Rector's Blog: Why Christians Must Say Black Lives Matter
I do a lot of premarital counseling with couples. I don’t spend any time trying to figure out if these two belong together – that’s above my paygrade. And I don’t test them or try to get them to work through all their issues with me: I’m a priest, not a therapist. My goal is to help them develop a shared language for their relationship and orient their understanding of their marriage in God. Being on the same page about the language they use around their shared love is essential.
We’re no different as a church. Understanding what we mean when we say things and being on the same page around the words we use as Christians is essential for our love for one another. And our love for one another – the relationships we build and develop in this community – are the lifeblood of our church. They are essential.
As The Church of the Redeemer continues its commitment to racial justice, healing, and reconciliation in Jesus’ name, it makes sense for us to work carefully to develop a shared language and to continue to orient our understanding of this commitment in God. It’s especially important when it comes to doing work that is connected to current events, because we want to be very clear about how the work we do is rooted in our Baptismal covenant rather than our desire to appear relevant, urbane, or woke.
It is in this spirit that I say we have a responsibility as Christians to say Black Lives Matter.
One of the most consistent concerns among predominantly White communities (of which Church of the Redeemer is one) is that saying Black Lives Matter is exclusive and elevates Black Lives at the expense of other lives. This is an important concern, and one not to be taken lightly because we believe our God does indeed love all of us, and not just one group of us. And indeed, every single life matters to God. No question. This is true.
And yet, as one who is committed to following Jesus, I reiterate that our community has a responsibility not only to say Black Lives Matter, but to live into the words we say – to live as if we believe these words. With this in mind, I have three thoughts I would like to share. None of them are novel. None of them are perfect, nor will they settle the matter for anyone once and for all. But they are rooted and grounded in love, and I hope they can be used as beginnings of conversations we need to be having.
1) Shortly after our Lord Jesus began his public ministry in Matthew's gospel account, he walked up a mountain turned and addressed his first followers. He began with words we know so well, but I will put here anyway:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."
Does this mean that only the people listed in Jesus' words here are blessed? Of course not! Isn't God in fact present and loving all people? Yes! In fact, God is! At the same time, Jesus recognizes the importance of locating God's blessing in specific people who have been marginalized and who need to hear that they belong in God's heart. They need it, you see, in a very particular way. And, likewise, the people around them need to hear that they are blessed too, because the people around them have often forgotten or never recognized God's blessing in them.
Imagine if Jesus had spoken these words and one of his disciples said, "No, blessed are ALL people, Jesus. Your words seem too exclusive to me." Would they have understood what Jesus was trying to get at?
Many of our Black siblings are hurting in this country. And their insistence on proclaiming they matter, that they belong, that they are sacred is not said to the exclusion of anyone else. They are saying it because they don't believe our culture recognizes their beauty, their belonging, their blessedness. They don't believe that their lives are valued by our culture or country the way White lives like mine are. We may not each individually know how to feel about that. But it is important for us to listen to Black voices to take their feelings seriously and treat their pleas respectfully.
2) Imagine your spouse/partner/best friend is upset. It turns out you had done something that hurt them, however unintentionally. You didn't even know you'd done anything, you thought everything was ok, but it turns out that wasn't the case. So, you asked them, "Hey, what's wrong?" And they broke down and said, "The way you’ve been treating me…do you even love me?"
What if your response was, "Well, I'm a Christian: I love everyone!"
How would that go over do you think? Would that be the path towards healing and reconciliation between you two? My guess is no.
Christians are charged with loving everyone we meet. We have faith in a God who loves everyone, and who commands us to go and do likewise. And we recognize that when someone we love is hurting and unsure of their belonging in our eyes, we have a particular responsibility to them – to do what is necessary to show them we love them specifically.
Most Black Americans do not believe their country loves them. What part shall we play in changing that? Should you and I say, "Well, we love everyone!" Or should we address the concerns of those we love who have grievances and deal with them seriously? The vast majority of our Black siblings are saying this country is not structured in a way that demonstrates their lives matter. How do we communicate that we believe Black lives are sacred? How do we communicate that to our Black siblings?
3) We recently observed the anniversary of the 9/11 attack. This was such a traumatic day for our country. I do not believe we have fully recovered from it. Imagine if every time you brought up the wounds of that day and how it has affected us, someone said, "Well a lot of people have died from terrorist attacks. In fact, a lot of buildings have fallen in this world. You know, all attacks are bad, all victims matter, All buildings matter. Why do you keep harping on these particular buildings and this particular day?"
What if when you said, "God Bless America" I replied, "God blesses ALL countries"?
We know that there is a need in the aftermath of trauma to assert our blessedness, there is a need in the midst of our pain and suffering to proclaim that we are not forgotten by God, right? Well, we have not gotten over the trauma of slavery and the racism that was baked into the founding of this country we love so much. It's still with us. It still haunts us. We are not free of it - not yet. It’s not just something some people need to get over. It’s something we need to address with honesty and love.
So, when someone says Black lives matter, Black lives are sacred, Black lives are beautiful, Black lives belong, they are speaking as a way to address the trauma from which we still need to heal. We are Christians. We have been commanded by Jesus to repair the breaches in our world, to facilitate healing and redemption. Embrace the phrase “Black Lives Matter”. Seek to live into the reality of those three words. It is an act of faithfulness.
That’s what I’ve got for now. I know this language is still risky and uncomfortable for some of us in our community. And if that means you, please know I love you, that you matter to me and to Church of the Redeemer. I’m committed to our continuing the conversation. I’m committed to you and to us. And we as a community are committed to the work of Love that Jesus has given us to do. We are in this together, and we have a lot of work to do together in the days to come.
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