“I was to be able to! The Gospel impels me"
Reflections of a friar on BLM and the 2020 March on Washington
by friar Paul Schloemer, ofm conv, 03 September 2020
As a white man, it is always a bit disquieting(?) to go down to one of the many Black Lives Matter protests. I think that disquiet is simply one more symptom of the state of race relations in our nation. I am 100% in support of the movement, and yet I am as overly sensitive (suspicious?) of my white brethren as perhaps others have become. Are they judging me? Are they supportive or not? It seems dangerous to just ask, and if I did, are people these days too p.c. to ever say what they feel? It is hard to leave your tribe to go support another tribe that is (rightly) critical of your own tribe. (“Tribe” by Sebastian Junker and “Hidden Tribes: A Report on America’s Polarized Landscape”)
I have been going. Not as often as I should, and perhaps not getting as involved in other areas of the movement as I should, but I have been going. And it is hopeful to be there and see how many people not-of-color who are also there! I post things on Facebook to both praise and derision, which one expects, but also to variations of “be careful!” Be careful? Every protest I have attended has been nothing but peaceful. Angry and hurt, but peaceful. But I understand why they say that when I get home and see the news dominated by riots and looting. And that too gets co-opted for political gain on both sides. How to tell if someone marching next to you is trying to better the world, or tear it down? But does that matter? I’m not there because someone else might have lesser motivations. I am there because of Justice.
When I go, all around are people trying to do good. Trying to correct 400 years of injustice, and pain and hate. That is not an easy process, and not one that will be painless. But if good people shy away from the movement; if peaceful people avoid the conflict, then all that is left is conflict and evil. I must keep going.
At the March on Washington 2020, One of the student friars in formation who I serve, also went. We went separately (you know, schedules) and you can also read about his experience here at FranciscanVoice.org. I got asked about My habit, who I was, why I was there. I would tell reporters that my understanding of the Gospel impels me to aid those who are poor and oppressed, however I can. I would express my disappointment that I did not see more Catholic clergy and religious there, but how fortunate I was to be able to represent my Church.
So I will, hopefully, keep going and making my presence known. The Church cannot only be an organized presence at the Right to Life march in January (which I more comfortably attend as often as possible). We must always be a presence to speak out for the oppressed of any type. We do not have to be the organizers (although volunteers are needed.) We do not have to be a member of the oppressed group (although there are Catholic members of almost every group.) We do not have to be sure of ourselves and politically correct (regardless of how righteous our cause may be.) But we do have to be present. We do have to at least say that we feel the pain of others and respond. Christ did no less.