On Monday, I and a group of womanist Presidents and Deans, decided that we would not be silent as we witnessed the ongoing murders of and harm to Black people by police officers. We began to write a statement articulating our concerns. As womanists, committed to survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female, we knew that this statement would benefit if written not only by womanists but by as many Black Presidents and Deans within our profession that we could reach within a very short timeframe.
Of course, statements are written all the time. I can’t count the number of statements and petitions I’ve signed over the last decade about one issue or another. This is why we knew we could not, we would not, simply offer a few words proclaiming our disgust. We wanted actionable items, matters that we could take up within our local communities and the academy. Already, we’ve followed up this statement by a discussion with the Association of Theological Schools. The American Academy of Religion has also responded. Over the days and weeks to come, we have every intention of entering conversations with colleagues and our boards of trustees to put into place concrete new ways of ensuring the eradication of systemic racism in academe.
If this work is to be successful, we realize that we cannot limit our work to higher education but must also reach out to public policy makers and faith leaders. Even now we are preparing to use what power and authority we have to make our demands known to our local, state and federal politicians. Our work will also include very serious discussions with faith leaders, for many police officers are parishioners in the very denominations whose candidates for ministry enter our schools for theological and religious education.
There’s an important lesson that we all can draw from the methodology of the protests happening across our world: when the many become one in voice, taking a stand against white supremacy culture, the world takes note and things begin to change for the good of all. Likewise, this statement was written by a few for the many. Our hope now is that it will be shared and that readers will take a stand for liberation and justice with us.
Black Presidents and Deans Schools & Departments of Theology & Religion
We are Black Presidents and Deans serving at schools of theology, departments of religion and African American Studies across the nation. Our co-signers include but are not limited to Black faculty and administrators who comprise the Black theological and religious intellectual thought-group of our time. We were raised and nurtured by Black men and women who had an unquenchable thirst for justice and liberation. Their ancestors bore on their shoulders the weight of oppression and carried in their hearts the hope of better lives for their progeny. This was a communal work. We understood – and even now understand – ourselves as members of a huge tribe of people who cared for our journey through this life. The survival and thriving of Black people in this nation and globally is our unapologetic commitment.
Black people are three times more likely to be killed by officers than are White people. In less than one month, our nation has been shaken by reports of the murders of three unarmed Black citizens of this country: Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd. We mourn their deaths and the murders of so many more whose names we have uttered and those whose names we have not known to call. History has shown us that the rule of law is a luxury to white America and an ever moving goalpost for Black and Brown people. This must end. Those of us who are committed to the Kin-dom of God and to the creation and thriving of the Beloved Community know that this reality cannot come to fruition in the absence of justice for Black people in the United States and around the world.
We cannot and will not be silent while threats are continuously uttered by the highest political leadership in our country, nor will we watch the ongoing murders of Black people by police officers whose chief duty is meant to be “to protect and serve.”
In his most recent conversation with the nation’s governors Trump’s words read as an encouragement to bring harm to our local communities.
“You have to dominate or you’ll look like a bunch of jerks, you have to arrest and try people,” the President told governors in a call from the basement White House Situation Room… “It’s a movement, if you don’t put it down it will get worse and worse,” Trump said. “The only time it’s successful is when you’re weak and most of you are weak.” (June 1, 2020)
As educators, we are concerned about public safety. Moreover, our experience has taught us that learning is made better when we embrace the voices and contributions of persons from diverse walks of life. Yet, militaristic tone and violence-laced threats will never be able to secure the safety of our communities and by extension, healthy learning environments. We deplore this rhetoric in the strongest terms and demand the White House administration cease and desist from such vile communications.
We believe that government energies currently being spent on illegitimate surveillance of Black protestors would be better spent on the investigation of those entities currently employed in highjacking a legitimate movement for change in the nature of policing in the United States. These entities include accelerationist white supremacist individuals and organizations who are infiltrating these protests with the express intent of inciting violence and, ultimately, a race war that they believe it is possible to win.
The sight of US military forces stationed in front of American citizens engaged in peaceful protest has let us know that this government plans a hardcore law and order response. We fear this will only make matters worse and that many lives may be lost in the quest for justice. Instead, we hope our local governments will see the benefit of negotiating with community leaders who are known for their work for the liberation of Black lives and economic justice. To that end, we make the following demands:
- The removal of military equipment from our neighborhoods as tools for policing.
○ The end of the 1033 Program, whereby Congress transfers excess military equipment to local police agencies for use in counter-drug activities.
- The immediate work to create police reform initiatives as well as community oriented policing methodologies to include the following:
○ A revision of police union contracts so that police are held accountable for misconduct, to include clarity about “excessive force.”
○ A moratorium on no-knock warrants for drug-related arrests.
○ An end to “broken-windows” policing.
○ The implementation of swift and strong fines against persons who make emergency calls to police departments based upon false allegations against Black citizens.
○ State and local level public policy initiatives that ensure police review boards comprise citizens representing its diverse neighborhoods. Effective policy requires community oversight.
○ The refusal to hire/retain any officer who has a history of excessive force and misconduct.
○ An end to the practice of aggressive police persons not receiving repercussions and prosecution when they cross the justice line and end the process of internal policing, powerful police unions, powerless civil arbitration boards, and ineffective external (non-police) review boards being used to release accused police persons from justice.
○ An end to the standard of reasonableness that allows police officers to shoot to kill Black and other racial minorities on the officer’s assertion that they feared for their life.
○ Pressure on insurance companies to demand changes in police procedures and policies used by police departments that consistently lead to high incidents of police brutality against racial minorities by refusing those departments coverage.
- The immediate clarification by the FBI that Black Lives Matter is not a “black identity extremist” movement.
American Academy of Religion/ Society of Biblical Literature:
- The immediate development and support of the Policing in Black and Brown Communities Initiative that will work with journalists who cover religion. Black people’s religious conceptualizations drive the way they move in the world. Through AAR/SBL support, this initiative’s aim is to place scholars of religion in conversation with mainstream journalists around the country so that the narratives around our lives convey truth and sensitivity.
Association of Theological Schools:
- Include on its agenda for its upcoming Biennial Meeting a time for the Presidents of ATS schools to discuss what is both the impact and theological work needed to address the consistent killings of Black people.
During our lifetimes, we have placed our credentials and often our very bodies on the line doing the work of justice-making for our communities. Now is no different. In the days to come, we will do all in our power to resist the evils of racism in the many forms it presents itself, especially in our political systems and schools of higher education. We will not allow the violence directed at Black people and US citizens protesting against police violence to be baptized in religious symbolism as if to say that is the way that our faith, any faith, that follows the way of love and justice demands we obey. Instead, we join the collective response to those who seek justice, liberation and the end of white supremacy. NO MORE.
Pamela R. Lightsey and Matthew Williams
Rev. Angela D. Sims, PhD President, Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School
Rev. Valerie Bridgeman, PhD Dean and VP of Academic Affairs, Methodist Theological School in Ohio
Rev. Pamela R. Lightsey, PhD VP of Academic Affairs, Meadville Lombard Theological School
Marsha Foster Boyd, PhD, Interim Vice President of Academic Affairs and Academic Dean, Luther Seminary
The Rev. Vanessa Lovelace, PhD Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of Lancaster Theological Seminary
The Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt President, Starr King School for the Ministry, Berkeley CA
Leah Gunning Francis, PhD
VP for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty, Christian Theological Seminary Rev. Stephanie Buckhanon Crowder, PhD Vice President of Academic Affairs and Academic Dean, Chicago Theological Seminary
Rev. Yolanda Pierce, PhD, Professor & Dean, Howard University School of Divinity
Rev. Kirstin C. Boswell-Ford, M.Div. Associate Dean of Student Support Services, Brown University
Rev. Maisha Handy, PhD, Provost/VP for Academic Affairs, Interdenominational Theological Center
Rev. Stephen G. Ray Jr., PhD, President, Chicago Theological Seminary
Rev. Micah L. McCreary, PhD, President, New Brunswick Theological Seminary
Matthew Wesley Williams, M.Div., Interim President, Interdenominational Theological Center
Elías Ortega, PhD, President, Meadville Lombard Theological School
Chanequa Walker-Barnes, PhD, Associate Professor of Practical Theology, Mercer University
Alisha Lola Jones, PhD, Assistant Professor, Indiana University (Bloomington)
Walter E. Fluker, PhD, Professor Emeritus Ethical Leadership, Boston University School of Theology
Rev. Naomi Washington-Leapheart, Contingent Faculty, Dept. of Theology and Religious Studies, Villanova University
Tamura Lomax, PhD, Associate Professor, Michigan State University
Brian Bantum, PhD, Neil F. and Ila A. Fisher Professor of Theology, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
Brittney Cooper, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Africana Studies, Rutgers University
Stacey M. Floyd-Thomas, PhD, E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Associate Professor of Ethics and Society, Vanderbilt University
Rev. Eboni Marshall Turman, PhD, Assistant Professor, Yale University Divinity School
Juan M. Floyd-Thomas, PhD, Associate Professor of African American Religious History, Vanderbilt Divinity School and Graduate Department of Religion
Mark A. Hicks, Ed.D, McLean Professor of Religious Education, Meadville Lombard Theological School
Rev. Shonda Jones, EdD, Senior Associate Dean, Wake Forest University School of Divinity
Dr. Toni M. Bond, Co-Founder, Interfaith Voices for Reproductive Justice
Rev. Mitzi J. Smith, PhD, J Davison Philips Professor of New Testament, Columbia Theological Seminary
Victor Anderson, Oberlin Theological School Professor of Ethics and Society, Vanderbilt University, the Divinity School and College of Arts and Sciences
The Rev. Wil Gafney, PhD, Professor of Hebrew Bible, Brite Divinity School
Rev. Theresa S. Thames, DMin, Associate Dean of Religious Life and of the Chapel, Princeton University
Rev. Monica A. Coleman, PhD, Professor of Africana Studies, University of Delaware
Rev. Kamilah Hall Sharp, MDiv, J.D., Contingent Faculty
Rev. Dr. Irie Lynne Session, DMin, Contingent Faculty
Kameron Carter, PhD, Professor of Religious Studies, Indiana University (Bloomington)
Rev. Linda E. Thomas, PhD, Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago
The Rev. Eddie L. Journey, Contingent Faculty, LMHC Resident Psychotherapist & Consultant, Goodpoint Counseling & Consulting Services
Valerie Miles-Tribble, PhD, Associate Professor, GTU-Berkeley School of Theology (ABSW)
Rev. Melanie C. Jones, Director of The Katie Geneva Cannon Center for Womanist Leadership, Instructor of Ethics, Theology and Culture, Union Presbyterian Seminary
JoAnne Marie Terrell, PhD, Associate Professor of Theology, Ethics and the Arts, Chicago Theological Seminary
Barbara A. Fears, PhD, Assistant Professor of Religious Education, Howard University School of Divinity
Terri Laws, PhD, Assistant Professor, African and African American Studies, University of Michigan-Dearborn
Randall C. Bailey, PhD, Distinguished Professor, Emeritus, Interdenominational Theological Center
Lee H. Butler, Jr., PhD, Distinguished Service Professor of Theology and Psychology, Chicago Theological Seminary
Rev. Dominique A. Robinson, DMin, Dean of Chapel & Assistant Professor of Religion, Wiley College
Rev. Stephanie M. Crumpton, ThD, Associate Professor of Practical Theology, McCormick Theological Seminary
Rev. AnneMarie Mingo, PhD, Assistant Professor, Penn State University
Shanell T. Smith, PhD, Associate Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins, Hartford Seminary
Elise M. Edwards, PhD, Assistant Professor, Baylor University
Renee K. Harrison, PhD, Associate Professor, African American & U.S. Religious History, Howard University School of Divinity
Rev. Belva Brown Jordan, Interim President, Disciples Seminary Foundation, Associate Professor Practice of Ministry, Claremont School of Theology
Rev. Melva L. Sampson, PhD, Assistant Professor of Preaching and Practical Theology, Wake Forest University School of Divinity
Rev. Michele E. Watkins, PhD, Assistant Professor of Theology and Religious Studies, University of San Diego
Rev. Brandon T. Maxwell, Dean of Students, Vice President for Enrollment & Student Affairs, Columbia Theological Seminary
Christopher W. Hunt, PhD, Assistant Professor of Religion & Modernity, Colorado College
Oluwatomisin Oredein, ThD, Assistant Professor in Black Religious Traditions and Constructive Theology and Ethics, Brite Divinity School