A church in Chicago’s majority white, upper-class Beverly community deleted words from its electronic sign that supported the Black Lives Matter movement after an outbreak of vitriol and threats on social media.
Church members claimed they wanted to start a conversation about race, but they soon found themselves under attack from community members who feel the Black Lives Matter movement is racist and anti-police.
“We were quite surprised,” longtime church trustee Linda Cooper told the Chicago Tribune. “We did receive some positive responses on Facebook as well as some extremely nasty ones as well as some threats.”
She said these threats included violence towards the children of churchgoers, which led them to contact police and, ultimately, change the sign.
“Here at Beverly Unitarian Church (BUC), twice a month, we post what we hope are inspiring and/or thought provoking sayings,” the church said in a Facebook post. “The BUC Board picked ‘Black Lives Matter’ at our mid-August Board meeting. We felt the message behind these words, that for too long black citizens have been demonstrably less valued, could inspire us all to look at how we might change.”
Many of the negative commenters on their Facebook page seemed to argue that the Black Lives Matter movement advocates violence against police, and charged its followers with terrorism.
“Nice that a church plays into the race card crap perpetuated by society and the media,” noted Katie Spivey, whose avatar is a woman’s face with an American Flag and Confederate Battle Flag superimposed over each other. “Thank you for doing your part to support what is quickly becoming a terrorist movement and further segregating the American people!”
“Blm is a terrorist organization intent on the murder of police officers and white people as shown by their actions, social media reps, and numerous chants calling for the mass murder of police and white people,” wrote Brian Cordes of Coram, New York. “Plus there has been a war declared in police.”
Out of the hundreds of comment, the vast majority were in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, and of the church’s sign, which is part of a larger message from the national Unitarian Universalist movement.
“As a Unitarian Universalist seminarian and a member of the First Unitarian Society of Denver, I am disappointed in this congregation’s conciliatory response to racist trolling,” Elizabeth Mount typed. “Our General Assembly this year agreed on national support of the #blacklivesmatter movement. We have had these conversations for over a year in many congregations, and this feels like a giant step backward. If we can’t even specifically say that black lives matter out loud and in print, how can we possibly say we don’t think black people are ‘less than’?”
Church leaders in Beverly say they still support the Black Lives Matter movement, but they decided to change the signage to “Life Matters, Risk Loving Everyone.”
It wasn’t just the threats, they say, that made them reconsider.
“A message left on our answering machine, asking us to think about how these words make a police officer feel, gave us the most pause,” the church wrote in another post, now edited. “We had no intention of aligning ourselves to a specific organization that is maligning people who offer us security—AND we still believe the premise of this statement.”
The church hopes to “continue the conversation” in their local community in coming months, though for supporters of the sign, it’s a plan that falls short.
“Black lives matter simply means black lives matter, too,” Forrest Gilmore of Bloomington, Indiana, wrote on their Facebook. “That this is even remotely controversial makes clear that racism is alive and well. Please keep up the sign. People of color need your support.”