Black Lives Matter doesn't represent the gospel, nor should it
by Anthony Bradley
Posted on Friday, January 15, 2016, at 3:16 pm
Michelle Higgins accidentally stirred up a hornet’s nest last month at Urbana 15, InterVarsity’s student missions conference, by suggesting that the abortion fight may be keeping Christians from focusing on other important issues that undermine human flourishing, like the ones highlighted by the Black Lives Matter movement. Her attempt to draw 16,000 college students’ attention to the issues of police corruption came at the expense of opening the door to several misunderstandings. To some, Higgins’ words were patently offensive.
“We’re too busy arguing to defund Planned Parenthood,” Higgins said. “We are too busy withholding mercy from the living so that we might display a big spectacle of how much we want mercy to be shown to the unborn. Where is your mercy? Where? What is your goal in only doing activism that makes you comfortable?”
Perhaps the main reason evangelicals lack direction about which issues are the real “gospel issues” is because they do not have a comprehensive canon on Christian social ethics to direct their actions in modern society. Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, which provides such direction with principles like solidarity and subsidiarity, evangelicals are left asking unhelpful questions like, “Should Christians participate in the Black Lives Matter movement?”
The Black Lives Matter movement does not represent the Christian gospel, and that’s fine. It never intended to. It did not emerge from the church. It’s a social movement that does not presuppose the Triune God at the outset. Therefore, Christians need not employ any number of creative hermeneutics to attempt to theologically justify it, make it consistent with Christianity, or explain their proximity to it.
The real tragedy among evangelicals is that there seems to be no vision, leadership, or intellectual content that might serve to encourage and mobilize young Christians to start their own large-scale movements instead of following the lead of those who do not share their understanding of the world. During the civil rights era, black Christians started their own movement to address issues affecting the black experience in America. While there were other protest options available, they chose to launch a movement out of the church. For example, following a series of meetings across the South in 1957, a group of church leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph David Abernathy, and other black ministers, established the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. These church leaders changed the world. In the 1950s, black Christians would not have needed a Black Lives Matter movement to provide them vision or incentive to address the issues of their generation.
As long as 72 percent of black teenage pregnancies end in abortion in cities like New York, 72 percent of abortions in Mississippi are performed on black women, the United Nations and the World Bank continue to promote abortion as a contraceptive for women in Africa and Asia, scores of blacks remain over-criminalized in America’s prisons, corrupt police departments mistreat lower class citizens locally, public schools in inner-cities warehouse students for prison, and black marriage rates vanish, the world will need leadership on such issues from the church.
All of these above issues are core concerns in black communities, and Christians, who are part of a 2,000-year-old tradition that is far superior to social justice warrior movements, can do better than Black Lives Matter by reminding the world that because of God’s redemptive story being pro-life, it includes issues like abortion, sex-trafficking, corruption in the criminal justice system, and much more.
Anthony is associate professor of religious studies at The King's College in New York and a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.