THE BLOG
01/18/2015 09:22 pm ET Updated Mar 20, 2015

If #BlackLivesMatter, Then They Matter in Our Houses of Faith First

Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

If people of faith want to show the world that #BlackLivesMatter, we have to show that they matter within our churches, temples, mosques, and synagogues. We must lend our moral courage and ethical imagination to support this powerful social movement that has emerged from Black communities, but calls on all of us to act.

Our country is experiencing a groundswell of activism that is shining a spotlight on police brutality and the myriad other ways in which racism harms Black communities and other communities of color. This groundswell is being powered by a revitalized racial justice movement with young people of color and LGBT people of color at its center -- and it's giving new shape to what a transformed American society could look like. In this moment of profound change and possibility, people of faith -- in our full diversity -- must work harder to raise the voices and follow the lead of the many Black people and other people of color in our communities. For white people of faith, that means learning how to become more effective allies in the struggle against racism -- and that struggle starts within our own faith communities.

A few weeks ago, a friend and I were talking about #BlackLivesMatter. As a Black Jew living in a predominantly white, orthodox community, she shared with me her fears for her Black son's safety. While her family has gone to great pains to introduce themselves to people on and around her block, she lives in fear of what could go wrong if one of her neighbors didn't recognize him and were to call the police.

Michael Brown's family belonged to a church. Amadou Diallo, whose death roused public attention to police violence nearly two decades ago, belonged to a mosque. My friend's son belongs to a synagogue. Common practices like stop and frisk, racial profiling, and living with continuous threats of violence are not distant issues for Black people in our faith communities. Indeed, these are some of the most basic and immediate challenges they face. We need to acknowledge that these issues belong to us as communities of faith, that they are not "someone else's problem."

And these challenges aren't going away anytime soon. In a quote made famous by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. he reminds us that "the moral arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice." For many of us, rooting our social change activism in our faith tradition gives us the strength and inspiration to carry on these long struggles. Our religious and cultural traditions provide the tools and community to sustain our commitments to a better world. Yes, we will get there, but many of us seek spiritual nourishment to fortify ourselves for the pain, discomfort, and destabilization along the way.

But we have to do this the right way if it's going to matter. People of faith have an important role to play bolstering and amplifying this resurgent racial justice movement to ensure the strategic demands originating in #BlackLivesMatter and Ferguson Action are translated into cultural, legislative and policy wins. We have the power to re-frame seemingly intractable political problems into moral and ethical choices, alter the public narrative, and expand the possibilities for solutions. But meaningful action must start with listening to, making space for, and amplifying the voices of Black people of faith in our families, congregations and communities. This must be led by them.

Will some of our communities be uncomfortable with the young people of color leading this racial justice movement, either because of their age or their proud identity as LGBT? Possibly. But this is a beautiful opportunity to demonstrate that our churches, mosques, temples and synagogues want to be meaningful in 21st Century America, and there is no way to do that without letting the authentic voices of this community come through.

Transformation is on the rise. People of faith have direct experience with the power of transformation. Let's apply that wisdom to this moment and support these young people of color as they lead us to the promised land. Only when every black life matters in America, will every life in America matter.