The following images and words are from the press conference held on September 16, 2020 at All Souls Unitarian Church after one of several art murals proclaiming BLACK LIVES MATTER was painted in our respective church parking lots. This statement in its entirety is a collective statement crafted by the ministers and community of seven, predominantly white, churches and one synagogue throughout Tulsa and was intentionally shared four years to the day since the murder of Terence Crutcher, an unarmed Black man killed by officer Betty Shelby. Sections of the statement were read at the press conference and are listed by the speaker in this post.
Rev. Cheryl Harder, Associate Rector of Trinity Episcopal Church
As we approach the 100th anniversary of the devastation of Greenwood, one of the worst race massacres in United States history, the gathered clergy and leaders of predominantly white churches in our city stand to collectively acknowledge and apologize for the silence and, in some cases, the complicity of white churches in the racism that has existed and exists today in Tulsa. We have benefitted from systems of racial inequality, and have often done nothing to speak out against what is a moral and ethical sin, incompatible with sincere religious practice. Racism has no place in the church, or the temple or synagogue or mosque, nor any house of worship.
Rev. Kathy Brown, St. Paul’s United Methodist Church
We note today that soon the city will remove the “Black Lives Matter” mural from Greenwood Avenue. While the intent is to remove it based on the grounds of public policy, we are concerned that the impact will be that on Greenwood Avenue, near the 100th anniversary of the massacre, the visible and public statement “black lives matter,” a statement that should not be controversial at all, will be removed by the city of Tulsa.
Rev. Keith McArtor, Centenary United Methodist Church
While we acknowledge that the mural on Greenwood might seem a trivial thing, not as worthy of attention as, for instance, the many problems raised by the equality indicators report, we also acknowledge the critical symbolic importance of that mural and the need for leadership on a difficult issue in our community. This mural is a metaphor for black-white relations in Tulsa, and the inability to provide an exception on the location it currently resides, is seen by many as an unwillingness to full face our past, thereby limiting our ability to move forward.
Rev. Dr. Marlin Lavanhar, All Souls Unitarian-Universalist Church
As people of faith, we deeply appreciate the power of symbols. Our communities are filled with symbols, symbolic ritual and metaphor. The mural on Greenwood is more than a phrase borrowed from the current social media vernacular. It is more than a hashtag. It is a public art metaphor – a symbol of awareness, of re-awakening, of power and purpose. The mural on Greenwood is not the first call for racial justice in our city, not the only cry for equity happening right now, but it is a salient, visible and poignant statement for our time. It is not an anti-police statement, and we condemn the human violence done by persons supposedly in the name of black lives matter. This phrase – black lives matter – should remind us, and the whole of this city, of the fierce urgency of now, and the hope of a dream for tomorrow, a dream rooted in the promise of Black Wall Street, echoed in Dr. King’s dream, and played out in the hearts of thousands of people in our city today demanding justice and equity.
Rev. Robert Martin, First Lutheran Church
Symbols remind us of our past and help us to imagine a new future. They are meant to provoke larger and hopefully more complex conversations. Our moral maturity demands such depth. Trapped in the endless cycle of “us versus them,” we rarely hold lasting space for the impact of race on issues like our criminal justice systems, housing, economic and educational opportunity, healthcare outcomes, or law enforcement. Instead we drift far too quickly into “sides,” unable to muster the honesty or the vulnerability it requires to engage in such complex discussions.
Marc Fitzerman, Rabbi with B’Nai Emunah Synagogue
We admit that symbolic public art like this mural is NOT the systemic change that is so desperately needed, but we also see the need to hold up this phrase – black lives matter – and to reclaim it for our lives here in Tulsa. We do not view this phrase – black lives matter – as political speech, but a declaration of something that should be obvious, but is not. When we say – black lives matter – we are not saying other lives don’t, or asserting some agenda other than to make the most basic of claims about something that has not been historically true in our city or nation. While simply saying this out loud cannot change our history nor our future, nothing can be changed, as James Baldwin once wrote, until it is faced. As such, we are unwilling to let go of this phrase as a harbinger of change – change that must have tangible economic and social renewal at its core.
Rev. Todd Freeman, College Hill Presbyterian
While it has not always been supported by our actions as clergy – current or prior – or our examples as churches in Tulsa – current or prior – we collectively say today that black lives matter, and, by moving this public art to our own properties we also are saying that as predominantly white churches in this community, we commit to making changes that are more than symbolic, first and foremost on ourselves making sure that we do more than just claim that we’re not racist, but rather work to be anti-racist in our efforts. For we do not believe that the pandemic of racism can be cured by political spin nor by trying to score partisan points. It can only come from an age-old process in our religious traditions – the process of forgiveness that begins with confession and restitution.
Rev. Chris Moore, Fellowship Congregational UCC
Today is the 4th anniversary of the killing of Terence Crutcher. Something that took place right here in our own city, and that connects us to the larger, awful story of violence against black and brown bodies all across our country. We stand today as testament to the desire to see God get the glory out of tragedy, for some good to come from his senseless death. These art pieces serve as a reminder to our faith communities that IF black lives matter, then we must change the ways that we have organized ourselves, sometimes with painful and vulnerable work. People who have historically been known as white must provoke in themselves and one another deeper conversations about the historic and systemic ways that black lives have not mattered and work to change that in our own selves and the systems in which we all live. We do so as an act of faith, pushed by the directive of a God who calls all of God’s children together, having created each of us in God’s own image, and commands us to love one another as God loves us. It is that faith which calls us to seek higher ground than we have sought thus far, to stop limiting ourselves to the weak constraints of “right versus left,” and begin to talk about right and wrong. If we do not, in a world that is placing increasing demands on our interconnectedness, we will remain trapped by our past, unable to move forward together, to truth and reconciliation, to accountability and understanding, to a place where we could say with authenticity that all lives matter.
Watch the full press conference.
Photography by Anitra Lavanhar and Arial photography by Rick Gardner. Rev. Dr. Marlin Lavanhar is the Senior Minister of All Souls in Tulsa, OK and is celebrating his 20th year this month! Read more from him on our blog, beyondbelief.online.