When the Proud Boys attacked African American churches in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 12 at the culmination of that day’s “March for Trump”—tearing down banners and signs reading Black Lives Matter, and either destroying them outright or parading them through the street and then setting them aflame—it sent shock waves through the Black community, and not just in the nation’s capital.
“For me it was reminiscent of cross burnings,” commented the pastor of one of the victimized churches, Asbury United Methodist. So it was for many Americans who could remember all too well the nation’s history of burned-down and bombed churches during the long struggle for Black civil rights.
Moya Harris, a pastor at another church that came under attack—Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal—penned a piece for Sojourners contemplating the feelings that the attacks conjured up for people who experienced a more sublimated form of white supremacism daily:
Being on this side of the pain has almost been an out-of-body experience. What happened last weekend in the front of my church hit me to my core. At Metropolitan, we regularly wrestle with hard topics in sermons and Bible studies; we don’t shy away from the reality that the Earth is not as God would have it. We see the pain on the streets surrounding our beloved building. We feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and fight for those whose voices are being diminished by a government that has chosen to participate in their demise. We preach and teach about liberation, transformation, and reconciliation—what Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright called three prongs of the prophetic Black church tradition. We talk it, eat it, sleep it. Yet we still we find ourselves in the crosshairs of white supremacy.
However, as she notes, the pain and dread also conjure up the desire to fight back—one that spread far beyond the confines of Washington as a result of the attacks:
My prayer is that their outrage extends beyond the destruction of replaceable property. America has fetishized Black pain and suffering. Widespread outrage spreads when violence perpetuated against Black entities is caught on video, but when the cameras are off, people go back to their regularly scheduled program, ignoring the perpetual pain of living on the margins. It is my hope that this time, the cycle is broken, and that Black Lives Matter is bigger than a sign.