- A New Jersey pastor asked a lector to stop wearing a t-shirt with the Black Lives Matter slogan.
- Rev. Brian Needles of Our Lady of Sorrow Church in South Orange, New Jersey wrote a letter to parishioner Tom Morris about his attire while performing readings during Mass, local news outlet The Village Green reported.
- According to a version of the letter published by a local community group on their Facebook page, the pastor wrote that something as simple as a shirt "can be a real source of division and distraction."
- The outlet reported that after nearly 40 years as a member of Our Lady of Sorrows, Morris now attends a different church that he deems to be a more "progressive parish."
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A New Jersey pastor asked a lector to stop wearing a Black Lives Matter t-shirt to Mass, according to a letter posted online in which the pastor said it could "distract listeners" during church services.
Rev. Brian Needles of Our Lady of Sorrow Church in South Orange, New Jersey, wrote a letter to lector Tom Morris about wearing the shirt during mass, according to local news outlet The Village Green.
Morris then shared the letter with a local community group called SOMA Black Parents Workshop and the organization posted it on their Facebook page.
According to the letter, Needles said he had heard complaints from "several people" about the shirt. He asked Morris to not wear a "t-shirt with an overtly political slogan" and said he prefers lectors to wear collared shirts during Mass.
"Nobody in their right mind would disagrees [sic] with the idea that the lives of Black people matter and are deserving of all respect and dignity and legal protection," Needles said in the letter. "Many people, though, have concerns with the organization called Black Lives Matter, which is a 501c3 non-profit corporation that has an agenda that is very controversial, to say the least."
The pastor said that while Morris is "entitled to his beliefs," a shirt "can be a real source of division and distraction."
"When the Word of God is proclaimed, nothing, including a slogan on a shirt, should distract listeners from the fruitful hearing of the Scriptures," the letter said. "While you are obviously entitled to your beliefs and have every right to express them, I'm hopeful that you'll consider the idea that a t-shirt, incredibly enough, can be a real source of division and distraction."
Walter Fields, the informal advisor of SOMA Black Parents Workshop, pushed back against the pastor's letter in the Facebook post.
"[The letter] rings of the same denial that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called out in his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail' to local White pastors in that Alabama community," Fields said in the Facebook post. "A slogan! Since when does taking a stand on justice offend the Scriptures or the teachings of the Church?"
In a statement to the Christian Post on the incident, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark explained how the church's dress code policy asks lectors to avoid wearing t-shirts and any attire that "distracts from the word of God."
"Celebrants who serve in the role of Lector — who have volunteered to serve on the altar and read from the scriptures — are required to follow the archdiocesan dress code, which is communicated during their training," the archdiocese said in the statement. "The policy requires celebrants and lay ministers to refrain from wearing t-shirts as well as any clothing that draws attention to the individual and distracts from the word of God. This is to ensure that the assembly's attention is focused on scripture and not on the individual proclaiming it."
Despite the pushback, Morris told The Village Green that he will continue to wear his t-shirts.
"I won't stop. I'm committed. I will not back down," Morris told the outlet.
The outlet reported that after nearly 40 years as a member of Our Lady of Sorrows, Morris now attends a different church that he deems to be a more "progressive parish."
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