calendar September 18, 2015 in Congregations, Networking

Trinity Models Conversation About Race


Asks “Can we talk?” about Black Lives Matter 

After a post of “Black Lives Matter” on the church sign sparked community controversy, Trinity Lutheran Church seized the opportunity to bring members and Lansdale neighbors together to talk about issues of race in the community.

“Even though this was not what we were looking for or what we wanted or expected, it was an opportunity to have a conversation,” said Pastor Paul Lutz. “Tonight is to talk about why that slogan upset you so much and what might we do about it here in Lansdale.”

After the “Black Lives Matter” sign appeared on Lansdale’s West Main Street, the church received numerous telephone calls, emails and Facebook posts criticizing it, suggesting the church was aligned with a “racist” group and against police, Lutz said. “Wondering when the Police Officers Lives Matter sign will go up???” read one comment. A day after the sign was posted, a Texas officer was killed in the line of duty.

More than 100 people turned out in response to the church’s sign — “We heard you. Can we talk?” — and print, radio and television coverage of the controversy.

The program began with a panel of church members, community members and a representative of the Black Lives Matter movement sharing their perspectives on the sign, the ire raised by the slogan, and the state of racial discourse in the US. Anyone who wanted to speak was afforded the opportunity.

“I’m proud of my church,” Robert Sperring told the group. “I saw the sign and I was not offended. I see ‘Black Lives Matter’ as a cry for help, a slogan calling for peace for the black community.”

Posting the slogan on the church sign “was not the best way to handle it,” said member Helen Nelson, “but I understand it.”

Asa Khalif, a representative of the Black Lives Matter movement, explained that “we are not a hate group. We are not anti-police; we are anti-police brutality, and there is a difference.”

Khalif commended Trinity for addressing race and fostering conversation. “You show what true Christianity is about,” he said.

“I’m glad that this congregation has decided, ‘Let’s talk about these racial issues,” said Lansdale resident Wanda Lewis-Campbell. “We never said only Black lives matter. That was the media.”

Speakers and media crews prepare for Trinity, Lansdale's conversation about "Black Lives Matter" Sept. 9. (Photo: Bob Fisher)

Speakers and media crews prepare for Trinity, Lansdale’s conversation about “Black Lives Matter” Sept. 9. (Photo: Bob Fisher)

“I realize it is a privilege to learn and talk about racism without experiencing it every day – a White privilege,” said member Dan Meyer.

Lutz then asked participants to gather around their tables to introduce themselves and share their fears and hopes for the difficult conversations about race. The church provided guidelines for conversation that helped steer the conversation toward listening to one another rather than throwing barbs, which had occurred on the congregation’s Facebook page.

“I invite you all to listen to what other people have to say tonight. Speak honestly about your thoughts and feelings,” he said.

While none of the speakers criticized the sign, in table conversations varied opinions were raised: The movement is a hate group calling for violence against police. Perhaps the Black Lives Matter slogan has been hijacked for other motives. The fear that conversation would polarize before it dug into deeper issues. Acknowledgment and rejection of “White privilege.”

Ninety minutes of conversation was not going to change hearts or minds, but it opened the possibility of going deeper. Many people left contact information so they could participate in ongoing discussions, and knots of people remained locked in conversation long after the official event concluded.

However the conversation in Lansdale progresses, Trinity took an important step in acknowledging the controversy and the attitudes that simmer beneath it, and stepping up to witness that the Church is a safe place to discuss sensitive and divisive issues. — Bob Fisher


In the media:

6ABC: Church hosts discussion on ‘Black Lives Matter’ sign

NBC10: Church’s “Black Lives Matter” sign stirs controversy–326151011.html

The Reporter: Church asks ‘Can we talk?’ about Black Lives Matter controversy

The Intelligencer: Black Lives Matter detractors absent at Lansdale community gathering

Talk Radio 1210: Pastor explains Black Lives Matter sign in front of church

WFMZ: Church sign stirs controversy in Montgomery County.