All Lives Matter vs Black Lives Matter: The Already and the Not Yet

All Lives Matter vs Black Lives Matter: The Already and the Not Yet October 19, 2015

Ahnnalise Stevens-JenningsThere has been a lot of debate over the phrases “Black Lives Matter,” and “All Lives Matter” over the past year. I would like to frame this conversation in religious terms. Christians have a unique vision of the eschaton, or in non-theological terms, the end of human history. We believe that in some ways, the end, that is the full reign of the Kingdom of God and the restoration of all creation back to its creator, is here now already.

If we look around us, it is clear that the world is not heaven for most people in it, but Christians believe that we catch glimpses of heaven, and that when Jesus entered the world God’s Kingdom entered with him. So we live in the in-between. The Kingdom has been inaugurated, but has not fully taken office yet. This is simplified to the idea of the Already…Not Yet.

In my life in churches and in seminary I have begun to see that most folks view the world primarily through one side of this idea more than the other. For example, someone who goes through the world seeing the progress that has been made may see through the lenses of “Already.” They will be the people who look at the church shelter or food pantry and be glad about all of the work that is being done. On the other hand are the “Not yet” people. They see the world as a project that is nowhere near finished. These are the folks who look at the church shelter and food pantry and think about how much bigger it needs to be to make a dent in homelessness in the area.

I have run into a lot of people who do not like the phrase “Black Lives Matter,” because they believe this to be too exclusive. They think the phrase effectively means, “Only Black Lives Matter.” They want us to remember that we have come a long way since slavery and legal segregation. Our society can now open up to a wider view and see the worth of all people.

They are not wrong, but they are living in the already.

Those who defend the Black Lives Matter movement are looking at the work that still needs to be done. They are not convinced that we see worth in all people and are trying to call attention to a specific group of people who’s value is not being recognized. They hear, “All Lives Matter,” and respond, “Yes, but not yet.”

I have not run into anyone who defends the “All Lives Matter” position who honestly believes that Black lives do not matter. I have also not met anyone who supports the Black lives matter movement who does not believe that all lives matter. We are seeing the world from two different perspectives and we have to learn to live in the tension. The whole of creation is groaning in the birth pains of what is to come. The Kingdom of God is at hand, but no kingdom has ever been built without struggle, tension, and hard work.

This conversation has to change if we are going to move forward as a christian community and be about the work of our just and merciful God’s Kingdom.

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