I am woefully behind my time on this post, but perhaps that is a good thing. I’ve been mulling this since the height of the Black Lives Matter/Blue Lives Matter/All Lives Matter battle that erupted a couple of months ago. It has died down, at least to the extent that it is no longer on the front pages of the news, but the controversy still simmers. As soon as another situation occurs it will be back to the forefront and we will be discussing it again. So maybe now, when it is not leading the news cycle, is the time to discuss the issue with a little more calm.
My premise, as the title makes clear, is that “All Lives Matter” is not the response that we should give to the ‘Black Lives Matter” movement. I will explain why I believe that and attempt to begin forging a better response. I realize that few issues are as incendiary as racial issues – people are angry, defensive, and have a hard time having a rational discussion of race. All I ask is that you actually read what I’m saying before you react.
Caveats and Clarifications
Let me get a few things out of the way from the very start.
1. Of course, all lives matter.
We are not going to argue whether all lives matter to God – they do. All lives matter. Every life matters. Black lives matter. White lives matter. Asian lives matter. Hispanic lives matter. Young lives matter. Old lives matter. Rich lives matter. Poor lives matter. If they find life on Mars, it matters.
The question is not whether all life matters but whether “All Life Matters” is a helpful response to the “Black Lives Matters” movement.
2. The “Black Lives Matter” political movement is not worthy of support.
The organization called “Black Lives Matter” is not one that Christians should support. If you read their statement of beliefs, they are radical and unChristian in every way. We need to distinguish between the movement and the organization. I cannot recommend that anyone give support to the BLM organization, but the movement, the cry for justice, the appeals of hurting people are worth being heard. The organization and the movement must be separated.
That may be a tough distinction to make at times, but it is necessary.
3. We must do better than slogans.
Whatever social problems were at the root of the genesis of the Black Lives Matter movement, we solve nothing by simply parroting back a slogan in response. I am amused at the tendency of left-wing radicals to reduce everything to something they can chant at one of their protests. They are simplistic by nature because in general left-wing causes cannot survive deep thought.
But behind the chants, the protests, the factual ignorance and all of those things, there is a real issue that needs to be dealt with, and “All Lives Matter” just doesn’t get the job done. It may speak a general truth but it is not an appropriate or apt truth and it does not deal with the issue at hand.
4. The heart of the problem is prejudice.
Please read carefully. I did not say racism, though clearly that is an issue in America (and in the SBC). Racism, at its core, is judging people based on the color of their skin. Prejudice means, simply, to pre-judge. Often, prejudice has a racial component, but it is not limited to that.
But think of the Michael Brown shooting that triggered the Ferguson situation. Pre-judging took place on both sides. Before the facts were out, before the investigation was complete, many had convicted the police officer of brutally gunning down an unarmed man with his hands in the air while other had exonerated the officer of any wrong-doing at all.
We’ve become a nation of Jerry Springer Show audiences, cheering and booing without waiting to get the facts. Once we’ve made our judgments we listen only to that information which buttresses our pre-judged viewpoint.
The Roots of Black Lives Matter
Why is there a Black Lives Matter movement? This is not rocket surgery, folks. It is because black people in America have felt that their lives have not mattered. America brought them over in slave ships and forced them to work in the fields like beasts of burden. You cannot treat people like animals for hundreds of years then object when they demand recognition that their lives matter. And please, for the love of all that is holy, let’s not have anyone regale us with stories about some master who treated his slaves well. Pretty please? With sugar?
When the slaves were freed, the lives of the former slaves didn’t dramatically improve. They were systematically segregated, isolated, and dehumanized in the most brutal ways.
Today, even in the post-Civil Rights era, blacks are often made to feel less than equal partners in the American experience. Sioux City is not considered a racist hot-spot, but the scourge is here. The drummer in my son’s band was accused of stealing from the local convenience store, simply because he was there late at night. The clerk was fired for her racist false accusations, but it wounded the young man. I have never been pulled over for no reason (when I’ve gotten pulled over, I’ve generally given the police all the justification they needed) because I’m driving in the wrong part of town, but is there a black man in America who hasn’t had multiple DWB offenses? A deacon in our church, a black man with a doctorate, one of the most gentle men I’ve known, told me stories of his mistreatment over the years. How did he not become angry and bitter?
We (White America) created the Black Lives Matter movement by enslaving, abusing, segregating, and dehumanizing black people, and generally not providing justice, respect, and basic human honor to African Americans.
You say, “I never did that.” Maybe you didn’t, but in this case, it’s about race. Black folks are judged by the color of their skin every day and we cannot avoid culpability for the misdeeds of those who share our race. It’s the world we live in. Our white forebears and the white-dominated culture in which we live has given black people plenty of reason to question whether we believe that their lives really matter, or at least whether they matter as much as white people. and we are responsible for the damage our white forebears and the white-dominated culture has done. That is not to affix blame, though, but simply to say that we must fix what is broken. As white Americans, especially as Christian White Americans, we must seek biblical, godly solutions, not play the denial, deflection, justification game.
It is not about guilt or blame; what good does that do? But it is about finding solutions. As white Americans, and especially as Christian White Americans, we must seek biblical, godly solutions, not play the denial, deflection, justification game. We need to do all we can on a personal and societal level to convince people of every ethnicity that not only do they matter, but that we consider them equal partners in God’s grace and love, equal inheritors of the promises of the US Constitution, and of equal human value and dignity. We must bend over backward, go the second mile, give it our all, and any other cliche I can come up with to prove to American minorities that the past is the past and that their lives do indeed matter eternally, infinitely, and powerfully to us.
This flows from our gospel call to love as Christ loved, to live as Christ lived, and to lay down our lives for others.
Why “All Lives Matter” Doesn’t Solve Anything
Bill Hyde was a friend of mine, an Iowan, and an IMB missionary, who in 2003 was killed by an Al-Qaeda suicide bomber in the Philippines. It was my honor to speak at his funeral. After the funeral, I was standing with one of Bill’s sons when a pastor friend came up and made me cringe. “I know how you feel, Steve,” he said. “My dad died recently.” His dad was an elderly man who died after a long illness in a nursing home. Did both men lose a dad? Yes. But is losing your father after a long stay in the nursing home the same as having your dad killed by a terrorist bomb? I’m gonna conjecture here that it is not.
What my pastor friend’s statement did was fail to understand the unique suffering that the Hydes were going through. Yes, he was hurting over his dad’s death, but when he said, “I know how you feel” he was failing to realize that there was an escalation of pain that took place as a result of the circumstances in the Philippines. He was trying to sympathize, but unintentionally he devalued the suffering the Hydes were going through.
Yes, all lives matter. Jesus died for all. Jesus intends to raise one people out of all the tribes and languages on earth. “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight.” I
But when we say “All Lives Matter” in response to “Black Lives Matter” we are sending a message to the black community that we do not understand or empathize with their suffering. We are devaluing their suffering and injustice. In this culture, there’s never been a question whether my life mattered, but minorities often feel as if theirs do not. Black Lives Matter is an assertion of the systemic injustice that society has inflicted on minorities in general and Blacks in particular. They are asking us to notice the unfairness of it all. When we say “All Lives Matter” we are speaking a truth that dismisses the reality of their pain and suffering. I think if you engage the average Black man or woman in conversation, even the protestor, they would tell you that the lives of white people matter, but that isn’t the point. They are appealing to American culture to hear their complaints and affirm that the injustices often perpetrated against minorities are not acceptable.
All Lives Matter may be true, but it answers the wrong question.
“Blue Lives Matter” is not really at issue here, but that is a different case than All Lives Matter. When people are targeting and murdering cops it is reasonable that they would demand a recognition that their lives matter as well. The relationship between the black community and the police is delicate and difficult and will not be solved by slogans.
But when the Black community asks us to recognize that “Black Lives Matter,” they are really asking us to admit that America has treated them poorly, that they have been victims of injustice, that their lives are sometimes regarded as less valuable as other’s lives. And simply saying, “All Lives Matter” – while theologically correct – is not a sufficient answer.
What Do We Do?
I do not pretend to have all the answers. There are people who have a lot more experience in interracial relationships and reconciliation than I do. But I have a few thoughts.
Listen to what the Black community has to say about its experience in white America. We demand that Blacks see things through our eyes, look at the world through the white perspective. We need to listen to them without getting defensive. Why do our Black neighbors jump to the conclusion that an injustice has taken place when the police shoot a black man? Is it that they are just unreasonable and don’t want to be held accountable for their actions? Or is it possible that they have experienced so much injustice in their life that they are programmed to assume certain things we don’t? We need to listen. Then listen some more. Then listen again.
This is a key to racial reconciliation – we need to attempt to see things as black people see them.
Barack Obama stood for things that most of us as believers oppose, yet when he was elected president Black Christians celebrated. We shook our heads and asked, “How can you rejoice when a man who loves abortion, supports gay rights, holds positions x, y, and z gets elected?” It baffled us. But for Black people in America, the racial experience is so powerful, so unifying, so fundamental to their identity and experience, that while they might not have supported many of Obama’s political, social, or moral positions, they rejoiced at the fact that America had elected “one of us” as its leader.
As I wrote in a previous article about my racial journey, watching a movie called, “The Butler” had a powerful effect on me in this arena. I understand that there were questions of historical accuracy in the movie, but anyone who prosecutes questions like that is missing the point. Watching the great events of the 20th Century through the eyes of White House butler gives you a completely different view of things.
Make an effort to see the world the eyes of the others. Ask yourself, “Why do they see things the way they do?” We will not resolve racial issues by demanding that minorities see the world through white eyes.
3. Build Relationships.
Twice, I’ve said that slogans aren’t going to get it done. When people are standing on the streets of Ferguson shouting at each other there isn’t much that can bring them together. The real work is done in the trenches, when White and Black pastors gather for lunches and prayer and fellowship and heart-to-heart discussions, even more than that, joining together in ministry and partnering in reaching their communities for Christ. Where slogans fail, relationships succeed.
As long as we stay in our corners lobbing memes at each other, the problem will never be solved.
4. Avoid generalization.
I’ve watched videos of officers shooting unarmed black men in cold blood. In some, there is doubt about the fault, but in others, there can be little question but that there was police brutality going on that should make any decent human being’s skin crawl. Almost every time the victim was black. There have also been stories recently in which black men have shot police officers in cold blood.
So, the inescapable conclusion is that cops hate blacks and blacks want to kill cops, right?
That’s what happens when we generalize. There are some bad cops out there – it doesn’t help to deny it. But it also unfair to generalize that all cops hate blacks. There are some angry black men (and women) out there who hate whites and hate cops. But we are all too quick to generalize and stereotype.
Not all Muslims are terrorists. Not all blacks are thugs. Not all Chinese are math whizzes. Not all cops are racist brutalizers. Duh. We need to constantly remind ourselves to treat people as individuals and not as groups.
5. Gospel. Jesus. Grace.
The solution here is not going to be found in politics, but in Christians coming together around the work of Christ. It will require the grace of Christ, forgiveness for sins, admission of our failings, seeking reconciliation, the power of the Spirit, and all those other spiritual, theological, biblical things.
We need Jesus to bring us together.
All Lives Matter is a true statement, a biblical truth. In fact, it is the purpose of the gospel and the goal of the church. We go into all the world and preach the gospel because Jesus died to redeem ONE people out of all the tribes and peoples of earth – Jew, Gentile, Black, White, Blue, ALL! ALL lives matter.
But the fact that all lives matter does not mean that this phrase is the way to respond to the Black Lives Matter movement. While we may not sympathize with or support the political organization BLM, we must seek to understand the hurt of the minorities who have been mistreated throughout American history and even by the American church. We need to understand why our Black neighbors feel disenfranchised and devalued and do everything we can in the name of Christ to empathize, sympathize, and honor their experience.
Racial issues in America are tricky – a minefield with few easy answers. But I do not believe that “All Lives Matter” is a helpful response to the “Black Lives Matter” movement. There are better ways to respond, ways that seek solutions and attempt to apply the essentials of the gospel to this tricky topic.
May God grant us grace as we look forward to that day when we all join together in heaven as one to praise the Savior!