The Rev. Malia Crawford on Friday, March 4 found an upsetting scene outside the Church of Our Saviour in Arlington, where she is the rector. The church’s "Black Lives Matter" banner had been defaced. A slash was cut through the word “Black” and the vandal had added the words “Police lives matter too.”
The sign had hung in front of the Church of Our Saviour since November. After three instances of vandalism to the "Black Lives Matter" banner at First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington occurred, between Oct. 18 and the end of November, the Our Saviour vestry voted to post its own "Black Lives Matter" banner. Several other Arlington congregations made similar decisions. The participating congregations dedicated the banners at a shared gathering in front of First Parish on Nov. 29 (pictured).
The Church of Our Saviour immediately contacted the Arlington police about the vandalism to its banner. The police responded quickly and later followed up, Crawford said in an interview. Our Saviour also notified the Arlington Human Rights Commission of the incident.
“My first response was a concern for the safety of black people in Arlington,” said Crawford, who has an African-American son. “The kind of hatred that would cut a slash through something…you don’t know who is carrying those feelings in their heart, who’s harboring those thoughts. You don’t know where that hatred is lying dormant and where it’s going to come out.”
In discussing the incident in church the following Sunday, March 5, Crawford drew upon the parable of the Good Samaritan. “The question is, how do we respond when we see acts of violence committed against our neighbors?” she said.
“Malia’s first action was to pick up the wounded banner and bring it into the sanctuary,” said the Rev. Sue Fisher Seeger, the deacon serving at Our Saviour. “That to me said, this is our holy place, this is where we come for comfort and learning. That to me was very symbolic.”
After the service, parishioners gathered around the banner and decided to repair it, adding artwork and messages of peace. “We practiced healing the banner as a way to practice loving our neighbor,” Crawford said. “How would we bandage the wounds of someone robbed and left on the side of the road? It’s in some ways a sacramental action for being about to go into the world strengthened to be bold and act in love towards our neighbor.”
Crawford said that she is deeply concerned with where this incident falls in the wider context of Arlington and beyond. She noted recent instances of racist and anti-Semitic graffiti at an Arlington middle school. Crawford also said she knew of the First Parish Unitarian Church receiving hate mail and racist phone calls.
“It feels like there’s always been a spark, but someone has turned up the gas,” Crawford said. “I would not want people to think this is the only way racism manifests itself. This is an easier form of racism to see, but it’s basically adding gas to the racism that’s already there.”
Our Saviour has ordered a new "Black Lives Matter" banner that will be posted in front of the church on Maundy Thursday, March 24.
“In the Episcopal Church, we promise at baptism to ‘strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being,’” Crawford said in a statement released on March 22. “What we want to communicate with our banner is that 'Black Lives Matter' is not an abstract issue. When we say 'Black Lives Matter,' we are thinking about real people we love: our children, or our family members, or our fellow parishioner, or our neighbor, or our classmate or our friends. When we strive for a society in which black lives really do matter, we are working for a society that benefits us all.”
At a time when divisive and hateful rhetoric is running high in many public spaces, Crawford urged the Arlington community to respond with love.
“The forces of evil rejoice when our fear and anxiety turn into hatred, and when we blame our neighbor, we stop asking the real question of why in a land of plenty are so many people suffering," she said in an interview. "We call on our neighbors to strive to work together for a society that ensures peace and justice for all people.”
--Ellen Stuart Kittle
--Ellen Stuart Kittle