I have often heard people want to make a corrective to the term “Black Lives Matter” when they suggest: “Don’t ALL lives matter?” Of course, all lives are precious in God’s sight. But those who want to suddenly be inclusive miss the point of the Black Lives Matter movement. It is because of the systemic racism in this country that is built upon White Privilege where Black people have been subjected to centuries of abuse, discrimination, oppression, and prejudice that it is time to acknowledge the sin of racism in America and confess that Black Lives Matter as much as everyone else.
White Christianity has perpetuated an attitude of White superiority over people of color. It started with an ideology known as European exceptionalism which was the belief that European (White) Christians were entitled to possess the land and people of the New World. Religious leaders likened their congregations to the New Israel, God’s chosen people, who were destined to inherit a new Israel. They would take verses from the Old and New Testament out of context and use them to justify such things as the genocide of Native Americans and the enslavement of people from Africa. German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer chose to counter this narrative from his experience in the Black Church in Harlem prior to WW II, suggesting that the shameful practices of slavery, disenfranchisement, Jim Crow, and segregation “contradicted the mythic identity of Americans as a chosen people.”[i]
It begins with one’s image of God. For many White Christians in America, their theology is informed by their concept of a White Savior. Consider how many churches have a portrait or statue of Jesus who looks like someone from Scandinavia—with fair skin, dishwater blonde hair, and blue eyes. In truth we make God into our own image and foster a belief system that justifies our way of life and practice. God can be seen as wrathful and judgmental, ready to punish and exclude anyone who doesn’t agree with our point of view. This aligns with the belief that the White race is superior to others and afforded privileges reserved for that group of believers. It also helps enforce a systemic racism that believes Whiteness is superior and Blackness is inferior.
By contrast, Black theology understands that religion is ultimately about liberation. Born out of a history of oppression of Black people in this country, Black Liberation Theology is seen as a corrective for the ideologies born out of one race’s desire for power over others. “Instead of believing the misinterpreted theological and biblical statements of those who had enslaved and oppressed them, Black people understood the biblical story and Christianity as a religion for the oppressed—a religion that brought about liberation, healing, and hope for all.”[ii] The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s was informed by an intrinsic belief that all men and women were children of God and so were entitled to fair treatment, justice, and equal opportunity regardless of race, cultural background, or religion.
The Movement for Black Lives was created to focus attention on the fact that Black lives have historically and systemically been disregarded, dehumanized, and destroyed. For example, although Black men make up only 6 percent of the US population, they account for 40 percent of the unarmed men shot to death by police in 2015 (Washington Post, Dec. 26, 2015.) While slavery and segregation are no longer legal, mass incarceration, police brutality, unequal treatment of Blacks for offenses similar to those by whites and other institutionalized ideas about race have taken their place. Hopefully a new theological framework informed by Black Lives Matter can help us see the power of the Gospel to transform all of human relationships and society—where we lovingly care for and respect one another.