I actually started drafting this post some time ago, like a few months ago. When I first started the draft, it was a really tough post for me to write because it involves some issues that are near and dear to me. And tough because it involves people with whom I am united in the bonds of Christ and with whom I find myself increasingly coming into stark disagreement. It’s tough because I know these thoughts, which have been stewing for some time, might cast me and Christians who think like me, in a negative light.
At the heart of the matter is the Black Lives Matter movement and Christians’ endorsement of it. Now a lot of ink has been spilled so I don’t necessarily want to rehash whether Christians should support it or not. I’ve drawn my own conclusions as will be evident in this post. Nor do I want get into the #BlackLivesMatter vs #AllLivesMatter paradigm because I think there is something bigger at stake. I also don’t think framing the issues that way have been particularly helpful.
I actually thought I would leave the issue alone and hence my draft sat, picked at from time to time but never published. However, when I saw this post on Christianity Today, Where John Piper and Other Evangelicals Stand on Black Lives Matter just days after seeing this post from John Piper, What Can We Learn from Black Lives Matter, the way the questions were framed and the ambiguity around supporting Black Lives Matter confirmed a growing concern that I have had, which is this;
#BlackLivesMatter has become the litmus test to racial reconciliation within evangelicalism.
Why is this a concern? Since the Black Lives Matter movement began, it seemed to make sense for the church to endorse it’s. After all, love of neighbor should compel us to consider ways in which some neighbors have been marginalized. So when Intervarsity endorsed BLM with qualifications, it seemed to generate an even greater appeal that this is the way forward. Over on Pure Church, Thabiti Anyabwile wrote;
[T]here is a world of difference between affirming that principle and offering anything that looks like institutional support for some website or some particular organization. I support the principle. I think it’s incontrovertible. I don’t think it should be difficult for any reasonable person to utter or hashtag. If Genesis 1 is true (and it is), then “Black lives matter” is also true because God made us in His image and likeness. People who cannot or, better, refuse to distinguish between fellow Christians who hold theprinciple and people who are not yet Christians who may tout a variety of things Christians never would fail to extend Christian charity or the benefit of the doubt.
Thabiti chants a common slogan among Christians concerned with issues of racial justice but also want to maintain a firm commitment to Christianity, the idea that endorsing #BlackLivesMatter in principle means being concerned about the injustices that Black people have faced in this country while not accepting all the tenants of #BlackLivesMatter as an organization.
I confess, this seemed appealing to me at first but the question persistently gnawed at me in light of has been revealed about the genesis and foundation of #BlackLivesMatter. Can we really endorse #BlackLivesMatter in principle but separate it from the organization? As as side note, I wish a “too” would have been added to the # to dispel the unfortunate claim of elevation of one race over the other. Saying black lives matter is not racial supremacy but recognition that black lives have mattered less in this country and we have centuries long records to prove it. White supremacy has reigned large in this country if we would just be honest and admit it.
Nonetheless, as I’ve peeled back the onion behind this movement, I have found myself agreeing with Dr. Anthony Bradley’s assessment in Black Lives Matter Doesn’t Represent the Gospel. I find both the origins and philosophy troubling. In fact, Dr. Anthony Bradley insists that Black Lives Matter is not a gospel oriented solution. He writes;
The Black Lives Matter movement does not represent the Christian gospel, and that’s fine. It never intended to. It did not emerge from the church. It’s a social movement that does not presuppose the Triune God at the outset. Therefore, Christians need not employ any number of creative hermeneutics to attempt to theologically justify it, make it consistent with Christianity, or explain their proximity to it.
As long as 72 percent of black teenage pregnancies end in abortion in cities like New York, 72 percent of abortions in Mississippi are performed on black women, the United Nations and the World Bank continue to promote abortion as a contraceptive for women in Africa and Asia, scores of blacks remain over-criminalized in America’s prisons, corrupt police departments mistreat lower class citizens locally, public schools in inner-cities warehouse students for prison, and black marriage rates vanish, the world will need leadership on such issues from the church.
Over at Mere Orthodoxy, guest writer Steven Wedgeworth goes further to say that BLM was started with a specific agenda that requires buy in to more than just simply wanting justice for Black people and law enforcement. In Should Evangelicals Hijack Black Lives Matter, he issued a warning that that BLM is more than just adopting a hastag;
BLM sees itself as unique precisely because it is something broader than the protest of police brutality against Black people. It is a pan-liberationist movement “which affirms the the lives of Black queer and trans folks, disable folks, Black-undocumented folks, folks with records, women and all Black lives along the gender spectrum.” Indeed, at one point Ms. Garza proclaims that ‘the legacy and prevalence of anti-Black racism and hetero-patriarchy is a lynch pin holding together this sustainable economy. And that’s not an accidental analogy.’ To fail to see this connection is to be fundamentally out of step with BLM. She believes that a generalizing of BLM away from this specific pan-liberationist ideology is wrong. . .
We can see that BLM is actually an organization with a clear ideology. Its founders are clear about that and explicitly request recognition. While BLM is reluctantly willing to lend its name and and related iconography to co-belligerents, it asks that its original vision be advertised, discussed, and united to a singular struggle.
Foundations matter. At the foundation of BLM is a Marxist oriented philosophy that actually works against a Christian paradigm. While I wholeheartedly endorse the motivation for wanting to address racial injustice, it seems to me that for Christians, justice must be filtered through the prism of a kingdom paradigm in which Christian ethics. Even though there might seem to be valid parallels, I do not believe that you can juxtapose that which is built on ideology that is contradictory to a Christian worldview to kingdom outcomes and call it ok.
So there are good and valid reasons for Christians to reject BLM as a legitimate Christian response to racial healing. As much as I want to buy into the notion that we can keep some parts and throw away others, where incompatible ideologies exist, I do not believe you reconcile these for the sake of peace. That’s my conviction. And let’s not fool ourselves into believing that whenever we use #BlackLivesMatter, it is not tacitly endorsing the organization and it’s philosophies. Lines have to be drawn where this is the case. We have to be able to say this is the Christian thing vs. this is not the Christian thing.
But here’s the problem. When #BlackLivesMatter is a litmus test for racial reconciliation, you have to chose sides. So when people are asked, “do you support #BlackLivesMatter?” A yes response means you are on the side of racial justice and a “no” response means you are not. The qualifications of principle vs. movement loses force as this fuels the competing narrative about race – either you are or are not for addressing issues of racial injustice.
Let’s be clear what this binary thinking will do. It causes us to pit camps against each other and create an us vs. them mentality. To say that if the church cares about racial issues, they will do x, y, and z. So if Christians are opposed to BLM or a Christian organization endorsing BLM, that it is tantamount to opposition to racial reconciliation and to addressing issues of racial injustices. If Christians aren’t donning the #BlackLivesMatter moniker and participating in protests or giving a nod to the movement, then we are not of the “us” that is for reconciliation, but the “them” that is not. Quite frankly, this is the problem with the way that Morgan Lee has framed the questions and the host of others that ask if one supports BLM.
Yes, I know there are many well meaning Christians committed to a holistic gospel find it easy to separate the principle from the organization. I think we have to probe deeper and find out where folks are really coming from before casting them out as endorsers of un-Christian ideology simply because they use the #BlackLivesMatter moniker. Regardless of how much we reject endorsement of BLM that doesn’t mean that every Christian who promotes it is a rebellious, left-wing agitator abandoning the gospel.
But herein lies the problem and it is pretty significant, in my opinion. Rather than the church being the healing balm in the face of chaos, it creates chaos through divisions and accusations of what should be the proper response to these issues precisely because #BlackLivesMatter is the litmus test.
And there’s something else to consider as well. When we make racial reconciliation the primer for gospel reconciliation, instead of unity in Christ, we run the risk of abandoning the gospel and it’s ability to bring about redemption that is found first in unity in Christ. We can’t let the sociological tail wag the theological dog and I fear that is what has happened and it is creating strife and division within the church.
Bradley concludes a powerful truth, I think
All of these above issues are core concerns in black communities, and Christians, who are part of a 2,000-year-old tradition that is far superior to social justice warrior movements, can do better than Black Lives Matter by reminding the world that because of God’s redemptive story being pro-life, it includes issues like abortion, sex-trafficking, corruption in the criminal justice system, and much more.
I reject the notion that the church should not be involved in social issues, especially where there is an affront to the image of God. But many, like myself, cannot co-opt ideology that is contrary to a Christian worldview to do so and make it the litmus test for reconciliation. So the question needs to be reframed, in my opinion.
For Christians, racial reconciliation must flow from gospel reconciliation and be subjected to it. Our first priority is to Christ and his call for what truly reconciles us, which is peace in him, not peace in racial reconciliation and especially if it comes by way of contradictory methodology. I think Bradley is correct, a Christian response must originate from the church and have a basis of Christian ethics. We can do better than riding the coattails of a movement that time and time again proves it has or wants nothing to do with a Christian paradigm.