Monday, July 11, 2016

Do Black Lives Matter?

When someone says “Black Lives Matter,” does that mean that all lives don’t matter? Does it mean that black lives matter more than all other lives? Must we choose between black lives and all lives?

I find a whole lot of unnecessary confusion in the white Christian community about the phrase “Black Lives Matter.” And I especially have a hard time with the response that I hear so often: all lives matter. It almost sounds like a cover for saying that black lives don’t really matter at all.

So in response to what I hear and read on the internet from my white friends and especially in response to the individual who stole all of our BLM signs from the UUMC lawn last Saturday, here are some reflections that I hope you’ll read and ponder.   

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, all lives matter. That is ground zero of our faith. Every life is to be treated with the utmost dignity and respect. Every life is a life loved by God.

However, in both the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Bible, God shows a special preference for those on the margins. In the Hebrew Bible, God has partiality for the poor, widows and orphans. Does that mean that God loves the poor, the widow and the orphan more than God loves me? No. It does mean, however, that God has a special concern for them because they are especially vulnerable. And since we are attempting to follow God, we must have a special concern as well.

Imagine the God of the Hebrew Bible with a sign on her back that reads: Widows Matter! Would you want to remind God that all lives matter? Probably not. You already know the answer to that question.

For Jesus, it was a special concern for lepers, children and women, all of whom were held in varying degrees of contempt and low esteem in his day. Jesus helps us turn our attention away from the lives of the rich and famous, away from ourselves and our preoccupations with our families toward those who are left out, last and lost in our day.

In the 1970s in Latin America, liberation theologians coined the phrase  “God’s preferential option for the poor” to understand God’s special concern for the poor and the oppressed. John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, actually took this preferential option to heart long before it was formulated. His diaries and letters are full of his ministry with and for the poor in 18th century England. Wesley was quite clear that the church would rise or fall by how it ministered to the poor.

Picture Father John with a sign that reads: Poor Lives Matter! In other words, pay attention to the poor. They need you and you need them. And you will find God there.

All of which leads me to reckon that “Black Lives Matter” fits squarely within the Judeo-Christian tradition and ought to be embraced by those who seek to follow Christ and his concern for the most vulnerable among us.  

To recap: in our tradition, we have a deep concern for all of God’s children. In practice, that deep concern moves us toward the ones who are hurting. A theology of “Black Lives Matter” means that in following God, we have an enduring concern in our own time for black young men and women whose lives are under assault, who are systemically and unjustly devalued and discriminated against. We see the most visible examples of these inequities in police shootings of young, unarmed African-American men and in the mass incarceration of young men of color.

So picture Jesus with a sign that reads: Black Lives Matter.

Picture all of us white Christians digging more deeply into understanding our power, our privilege and our unconscious racism and becoming allies in the great movement toward the beloved community.