The Very Rev. Mike Kinman has thrown open Christ Church Cathedral as a sanctuary for the Black Lives Matter movement on the one-year anniversary of the Ferguson Police killing of Michael Brown Jr. On the morning of Monday, August 10, the church will host direct action training, and then a Moral Monday direct action will depart from the church. Kinman told The American a second action that afternoon also may depart from the church.
“This space doesn’t belong to us,” he said of the cathedral, located at 1210 Locust St. in downtown St. Louis. “It belongs to the community.” Most specifically, it belongs to that part of the community where Christ is called.
“As a church leader, I go where I see Christ,” Kinman told The American in an August 9 interview, in between leading two worship services on the one-year anniversary of Brown’s being killed. “And right now, I see Him in the young people. I see Him in the young people non-violently leading this movement.”
As a white church leader, Kinman is well aware that many white people in the St. Louis region were ready for this movement to be over the moment in began, with unrest following the police response to Brown’s death and resulting protests. He insists white St. Louis should, rather, be grateful.
“The people who are tired of the protests don’t realize how blessed we are,” Kinman said. “These young leaders are exhausted and traumatized, yet they keep going in a movement that has been almost entirely nonviolent on the part of the protestors. We are seeing extraordinary leadership of a community whose anger, pain and grief are real, and they are raw.”
Some of Kinman’s now former parishioners have heard enough of this impassioned advocacy of protestors and left his church. The church door remains open for their return, but he understands their decision.
“Some people have said, ‘You’re making me feel bad, guilty, ashamed,’” Kinman said. “I get that. Christ Church Cathedral is not always an easy place to go to church. But we go where God is calling us. There is no way history could have come to St. Louis with this movement and us not throw open our doors and then go out into the street ourselves.”
Those church doors remain open to the movement, and Kinman keeps going back out into the streets. Those streets lead to a long journey ahead.
“We are just beginning to wake from a decades-long slumber,” Kinman said. “In the last year, so many issues have been raised. Police violence was the presenting issue, and it must be dealt with, but as we look into the history of these issues we see they are incredibly complex. Our entire economy was first built on the backs of black bodies that were stolen from their homes.”
Relating a problem in 2015 to American slavery causes many white people to shut down, Kinman well knows. “Too much of white St. Louis pretends this is not about us,” Kinman said. But he insists we all must, first, listen.
“I am struck repeatedly by how deeply afraid we are to give others space to mourn, cry and be angry,” Kinman said. “We saw police turn guns on crying mothers and youth holding up signs. We need to learn to be yielding and give space for people to be human. Only then will we be able to listen.”
Kinman’s passionate advocacy of the young movement has extended to learning a chant from Assata Shakur, a movement touchstone. The chant is a statement of self-empowerment and liberation which ends, “We have nothing to lose but our chains.” Shakur remains a fugitive after escaping from prison following conviction for murdering a New Jersey state trooper in 1973. Police officers – including friends of Kinman’s, perhaps now former friends – have objected to his quoting Shakur in sacred contexts.
“If we required everyone we quoted to be perfect, there would not be anyone left to quote,” Kinman said. “The community rallied around a piece of her wisdom, and it is not my job to critique their choice. It is my job to point to the presence of God.”