I have a confession to make.
I don’t agree 100 % on everything with my husband.
Most of you are thinking, “Well, of course you don’t.”
And yet, I am able to live with him, love him, plan things with him, discuss things with him, work on mutual projects together with him—even in the midst of some real disagreements.
So why is it that some seem to have the idea that if you agree with someone about a lot of things, but disagree with them on some things, that you can’t work together or support one another?
Following a December talk that Michelle Higgins did for the Christian college ministry Intervarsity at their Urbana 15 meeting, there was some grumbling. Higgins seemed to support, and encourage the church at large to support, the Black Lives Matter movement. The pushback seemed to indicate that since there are some issues that the original Black Lives Matter founders would differ on than traditional, orthodox Christians, that there should be no support or acknowledgement of the movement or its aims. Otherwise, we might be wrongly grouped with them.
I believe this is wrong. And I believe it comes from both an unwillingness to understand the impetus of the movement, to listen to the reality and the pain, and to look honestly at both the history of much of the black experience in America, as well as what is happening currently.
The implication in the slogan “Black Lives Matter” is the word “too”. Are those who say it saying that only black lives matter? No; there is a perception that black lives do not matter as much as white lives; they do not matter as much as police lives. This perception is backed up by the continual parade of black people being shot and killed by police, only to have the outcome be that no charges will be brought against the offending officer–even in the most egregious, blatant cases. What are we to think? The simplest conclusion is that black lives have less value to society at large. “Those people” are lazy, don’t have jobs (never mind that part of this is the systemic issues that have been brewing for decades), don’t respect the law or its officers. They deserve to die—even if it’s just for playing with a toy gun or looking at an air rifle in a Walmart. (Compare that to how white people are treated when they openly carry guns. FYI, Ohio, where Tamir Rice was shot and killed for possibly having a gun, is an open carry state.)
BLM at its core is a movement to get the larger populace in America to acknowledge that black lives have historically (and currently) not mattered as much as white lives. This has been true across all aspects of our society–economically, educationally, in our justice system, and in social acceptance and treatment. The stain of slavery that powered our country economically for 200 years has not been easily removed; its effects have seeped nearly everywhere, with governmental indifference and racial prejudice slowing progress. There have been some gains, to be sure. However, systemic problems grind on. The recent increased visibility of unequal treatment of black people by police and the justice system has helped the swell of the demand for fair treatment and an assurance, backed up by action, that black lives do indeed matter. To believe or to act otherwise is contrary to how God views all humankind. He created them all, and created them in his image. They are worthy and worthwhile, based on their personhood, made in the image of God. Christians, of all people, ought to support the general movement, because the movement is primarily about affirming the value of the lives of people of color.
“But there are parts of the platform that I disagree with, vigorously! I just can’t support this, with these issues.”
While blacklivesmatter.com is the “original” group who started agitating for change in the past couple of years, the phrase “Black Lives Matter” has grown to be a far greater, more widespread movement and slogan. The phrase has come to be identified with the belief as expressed above: that black lives have been treated as if they do not matter, and that this needs to change. Just as the civil rights movement of the 1960s had disparate groups that had different approaches and even different philosophies as to how change should happen, they were all part of a larger movement for an integrated society in which black people were afforded equality, both in essence and in opportunity. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, led by Martin Luther King, Jr., worked in different ways than those of Malcolm X. King was an integrationist and promoted and practiced nonviolence, and advocated civil rights. Malcolm X, a black nationalist, espoused use the use of violence in defense of blacks and freedom, and advocated human rights. They both contributed to the overall progress that was achieved. Understanding and appreciating the achievements of the 1960s and the expansion of democracy as a result of the ‘60s struggle, requires seeing the contributions of Malcolm and Martin together, and that the two of them are “related not as inferior and superior, not as better and worse, not as weaker and stronger, but as complements–complements in one necessary and symmetric whole.” (Malcolm X and Martin Luther King: The Motive Force of Change in America)
There were many people, both black and white, who didn’t agree with everything that Dr. King, or Malcolm X, or other black leaders in that day, did; but they supported the vision and the progress of civil rights, in spite of that, because they saw the overall goal as being one they could support.
I believe that there is something similar going on now. One can support the idea and the movement of Black Lives Matter, without supporting every single “plank” in the official BLM platform. ( One good idea would be to read it, first, before reacting.) One can disagree with parts of Campaign Zero without throwing the whole idea out the window (again, read what it entails before forming an opinion). One can listen to Michelle Higgins’ talk at Intervarsity, and try to see that there might be far more agreement than disagreement, so long as a defensive attitude is set aside.
Listening to black people and their experiences should be our starting point.
It’s okay to support a larger idea, without agreeing with all the people who support that idea. We do this already with many groups we are a part of. For example, do you identify with a political party? Do you agree with everything in that party’s platform, or what they stand for? Are you a member of a community group? Are you 100% on board with everything they support and stand for? What about your church? I know of many folks who are a part of, and support, a church, but don’t necessarily agree with every aspect of every doctrine or practice (for example, people who are not paedobaptists but happily attend and are even members of a Presbyterian church).
Perhaps the best example of this is the cooperation between pro-life Protestants and Catholics. These group disagree on some major things that are related to the issue at hand (for example, the use of contraceptives), and yet they are able to work together on the larger issue of eliminating abortion, and supporting families.
If we can do this with other causes and groups, why can’t we do it with the larger cause of Black Lives Matter?
I see this as the civil rights movement of our day. Will we join with, support, and use the resources we have to work toward a Biblical view of all people being created in the image of God and worthy to be treated in such a way in all aspects of life? Will we be co-belligerents (as Francis Schaeffer said) with others who are working to repair and renew the broken down system that has contributed to the plight of so many people of color in our nation? Or will we be like the white clergymen of Birmingham, who chose to withhold their support from Dr. King, because of a disagreement over his methods?
The decision is before us.