Pastoral Message on the Movement for Black Lives

By Peter Morales

Rev. Peter Morales and Rev. Dr. William Barber II

In July 2015, UUA President Rev. Peter Morales and Rev. Dr. William Barber II, president of NC NAACP and architect of the Moral Mondays voting rights campaign, marched with thousands of people for voting rights in Winston-Salem, NC.

UUA President Peter Morales offers the following pastoral message on the Movement for Black Lives:

I am inspired and moved as I see Unitarian Universalists across the country stand on the side of love as they stand alongside grassroots activists in the Black Lives Matter movement. I see example after example of congregations and individuals courageously facing threats and vandalism. To those who have acted with courage, thank you. You remind us of who we are and what we stand for. This struggle is ultimately about respect for the inherent worth and dignity of every human being.

Black Lives Matter is a cry of outrage in the face of the specter of the repeated killings of black people. And it is more than this. It is a cry of protest against the continued marginalization of millions of African Americans. The killings, horrific as they are, are the tip of the iceberg. The killings are the most visible and extreme examples of a society that allows racism to destroy the lives and aspirations of tens of millions. Beneath the anger are anguish and tragedy.

The protests and the banners and the window signs are the latest actions in our long tradition of struggling against racism in America. We have stood with African American leaders in the Moral Mondays movement. We were there in Selma fifty years ago and again this spring. The best of our forebears stood against slavery.

While the Black Lives Matter movement is part of a long tradition, it also presents new challenges. This is a decentralized grassroots movement with no single leader and no institutional foundation. There is no Martin Luther King, Jr., issuing a call to Selma. Today we are called to be present, to listen deeply, to follow, to bear witness, to practice humility. Today’s Selma is everywhere.

This won’t be easy for us. We are used to working with organizations with clearer leadership and advocating for specific public policy changes. We are called to respond rather than plan, to follow rather than lead.

Along the way, I would have us keep several critical points in mind.

First, Black Lives Matter is not about saying black lives matter and that the lives of others—Latinos, LGBTQ people, Native Americans, Muslims, Asians—do not matter. To support the cry for justice and respect that Black Lives Matter represents does not diminish the need to work for climate justice, economic justice, or any other kind of justice. There is, after all, only one kind of justice. Justice is ultimately about recognizing the worth of every single person.

Second, we must realize that the same spiritual failing that feeds anti-black racism is the same spiritual disease that marginalizes any group or person. We must connect the dots. The horrid impulse behind the killings of African Americans is the same impulse that allows migrants to languish in for-profit detention centers, that does violence to LGBTQ people, that murders Muslims and Jews.

Finally, and this is most important, we must not allow the call to support Black Lives Matter to create animosity among ourselves. Yes, we will disagree about tactics and, heaven help us, about how we should word our resolutions. Let’s talk respectfully to one another. Let’s listen deeply. Let’s focus on our highest aspirations and our affection for one another. Let’s hold one another tightly and hold our opinions loosely.

I have been inspired by what I have seen our people do. Let us continue to inspire one another. When we let love guide us, we will do the right thing.

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About the Author

Peter Morales

The Rev. Peter Morales was the eighth president of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). He was elected in June 2013 to a second four-year term and resigned in March 2017. Prior to his election, Morales served as the senior minister at Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden, Colorado. From...

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