Metro-East News

Bishop reflects on Black Lives Matter movement and moral leadership

Belleville's Bishop Edward Braxton speaks about the Black Lives Matter movement

Bishop Edward Braxton with the Diocese of Belleville hopes his writings on the Black Lives Matter movement and the racial divide in the United States spark thoughtful discussion among Catholics and others.
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Bishop Edward Braxton with the Diocese of Belleville hopes his writings on the Black Lives Matter movement and the racial divide in the United States spark thoughtful discussion among Catholics and others.

The Catholic Church has not been involved in the Black Lives Matter movement, according to Bishop Edward Braxton of the Diocese of Belleville, who has published writings for the past several years to further the discussion.

“The Catholic Church has not been very involved in conversations with the African-American community,” Braxton said. “It has not been involved in the history, which led to the emergence of African-American conscientiousness.”

The bishop’s letter, published in February, is titled “The Catholic Church and the Black Lives Matter Movement: The Racial Divide in the United States Revisited,” which is a companion piece to his 2015 letter “The Racial Divide in the United States.”

Most recently, Braxton published an essay in July titled “Moral Leadership in Action: All Lives Really Do Matter.”

“I do not believe that Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter are necessarily incompatible. ‘All Lives Matter’ is not necessarily a way to divert attention from the urgent concerns of African-American people,” Braxton wrote in the essay. “In order for there to be some compatibility between the two expressions, however, it is necessary to acknowledge the legitimacy of the popular concern for the lives of People of Color. This is not something all Americans recognize.”

“It was meant to provide a resource for primarily Catholics but others to engage in a conversation in a calm and reflective way on a portion of Black Lives Matter, because most people hear the phrase on the evening news or see a cartoon in the local newspaper but they do not know what it means,” Braxton said during a recent interview at his residence in Belleville about the pastoral letter he wrote earlier this year.

The pastoral letters, he said, cite historical facts of the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, including how the expression first appeared on social media after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old African-American youth in Florida. The movement gained momentum following the death of another unarmed African-American youth, Michael Brown, Jr., 19, who was fatally shot by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson in 2014.

“The term Black Lives Matter ... presumes that all lives matter,” Braxton said. “The point of the Black Lives Matter movement is not that all lives don’t matter ... but that since these lives are ended specifically at the hands of those who are charged as police to serve and protect it seems more egregious and it seems to be often ignored.”

Expansion of Black Lives Matter movement

If the Black Lives Matter movement is “to gain more support and traction,” Braxton said, “it must acknowledge the larger picture.”

“I appreciate very much that those in the movement want to call attention to a specifically egregious and problematic reality that it seems in some cases young men of color die seemingly unnecessarily in altercations with white police officers,” he said.

Braxton feels the Black Lives Movement might “gain greater credibility if it was to acknowledge the general umbrella that all lives really do matter.”

The movement must not condone violence against anyone, he said, especially police officers and white people.

“We must acknowledge two realities; one is that unfortunately in African-American communities, especially poor ones, there is a high number of abortions,” Braxton said. “Abortion has come to be seen as a form of contraception. ... Those black lives really do matter. In the case of abortion, we don’t know what great scholars or saints or servants of the community are lost due to abortion.

“The counterpart of that is acknowledging the many black lives that are ended in altercations with white police officers,” he said. “Many more black men of color die at the hands of black men of color in violence and gang warfare in many places.”

The term Black Lives Matter ... presumes that all lives matter. The point of the Black Lives Matter movement is not that all lives don’t matter ... but that since these lives are ended specifically at the hands of those who are charged as police to serve and protect, it seems more egregious and it seems to be often ignored.

Edward Braxton, bishop of the Diocese of Belleville

Need for moral leaders

Braxton would like to see the emergence of more moral leaders.

“Moral leadership in action: We need this not only from the sitting and future president of the United States. We need it from every citizen. We need it from law enforcement, gun legislation supporters, protest groups, the media, civic and religious leaders, including the Catholic Church, educators, mental health specialists, businesses, coaches, parents and extended families and parish community,” the bishop wrote in his latest essay.

Braxton encourages people in leadership roles to “listen, learn, think, pray and to act. Moral leadership in action takes place when people ... really do listen to other people and what they have to say even if you disagree with them,” Braxton said. “You not only listen, but you learn. You learn new things. You see the world in a different way, because you learn. Then you think about it, what you learned.”

Only after thinking and praying about it should you act, the bishop said.

“Everyone can do something,” he said.

He recalled something Mother Teresa said to him: “We do what we can.”

“Everyone must do something,” he said.

Teaching through writings

Braxton, who is a theologian and scholar, said bishops are asked to “exercise three ministries as bishop. The first one is to teach; the second one is to rule, guide or to teach ... and the third one is to call to holiness,” he said.

For many years, Braxton wrote papers and speeches for archbishops and cardinals to help with their ministries. When he became bishop, Braxton said he decided to write pastoral letters on a variety of subjects.

“I regularly write reflections,” he said, which are sometimes published in diocesan newspapers and online. They are also distributed to churches throughout the Diocese of Belleville and to bishops throughout the country.

Braxton said he hopes his writings are viewed as a “resource” for priests and others in metro-east parishes “to help them reflect on the challenging issues.”

He describes his style of writing as “non-confrontational. My style is to try to expose information,” he said. “My style of writing is intended to be one which does not leave people who are already disagreeing to disagree more but to invite a different level of understanding and quiet level of thought and conversation.”

In some parishes in the Diocese of Belleville and dioceses throughout the country, Braxton said his writings are discussed for weeks or even months.

“It’s something that I encourage them to do,” he said.

Braxton is often asked to speak at events as well. He spoke at the Cardinal Rigali Center in St. Louis on Aug. 8. Braxton said he can’t even accept all the requests he gets to speak.

Jamie Forsythe: 618-239-2562, @BND_JForsythe

Books referenced by Bishop Edward Braxton in his writings

  • “Animal Farm” by George Orwell (which deals with racial issues).
  • “Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness” by Robert K. Greenleaf
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