I first wrote this blog post two years ago in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, but in the midst of church turmoil, I never published it. Nevertheless, since the heat around me has died down, and since I don’t think Christians should stop thinking about these things, I’m bringing this one out of the draft bin, editing it, and finally publishing it.
Over the past few years, I have grown to understand that “Black Lives Matter” as a slogan is used by its supporters in many different ways, but the most gracious way of understanding the mindset behind the slogan (as I see it) is to realize that for literal centuries in the land we now call the USA, people with dark skin were mistreated simply on the basis of their color and/or heritage. Granted, it was always better in some parts of the country and worse in others, but the predominately white power structures for centuries did little to empower or even protect the lives of Black people.
Again, there are exceptions, but in general, the power structures of our country have been shaped in a way to intentionally or unintentionally disenfranchise people of color and to communicate time and again that Black lives don’t matter as much as white lives.
This has come to a head in recent years through the highly publicized shootings of unarmed Black men and women by police officers and the apparent lack of accountability faced by those officers.
The call “Black Lives Matter” is an attempt to provoke change in our system that will begin to treat Black lives as valuable. Of course, people have attached all kinds of policies to this overall call (defunding police is perhaps the most prominent and misunderstood policy), but the root intent of the slogan is to simply say, “Please treat Black people with respect as fellow humans.”
Of course, good people can debate these matters, and even the claims I have just made, but simply put, the perception of many Black people in the country is that the odds are stacked unfairly against them even to the point of allowing bad cops to get away with racially motivated murder.
Strangely, among white evangelical Christians, the phrase “Black Lives Matter” has been strongly opposed, and the reasons for evangelical opposition are few but strong:
- Evangelical Christians are generally believers in the practice of colorblindness as a virtue. The idea is that racism exists wherever race is considered relevant. For many evangelicals, anything that seems to depend on a racial identity is intrinsically racist, and therefore, the use of the word “Black” in the phrase “Black Lives Matter” is what makes that phrase racist itself. Therefore, many evangelicals are convinced that “Black Lives Matter” is reverse racism. (1) It treats race as an essential concern, and (2) it attempts to elevate the cause of that one race.
- Evangelical Christians are moral conservatives who oppose many aspects of progressive modern morality. Specifically, evangelical Christians are opposed to the practice of homosexuality, but the “Black Lives Matter” slogan has spawned a “Black Lives Matter” organization that openly embraces the idea that homosexuality is a viable alternative lifestyle that should be embraced with pride. For white evangelicals, the slogan has been stained by the morality of the organization.
- Furthermore, evangelical Christians are often political conservatives who claim to value “law and order” while the “Black Lives Matter” slogan is specifically formulated as a claim that policing in the US is broken. Many evangelicals hear the phrase “Black Lives Matter” and think to themselves, “Well, those people just need to obey the law and respect the police, and they wouldn’t have these problems.”
Therefore, for at least three reasons, evangelical Christians are morally opposed to the sentiment, the implications, and the organization behind the slogan “Black Lives Matter.”
I have not personally experienced racially motivated bias in my interactions with cops.
I have not been asked to leave my car during a stop for a moving violation.
I have been stopped multiple times for speeding and I rarely get a ticket.
Therefore, I don’t have enough personal experience with injustice to understand where Black people are coming from in this. But how should I respond to this slogan when it reflects a reality I have not known?
Well, first of all, I need to address the biases that I come from, and since I come from a white evangelical perspective, I should address those oppositions:
- Evangelicals embrace colorblindness as a virtue. This is modern racism in disguise, and I reject it. Back in the day when racism was overt and signs on the side of a building said “Colored People Not Welcome,” it was noble for a person to embrace a colorblind perspective. A restauranteur who said, “I don’t care what color your skin is; you can sit anywhere and order whatever you want,” was doing the right thing. However, once racism goes underground, once systemic forces push us to use code words like “urban” and “ghetto” and “low-income” to mask previously overt racism, colorblindness is merely a capitulation to the racism of the society. Once racism has gone systemic, the noble thing is to bring it back to the surface of our awareness. To be colorblind is no longer to be virtuous.
- Evangelicals oppose the organization of Black Lives Matter because it endorses sexual ethics they can’t support. There are two reasons this is a bad faith argument. First of all, the ethics of unbelievers are not ours to control. Christians should be the voice of love even toward those with whom we disagree. However, secondly, white evangelicals did exactly the opposite of this with Donald Trump in both 2016 and 2020. Christians disregarded his own sexual ethics because he verbally supported their own judgmentalism. As they said with Trump throughout his presidency, “we don’t support him for his theology but for what he stands for.” Evangelicals could say the same thing about Black Lives Matter, but they don’t.
- Evangelicals oppose the apparent problem of “law and order” raised by the Black Lives Matter slogan. They claim that Black people are getting what they deserve in some way by either breaking the law or by resisting the police or that so many Black people get arrested that it’s likely for some “bad apple” cops to do some bad things and for it to appear like a racial problem. However, the statistics are clear that Black people have far worse outcomes with police for far smaller offenses than white people do.
I’ll say one more thing against the evangelical oppositions: Exactly zero of their oppositions to “Black Lives Matter” come from Jesus. Colorblindness is not a virtue taught by Jesus. Opposing the sexual ethics of others is not a virtue taught by Jesus. Supporting the police in an unjust system is not a virtue taught by Jesus. However, sacrificing yourself to elevate another is very much a virtue taught by Jesus.
Therefore, those of us who do not share the experience of our Black brothers and sisters have to make a decision regarding what we think of their perception of injustice. We have three basic options:
- We could decide they are acting out a “victim” mentality, being too sensitive to situations that really aren’t that bad.
- We could decide they are being opportunists who are looking not for equality but a chance to get something for nothing.
- We could decide that their experience is based on reality, and that there might be real societal forces that have convinced them they don’t matter.
I choose to take option #3. Since I don’t share their experience or understand their experience, I choose to accept their experience, learn about it, and try to understand it. And, the more I have learned, the more I have understood, the more I sympathize with their plight, and the more I feel the need to speak out in solidarity with them in their call for justice.
Whether I share their experience or not, for me to say, “Your life matters to me more than mine,” is to say, your understanding of your experience is enough for me to join your cause, and therefore, I too choose to say “Black Lives Matter.”