When a white supremacist entered an
African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, SC, and executed nine
worshippers, the nation was stunned. We vowed to do better. When Tamir Rice,
Eric Garner, Deborah Danner, Michael Brown, Alteria Woods, Philando Castile, Atatiana
Jefferson, and countless other unarmed black men and women were murdered at the
hands of police, protests sprung up in isolated communities and we promised
ourselves things would change. When Ahmaud Arbery was gunned down by two white
men while jogging, and Breonna Taylor was shot at least eight times by police in
her own home, we again shook our heads and said that something had to change.
On May 25th when a white police officer in Minneapolis pressed his knee
into the neck of George Floyd for almost nine minutes while two officers
assisted and one stood guard, we watched in horror, unable to believe that the
powers of the state were committing a public execution right before our eyes. We
knew instantly that our decades-long promises for change rang hollow. This
time, instead of vowing to do better, people across the country took to the
streets and an entire nation erupted, as did over 50 countries around the world
who joined in protest. Today, we stand in solidarity with the family of George
Floyd and the countless other black victims of police brutality and we join
with civic leaders and protestors demanding better from this country and from
ourselves. The time for the wringing of our hands is over.
Black bodies have been under
assault in this country since the very framing of the nation. The
extrajudicial violence levied overwhelmingly against black people must stop. Over
the past three months, a pandemic has exposed yet again how social and economic
inequities that affect black and brown communities make them more vulnerable to
illness and death. Police violence and mass incarceration are but two
excruciatingly painful facets of those inequities.
As a society of scholars who study religion, who take
religion in its social and sacred dimensions seriously, we are deeply grieved
by the wrongful loss of life. Great religious leaders across traditions have
called on their followers to live up to standards above themselves. As scholars
of religion, we draw on the best of those traditions to insist on several
We call on society to live up to our highest civic and
religious creeds. In order to do so, we must:
Strive to learn about the lives and stories of people beyond ourselves.
When protestors proclaim “Black Lives Matter” they mean ALL of black life –
yes, the physical body, but also the history, the art, the scholarship, the
institutions, and the genius of black people matter.
Vote and cast ballots for candidates that speak beyond our narrow
issues, and focus instead on issues that affect those who have been most
marginalized in this society. We must ask ourselves, how does this platform
affect my neighbor?
LISTEN to black people. White conservatives AND white liberals,
who both are direct beneficiaries of longstanding and deeply embedded systems
of white supremacy, must especially take the time to listen.
Realize that what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. taught us is true:
“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment
of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” As a
society, we cannot afford to ignore those whose enslaved ancestors labored
tirelessly under constant threat of violence and death for the building of this
We call on our legislators to:
Enact laws that hold law enforcement accountable for their all
too often unfair and unreasonable search, seizure, incarceration, and murder of
Stop sanctioning political leaders who use religion as a tool
to legitimize violence, instigate hatred, and silence disgruntled communities. When
politicians use the power of religion as a “photo op” for personal gain, they dishonor
our greatest ideals and menacingly make a mockery of the real significance of
religion and its moral relevance for our world today. Such actions do violence
to individuals and traditions that have been committed to linking social
justice to divine justice.
We call on our colleagues in the study of religion and more
broadly in the humanities to:
Recognize the classroom as a source of power in the fight against
racism and white supremacy. As AAR members we must affirm our strongest values
as an association and commit to understanding how race has shaped and continues
to shape our religious and social worlds.
Integrate the study of race and racialization into our
scholarship, our curriculum, and in the training of students of religion.
Insist on Black religious studies as integral to the study of
American religion and thus essential for the conferral of graduate and
undergraduate degrees in American religion.
As scholars of religion, distant though some of our
observations may be, our work is wedded to humanity and thus imbued with moral
imperatives. Until we call out our
own misdeeds and those of the nation, it will be impossible to call us together
into community as brothers and sisters. We know better and we must DO better.