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This past Saturday more than 5,000 people gathered at Travis Park downtown to hold a vigil for George Floyd, a black man killed by police in Minneapolis. It was a peaceful gathering and a beautiful moment for our city. Our church is located next to Travis Park. We were more than willing to put our full support behind the Black Lives Matter movement and the Brown Berets who helped organize the march to the San Antonio Police Department headquarters.
Vigils and marches such as the ones held in San Antonio last Saturday are needed. Black voices need to be heard, especially when it’s difficult, painful, raw – and when a community has experienced so much trauma.
The peaceful march was followed by events and riots, both unfortunate and unnerving, instigated by people who were not interested in peaceful protests. Our church, like so many places downtown, experienced physical damage in the late hours of the night by a few that resorted to this kind of activity.
We realize that as a church we absorb the pain of other people, and we will absorb the pain that so many people in our community are experiencing. We stand with the Black Lives Matter movement during this trying time, and we’re here to remember those who have lost their lives due to the brutality and prejudice of some in law enforcement.
We are asked why we support and use the phrase “Black Lives Matter” and not the phrase “All Lives Matter” when God calls us to love everyone. The answer is that we believe God is personal and directly remembers those who have seen injustice. Pastor Jerome Colemen said it best when referring to scripture (Luke 10:29–37), “I get that all lives matter. But if all lives matter, then when there’s a Jew beside the road beat up, Jewish lives matter. If all lives matter, then if I’m on my way down the road and a Samaritan is beat up, Samaritans’ lives matter. And if all lives matter and law enforcement is [attacked] … then law enforcement lives matter. And if all lives matter, then when … black men are being stopped unnecessarily, shot and killed, and murdered, then black lives matter as well.”
We, along with many places of worship, stand in solidarity and remember the sacred names of George Floyd, Marques Jones, Breonna Taylor, Michael Brown, Botham Jean, Atatiana Jefferson, Sandra Bland, and the thousands of black lives lost just in the last five years. This is an unacceptable number, and we do not tolerate this kind of injustice.
We don’t take the physical damage personally. We’re here to stand for a much bigger cause. It’s unfortunate some people resort to destructive behavior, but the violence toward people of color has been an injustice happening throughout the history of our country. We understand some people are going to react in different ways.
On Sunday we watched a video of young men throwing rocks to break the doors of our church. Some in the crowd appeared to tell them to stop, but the damage was done. To them, and to all those outraged we would like to say this: That old church is strong enough.
The world is a pretty scary place right now. Youth enrolled in schools have been sent home from school to study remotely. That is, if they can, if they have solitude at home and access to the internet and other technology. Young men and women of color are losing the jobs they had, and new ones won’t be open for quite a while. A never-before-experienced health crisis stalks all of us. Meanwhile, the centuries-old institutional racism that has jeopardized opportunity all their lives is thriving in new soil. The schools are closed, the jobs are gone, scores are dying, men and women of color are being hunted down.
Travis Park Church was founded in San Antonio in 1846. The building has been through many changes. It has weathered Civil War and Civil Rights, fire and flood, racism and sexism, poverty and prosperity in the course of almost 175 years. Just last fall, a collapsed roof broke a water main dealing a double blow of structural damage and water damage. By the next Sunday the congregation was celebrating worship in Travis Park across the street. Before, during, and after, volunteers continued to provide food for the hungry and clothing for the homeless. Humanitarian aid to migrants at the border continued, and our halfway house for women fighting addiction stayed open.
A church has to have a heart of love and forgiveness. Our faith calls us to see the humanity in the oppressed. We can’t fix all that is wrong in the world right now, but we can’t even start if we don’t listen and understand despair.
What we want to tell you is that Mother Church can survive the rage of hopelessness, and she can also soothe it. That’s what we are called to do.
Travis Park Church will not press charges against any individuals arrested in connection with the church vandalism Saturday night.