‘Black Lives Matter’ signs at churches vandalized

UU Fellowship of Northern Nevada of Reno, NV, had its Black Lives Matter banner vandalized.

(RNS) Banners posted at predominantly white churches across the country in support of the “Black Lives Matter” movement have been vandalized — some of them more than once.

Since the Unitarian Universalist Association passed a resolution last summer affirming the movement, 17 of more than 50 congregations that have posted signs have seen them vandalized or stolen.

UU Fellowship of Northern Nevada of Reno, NV, had its Black Lives Matter banner vandalized.

Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Northern Nevada of Reno, N.V., had its “Black Lives Matter” banner vandalized. Photo courtesy of Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Northern Nevada

The Rev. Neal Anderson, senior minister of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Northern Nevada in Reno, said his largely white congregation posted its fourth sign after the third one was stolen on Halloween weekend. The first banner was vandalized in August.

“For me the vandalism was sort of this physical and visible sign of white supremacy,” he said of the first act of vandalism. “It was literally erasing the word ‘black’ and replacing it with the word ‘white.’”

Many of the affected congregations — most of which are predominantly white — are taking additional steps to address racial justice. Next week, Anderson’s Nevada church will show “Cracking the Codes,” a film about racial inequality, and host a discussion.

“When we say that ‘Black Lives Matter,’ we are not saying that all lives don’t matter but we are saying that at this point we really need to lift up racial injustice in the United States,” he said.

MORE: A year after Ferguson, a practical theology emerges around ‘Black Lives Matter’

A sign at First Parish, Unitarian Universalist, in Bedford, Mass., was vandalized twice in September.

“Someone spray-painted white paint over the word ‘black,’ leaving the words ‘lives matter,’” said the Rev. John Gibbons, pastor of the church in the Boston suburb. “Another week later, someone spray-painted the word ‘all’ in black over the white stuff so that it would say ‘all lives matter.’”

Gibbons said his congregation posted a second sign in October, higher off the ground in hopes of keeping it intact. And the mostly white congregants visited a predominantly black Roxbury, Mass., for a racial justice dialogue.

Donna Auston, a Rutgers University researcher and an activist in the “Black Lives Matter” movement, condemned the vandalism but praised the affected churches’ response.

“It is heartening to hear that communities are using these incidents as teachable moments and opportunities to grow,” she said.

MORE: Black churches are no longer ground zero for civil rights activism

Some congregations, such as River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Bethesda, Md., have been involved in racial justice before and after the incidents of vandalism.

River Road UU Congregation of Bethesda, MD, had its Black Lives Matter banner vandalized.

River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Bethesda, Md., had its “Black Lives Matter” banner vandalized. Photo courtesy of River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation

The Rev. Nancy Ladd said the word “black” was cut out of her church’s signs twice and a third banner was stolen. She traveled to Selma, Ala., with church members earlier this year to commemorate the 50th anniversary of civil rights marches there and her church has since posted signs that said “Selma Is Now.” It is holding Friday night vigils with people holding signs with names of black male, female and transgender victims of race-related violence.

“We have to change the prevailing message in our culture that the civil rights battles are all won because they are not,” Ladd said. “They’re just more insidious and they’re just hidden in different ways under the surface of legal justification.”

Jill Goddard, a UUA spokeswoman, said she was not aware of charges being filed in any of the instances of theft or vandalism of signs of churches in her faith group.

Unitarian Universalist congregations are not the only ones that have been hit by vandalism.

For example, someone cut the word “black” out of the “Black Lives Matter” sign at Rock Spring Congregational United Church of Christ in Arlington, Va., which advertised its yearlong racial justice conversations on the same sign. The Rev. Kathy Dwyer said the vandalism at her church — its second this year — and others is symbolic of a nationwide need.

“I think it demonstrates how important this conversation is and how the issue of racial justice is striking a chord that we need to be paying attention to,” she said.


About the author

Adelle M. Banks

Adelle M. Banks, production editor and a national reporter, joined RNS in 1995. An award-winning journalist, she previously was the religion reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and a reporter at The Providence Journal and newspapers in the upstate New York communities of Syracuse and Binghamton.


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  • I’ve been pretty ticked off by this. Yesterday my daughter explained it to me this way. Suppose you had two children. One you showered with love and frequently told that child how much you loved them. The second child you just basically ignored. Finally the second child asks, “Do you love me?” Instead of saying “Yes, I love you, you say ‘I love both of you.'” That is the difference between Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter. We already know that all lives matter. But we need to specifically affirm that Black Lives Matter.

  • The vandalism needs to stop. That’s not a good response to the “Black Lives Matter” controversy.

    At the same time, it sure would be nice to see those same churches hang some “Cops Lives Matter” signs out there. Is that too much to ask of those “inclusive” churches?

  • I think Alison’s comment is spot on. It certainly is strange that people would be offended by saying that black lives matter.

  • All vandals must be prosecuted, period.

    But the fact that this is showing up in suburban liberal areas like Arlington, VA tells us something:

    People can distinguish between a cry for racial equality and justice and an evil, divisive radical movement that’s corrupt to the core.

    The kinds of people behind Black Lives Matters called Dr. King an Uncle Tom and cheered his assassination. The last thing they want is a racially inclusive society. They are using Marxist class warfare tactics and applying them to race in the same way that fringy radical feminists have tried to do with gender or that La Raza types deploy on ethnic issues. These people hate America and are hijacking race, gender, and ethnicity in pursuit of an agenda that seeks to tear America asunder and replace it with some twisted Marxist vision that is both anti-liberal and anti-conservative.

    I’m glad that people of all stripes are seeing through at least some of the slimy deception.

  • They disrupted Bernie’s rally. That should tell you something when even Bernie Sanders isn’t radical enough for them.

    We don’t need a group that wants to apply a blow torch to liberal democracy to tell us that we need to embrace racial justice. And they are about as much for racial justice as the KKK or Louis Farrakhan.

  • Is the phrase “African-American” now out of vogue? I thought “Black” was considered offensive. What is the currently most socially acceptable adjective we should all be using?

    I think what matters is picking one, sticking with it, and letting everyone else know. It’s difficult to demonstrate respect when you’re being chastised for unintentionally using the “wrong” adjective.

  • Anyone who dances in fear to the tune of political correctness these days is pathetic. I think that “black” and “African American” are equally acceptable, although “African American” sounds a little pompous and buffoonish, like something out of a bad 1980s or 1970s comedy routine. It’s like calling a bath room a “lavatory.”

  • In other words, “black” sounds more natural and down-to-earth — as a natural counterpart to “white”.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just call each other human beings and be done with it?

  • Unarmed blacks in America are about twice as likely to be shot by police as unarmed Hispanics and whites in similar circumstances. Is that not a problem? What is it about even bringing up the topic that makes you feel so threatened that you want to change the conversation? Would you feel differently if those figures were reversed and unarmed whites were twice as likely to be shot?

  • I don’t recall anybody cheering Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination. It was a terrible day for America. Whom are you talking about? What exactly about a cry for social justice leads you to hallucinate “Marxist class warfare”? No Black Lives Matter demonstrator has committed an assault or crime, much less “warfare” in bringing attention to their cause. You however seem to have a whole list of people that you fear and hate. Calm down. I’m pretty sure that if you were twice as likely to get shot as any other ethnic group in similar encounters with the police, that you sir, would regard that as a BIG problem.

  • Thanks, Jack, for bringing it back around to what was probably the point of the vandalism: why was it necessary to single out one group with the slogan to begin with?

  • There have been many reports of assaults by BLM protesters, as well as undisputed trespassing, blocking of traffic, etc.

  • AE, obviously you know nothing about the late 1960s or even the basic difference between a liberal and a radical. Either that or you do know and are lying like a rug.

    King was absolutely detested both by the Black Panthers and the largely white Weather Underground because unlike these radical organizations, he was not seeking to tear down America or transform it into something it never was but to reform it. For that, he was called a sell-out and a “Tom.”

    The reaction of the radical left to King’s assassination was grotesque. They were no different from the KKK in their hatred for him.

    Black Lives Matter is not about King’s legacy of racial inclusion but the radical left vision of division and hate. Just do a google search about its latest disgusting antics at Dartmouth, as it harassed and bullied and shouted obscenities at students studying in one of the libraries.

  • Most important, AE, compare the civil rights movement to Black Lives Matter.

    A big reason for America’s successful civil rights revolution and for the civil rights legislation that followed was how King’s followers behaved with dignity and class, even under the worst provocation by white racists. They made people proud to be American and proud of the civil rights struggle.

    Unlike Black Lives Matter, the 1960s civil rights revolution was a pro-American revolution that called the nation to fulfill its potential and its founding document as one in which we are all brothers and sisters with equal rights under God. King’s harkening back to the Pilgrims, who were anti-slavery (unlike the Puritans), his haunting call for America to be what it was supposed to be, is enough to bring tears to almost anyone’s eyes.

    But cold-eyed radicals are never moved by such things.

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