On 25th May 2020, George Floyd was killed by a police officer arresting him for allegedly trying to buy something using a counterfeit bank note. The harrowing footage of the police officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, leading to his death, sparked a fresh wave of publicity for the Black Lives Matter movement.
People around the world began to raise their voices about the injustice of what happened to George Floyd, but more than that; there was a broader cry for justice on behalf of black people who have been the victims of systemic racism.
As a Christian, I was heartbroken by what I saw and felt keenly that it was important for Christians to speak up for justice. As a church leader, I felt a responsibility for our church to join this call for justice and equality.
It’s now been seven weeks since I initially made a statement during our online service, addressing the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests. The response was mostly positive – people were pleased and grateful that I had spoken up about this issue. Alongside that were those who either weren’t aware that there is an issue of racism in our country, or who disagreed with the ethos of Black Lives Matter and preferred to say All Lives Matter.
For the most part, any discussions I’ve had have been civil. Although this is an emotionally charged issue, I have so far been able to discuss it with people without vitriol on either side. I do feel though that it would be helpful for me to explain why I am saying Black Lives Matter, and to give a Biblical rationale for why this is important.
Don’t All Lives Matter To God?
Yes. Of course they do. Throughout the Bible, God’s love for humanity is clear.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16
“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love.” 1 John 4:16
“The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.” Jeremiah 31:3
God loves everyone. All lives matter to God. Here’s the thing though: the issue isn’t with whose lives matter to God. The issue is with whose lives matter in the eyes of humanity.
Racism is real and present in our society. People of colour face discrimination in many and varied ways, some of which white people like me are only beginning to see and need to learn to understand. From different approaches to behaviour management at school level through to disproportionate use of stop & search powers against black people, discrimination is happening and it communicates that black lives do not matter as much to our society as they do to God.
For me, to say Black Lives Matter is to draw attention to this deficit in value which is becoming clearer lately. It’s not about jumping on a political bandwagon (more about that later) – this is a Gospel issue. It’s not saying Black Lives Matter More, and neither is it saying Only Black Lives Matter.
Throughout the Bible, God shows that He is concerned with the welfare of the downtrodden and the oppressed.
“And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them.” Exodus 3:9
“Because the poor are plundered and the needy groan, I will now arise,” says the Lord. “I will protect them from those who malign them.” Psalm 12:5
“The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed.” Psalm 103:6
“Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people” Isaiah 10:1-2
None of these examples suggests that God doesn’t also love those who are not being oppressed. There is no contradiction in God declaring His support for the downtrodden and not at the same time declaring His support for those who aren’t.
It is possible to believe in the Biblical truth that All Lives Matter to God while also calling out the evident inequality in our society by saying Black Lives Matter.
These are not two opposing viewpoints, and they shouldn’t be presented as such. If your response to the statement Black Lives Matter is to say, “All lives matter,” then you are in danger of missing the point.
But What About BLM’s Other Aims?
One of the questions I’ve been asked is how I can support a movement that is calling for things like defunding the police (by the way, this appears to be the position of the US BLM movement but not one that’s necessarily being called for here in the UK). The BLM movement has expressed some calls for reform which some would call extreme and perhaps not necessary to their primary goal of combatting racism.
No movement of people is perfect. The simple fact that people are involved means that imperfection is a given. It’s possible for us to support a cause while not fully agreeing with everything about it.
I am a fan of Tottenham Hotspur, but I don’t agree with everything the club does. I support them and cheer for their success, because their cause is just and close to the heart of God (okay, that last bit is a stretch).
For me, Black Lives Matter is a statement about justice. I don’t agree with everything the BLM movement stands for, but I am happy to say Black Lives Matter because I believe that it needs to be said. Christians have a responsibility to speak on behalf of those who are oppressed and mistreated. If we disagree with some of the other aims of the BLM movement, the answer is not to withdraw our support for the overall cause of combatting racism. To do that means to abdicate our responsibility before God to work for justice. Instead, we should be helping to lead the cry for justice and equality because we serve the God of justice. Ben Lindsay writes in his book We Need to Talk About Race,
“All believers of Christ, as his representatives, have a responsibility to repair the damage of racism and make all things new.”
The Black Lives Matter movement is not perfect. Some people have done things in the name of this cause which we find distasteful. It’s okay to be part of calling out systemic racism in our society and at the same time calling for those who are protesting to do so in the proper way.
Social media will show you the extreme viewpoints on either side. Trawling through viral videos of violent protests is a recipe for outrage that fuels conflict. My heart for equality in our society doesn’t come primarily from what I see on social media or on the news, it comes from the Bible where God declares,
“But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” Amos 5:24