A Christian Response to Black Lives Matter | Jacob Atkinson
If I told you that the Church in the United Kingdom is facing its greatest challenge in at least a generation, you would probably agree with me. The relative decline of church attendance has been proceeding apace for decades. In September 2017 it was reported that 53% of the British public consider themselves to have no religion. Seven in ten young people said they had no religion in 2016. But this current challenge is not simply another demographic decline. It comes from the Black Lives Matter (BLM) organisation, and from those within the Church, like the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who have voiced support for the movement. Calls to remove representations of Jesus because they display ‘white supremacy’ reveals their assault on churches and Christianity itself.
Following the horrific murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the BLM movement has been thrust into the international spotlight. The movement and its supporters have declared the statement All Lives Matter to be racist, as a cursory glance at #AllLivesMatter on Twitter shows. If Black Lives Matter were the heirs to the civil rights movement, they would have embraced the slogan All Lives Matter alongside Black Lives Matter, to win hearts and minds over to their cause. That the All Lives Matter slogan is seen by them as racist rather than an assertion of theological and secular fact suggests otherwise.
The central doctrines of Christianity are that humans are created in the image of our Creator (Genesis 1:27), who assures us that we are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ (Psalm 139:13-14), and that His Son Jesus Christ died for all, ‘so that all who believe in Him may not perish but have eternal life.’ (John 3:16). On the cross, Christ did not reject the criminal who rejected Him in favour of the one who recognised his claims. He embraced them both and recognised their humanity as being of equal worth, assuring them that ‘you will be with me in Paradise.’ (Luke 23:39-43). Saint Paul understood the radical nature of this claim, writing: ‘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 3:28). Christ died so that our suffering would not be in vain, and so that all of humanity could be given a choice of redemption. In short, All Lives Matter to God.
The rapid ascendancy of the BLM movement delayed scrutiny of its revolutionary ideas. BLM’s policy platform includes removing a key instrument of law and order (defunding the police), removing the engine of prosperity (capitalism), battling a non-existent evil (imperialism), and smashing the fundamental building block of society (the nuclear family). Were this programme to be implemented, it would have catastrophic consequences for communities of all faiths and none. The loss of the police would see a rise in crime and vigilante gangs as communities armed to protect themselves; the loss of capitalism would see livelihoods lost and life savings wiped out as financial markets responded with renewed volatility; and the loss of the nuclear family would exacerbate the inequalities faced by children growing up in broken or one-parent households. Furthermore, if parents are not allowed to give their children religious instruction, the fundamental liberty to worship is compromised.
The Marxist and millenarian substructures of such policies are clear. They represent nothing less than an attempt to continue a project that culminated in the deaths of tens of millions of people. The fundamental failure of the two great statist projects of the twentieth century, Fascism and Communism, proved that we should not attempt to create heaven on earth. Christ promised his disciples that He would be with them ‘always, until the end of the age’ (Matthew 28:20) and envisioned a considerable span of time until His final return (Revelation). The iconoclastic BLM campaign against statues and memorials to figures as varied as Edward Colston, Winston Churchill, the Cenotaph, and Abraham Lincoln shows that they stand in opposition to British history and culture.
The philosophical origins of BLM lie in the US Black Power movement of the 1960s, which opposed the civil rights movement led by the Reverend Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. King expressed concern about the term Black Power in his ‘Statement on Poverty, Black Power and Political Power’, delivered to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference on 14 October 1966: ‘I have, however, stated in many places and many times that connotations of violence and separatism attached to the black power slogan must be resolutely opposed’. King and other civil rights leaders used the black evangelical movement as the foundation of the civil rights movement. Their adherence to nonviolent protest forced Americans to make a moral distinction between the protesters and violent law enforcement, consciously evoking the image of Christ to win over wavering white American Christians. The most famous and enduring example of the latter tactic is King’s 1963 ‘I Have A Dream’ speech, in which he declared his fervent hope for a colour-blind society: ‘I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.’
By ignoring or seeking to downplay the central Christian creed that all people have equal worth, and perpetuating damaging narratives of non-existent ‘white privilege’, BLM alienate would-be supporters. The recitation of a black separatist speech by the heavyweight boxer Anthony Joshua included the line: ‘Show them where it hurts. Abstain from spending your money in their shops and economies, and invest in black-owned businesses’. Joshua’s speech was heavily criticised by Tyson Fury. Fury claimed that ‘if it had been me who said it, “Don’t shop in any black-owned stores or any Asian owned stores” or anything, or don’t buy from their businesses, then I’d have been crucified like Jesus Christ.’ Rhetoric such as that used by Joshua can easily breed feelings of resentment and exclusion, which can fan flames of hatred.
In Britain, the former head of the Equalities Commission, Sir Trevor Philips, suggested in an interview with Spiked columnist Brendan O’Neill that, for the left, ‘our [black people’s] job is to be downtrodden, oppressed, rebellious and the reason for revolution. And the minute we stop behaving like that, we are going to break that situation, and we become less useful to these people’. Philips’ insight exposes the one-dimensional, reductive way in which BLM, and the hard left generally, view immutable characteristics as the starting point for revolutionary politics. The assumption that all black people should think and behave in exactly the same way at all times is racism, dressed in progressive clothes.
BLM’s use of identity politics poses that suffering is a zero-sum game. Insisting, as the American author Robin DiAngelo does in her book White Fragility (2018), that white people are inherently racist because they are white; therefore, theywill never understand the suffering of black people, removes empathy and awareness of a shared, common humanity. In fact, suffering is not a competition and no group has a monopoly on it, a sentiment eloquently expressed by Inaya Folarin Iman on the Triggernometry podcast. As Christians, we should, now more than ever, be blatant in our unequivocal support for this ideal.
Other black conservative voices such as Candance Owens and Jason Riley are ignored by BLM. The exhortation to ‘take the knee’ to atone for historical injustice and non-existent ‘white privilege’ is extremely damaging to the cause BLM claim to represent. As Owens recently explained, ‘white privilege’ requires ethnic minorities to believe in their own inferiority relative to a white person. Many others have pointed out that kneeling is a gesture of submission. For white people to apologise to black people for historic acts of oppression which they did not commit is offensive to both sides and fundamentally misguided. There is no redemption in identity politics, only an unrelenting requirement to conform.
The Gospel invites us to reject the politics of division in recognising Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6). In Christ we have a personally assured promise of salvation from a God who considers each of us equal, a God to whom All Lives Matter, not just a few. But Jesus does not promise that the road to redemption will be easy. We must all take up our cross and follow (Luke 9:23-26), trusting in Him and His message, however unpopular it may seem.
Photo by Ainars Zarins on Flickr.