Why Black Lives Matter to Jesus, me, and InterVarsity

This blog is written in response to a person very dear to me who shared concern about standing with the Black Lives Matter movement because of some protester’s tendency toward violence, the negative portrayal in the media, and statistics that suggest a much higher proportion of violence by blacks towards white people than vice versa.

I am still at the beginnings of exploring and understanding this movement, but this is the reason I believe I must stand with the #BlackLivesMatter movement and why I am grateful that the organization I serve with in campus ministry, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, is affirming the movement.  (See Christianity Today article for more about InterVarsity’s stance.)  It is difficult to publically discuss such painful and convoluted topics as racial reconciliation, especially in a place like social media where we cannot observe one another’s facial expressions and nuanced tone of speech over a nice cup of tea… yet, I think we must start somewhere, and if someone wants to grab tea with me, I am all for it!

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Thank you, for sharing your honest views.  I hear you, and I agree that there are aspects of the movement that are hard to affirm.  MLK himself said, “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars…” And yet, according to their own description, it doesn’t appear that the Black Lives Matter movement itself is advocating violence, rather some people (in the name of the movement) take it too far.  This has also been the case with other just causes, like the Civil Right’s movement, for instance.

Speaking of the Civil Right’s movement, actions of non-violent resistance and protest of the 50’s & 60’s were considered very controversial–especially by white church members.  The white church effectually said to the black church, “It’s unbiblical to meddle with politics, just wait… in time, your situation will get better.”  And so most of us stayed in our church pews and neglected to hit the streets.  Our silence spoke loudly and our gospel echoed with the vacancy of justice.  But today, I don’t hear anyone in the church saying that the Civil Rights movement was ungodly, on the contrary, it is a celebrated victory of American Church History!  Some might wish we had hit the streets in the 50’s and 60’s… well, we have another opportunity!

So let us not repeat the past, stand (or rather, sit) in indifference, and incur words of reprimand like MLK gave in his now famous letter from the Birmingham Jail…

I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership . . . When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.

In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: “Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.” And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.

As King’s words echo in our collective memory today, I hope and pray we will not incur such a harsh reprimand this time.

You mention statistics that suggest that more violent crimes are still committed proportionally by black folks against white folks rather than white folks against black folks. We know that statistics can convey truth about reality but can easily be skewed by those who want numbers to back up their rhetoric (politicians do it all the time as you well know).  There’s something different between interpreting statistics and hearing stories from those who have suffered… and at the end, I will suggest a place to begin.

The greatest reason I want to stand for the cause of justice for our black brothers and sisters is this: I don’t want to hear Jesus say to us, “You were offended by the violence of a few and didn’t join the just cause of the many.  I have birthed you to be a unified church, yet you remained divided by your ethnic differences and disagreements.”

I don’t believe that in InterVarsity’s affirmation of the movement it needs to itemize and decry a laundry list of things it doesn’t like.  We can affirm the good in someone without mentioning all of their sins and shortcomings.  Therefore, I think it is Christlike to stand for an increase of justice for the African American community.  Many will walk this out differently, and that is fine and good as a body has many parts.  But I am concerned for those in the church that will sit-back and ignore this cause as irrelevant or decry it as an unjust movement for justice… for to do so would perpetuate a false idea that we do not need each other, or that we are not part of the same body.

1 Corinthians 12: 21-26 – The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. IF ONE PART SUFFERS, EVERY PART SUFFERS WITH IT; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

Evidently, part of our body, our black brothers and sisters, need to hear the affirmation that their lives matter.  Why do they need to hear this?  Perhaps a look at a history of enslavement; the institutional dissolving of cultural identity, language, family; and high incarceration can shed some light on why such an affirmation is needed.  But if this doesn’t convince us, let us ask our African American brothers and sisters to share their story… and let us listen, then affirm that Black Lives Matter because ALL lives matter.

A movement for racial equality and justice like Black Lives Matter needs the support of the church which carries a HOPE in the resurrected Lord.  This Lord, Jesus Christ, died to reconcile every soul to God, but also so that ALL of this ugliness that remains on the earth, including the racial division and inequality could be healed.  A movement like Black Lives Matter needs White people, Latinos, Asians, Middle Easterners, Indigenous, and every other beautiful community of the human family to affirm their value and stand with them for justice and peace for ALL.

Now is the time to listen, pray, and act.  I invite my brothers and sisters from all ethnic communities, but especially from the white community to join me in this journey.

Take time to listen to one person’s story and the community she affects…

To invite a possible disruption of your status quo (especially if you’re white like me), listen to Michelle Higgin’s talk from last week at URBANA ’15… and don’t just play this, pray this!

Check out my re-post of a blog specifically addressed to white Americans by Indian-American InterVarsity staff member Ram Sridharan.

Comment below and let’s keep the conversation going, full of love and grace in Jesus Christ.

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