Black Lives Matter, That’s It

Black lives matter.

I don’t need to add “too” to the end of that statement, though doing so is valid.

No hashtag is necessary either. There is nothing wrong with the hashtag, and I am actually in support of the general concept of the group–which is explained well by Jemar Tisby in his presentation, “Understanding the Heart of #BlackLivesMatter”.

It is indisputable, unarguable, and absolute. Black lives matter. Always have, always will. Even if that isn’t how so many people in this country have lived since, oh the dawn of this country’s existence.

With the countless murders committed against black men and women everyday, it becomes easy to hear the news and pass it off as merely common. “Oh, it’s just another black murder”. Of course that’s how the media treats it. “Black on black” crime hardly gets a mention.

The only time we hear about black people being murdered is when it is at the hands of a white officer. That in itself is sad. It shows, whether intentionally or not, that unless white people are involved in the incident, the death of a black human is unimportant.

And then when such incidents do arise, all we hear is “AllLivesMatter” or excuses for why the murder was committed. Let’s handle these in order and move on to a similar excuse in time.

If “AllLivesMatter”, no lives really matter. “AllLivesMatter” is an excuse for not really caring about the loss Alton Sterling’s, Philando Castille’s, Terence Crutcher’s, or Keith Lamont Scott’s families felt when their lives were taken unnecessarily as a result of police brutality.

To say “all lives matter” is to actually dehumanize Sterling, Castille, Crutcher and Scott, as well as their families. As if their loss is somehow less important than the loss anyone else feels when a loved one dies.

If it’s not clear why, it’s because saying “all lives matter” is to say I don’t see the color of your skin. I don’t care about your struggles. I don’t want to feel your pain with you. I don’t care about the fact you could be the most upstanding citizen in the world but have dark skin and thus automatically be profiled by enforcers of the law.

Finally, it’s to miss that we are guilty. The assumption is often that they are guilty. Maybe not one of the men involved in the murders over the past three or four months was “innocent”. Not one of them, though, fought back when the cop(s) detained them. They did what they were told to do, to surrender.

Some of my closest friends are black men. What if they were pulled over and killed for NO reason? I’d be more than a little upset. I’d be the one protesting. Which makes me ask myself, Why am I not now?

As Calvinistic Christians, we might be prone to pull the, “Well no one is actually innocent” card. Really? That’s where you’re going to go? While in one sense, you are right, you are completely missing the point.

It’s one thing to be guilty before a living God. It’s another to live in a country where you are supposed to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Why does that only apply to white men? Don’t ALL lives matter? I guess not.

It’s racist to assume a person is something, anything, criminal or otherwise, because of the color of their skin. Wouldn’t you be offended if a black person automatically assumed you were hooked on the latest in-narcotic just because you’re a rich white person from the suburbs?

But here’s the biggest problem as I see it, as it relates to the murders of the aforementioned men, and others, at the hands of the police. We also like to say #BlueLivesMatter. As if anyone anywhere actually believes they don’t.

Or people like to say, “Well, most cops are good.” Sure. That’s probably true. Most police officers do their job well, in a way that ultimately glorifies God. But obviously not ALL do. The very fact this is an issue proves not ALL do.

There shouldn’t be one innocent person killed at the hands of the police. See there are two kinds of innocent. There is standing before God, where no one can claim to be innocent, and there is standing before man, where, again, our country has decided you are innocent until proven guilty.

And if officers are supposed to be officers of justice, then they are failing. Until all have justice, no one has justice. Until all are at peace, no one has true peace. If this sounds a little like Martin Luther King, Jr., it’s because he did indeed say something quite similar.

The ironic thing is the very people who are supposed to bring peace and justice are the ones who have become the criminals. The ones who we’ve always assumed were innocent have become murderers. Meanwhile, those often seen as problem people and possible criminals, history seems ready to prove were in fact innocent.

 

Israel and America

Lastly, white, middle-to-upper class, American, 20th and 21st century Evangelical theology has often compared the United States to Israel. I’m normally the first to shake my head at such an ignorant opinion.

But the more I think about it, the more ready I am to embrace this assertion.

See, the Israelites were rescued out of slavery in Egypt by God and eventually led into a land, Canaan, they were intended to subdue and have dominion over–see Genesis 1:28–as their eschatological salvation. But they infamously failed.

When God forewarns the Israelites of their impending destruction and exile at the hands of the Assyrians and Babylonians, as well as after it took place, He gives one overarching reason: They failed to do justice. And justice, most notably, was to be done to the sojourner, the poor, the orphans and the widows.

When a group of dissatisfied pilgrims came over to “The New World” in the 16th and 17 centuries, they literally and figuratively raped the Native Americans, plundered their land to some extent, and took over.

Like Israel, they then brought good theology…which led to dismissing the poor, the widow and the orphan. They failed to do justice, but instead became slaveholders.

Probably the most celebrated “American” theologian, Jonathan Edwards, also was a noted slaveholder. There is much to celebrate about American Puritanism, no doubt. But that celebration ought to be muted slightly, or really shut down completely, when we consider the atrocities done to people of color by those holding to “good theology”.

And no matter how anti-Christian this nation becomes, its basic tenants and ideologies still stem from a Puritan view of Christianity. Sadly, that view was, or tended to be, an exclusionary view. Yes, Puritans spoke of evangelizing the heathen.

Unfortunately, when they spoke of the heathen, they really meant heathen. They really meant that there was nothing good about “those people over there”. The Puritans really did seem to believe there was nothing inherently good with Native Americans, or non-Anglos, because of the color of their skin.

That’s certainly how they treated the Africans sent over to the new world on sickness-infected ships. Once they arrived, and if alive, they were treated as half-human beings.

This is nothing new. It’s been like this for 400 years, or in other words the entirety of this nation’s existence–the entire time there have been Anglos on this continent. It also is how the Jews treated the sojourners in their land.

Like Israel, Anglos have taken over. And they’ve failed time and again to do justice. And we wonder why so much else is wrong with our world.

I’m not saying America is the new Israel, or anything eschatological. I’m only saying there’s a similarity. And it is a striking similarity. And I agree. We are just as messed up as Israel was.

 

Where Do We Go From Here?

Where do we go from here? For the Christian I honestly believe the Book of Lamentations provides our answer. After studying it the past six years, I am convinced no other book is more timely than it.

And in relation to it, I commend to you Soong-Chan Rah’s commentary on it, Prophetic Lament: A Call For Justice in Troubled Times.

Studying Lamentations deeply should leave you with two, possibly new, sensibilities: 1) To see the Bible as a book primarily written to a congregation and not to individuals and 2) To really, truly feel the pain of “the other”.

This is done, as Jeremiah models, by becoming the other, by placing your feet in their shoes. It is done by the one Jeremiah points to, Jesus, who left perfect union with the Father and Holy Spirit, to inhabit a desolate, dreary, and altogether terrible world, one filled with hatred, selfishness, and violence.

It was one where  “the other” was immediately dismissed and made to be an outcast. Like Jeremiah, Jesus deeply felt the pain of His people, who were only sort of His people. They became His people by adoption and by becoming “the other”.

Adoption. That’s a justice issue. Shocker. God cares about justice.

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