighborhood prayer walks, (d) storytelling and speak-out events designed to facilitate truth-telling, healing and action, (e) and others with which leaders throughout the Church are familiar;

If we take specific and concrete steps to meet with and talk with persons, I think it can meaningfully help.

Marshall Scott

John, it was on the Consent Calendar in Bishops on the last day, with recommendation to Concur. I don’t find any evidence that it was taken off the Consent Calendar (that is, I don’t find it added to any of the Supplemental Calendars for the day); but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t taken off from the floor. There is no reference to it in Messages from the House of Bishops to the House of Deputies.

I don’t know what to say, either. I thought it had passed, but had to leave Salt Lake City early. So, I will agree with your last statement. If we can take one or more of the actions, it will do good.

John Chilton


But did that resolution make it through? See

In the completed column it’s blank. And there’s also nothing in the “House concurring” column for this resolution.

Even if not, dioceses and congregation should take these actions.

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