“Predicando en Calzoncillos?”: The Church and Police Brutality

By The Rev. Dr. Samuel Cruz (December 19, 2014)I am struck that such cross sections of people have been joining forces in protest throughout the nation against the murder of so many men of color. Among these protesters are many churches, seminaries, mainline denominations and religious leaders.However, as I reflect upon this seemingly nascent movement I believe we should take this opportunity to ask ourselves the following question: What has been happening in our Nation/Society that police departments throughout the country feel free to kill men of color without impunity? Why do so many decent people casually accept that these killings happen?

Individuals do not simply wake up one day feeling such hatred for other human beings that they can totally disregard the value of lives of people of color. I suspect that these extreme racist actions are a symptom of white supremacist ideology that has infused all of our institutions, including churches and their organizations.

As churches, pastors, bishops and other religious leaders become involved in denouncing police brutality, we need to assure ourselves that we are not preaching “en calzoncillos” (in underwear). The Christian moral challenge is to reexamine ourselves and discover ways in which our churches/denominations are guilty of perpetuating the evils of white supremacy.

The majority of white Christian denominations, if not all, have less than 3% of people of color in their churches. Should we examine where the ecclesiastical power lies? My own beloved denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), has a mere 2% people of color. although one would think otherwise upon opening their webpage.

In other words, I submit to you that white Christian institutions do not look any different than most of the secular institutions that they are “prophetically challenging.” I was excited that Cardinal Timothy Michael Dolan, Archbishop of the Archdiocese of New York, is to some extent involved in this matter. However I must admit that his view of NYC is different than mine. Maybe because, as he states, he has a short history with the city, but he sees a city in which the NYPD has changed while I see a city of police brutality towards people of color for the last fifty years of my life.

Let us hope and pray that the church may be the first to lead in true repentance and radical change.


The Rev. Dr. Samuel Cruz is the pastor of the Trinity Lutheran Church in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. He can be reached at scruz@uts.columbia.edu

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