Why We Say Black Lives Matter
This week we put up a new installation in our window on Broad St (pictured above) depicting a crowd of protestors with signs in the air. There are several Bible verses on the signs, and there is a banner across the top that says “Let Justice Roll,” which is taken from Amos 5:24. One of the signs affirms the truth that Black lives matter, because they really do, and Christians ought to stand up and say it and act accordingly.
For Christians, we should recognize the biblical truth that every person, regardless of their skin color, is created in the likeness of God and has intrinsic value. It is for this reason that we affirm the statement that Black lives matter. Jamar Tisby writes in The Color of Compromise, a book I highly recommend, “Black lives matter does not mean that only Black lives matter; it means that Black lives matter too. Given the racist patterns of devaluing black lives in America’s past, it is not obvious to many black people that everyone values black life.”
The phrase Black lives matter rose from the anguish and lament over the repeated unjust killing of Black people across our nation. Much like the recent rallying cry of I can’t breathe over the murder of George Floyd, Black lives matter became an expression that united protesters who were demanding justice for those who had been murdered and for the correction of the systemic oppression that was leading to their deaths. You probably know the names of some of those who have fallen; Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Philando Castile, Freddie Gray, Water Scott, Jamar Cook, Rekia Boyd, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice. There are many more.
As the expression gained traction, the Black Lives Matter organization was founded to continue to push for change on several issues. It is not a faith based movement, and they advocate for things that stand in direct conflict with the church. This has caused many Christians to directly oppose not only the organization but the phrase itself.
Jemar Tisby notes that while many Christians oppose the organization and what it stands for “the American evangelical church has yet to form a movement as viable and potent that addresses the necessary concept that Black lives do indeed matter.” The result is that we stay silent, or we change the language to All lives matter, which is actually incredibly dismissive and beside the point.
Pastor and author Thabiti Anyabwile wrote about this tension on his Twitter account last month:
Don’t get distracted by folks insisting you denounce the organization. That’s simply taking the focus off the real issues. Stay on message.
Keep doing the work—which, by the way, is not done on Twitter. Pray. Organize. Protest. Vote. Rewind. Stay focused.
— Thabiti Anyabwile (@ThabitiAnyabwil) June 19, 2020
I believe that it is critical that we start digging into what is really underneath White Christian’s inability to say the words. Why do we have such trouble affirming the truth of the statement Black lives matter with a full stop? Do we really not recognize that built into the statement is a question of when Black lives will matter to White people specifically? I don’t believe that it is because there is an organization we disagree with that has that name. I believe there is more to it, and I believe we all have a lot of work that needs to be done on our racist hearts. I also believe that God is merciful and gracious and good enough to do it.
We often say that we want to be a church that makes the real Jesus known by being honest about our failures, loving the way Jesus loves, serving the city for the good of all, and inviting everybody into the family of God. We’ve been praying for diversity in our congregation as well. If that is really who we want to be, if it is really our heart’s desire, then we who are White can and should be very mindful of our tendency toward White supremacy that would have us believe that we get to change the language and terms before we can tell somebody that they are loved and cherished and valuable before God and to us in the language they are speaking.
In Matthew 7:1-5 Jesus says “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (ESV). Could we be guilty of combing through the Black Lives Matter statements and beliefs in order to correct the speck in the eye of our crying brothers and sisters while we ignore the log of White supremacy that is in our own?
Now, I know that displaying the words Black lives matter in the church window alongside Scripture and the newer rallying cry of I can’t breathe might be challenging to some. That is okay. We can be challenged. We can talk about it with one another. We can prayerfully examine ourselves and ask God to expose and heal the sin and idolatry of racism and White supremacy that is in us. We can even, after doing such work, speak on our disagreements with the Black Lives Matter organization. What we cannot do is refuse to answer the cries of oppressed image bearers of God in their own language, nor can we continue to stay silent.
During this season of not gathering on Sunday mornings for worship, I’ve been personally convicted by how God tells His people repeatedly not to bring sacrifices, sing songs, or do any of the normal gathered worship things until they “cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression” (Isaiah 1:16-17, ESV). Jesus says in Matthew 5:23-24 that “if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (ESV). My prayer is, then, that we would take this moment of not gathering and purpose it to listen, recognize, pray, and act in a way that is glorifying our God as we learn to “do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with [our] God?” (Micah 6:8, ESV).