While Catholics have watched the desecration and destruction of war memorials and secular statues in our public spaces, a prominent Black Lives Matter activist has encouraged his followers to destroy statues, stained glass, and icons that feature what he considers “European” depictions of Jesus. Such images are a “gross form of white supremacy,” claimed Shaun King on Twitter, that “should all come down.”
The attack on Catholic images has already begun. Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone has decried the destruction of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park statue of St. Junipero Serra—the Franciscan priest canonized by Pope Francis who played a key role in the evangelization of 18th-century California. Archbishop Cordileone defended Father Serra as having made “heroic sacrifices to protect the indigenous people of California from their Spanish conquerors”; acknowledging, “The memorialization of historic figures merits and honest and fair discussion as to how and to whom such honor should be given,” Archbishop Cordileone said that in the case of the toppling of the St. Serra statue, “there was no such rational discussion; it was mob rule, a troubling phenomenon that seems to be repeating itself throughout the country.”
On June 22nd, the bishops of California released a statement that quoted at length from Archbishop Cordileone’s remarks, and then concluded:
Serra was not simply a man of his times. In working with Native Americans, he was a man ahead of his times who made great sacrifices to defend and serve the indigenous population and work against an oppression that extends far beyond the mission era. And if that is not enough to legitimate a public statue in the state that he did so much to create, then virtually every historical figure from our nation’s past will have to be removed for their failings measured in the light of today’s standards.
The toppling of St. Junipero statues—replete with the desecration of the sacred symbol of the crucifix—is quite likely just the start. Black Lives Matter leaders in the same mold as Shaun King—a former Protestant pastor—are now calling for the removal of all images of what King calls “white European Jesus.”
King, currently a writer-in-residence at Harvard Law School’s Fair Punishment Project, tweeted to his more than one million Twitter followers that
the statues of the white Europeans they claim is Jesus should come down. They are a form of white supremacy. Always have been… All murals and stained glass windows of white Jesus and his European mother and their white friends should also come down. They are a gross form of white supremacy. Created as tools of oppression. Racist propaganda. They should all come down.
A graduate of Morehouse College, and the founder of churches and multiple non-profits with mixed track-records of success, King has been adept at using social media to mobilize his followers. In 2018, King posted the name of a Texas Highway Patrol officer King alleged sexually assaulted a black woman after a traffic stop. The trooper and his family were subjected to horrific abuse by social media users across the country for two days before the body camera footage proved the innocence of the officer.
In December 2018, when a seven-year-old African American child was shot while riding in a car with her mother and siblings by a gunman the mother said was white, King mounted an investigation into the murder, offering a reward for information leading to an arrest. King posted on Twitter a picture of Robert Cantrell, a white Houston resident King described as a “racist, violent asshole,” and asked followers: “What more can you tell me about Robert Cantrell?” Cantrell was arrested for another crime the day the child was murdered, and he had nothing to do with the drive-by shooting, but King’s postings lead to death threats for Cantrell and members of his family. Shortly after Cantrell’s arrest, Eric Black and Larry Woodruffe—both black men—were arrested for the shooting of the child, and faced capital murder charges. Cantrell died in 2019 from an apparent suicide, and was found hanging in his jail cell.
For several years, questions have been raised about King’s fundraising practices, from his efforts to raise money for Haitian disaster relief to online fundraisers for the family of twelve-year-old Tamir Rice. King has threatened to sue those accusing him of mishandling or misappropriating funds.
Catholic leaders need to understand that online attacks by activists like Shaun King can result in real-life threats to the Church and to her people. His demands that religious iconography he dislikes be “torn down” need to be taken seriously. As Bishop Donald J. Hying of Madison put it so well in his June 23rd “Statement on Call for Destruction of Christian Statues”:
The secular iconoclasm of the current moment will not bring reconciliation, peace, and healing. Such violence will only perpetuate the prejudice and hatred it ostensibly seeks to end. Religious freedom, given to man by God Himself, and guaranteed by our Constitution, allows us as Catholics to practice our faith, build our churches, pray in public, put up statues and crucifixes on our property, and serve the common good through a remarkable network of health care, schools, and social services. We must not surrender our religious liberty to the voices that seek the destruction of our public presence, the diminishing of our sacramental worship, and the denial of our belief in Jesus Christ as the savior of the world.
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