How did you answer that question? Was your first response “Black Lives Matter” or “All Lives Matter”? It is a pretty loaded question these days. I pondered titling this column “_________ Lives Matter” and asking how you chose to fill in the blank, but I decided that a blank in a column title might not work too well.
The term Black Lives Matter has now been part of our culture for 7 years. It first appeared as a hashtag after George Zimmerman was acquitted for the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2013. Since then it has grown into a movement both in the US and here in Canada. It has been controversial for all 7 of those years. But it shouldn’t be.
For those of us who claim the term Christian phrases like Black Lives Matter, or Indigenous Lives Matter, or LGBTQ+ Lives Matter should never be controversial. They should be obvious truths. They should also force us to ask why someone might think they are controversial. What are we trying to hide when we teach or preach the controversy?
In chapter 15 of his gospel Luke shares 3 stories Jesus tells about things that are lost. In the first Jesus talks about a shepherd who leaves 99 sheep behind to go and find the one that was lost. “All lives matter” logic might say this is being foolish. What makes that one wayward sheep more important than the other 99. That misses the point. The one sheep is the one that was in danger, so it needed the attention right now. It is not a competition, it is a statement of what is needed in a particular moment.
When we stand up and say that in this moment #BlackLivesMatter we are not saying anything other than “there is a threat to our siblings whose skin is darker than others, we should do something about that”. When we are unable to do that, when we fall prey to the logic of “all lives matter” we risk being a character from one of those other stories Jesus tells.
The third story Jesus tells in Luke 15 is about a man with 2 sons. Briefly, the youngest one goes away and wastes all his inheritance. When he comes home his dad throws a party. The older brother is jealous and can’t see why his wastrel brother needs a party. The father says “we had to celebrate. Your brother was dead and is now alive”. The story never says one brother is more important than the other, it talks about who needs to be raised up at one time or another. Many of us have traits of the elder brother. Sometimes we need to get over ourselves to celebrate and support our siblings.
As the children’s song “Jesus Loves the Little Children” reminds us, God loves all of God’s children. No matter their race, religion, sexual identity, gender, level of ability or any other criteria humans have for dividing us God loves all of God’s children. God loves us collectively, but God also loves us individually and specifically. When some of us are threatened for some reason God calls for people to step in and deal with that threat. As people of faith we can never be satisfied with simply saying that all lives matter. We must, if we are faithful, be willing to step in and say that Black Lives Matter. Another day we might need to raise up Indigenous Lives, or LGBTQ+ lives, or women’s lives, or disabled lives. Only if specific lives matter do all lives matter.
The world is a broken place. As humans we often fail to live into the fact that we are created in the image of God. God is calling us to be transformed and to do better. One sign of the broken-ness of the world is how good we are at dividing people. Let me be plain. We are not all the same, that is a wonderful gift. But using those differences to create people with privilege and people without privilege is sinful and evil. Racism, sexism, ableism, homo- and trans- phobia, religious bigotry, and all those other ways we find to say “this group is better than that group” are sinful and evil.
God is calling us to be better. God is calling us to learn how our neighbours are threatened. God is calling us to show that specific lives matter so that indeed we show that all lives matter. God is calling us to learn where our systems are broken and allow our systems and ourselves to be transformed. God is creating the Kingdom in our midst, will we join in the project?
Be blessed my friends. Stay safe, wash your hands, wear a mask, and build up your neighbour.