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How national religious leaders reacted to this weekend’s protests over racial violence

Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders applauded protesters raising their voices and urged officials to listen to the experiences of people of color.

Protesters march through downtown Salt Lake City on Saturday, May 30, 2020 in the wake of the death of George Floyd, who died in police custody in Minneapolis.
Protesters march through downtown Salt Lake City on Saturday, May 30, 2020 in the wake of the death of George Floyd, who died in police custody in Minneapolis.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Racial injustice, police brutality and violent protests are symptoms of America’s spiritual sickness, and people of faith must work to build a better world, according to leaders from a variety of religious traditions.

In statements and reflections released this weekend, they applauded protesters raising their voices against injustice and urged officials to listen to the experiences of people of color.

Sacred texts celebrate the humanity of all people and secular policies must do the same, faith leaders said.

Here’s a sampling of religious leaders’ reactions to George Floyd’s death last week in Minneapolis under the knee of a police officer, and the protests taking place this weekend across the country.

  • Bishop Michael Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, called on church members to continue fighting for racial justice long after protest stories are no longer front-page news.

“Opening and changing hearts does not happen overnight. The Christian race is not a sprint; it is a marathon. Our prayers and our work for justice, healing and truth-telling must be unceasing. Let us recommit ourselves to following in the footsteps of Jesus, the way that leads to healing, justice and love,” he said in a reflection released Saturday.

Bishop Curry also delivered a sermon on remaining hopeful in challenging times Sunday morning at Washington National Cathedral. He called on listeners to choose love over hate and trust that needed change is coming.

“If I make room for you, and you make room for me, and if we will work together to create a society where there is room for all of God’s children, where every human being, every one of us is treated as a child of God, created in the image and likeness of God, where everybody is loved, everybody is honored, everybody is respected, everybody is created as a child of God. If we work together to build that kind of society and don’t give up, then love can save us all,” he said.

  • Seven Catholic leaders with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops joined together to issue a statement on the death of George Floyd and the protests that sprung up in response.

They urged Catholics to be mindful of racial inequality in the world and do what they can to fight it.

“Racism is not a thing of the past or simply a throwaway political issue to be bandied about when convenient. It is a real and present danger that must be met head on. As members of the church, we must stand for the more difficult right and just actions instead of the easy wrongs of indifference,” the bishops said.

They also expressed support for national protests, including those that turned violent.

“While it is expected that we will plead for peaceful non-violent protests, and we certainly do, we also stand in passionate support of communities that are understandably outraged. Too many communities around this country feel their voices are not being heard, their complaints about racist treatment are unheeded, and we are not doing enough to point out that this deadly treatment is antithetical to the Gospel of Life,” they said.

  • Edward Ahmed Mitchell, the national deputy director of the Council on America-Islamic Relations, condemned police violence and urged community leaders to respect protesters’ right to peacefully gather.

“Engaging in police brutality at a protest against police brutality is a surefire way to escalate the unrest occurring on streets across our nation. The imposition of a curfew does not give any police officer free reign to gas, beat, shoot rubber bullets at, or otherwise attack protesters and journalists,” he said in a statement.

  • Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, released a statement on the need for an end to racial injustice and the importance of continuing to work to build a fairer world.

“The national rage expressed about the murder of Mr. Floyd reflects the depth of pain over the injustice that people of color – and particularly black men – have been subjected to throughout the generations. In recent months we have seen, yet again, too many devastating examples of persistent systemic racism,” he said. “Our country simply cannot achieve the values of ‘justice for all’ to which it aspires until we address ongoing racism in all sectors and at all levels of society.”

  • The Rev. William Barber, a prominent Christian social justice leader and preacher, released a “pastoral letter to the nation” Sunday morning, which praised protesters and called for a “radical transformation” of American society.

‘Protestors are right to decry such brutal and inhumane treatment as racism. Thank God people are in the streets, refusing to accept what has been seen as normal for far too long,” he said.

The Rev. Barber urged people to look for reasons for hope, but also not to move too quickly away from the discomfort of this moment.

“There is a sense in which, right now, we must refuse to be comforted too quickly. Only if these screams and tears and protests shake the very conscience of this nation — and until there is real political and judicial repentance — can we hope for a better society on the other side of this,” he said.

  • Key leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention released a statement emphasizing the sacredness of all human beings and promising to support efforts to build a more just world.

“Followers of Jesus Christ cannot remain silent when our brothers and sisters, friends and/or people we seek to win for Christ are mistreated, abused or killed unnecessarily,” they said.

The Southern Baptist Convention supports police work, but cannot stay silent when officers abuse their power, the religious leaders said.

‘While we thank God for our law enforcement officers that bravely risk their lives for the sake of others and uphold justice with dignity and integrity, we also lament when some law enforcement officers misuse their authority and bring unnecessary harm on the people they are called to protect,” they said.