Before you start, realize that this blog is far longer than normal, about the length of a book chapter. There’s a reason for that. It’s an in-depth treatment of a huge and controversial issue, and it’s resource-rich, with lots of links to videos and articles. But if I split it up, it will lose much continuity and balance and result in more misunderstanding. (Some is of course inevitable.)
If it helps, just pretend it’s a book chapter, or in two or three parts. Read at your own pace. You may wish to go through it slowly and stop to ponder it, praying as you read and perhaps stopping on the way to look at a pertinent link.
Thirty years ago I read eighty books on African American history while researching my novel Dominion. I met with dozens of black brothers and sisters in Christ in different parts of our country and interviewed others over the phone. A new perspective opened up to me; my world became larger. I learned things I’d never known, and came to realize that while there had been much progress, the long-term effects of racism in America continued to hurt people deeply.
This wasn’t about white guilt. (God made me white, and I’m fine with that.) It wasn’t about self-loathing, nor was it about political correctness, which has never been important to me. It was simply coming to understand how other people in God’s family, precious people, specifically black people, had experienced life very differently than I had. What I learned came from listening to people who loved Jesus as much as I do.
Recently in blogs I’ve talked about racial issues. I’ve also emphasized that there are a large number of good cops that many of us, whether or not we realize it, owe our lives to. We should never stereotype cops as bad, though of course some are. Bad cops should be relieved of duty; good cops agree with this, including a number I’ve talked with recently. (We also have some bad pastors, ministry leaders, teachers, physicians, and government officials who likewise should be relieved of duty.) Sadly, though, bad cops, and sometimes good cops who are seen as bad, get far more attention than good ones. Many of us, probably most, at one time or another have desperately needed the help of cops. And when you need that kind of help, it won’t be Marxists, looters, arsonists, or criminals who show up at your door to protect you. (Of course, peaceful nonviolent protestors aren’t criminals, so let’s not stereotype them either.)
Over the years I’ve expressed my support of peaceful nonviolent protests, and engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience at abortion clinics to try to rescue unborn children from death and save their mothers from abortion’s horrific burden of guilt. Those actions had consequences including arrests, jail, lawsuits, and the loss of my job as a pastor (leading to the start of this ministry). We spoke up against injustice, and God in His grace saved a number of children’s lives. We didn’t grab or resist anyone, including the police who arrested us. Most of those cops were kind and professional, though a few were hostile and inflicted needless pain.
Various evangelicals opposed our prolife actions as “social gospel.” Some still do. Just today someone told me that racial issues distract God’s people from the gospel. Personally, I believe that for the gospel message to be best proclaimed and most credible, it should be voiced by those who build bridges of love and speak up for the rights of the unborn, children, women, and people of every race. It’s the atonement of Jesus that saves. But as Jesus said, it’s the love of His people for each other that testifies that this life-changing gospel is true:
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23)
Of course, the gospel can thrive even where these values are not upheld, as in the first-century Roman empire, where Christians had no voice in the government. But where God has given churches and Christ-followers a voice to speak about injustices among His image-bearers, we should do so. (Of course, we won’t always agree on the times and places and methods.)
What I find most heart-breaking is the intense pain felt by black brothers and sisters in Christ whose life experiences are so different from those of us who are white. Love means trying to put ourselves in their shoes and seeking to dialogue and understand why their views differ from ours—and why if we were black we would probably think very differently than we do about racial prejudice and instinctively trusting police.
In this blog I’ll address some difficult issues that some will misunderstand or be offended by despite my efforts to speak accurately and carefully. I dread some of the reactions I anticipate because we live in a day where people routinely read small portions of what is said and make sweeping judgments without listening to the whole. (This is why we often respond to blistering comments by simply quoting what I actually said in a blog or book, as opposed to what people imagine I said.) There are many balancing statements in this blog, which partly accounts for its length. If you take one statement out of context without those other balancing statements you can misunderstand anything I’m saying. I hope you don’t.
I don’t presume everything I say will be right or well said. I can only say that I have sought to listen not just to people on all sides of these issues, but primarily to God’s voice from His Word and also to the leading of His Spirit.
Black Lives Matter: The Slogan and the Organization
First, the slogan “Black lives matter” is not 50% or 90% right. It’s 100% right. (And it does not mean other lives don’t matter. More on that later.)
Second, there’s an organization called by the name “Black Lives Matter,” first attributed to one of its founders. Unfortunately, that organization’s values oppose those of countless blacks and many others in every ethnic group in America. It certainly stands against some core Christian values.
When I first looked at the Black Lives Matter website to see their beliefs, I was shocked. What follows are direct quotes from that website. I encourage you to read them, reminding yourself I am disagreeing with many of the beliefs of the organization, NOT with that 100% accurate statement “Black lives matter”:
#BlackLivesMatter was founded in 2013 in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer. Black Lives Matter Foundation, Inc is a global organization in the US, UK, and Canada, whose mission is to eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes.
We are self-reflexive and do the work required to dismantle cisgender [those who identify with the gender they were born as] privilege and uplift Black trans folk, especially Black trans women who continue to be disproportionately impacted by trans-antagonistic violence.
We build a space that affirms Black women and is free from sexism, misogyny, and environments in which men are centered….
We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and “villages” that collectively care for one another, especially our children, to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable.
We foster a queer‐affirming network. When we gather, we do so with the intention of freeing ourselves from the tight grip of heteronormative thinking, or rather, the belief that all in the world are heterosexual (unless s/he or they disclose otherwise).
Remember, these are not accusations by outsiders—they are word-for-word declarations made directly by the group. I heard two of the three founders of Black Lives Matter openly declare that they are “trained Marxists.” If you don’t know history, read up on Marxism and ask yourself how much good it has done and how much evil, and whether it has upheld human rights or horribly violated them. I traveled in the former Soviet Union in 1990, bringing in Bibles and talking with many Christians about Marxism. Trust me, they hated it.
In an article on the BLM website they also affirm their pro-abortion stance:
We deserve and thus we demand reproductive justice that gives us autonomy over our bodies and our identities while ensuring that our children and families are supported, safe, and able to thrive.
So the BLM organization defends the right to kill unborn girls and boys who themselves, by the way, deserve but are incapable of demanding the freedom not to be cut to pieces in abortion. But where is the reproductive justice for the unborn, male and female, black and white and every other race? Don’t we all exist because our mothers chose to give us life? Wasn’t that a good, noble and loving choice? Since black lives matter, don’t the youngest black lives matter too? Or is it just older and larger lives who qualify? (Black babies have long been targeted for extinction by Planned Parenthood in greatly disproportionate numbers.)
The organization BLM is committed to “disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure.” According to the Oxford English dictionary, “A nuclear family is a family where father, mother and their children live in one household.” To most of us, that’s a good thing. Countless studies show that those growing up in nuclear families have tremendous advantages from healthy, emotionally supportive, educationally enriched, and economically stable upbringings. Yet Black Lives Matter says they are working against this.
Ironically, the breakdown of the nuclear family has already brought remarkable hurt to our country, and it has taken a particularly large toll on blacks. This five-minute video shares the statistics:
My point in citing it is to demonstrate that the organization Black Lives Matter is acting according to an erroneous ideology that is clearly not in the best interests of black people. In a time when men need to step up and lovingly lead and protect their families, BLM wants to build a society “free from…environments in which men are centered.” Abusive men should be prosecuted, but homes where dads benevolently lead are a huge part of the solution, not the problem. (Additionally, nuclear families can be healthy environments for developing children’s sexual identities in the midst of our current gender confusion.)
Sports commentator and former NFL all-pro defensive end Marcellus Wiley recently talked, with insight and passion, about the organization Black Lives Matter’s values that he opposes:
As I write this on July 20, 2020, the front page of the BLM website says in its argument to defund the police: “We know that police don’t keep us safe.” If it said, “Don’t always keep us safe,” that would sadly be true, though countless good cops of many ethnicities daily risk their lives to protect our citizens. Police don’t keep us safe? Watch this emotional 60-second video of a young man thanking the cop who saved his life.
Also listen to this enlightening two minutes from Jakhary Jackson, a black cop in Portland who served in crowd control during many nights of protests, and who was among officers injured by a fireworks explosion aimed at police.
With the BLM organization’s efforts to discredit and defund the police, one of my deepest concerns about the public disdain for all cops, including the good ones, is that many good younger cops are seriously looking into changing careers. (Several of my cop friends who are believers have told me this.) To put your knee on a man’s neck for nearly nine minutes when he is crying out sixteen times “I can’t breathe” is a truly terrible thing. To be hated and marginalized and put under fire when you have never committed such a crime and are genuinely risking your life daily to protect people is also a terrible thing. For your wife to shut down her social media for fear of her safety and her children’s just because her husband is a police offer, and a good one, is another terrible thing. (And yes, I have recently seen it happen.) We can’t afford to lose all those good cops who are looking into other vocations where they won’t be stereotyped, targeted, and hated.
But there’s a critical question here. When people hold signs saying “Black lives matter” are they actually affirming their belief in what the organization Black Lives Matter says? No doubt some are, but I think the great majority don’t have a clue what the website says. They are just thinking of what is to them the clear meaning of the words themselves: Black lives matter.
So, yes, we should feel free and in some cases even obligated to criticize the organization Black Lives Matter, as I just have. But I believe we need to be very careful at the same time to affirm emphatically the truth of the words themselves. Black lives really do matter. They matter in the sight of God. If you argue against those words, even if it’s not your intention because you’re thinking of the organization not the words, the message you send will be “Black lives don’t matter.”
Why Answering with “All Lives Matter” Isn’t Productive
Many use the phrase “All lives matter” in response to “Black lives matter,” likely believing by putting everyone’s life on equal footing they are making a balanced statement. But the result is usually division and distraction. “All lives matter” is of course absolutely true. But maybe I can make a few analogies to help explain why it’s an ill-advised response.
In 1920 American women were first given the right to vote. Yet after that they were still denied the right to hold many jobs and were often paid lower wages for doing the same work as men.
Back on March 3, 1913, over 5,000 women’s suffrage advocates marched on Washington, D.C. These were two of the many different signs they held:
Suppose that group would have held signs saying “Women’s lives matter,” which they certainly could have.
Now imagine men showing up to these rallies and holding signs saying “All lives matter.” Would the signs have been correct? Sure. Would it have been helpful to hold up those “All lives matter” signs? No. Why? Because men were already treated like they mattered. Women weren’t.
Likewise, if I held up a sign at a prolife rally saying “Unborn lives matter,” and someone countered with a sign saying “All lives matter,” how would I respond? Probably by saying, “True, but this isn’t about all lives; it’s specifically about the lives of unborn children who are being killed by abortion.”
“All lives matter” would be a great corrective response if the slogan were “Only black lives matter.” But that is not the slogan. There’s no logical implication that if black lives matter then white lives or any other lives don’t matter. You can focus on one true thing without calling into question another true thing.
“Black lives matter” is not an accusation; it’s an affirmation. Sure, some people who say it may believe all whites are racists or that all police are bad but that’s certainly not what the slogan says. The organization Black Lives Matter is saying a great deal more, much of it harmful. But I believe that most people using the expression do not mean “Only black lives matter.” They mean “Black lives also matter.” Can’t all Christians agree on this?
It’s not that black lives matter more than white or brown lives but that they matter as much. Historically, black people weren’t valued nearly as much as white people. Hence, “Black lives matter” is not a cultural given; it is in America, sadly, a rather recent assertion. That’s why using “All lives matter” as a counter-slogan is misguided and ineffective.
If a house is burning down and the homeowner says, “My house matters,” unless the whole neighborhood is burning down it would be pointless to say “All houses matter.” It would be true, but right now there’s a house that needs more help than the rest.
Would you go to an American Cancer Rally and hold up signs saying, “All diseases matter”? You’d be right, of course, but what message would you be sending to all the cancer patients and people whose loved ones died of cancer?
That’s why as true as it is and as good as it may sound, “All lives matter” spoken as an answer to “Black lives matter” is tone-deaf and counterproductive.
Don’t Read into “Black Lives Matter” to Make It Say More Than It Does
I recently talked on the phone with a Christian leader who said he could never agree with the slogan “Black lives matter” due to the organization of that name. I asked, if he agreed with the statement “Every child a wanted child.” He said, “Of course.” I said, “Did you know for many years that was Planned Parenthood’s slogan?” He didn’t. Would we argue that “Every child a wanted child” is something a Christian should never say just because it was a slogan of a group we oppose? Or can we say it because it’s true regardless of who else says it, and it would remain true even if it were the name of an organization? (That doesn’t mean you have to say “Black lives matter” as if they are magic words—you can still communicate the meaning of the expression in other ways.)
I hear people argue that they can’t agree with “black lives matter” because of other views they associate with the phrase. But surely we can wholeheartedly affirm that black lives matter equally, are equally precious, equally made in God’s image. Why not say those things, and go ahead and disagree with the organization but make emphatically clear your message is not “black lives don’t matter”?
We can oppose Marxism and be pro-life and pro-family and pro-Jesus and still affirm that “Black lives matter.” This theologically conservative seminary professor does just that.
We can affirm “Black lives do matter” and still condemn violence, looting, and arson and distinguish them from peaceful nonviolent protests. We can lament the many minority businesses (and others), representing tens of thousands of hours of hard work, that have been burned and looted.
We can also say “Black lives really matter” without affirming that every perception of racism is accurate. Women who’ve been abused by men understandably sometimes read in misogyny when it’s not present. But the reason they do is because they have experienced real abuse. It would be just as foolish, and certainly unfair and unkind, to dismiss their history of experiences as it would be to assume they are accurate each and every time they perceive sexism.
Likewise, minorities may sometimes see racism when it isn’t present, but they see it precisely because they have sometimes or even often experienced true racism throughout their lives. (An older black friend who’s a kind and godly man recently said, “I’ve never in my life had a positive experience with the police.” That doesn’t mean all those police were racists, but it does tell the painful story of the cumulative effect of many life-long experiences as a godly black man living in a predominantly white culture where racism has often been all-too-real.)
We can also say “Black lives matter just as much as everyone else’s” and reject the implication that police are to blame for most of the senseless killing of young black men. Clearly they are not, since statistics show it’s mainly gangs and criminals doing the killing. 90% percent of black murder victims are killed by black assailants. (Similarly, 83% percent of white victims are killed by white assailants. Crime is local, and neighborhoods are usually occupied predominantly by people of one race or another.)
Obviously this doesn’t mean it wasn’t a terrible thing when a police officer killed George Floyd and fellow officers didn’t stop him. That’s especially egregious because police are sworn to protect lives and should take them only when absolutely necessary.
We should also affirm, and the organization Black Lives Matter has not done this well, that black lives matter despite who kills them. Protests are typically against people in power positions, including police. But if more public laments were organized on behalf of innocent children and devastated mothers and fathers and families where loved ones are killed in gang shootings and criminal acts, perhaps it would send the message that black lives matter equally, no matter who takes those lives.
What Alternatives to the Slogan Can Be Used?
If you don’t think you should say the words, then don’t. This isn’t about checking off a box and guilting people into saying “just the right words.” There are many other good words we can use and actions we can take.
Natasha Crain advises, “Don’t use hashtags until you understand where they originated, what they represent to the people who created them, and what they (likely) communicate to those around you.” Our ministry doesn’t use #BlackLivesMatter on social media. But we consistently make clear we wholeheartedly believe that black lives really do matter just as much as all other lives.
However, my suggestion is—maybe it’s more of a plea—even if you don’t use it yourself, please don’t negate, minimize, or argue against the expression “Black lives matter.” Choose whatever different words you prefer and take actions that make clear you are affirming the central truth behind the words, realizing that in the minds of most people the expression says only what it says. To the average person who knows nothing about what the organization’s website says, “Black lives matter” isn’t about Marxism, black supremacy, the nuclear family, all police being bad, disparaging the role of men, or encouraging the irrelevance of biological gender.
So it’s fine to opt not to use those words. It’s fine to point out that you oppose many of the beliefs of the organization that bears that name. But please—and I say this after seeing it happen in blogs and social media posts—do everything you can not to come across as disagreeing with the idea that black lives really matter/are equally important/are just as valuable. If you’re not careful, you will send the wrong message and instead of building bridges, you’ll burn them. If this happens you will, even if unintentionally, fail to serve the purposes Jesus prayed for His people in John 17: that we would be united, that divisions between us would be healed, and that seeing our love for our brothers and sisters in Christ of different backgrounds and races, people would believe the gospel message that the Father sent the Son to redeem us.
Here are some alternative possibilities that change only a word or two but help distinguish the message you hopefully believe in from the organization you don’t believe in:
- “Black lives matter too”
- “Black lives DO matter”
- “Black lives truly matter”
- “Black lives matter just as much”
Or, if you want to affirm the value of black lives using different words, do so.
Albert Mohler says, “Black lives do matter. We have to say that even more powerfully than #BlackLivesMatter does.”
Some Final Thoughts to Consider
1. I encourage you not to respond to the “Black lives matter” issue, or anything else, as a conservative or liberal, but simply as a follower of Jesus. Whether following Jesus makes us appear conservative or liberal should be irrelevant. It should be all about honoring Him. I don’t try to be a conservative or a liberal, though on certain issues I may appear to some as either. I don’t oppose abortion because I’m a conservative. I oppose it because it is the killing of children. I don’t stand up for racial equality and justice because I’m a liberal. I stand up for it because I believe Jesus does.
2. Those of us who are part of evangelical churches, as I am, are not widely known for our ability to listen well or think beyond the confines of our backgrounds and preferred sources of information. Many young people in our churches see this and feel alienated from us. They wonder why their churches are dismissive of certain issues, including racial justice and ongoing concern for the poor and aliens and refugees, which they see in Scripture and in Jesus. They perceive we are better at saying the words of the gospel than living out the life-altering implications of the gospel. Sometimes they are wrong, but sometimes they’re right.
3. Use all the current controversies to take seriously the words, “Everyone ought to examine themselves…” (1 Corinthians 11:28). In a time where our culture habitually speaks words carelessly and without weighing the relational damage we can do, may we be heed the words of God: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). May we pray with David, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).
4. Some people say, “The laws changed long ago, and discrimination hasn’t been a problem for years. Why can’t people just get over it?” They don’t understand the ongoing effects of centuries of racism, and that every day things happen which demonstrate many things haven’t changed after all. If you want a summarized but remarkably careful explanation, I highly recommend you invest 17 minutes listening to Phil Vischer address “Race in America.” It may turn the light on for you, perhaps for the first time:
5. Ask your black friends what comes to their mind when they hear the expression “Black lives matter.” If you don’t have black friends, reach out and start developing some friendships. If you know them reasonably well, ask their honest opinion about what they think when they hear “All lives matter” as a response to “Black lives matter.”
6. While never feeling guilty for the skin color God gave you, listen carefully to voices who express a pain you would understand if you’d been born and lived life in their skin. Pastor Mika Edmondson wrote something recently that I found heartbreaking. Rather than criticizing it because it falls outside of our own personal experiences, let it sink in as a tragic but deeply heartfelt perception shared by countless black Americans, including lovers of Jesus:
My wife has to beg me (a grown 37-year-old man) not to go out to Walmart at night, not because she’s afraid of the criminal element, but because she’s afraid of the police element. Because she knows that when the police see me, they aren’t going to see Mika Edmondson, pastor of New City Fellowship Presbyterian church. When they see me, they aren’t going to see Mika Edmondson, PhD in systematic theology. When they see me, all they’re going to see is a black man out late at night.
7. Read Benjamin Watson’s excellent book Under Our Skin. You may not agree with everything he says, but you’ll see the heart and life experience and insights of a brother in Jesus, and perhaps see through new eyes.
8. Finally, contemplate these Scriptures about Jesus, the gospel, and the healing of racial divisions, and ask God to help them come alive in your heart and life and relationships with others:
“So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26-28).
“For Christ himself is our peace, who has made the two groups [Jews and Gentiles, the ultimate racial division] one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility” (Ephesians 2:14-16).