Updated: Dec 21, 2020
Yesterday I posted a Facebook post that received a decent amount of attention, most of it positive, but have since deleted it. I feel I need to write about why. I am not an expert on racism, I'm clearly still learning, but I hope this post helps rather than adds to the noise. I can't remember the wording of the post but it went something like this:
I will fight against racism in all its forms and can state unequivocally that black lives matter, I cannot support the organisation Black Lives Matter.
I went on to explain that the values found on their about page contradict values that I hold as a Christian. I then linked to the page with the suggestion that others should look into it. I still think people should look at BLM and decide for themselves if it is something they want to align with.
Over the course of the day, something didn't sit right. Why am I surprised that a secular organisation doesn't have the same values as me? Why is it, that though I support several secular humanitarian organisations that don't hold all of my Christian values (see Amnesty International's stance on abortion for example), BLM should be different? Do I need to align myself fully to see where there can be agreement? Do I even need to make a statement on a public page about who I align myself with?
Despite several comments stating 'well said' and a few hearts and likes, my sister-in-law pointed out I had not actually said very much. I'd only really said that I couldn't support BLM. I hadn't clarified why, and when pressed, found that actually I'd probably rushed into something that needs more thought and more nuance.
Modern society, especially on social media, has an issue with nuance and discernment. It is often thought that to agree with a person or organisation is to affirm the whole and to disagree with either is to hate. I'm hoping this post can show there is a middle ground - I can agree with parts but not affirm everything and disagreement with people doesn't mean I hate.
In the bible there is a book called Acts which is the story of the early church after Jesus died and rose again. Paul, one of the authors of several books of the bible, went into the Areopagus in Athens, a place where philosophers debated. He noticed the Athenians had many gods, something that was anti-Christian. If you didn't know, Christians worship one God and if you spoke to many modern Christians, the idea of going into another faith's place of worship would be a big no-no (though I'd recommend it to learn about what people actually believe). Instead of standing up and denouncing the foundation of the Athenians he pointed to an altar that the Athenians had built with the inscription, "TO AN UNKNOWN GOD". Paul then told the Athenians of a God who could be known, using the altar as a starting point. (Acts 17:16-34)
Why do I refer to this story? Paul, didn't agree with the Athenians that worshipping any God other than YHWH was a good thing to do but that isn't what he 'proclaimed'. I don't agree that BLM are right in all the ways they tackle racism. Paul DID show the Athenians where they have common ground and that there was a better way. Looking at the language of BLM, there are many points that Christians SHOULD agree with and use as pointers to who and what we DO believe in. The first three of their values for example:
We acknowledge, respect, and celebrate differences and commonalities.
We work vigorously for freedom and justice for Black people and, by extension, all people.
We intentionally build and nurture a beloved community that is bonded together through a beautiful struggle that is restorative, not depleting.
I believe the church should (unfortunately it doesn't always as we are a community of humans) fulfil all of these points, especially the third. The emphasis of the second point would be for all people and other injustices no matter if they are in the church or not, but at this point, racism is a particular injustice that is being focused on. There are many injustices in the world and we don't need to raise every other injustice when racism is brought to the front.
The next few points have bits that all Christians can and probably should agree with though there might be some qualifications or different emphases:
...To love and desire freedom and justice for ourselves is a prerequisite for wanting the same for others.
.. all Black lives matter, regardless of actual or perceived sexual identity, gender identity, gender expression, economic status, ability, disability, religious beliefs or disbeliefs, immigration status, or location.
We cultivate an intergenerational and communal network free from ageism. We believe that all people, regardless of age, show up with the capacity to lead and learn.
We embody and practice justice, liberation, and peace in our engagements with one another.
I genuinely believe that the gospel of Jesus can offer freedom, justice and peace and that all lives, especially black lives at this point in time, are reflections of a creator God who has made all people in his image. While the way BLM carries out certain aims and objectives are not how the church necessarily should carry things out, Christians should be quick to note that in many ways, we don't need to rage against BLM. As an example, much of the critical theory underlying BLM's objectives points out that everyone is racist in some way at various points of time. I've seen many Christians fight against this idea. I find it interesting that we Christians (I've found this idea uncomfortable as well) are quick to argue against being called racist and yet we recognise everyone is a sinner in need of forgiveness. If we are poor in spirit (Matthew 5) as we are called to be, then our response to being called a racist should be one of humility rather than defensiveness (and yes, it still might sting).
"Yes I am flawed - I may play a part in racism, even unintentionally - I pray that through God's work in my life and by listening to those around me I can continue to be changed to be more like Jesus, loving my neighbour as myself."
For some reason when it comes to recognising the sin of racism in our churches and in our lives, we refuse to bow the knee. I am not responsible for nor can I repent for the sins of my fathers, but I can repent for my own actions before God. I can acknowledge that yes, I'm not a perfect person but also offer to point people to someone who is perfect and if it helps, he didn't arrive on the scene as a white man!
BLM is calling people to a type of repentance, a repentance that a white person can't gain absolution from because they can't stop being white. The gospel goes further, all white people are in sin (just like everyone else) and should humble themselves and repent. In this repentance we should find what it means to be poor in spirit, meek and peacemakers and will find a God who reconciles humanity to himself and brings about a new humanity reconciled even in difference (see Ephesians 2).
BLM is calling for liberation and justice. That no matter what background a person comes from they should be treated with dignity. This should be a major point of agreement from Christians. Unfortunately it often isn't. I have seen people responding to posts about privilege, George Floyd and the BLM hash tag with distractions about other injustices such as abortion ("you only care about a few lives, what about all the unborn?") or phrases like "what about 'black on black' violence", "you're enabling black victimhood" and emphasising the criminal record of the dead as though that removes the possibility that the death is connected with racism.
These kind of responses have not only missed the point, but missed an opportunity to be a caring human (let alone Christian) and often highlight ignorance if not outright racism (yes black on black violence is racist in that it labels all black people as more violent than white people and more likely to be criminals - a trope used of black people since the beginnings of the Atlantic slave trade).
These responses have missed an opportunity to shout loudly that there is a God who is all about liberation (there might be a need for a conversation about the mess Christians have often made in the past) and that all people should be held with dignity DESPITE their criminal record (funny how Trump's past is often neglected by the same people rallying against George Floyd's).
It doesn't take much to see George Floyd's death and the incidents leading up to it (Ahmaud Arbery and Christian Cooper for example) are symptoms of decades of racism. Don't forget, if you are disagreeing with me right now, that there are still people alive today who remember not being able to enter buildings and buses or access schools simply because they were black. At least one Christian university banned interracial marriage up until 2000 and only allowed it because their tax free status was under threat. There are also white people that still think those were the 'good ol days'. Racism, even systemic racism, exists, even in the UK (Google Windrush as one instance and racial profiling as another). As one friend recently noted, the most segregated day of the week is most likely a Sunday - both in the US and the UK. We have work to do to make our churches diverse in people but also, and perhaps more importantly, culture and practice.
So what now? You might still feel you can't fully align yourself with BLM. I'm with you and would even go so far to say you shouldn't fully align yourself with any political movement (see this video). But if you are a Christian, please don't be like me. Please refrain from posting your denouncement so publicly on Facebook. Most people who use the BLM tag are very unlikely to be aligned directly with a political group and simply want to say Black Lives Matter. Find points of agreement with BLM hash tags and point them to a God who goes further than just dealing with white oppression. Point them to a God who goes further than reconciliation within a nation. A God who is far more worthy of your allegiance than a political movement.
The hope of the gospel is that one day, this earth and all its corruption will fade away and those who cling on to Jesus (who rescues in-spite of our flaws, racism and inability to love our neighbour) will find themselves amongst people from all nations, tribes and tongues celebrating creation in the presence of our creator, as it was meant to be.
Books I've now read (December 21st 2020) and recommend since I first posted this:
Black and British: A Forgotten History by David Olusoga
The Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy B. Tyson
A conversation on race between 3 UK church leaders:
A panel with Ben Lindsay, Dr Elizabeth Henry, Rev Dr Sharon Prentis, Dr Chris Shannahan, Rt Revd Rob Wickham:
Speak Life - George Floyd, Race and the Church (note the comments for some examples of how not to comment)
How my church is responding:
A helpful video on racism and discrimination in the US:
Two conversations on my new project, Critical Witness that incorporates a discussion with some of the issues with how we respond as Christians. They are long conversations!
Below is an older conversation from the project with some views which I'm still figuring out where I sit on. While Critical Theory does have some issues, I'm not convinced it is a worldview and I'm not convinced it is the bogeyman leading to communism/cultural marxism as many Christians fear. So if you do watch the following conversation I recommend engaging with it critically!