American Catholics and the Black Lives Matter Movement

In 1963, when 250,000 demonstrators gathered at the Lincoln Memorial and heard the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech, they did so under the prayerful invocation of Archbishop Patrick O’Boyle of Washington. He called for the Holy Spirit to open the eyes of Christians to the injustice of racial discrimination, condemned violence and praised the activists who had possessed the courage to go forth, like Moses, in search of a beautiful country.Five decades later, these hopes seem in many respects unfulfilled. About one in five Americans identify as Catholic, and as of 2018, roughly six in 10 white Catholics felt that police killings of Black men were isolated incidents rather than evidence of a profound and lethal bias. Prominent Catholic commentators, including Bill O’Reilly and Father Dwight Longenecker, fear and reject the Black Lives Matter movement.ImageA portrait of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at a Catholic church in Washington.Credit…Johnathon Kelso for The New York TimesAmerican Catholic unease with Black Lives Matter has been particularly noticeable during the protests over the killing of George Floyd. Statues commemorating Junipero Serra, a Spanish friar responsible for founding several of California’s Catholic missions in the early days of European colonization, have been torn down by protesters outraged by what they say was the friar’s eager participation in the conquest of North America, including the torture, enslavement and murder of some of the Native Americans he intended to convert — accusations disputed by many Catholics.Other religious statues, too, have been damaged by protesters. Coupled with the vandalism of a handful of Catholic churches along with a slew of ordinary buildings, the attacks on statuary have sparked fury among conservative Catholics, confirming what they perhaps already believed: that racial justice movements — or at least this particular one — are antithetical to the Christian faith, rooted in Marxism and atheism.A Catholic anti-abortion activist, Abby Johnson, tweeted in June: “The Catholic Church is burning. And everyday, liberal Catholics continue to throw matches on Her with sacrilegious nonsense like this,” in reference to an icon showing Mr. Floyd as a Jesus figure, dying in his mother’s arms.Andrew Sullivan, a Catholic writer, argued in July that Black Lives Matter and Christianity are “fundamentally incompatible world views.”In a July 5 statement, Bishop Thomas A. Daly of Spokane, Wash., wrote: “BLM is in conflict with Church teaching regarding marriage, family and the sanctity of life. Moreover, it is disturbing that BLM has not vocally condemned the recent violence that has torn apart so many cities.”ImageA cardboard cutout of Pope Francis at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.Credit…Johnathon Kelso for The New York TimesSteady in the midst of this supposed conflict between faith and anti-racism efforts is Gloria Purvis. She is a Black Catholic — a designation lonely enough even without intrafaith political strife, as only 3 percent of American Catholics are Black. Ms. Purvis co-hosts a popular Catholic radio show, “Morning Glory,” and a limited television series, “Authentically Free at Last.”After the murder of Mr. Floyd, Ms. Purvis denounced his killing and the many killings of Black men and women by the police that had come before.“I said I thought racism was demonic,” she told me over a recent dinner at a Washington bistro. In the weeks following Mr. Floyd’s death, “Morning Glory” featured episodes devoted to saints who resisted racism in their lifetimes, the impact of racial discrimination on society at large and the reality of systemic racism itself.Her comments set off a wave of recrimination via tweets and emails from indignant listeners.“Racism makes a liar of God,” she told me. “It says not everyone is made in his image. What a horrible lie from the pit of hell.”ImageA crucifix depicting a Black Jesus that belongs to Gloria Purvis.Credit…Johnathon Kelso for The New York TimesImagePrayer cards for sale in the gift shop at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.Credit…Johnathon Kelso for The New York TimesHer radio program was dropped in June by Guadalupe Radio Network, a Catholic station based in Midland, Texas. After outcry on social media, the network released a statement claiming that Ms. Purvis’s show had temporarily been suspended not for her remarks on racism but because the network had detected “a spirit of contention growing among the hosts.” Guadalupe Radio Network did not respond to a request for comment.Ms. Purvis didn’t buy the explanation: There had always been occasional, friendly disagreements between the show’s hosts, but it had never been an issue before. Ms. Purvis told me the network has neither reinstated her program nor offered any explanation of when or if it plans to air it again. She still believes the show was suspended because of her explicit condemnation of police killings of Black people and her impassioned exhortations against racism.I asked Ms. Purvis about the toppled statues and the church vandalism, which have been raised repeatedly as evidence of the imagined conflict between Christianity and today’s anti-racism movement.She sighed. It isn’t that she dismisses sacred sites or representations of the saints; in fact, she told me, she credits a visit to the grotto where Our Lady of Lourdes is believed to have appeared with the birth of her daughter, after a 15-year struggle with infertility. And she was present when Pope Francis canonized Father Serra during the pontiff’s first visit to the United States. But she wishes it were possible to stipulate without incurring rancor that objects of piety have their place in the order of things.ImageMs. Purvis wants to see a sincere confronting of anti-Black racism within the Catholic Church.Credit…Johnathon Kelso for The New York Times“In the Catholic world, we’re pro-life, right?” she said. “But we were so quick to forget about a man killed in the street in favor of things that can be rebuilt or replaced. This injustice that happened to George Floyd seemed to evaporate as soon as money or property came into it.”After she spoke out about Mr. Floyd’s death, Ms. Purvis was inundated with videos sent by her fellow faithful, condemning Mr. Floyd with an exaggerated version of his criminal record.“I thought: Any Catholic who can watch that and not be bothered by it is missing something in their faith,” Ms. Purvis said. Mr. Floyd, she said, “had a right to life. But he also had a right to a natural death.”That this foundational principle could be overlooked in the name of icons seemed to exhaust and dispirit her.“I don’t think a lot of people realize racism is a sin,” she said. “Having these discussions makes people uncomfortable.”It should not be so difficult for so many Christians to affirm that yes, Black lives matter, without conditions or complaints. “We are being called to love our neighbor,” Ms. Purvis observed, “and my God, my God, we are failing.”VideotranscripttranscriptElizabeth Bruenig Is Discussing Black Lives Matter and the Catholic ChurchSomeone argues gun rights are important. You know everybody gets one single bolt action rifle. Now you go hard to reload. Can’t do a whole lot of damage with that, unless you’re very well trained. Nobody gets handguns semiautomatic weapons, et cetera, et cetera. We make that deal down. People need to be able to deal with vermin I suppose in rural areas. But obviously, we have a problem too. The countries have with guns indeed feral hogs. They surround your kids. The only thing the Catholic church concerned with is the communist pope that it has. Other than that buddy I wish we had a communist pope shouldn’t we disarm the police before we disarm ourselves or with those happen at the same time, you know I mean, the police should definitely need your help. So for instance, the Dallas cops who used a bomb removal robot to actually carry a bomb to a wounded criminal who was lying in a parking garage bleeding to death and then blew him up despite the fact that he was shortly going to be unconscious from blood loss. I mean, I don’t think cops should have execution robots right. I think that there are some squads that obviously need to be armed. That’s how it is in the UK in the UK when you would see cops dealing with like you know bicycle altercations as I saw outside my house one time. They usually weren’t like pulling guns on people. They didn’t have guns on them. Indeed They were dealing with bicycle altercations. So you know, I think that you can make those kinds of distinctions. Does the Roman Catholic church have any I’m sorry. And is that thoughts on the accusations by moralist catholics that we shouldn’t support Black Lives Matter because it’s marxist. I never know what people mean when they say marxist. I think probably a good 50% of people who have marxist in their Twitter bios don’t know what they mean when they say they’re marxist. The term has become so vast it’s called calm says concept creep. Right critique drift. I have no idea what people mean when they say it’s Marx as they say it’s atheistic. I would say this at the March for Life there are atheists there are atheists who come for the March for Life and make a big deal of being atheists and catholics embrace them. There are Mormons at the March for Life. Right There are evangelicals at the March for Life. There are all kinds of people at the March for Life and the catholics. They have no problem with it because they’re like, look, this is a cause right. And the cause is this particular thing we’re focusing on here. So if you can link arms with people who are secular or people of different faiths for a cause which it seems we can because it happens every year in January at the March for Life then I don’t understand why you can’t at least identify that this organization, whatever else its intentions or its agenda is the agenda that you know, police should not be killing black people. You know in the street ally George Floyd Orlando Castile and I think you know you can agree on that. And that can be an issue of shared advocacy. It’s not just me. This has this has come up again and again from officials in in the church right. This is actually the view of the hierarchy itself. So if you go and read the letter that we have posted on Catholic social action a letter to all of the United States bishops you can see all of the church figures who we have quoted in favor of this very idea. Right So you know go check it out. Go to Catholic social action see what’s up. I’m not asking you to affirm everything that every organization that is involved in this effort believes. I’m just asking you to affirm this one thing. And I think we can reasonably do that. Yeah police are not allowed to execute criminals. That’s where I kind of disagree with rod Dreher a little bit is just because you’re resisting arrest doesn’t mean the police can execute. You
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