‘The Black church v. the Proud Boys’

D.C. pastors say racist vandalism to their churches is part of deeper problem

Rev. Ianther Mills puts up new sign in front of Asbury United Methodist Church after an initial sign was destroyed. This second sign was also destroyed.
Photo by Hamil Harris/Trice Edney News Wire

By Hamil Harris

The pastors of two Washington D.C. churches who had their “Black Lives Matter” signs destroyed by right wing groups; including the Trump-supporting Proud Boys, said healing racist attitudes among White believers is harder to fix than replacing signs.

In December Black Lives Matter signs were destroyed in front of the Asbury United Methodist, the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church and two other churches.

The race tainted violence was sparked by supporters of former President Trump and Right Wing groups that included the Proud Boys. It revealed a much deeper racial divide among people of faith.

On Super Bowl Sunday, Rev. William Lamar, pastor of the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church and Rev. Ianther Mills, pastor of Asbury United Methodist, talked about their plight during journalist Richard Prince’s monthly Journal-isms Roundtable entitled, “The Black Church vs. the Proud Boys.”

“American Christianity is the carrier of White supremacy,” said Rev. William Lamar, whose congregation on Jan. 4 joined the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in filing a lawsuit in the D.C. Superior Court. The suit seeks to hold the Proud Boys, its leadership and certain of its members accountable for the vandalism.

“White supremacists like the Proud Boys, would rather see the country burn than to see it united together under justice and freedom for all,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in a statement.

“Our lawsuit aims to hold those who engage in such action accountable. We are proud to represent Metropolitan A.M.E. which has a long history of standing against bigotry and hate and whose courage and determination to fight back is a beacon of hope for the community.”

Rev. Mills said the incident has opened a discussion within her church regarding the state of race relations in their church. “We are being more than proactive. “I have really been inspired by the bishops and particularly the Southern Bishops.”

African Americans are only six percent of the demographics of the United Methodist Church in the United States,” Mills said. “But With the death of George Floyd the church really stepped up to do more than the usual do a study, have a task force or something like that.”

Mills added, “Everyone has been challenged and confronted whether you are a liberal or a conservative or a moderate in the United Methodist Church…The churches have been challenged to take more proactive steps in terms of fighting racism, at my annual conference pastors have been challenged to preach or teach about racism monthly and the people have been asked to confront their own biases.”

Susan Corke, Intelligence Project director for the 50-year-old Southern Poverty Law Center, also on the conference, said, “Hate groups became more difficult to track amid COVID.” She said they have also migrated to online networks.

“America needs to find humility and honesty right now. We need to build a better democracy,” said Corke, who started her new job with the SPLC just a few days before the insurrection at the U. S. Capitol.

“What I am saying to White evangelicals is that I am clear that your God is not my God and I am clear that you have no advancement or my flourishing,” Lamar said. “I have an investment in your advancement, but I’m not going asleep with you in the room.”

Lamar said that historically, “The church baptized and gave theological language to White supremacy…What happened with the proud boys is as made in America as a Buick or a Chevrolet. It is the distinct way of viewing African-Americans as disposable and subhuman.”

Lamar said that on Jan. 6, an older White woman was pushed by a man with her MAGA regalia to the steps of his church. “She told his Chief of Security we are here because we hate ni…rs.”

Lamar explained: “They dress it up with words like liberty, justice, and freedom. It doesn’t mean that…This is a purgatory language, ‘liberty, justice, freedom’, but it doesn’t mean that.”

During the 2020 Presidential election, Lamar said Black church leaders played a significant role in terms of voter turnout across the country and particularly in Georgia and South Carolina.

“There is not one or two persons speaking for the Black church, and to me, that is a healthy thing,” Lamar said. “It is more diffuse there are more people on the front line organizing, and today African-American church leaders are in constant contact.”

About 70 journalists from newspapers, television outlets, and veteran journalists took part in the roundtable. Many wanted to know about the church leaders’ plans going forward.

“I want you to help us (get rid) of the notion that there is no coordination among the Black churches,” Lamar said. “There is not one queen of the Black church; there is not one king. There [is] much leverage and much coordination.”

Among the comments, one came from educator, economist and columnist Julianne Malveaux who said the rift between the White and Black pastors is nothing new, “It ain’t nothing but the Letter from the Birmingham Jail. White Evangelicals are next of kin to the devil.”

Retired USA Today editor Bobbi Bowman suggested that people read Dr. King’s Letter from Birmingham that dealt with racial attitudes among White religious leaders.

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