Honor Daniel Berrigan By Standing With Black Lives Matter

By Dr. Sharon L. Miller

berrigan1“The FBI can now close their files on Daniel Berrigan,” Rev. Stephen Kelly announced today at the celebration mass for Berrigan who died this past Saturday. Truly a great man walked this earth and we are left to fill his shoes. Berrigan’s grandniece and nephew led a procession of children forward to the altar, carrying objects that Daniel held dear – his dark red knit cap, a favorite t-shirt, his hammer and plowshare, some paper peace cranes, photographs of family, books that he loved to read, and books he wrote.

The dozen or so children in the audience probably brought the average age of attendees down to 65. “Where are the young people?” the white-haired woman next to me asked. I pointed out that they were no doubt in school, but that was not her question. Where indeed, were the young people?

berrigan2It was old home coming for these (aging) faithful warriors who, along with Daniel and his brother Phillip, marched for Civil Rights in the 60s, fought for peace during the Vietnam War in the 60s and early 70s, protested nuclear energy in the 70s and 80s, demonstrated against the Gulf War in 1990 and the Iraq War in 2003. Many no doubt remember long marches in cold rain, sleeping on hard floors in church basements, eating bread and soup in line with the homeless, kneeling in prayer as the police arrested them, and singing at night in their jail cells. This was, and is, a generation of giants and we would do well to honor them and learn from them.

But we can give Berrigan no greater honor than to support those who are fighting in today’s movements for justice. It would be a grave mistake to think that the absence of young people, or African Americans or Hispanics, in today’s audience meant their absence in justice work.

berrigan3Black Lives Matter has galvanized a new generation of activists determined to resist the de-humanization of black bodies and the racial and class injustice that permeates America. They too are laying their lives on the line, willing to go to jail rather than be cowed by the powers that be. Young Hispanics are risking their own deportation in order to speak out on behalf of their undocumented mothers, fathers and families. Young activists are at the forefront fighting for the rights of the LGBTQ community as over 175 anti-LGBTQ bill are being considered in 32 states.

Young Muslim activists are using social media to try and turn the tide of anti-Muslim rhetoric. Berrigan’s generation has passed on the torch to a new generation of brave souls who march for justice. They may not sing the old protest songs we loved so well, but their spirits burn bright with passion. Let us support them with our prayers, our dollars, our feet, our time and our votes. Daniel Berrigan will cheer us on.

Dr. Sharon L. Miller is Director of Research and The Center for the Study of Theological Education at Auburn Seminary.

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