At Union Boulevard and Montebello Drive, a “Black Lives Matter” flag flaps in the breeze. Don’t expect the flapping to end soon.
The Rev. Clare Twomey raised the flag above Vista Grande Community Church on the morning of Aug. 6 in response to De’Von Bailey’s death on the night of Aug. 3. Bailey, carrying a gun in his shorts, was shot four times while fleeing Colorado Springs police.
What do Twomey and her church seek to say by flying the flag?
“We see you,” she answers. “We’re watching you. We’re going to hold you, Mayor (John) Suthers and the Police Department, accountable for what happened. This is a justice issue. We’re not going to let this one go away by the wayside as so many have before.”
She boldly preaches social justice from her pulpit on the west end of a simple, beautiful sanctuary. The building, designed by Elizabeth Wright Ingraham, ranks among the treasures of Colorado Springs architecture.
Twomey leads “a purple church” of Republicans, Democrats and members aged 6 to 93.
Outside the walls of Vista Grande, voices speak against mixing social justice and the Gospel.
“I beg you, look for the words ‘social justice’ or ‘economic justice’ on your church Web site,” wrote conservative commentator Glenn Beck. “If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!”
For many Christians in Colorado Springs, sitting in church each Sunday means listening to tales of Moses and Jacob and King David, the apostles and the miracles and kindness of Jesus. Lessons from those tales are powerful, but those lessons are not explicitly brought into the American climate of 2019.
In the Vista Grande pulpit, the Bailey tragedy is examined in sermons that also mention Jesus. Here, the distant past and 2019 blend.
Twomey is sitting with her dog, Crackerjack, on the first floor at Vista. She’s serious, yes, even a bit grave at times, but she laughs often, too. She worries little about critics. She’s too busy seeking to afflict the comfortable. (And the comfortable include Twomey.) This afflicting is central to her message.
To her, the Gospel that reveals the essence of Jesus walks closely with social justice. The two belong together. They cannot be separated.
“If we truly identify ourselves as Christian, that is folks who follow in the life and teachings of Jesus, we are compelled to act in such a way that lifts up everyone, especially the other, the marginalized, the folks who sit on the margins, the folks who are oppressed by an oppressive system. That is what social justice is,” she says.
“… I feel that is how we define ourselves. We need to stand up for those who don’t have voice, who are marginalized. To me, that defines Christian. That defines who I am as a Christian. Otherwise, I’m not living into it. If I am only here for the people in my church, then I’m not doing my job.”
Two years ago, Vista Grande placed the words “Black Lives Matter” in the marquee outside the building. Someone objecting to the message used black magic marker to mark the glass and hide the word “Black.” The objection left only “Lives Matter.”
“Thank goodness they didn’t use a permanent marker,” she says. She quickly removed the markings.
The church has received several phone calls protesting the “Black Lives Matter” flag. None, Twomey says, were aggressively threatening. The callers wonder why the church didn’t mention police lives matter or all lives matter.
“A marginalized group is demanding justice and somehow that threatens the status quo, right?” Twomey asks. “So while I would never argue that all lives matter or blue lives matter — I mean, duh, we know that already — I would argue that is not a legitimate response to black lives matter.”
The latest protest to the flag arrived in the church’s email box late Monday night.
“Will you be flying a WHITE LIVES MATTER FLAG anytime soon or god forbid an American flag!!!! How about ALL LIVES MATTER??? God would not approve,” the email says.
Twomey quickly responded.
“Thank you for your email regarding our flag,” her note begins. “I am glad you noticed it.”