We Need a Christian Version of Black Lives Matter

By George Yancey Published on January 17, 2016

I did a recent interview where the topic of Black Lives Matter came up. I discussed the movement as one that is addressing the important issue of disparate criminal justice. There are extreme opinions at both ends of the spectrum of this issue, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for common ground and common sense discussion of a matter that many blacks find troubling, including some conservative blacks. Unfortunately, Black Lives Matter is taking the wrong approach, and their positions and tactics are doing more harm than good. We need a Christian Black Lives Matter movement to move towards real racial reconciliation.

Make no mistake that Black Lives Matters is dealing with legitimate problems. For instance, black men are much more likely to be killed by the police while unarmed than whites. Whether this is due to violence in black ghettos, latent racism, conscious racism or some complex social amalgam of these and other factors, this is a problem people of goodwill want to solve.

Another challenge: The police are used like a taxing agency in some poor minority communities. I doubt most of them aspired as young men to become police officers so they could spend their days passing out tickets for busted taillights and the like. But the present reality is that the law enforcement system in many poor communities across America do press their police force into behaving as a taxing agency, an agency that exacts a highly regressive tax that falls hard on the poor and often less well educated. A disproportionate number of those communities are black communities.

I find myself frustrated when my white Christian brothers and sisters ignore the real concerns many blacks have, missing the authentic complaints amidst the extreme rhetoric on race coming from the far left. Attempts to impose a color-blind ideology in light of the realities that blacks face do not help us overcome racial alienation. Our racial struggles have not ended simply because we have a black president, and I would love to see everyone of goodwill being proactive in dealing with the continuing legacy of racism.

I have spoken this message many times over the past several years. It is one that, if delivered with sensitivity and grace, can be well received and create important allies for African-Americans and other racial minorities. It is a message well suited to our Christian faith in redemption and reconciliation.

­Indeed, Christians should be at the forefront to reverse the effects the historical sin of racism has had on our country. We fail in our values when we follow the lead of others rather than forge ahead towards a true racial healing.

This is why I cannot endorse the Black Lives Matter movement as currently formulated. The movement highlights important racial issues, but they remain focused on certain individual cases as examples of racism long after it has been clear that this is not the case. I also am unconvinced by arguments tied to microaggression claims. It is not a well-defined concept and I fear it is used to trivialize real racial problems.

But there is a basic reason why I cannot advocate Christian support for Black Lives Matter as it is currently formulated. Some Christians are concerned about the larger social goals of the group, and I cannot fault them for their concern, because the recognized founders of the group do indeed have an agenda that most evangelical Christians should find difficult to wholly embrace. But for me the main problem is that Black Lives Matter’s approach is more likely to create racial division than true racial reconciliation. If we want to bring people together, we need a Christian version of this organization that does not use a secular approach of “dog eat dog” and conformity through bullying.

Listen

People may argue about who legitimately represents Black Lives Matter and who doesn’t. But what is clear is the movement’s unwillingness to consider alternate perspectives. The attitude often has been that if one does not support the goals of the movement then one is compliant with racism or white supremacy. Little wonder moderate and conservative whites often do not feel free to have a healthy racial dialogue. Would you want a dialogue with someone who will accuse you of racism if you do not agree with them on every point?

I have written on what it takes to have a healthy dialogue on racial issues. I have even discussed these principles in a Christian context. I cannot cover all of the principles necessary for developing a healthy path to reconciliation in this column, but one is to not only communicate your desires and concerns but also listen so that win-win solutions can be constructed. If those of us who are black want to be heard by those of us who are white, and vice versa, then we must listen to what the other has to say. Without honest dialogue, there is no chance for the sort of productive conversation that brings people together rather than setting them up in opposing camps.

The secular ideology driving the leadership of Black Lives Matters dictates that power is the most important element involved in their struggle for racial justice. Thus, taking power from whites is given a higher priority than mutually listening and learning how to live and thrive together.

We do not need Christians to merely replicate this approach. We need Christians to infuse the effort at racial reconciliation with a real spirit of seeking to communicate and heal racial wounds. We need to deal with the racial animosity and alienation in our society not with a zero-sum approach but instead by striving for a unity of spirit and purpose.

Perhaps this can be done by working with the current Black Lives Matters organization, but it is more likely that in the end we need a distinct group based on Christian principles and true reconciliation.

There are already some worthy Christian efforts out there, and I have had the pleasure of working with some of them. But I want to see the entire Body of Christ get behind an effort to promote honest conversation and real reconciliation. Let’s not hide from the problems in our racialized society any longer. Rather, let’s show how a healthy Christian perspective and presence in this matter can make a dramatic difference for the common good.

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