MERIDEN — Frustrated that a series of meetings of Hartford-area religious and community leaders was getting nowhere in the push for social reform, Bishop John Selders felt compelled to air his frustrations during a late 2014 gathering.
“I’m sick of the meetings,” he recalled of his comments while addressing members of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Meriden on Friday. “It’s about time to turn up.”
Selders was telling a group about his return from a visit to his childhood hometown just outside Ferguson, Missouri, when others in Hartford wanted to discuss how to react to the news that Darren Wilson wouldn’t be indicted for fatally shooting Michael Brown.
His message of frustration resonated with the predominantly white church, which has invited him in for a series of conversations aimed at helping them find a role in the Black Lives Matter movement.
Steve Volpini, on the church’s social justice council, said members are looking to do more than voice their support for increased equality.
“We’re not talking about charity, we’re talking about justice, and we’re not talking about forming a subcommittee, we’re talking about changing a culture,” he said. “It’s a lot deeper than we normally bring to the table, so first we have to learn.”
Friday was the first of three conversations, and Selders, pastor at the Amistad United Church of Christ in Hartford, focused on the “theological underpinnings of the Black Lives Matter movement.”
While many people link the Black Lives Matter movement to Brown’s death, which brought the expression to the national spotlight, Selders explained that it began as a social media hashtag after George Zimmerman was found not guilty of murder for killing teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida.
Selders also said his goal is to fight against racism, not just police use of force and the number of unarmed black men and women killed by police officers.
He noted Connecticut has the highest per-capita income in the country, but also holds some of its poorest urban areas in Hartford, Bridgeport, and New Haven, where the populations are also predominantly black.
Angie Swanger said the Unitarian Universalist church is “very much into social justice issues,” but wanted guidance from black leaders about how to help fight racism. Volpini agreed, saying that desire sparked the conversations.
“The idea is for those of us from a small, liberal, mostly white, privileged congregation to understand more about what’s happening, some of the difficulties that are happening,” he said.
Selders said the Black Lives Matter movement and past civil rights efforts have a strong connection to theology, referencing Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” as an example.
Selders also said groups like his Moral Monday Connecticut is based on King’s call to break unjust laws by engaging in protests and civil disobedience to bring attention to their cause.
Selders said members of his group, based on a North Carolina organization of the same name, have been arrested on multiple occasions.
“In this country, we have a habit of if we don’t like it, we take to the streets,” he said. Selders also said protests need to create “tension” to compel society to take action.
Selders also had the group discuss “The Space Traders,” a short story about accepting gold, clean nuclear energy, and other technological advantages from aliens in exchange for all the black people in the country.
The story led to a debate about race relations in the U.S. today and whether the country would accept the offer. In the story, the country approves acceptances via a referendum.
The church has two more conversations planned for Oct. 28 and Nov. 3, and the events are open to the public.
For more information, call the Unitarian Universalist Church at 203-237-9297.