One Year Later: Why I still won’t say #AllLivesMatter in my sermons

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[NOTE: For a history of the #BlackLivesMatter movement that will give context to this post, please see the first link in the body of the text]

August 9, 2015 will mark the one-year memorial of the death of Michael Brown, an 18 year old black teen from Ferguson Missouri. Brown’s death was at the hands of a Ferguson police officer named Darren Wilson.

Much has been said and written about the subsequent actions that have taken place – the marches and protests, the formation of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and the subsequent exposal of hundreds of deaths of black and brown lives that go seemingly unnoticed.

However, I have been particularly troubled by how to respond to one particular critique of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, particularly as a person of faith, in light of its perceived inherent truth.

Jonathan, but don’t all lives matter… to God?

Many leaders in the #BlackLivesMatter community have written eloquently about why the microaggressive response #AllLivesMatter is deeply offensive and hurtful (see here, and here, and here, and here). However, I am also a minister to the gospel of Christ – a Christ that the Apostle Paul writes:

For he [Christ] is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. [Ephesians 2:14-16, NRSV]

If I both believe that Christ has broken down the walls that divide us, walls of race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and so forth; but also acknowledge that the reality of the world we live in still contains these walls, how then shall I go forth? What message should I proclaim?

Well, this Sunday, on the one-year memorial of Michael Brown’s death, I will be proclaiming #BlackLivesMatter from the pulpit.

You see, while Paul may speak of an ideological truth – that there is no longer any dividing wall between people groups, the practical truth is that we need only go back 50 years in this country to when legal walls separated people on the basis of the color of their skin. It is not that difficult to realize that even today, walls exist that still fundamentally separate people.

  • I will proclaim #BlackLivesMatter – because the words of the Belhar Confession, a confessional standard of unity in my denomination reminds us that God is a God in a special way to the poor, destitute, etc…
  • I will proclaim #BlackLivesMatter – because it is important that I follow the example of the Christ I witness, who elevated and dignified the “black lives” of the day, women, gentiles, the “unclean”, and the ethnically repulsive.
  • I will proclaim #BlackLivesMatter – because when Jesus did not elevate the lives of the rich, the religious leaders, or those in power, it wasn’t because he said their lives didn’t matter. That was blatantly obvious to the systems of the day, and he did not need to elevate the powerful even more.
  • I will proclaim #BlackLivesMatter – because it is true.

And in response…

  • I will NOT proclaim “all lives matter” – because to do so minimizes the experiences, feelings, and realities of those that we have already marginalized, which is blatantly heretical.
  • I will NOT proclaim “all lives matter” – because while I may believe that they do in theory, I must own my own participation in systems that privilege that have denied this ideological truth.
  • I will NOT proclaim “all lives matter” – because while all lives may matter to God, we are not God, and need reminders to elevate the ones our actions have marginalized.
  • I will NOT proclaim “all lives matter” – because it is not yet a reality that is true.

So as I prepare to proclaim the truth of the Gospel this Sunday, I know I will be asked that question: “Jonathan, but don’t all lives matter… to God?”

My response will be:

Yes. All lives matter to God. But this Sunday, as we mark the one-year memorial of the death of Michael Brown, it is more important than ever to proclaim boldly that #BlackLivesMatter, to join our voices in solidarity with those marginalized, to which Scripture and our Standards do bind us. Yes. All lives matter to God – so let our witness be one that elevates those who have been marginalized by standing up to those who try and negate that truth.

So this Sunday, and every day, will you proclaim #BlackLivesMatter? The world is watching…

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5 thoughts on “One Year Later: Why I still won’t say #AllLivesMatter in my sermons

  1. “I will proclaim #BlackLivesMatter – because when Jesus did not elevate the lives of the rich, the religious leaders, or those in power, it wasn’t because he said their lives didn’t matter. That was blatantly obvious to the systems of the day, and he did not need to elevate the powerful even more.” – well said. My value is affirmed on a regular basis. But those who don’t benefit from systemic privilege need to be elevated even more. “On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment.” 1Cor 12:12

    • Thank for your comment Marla! That passage from 1 Corinthians is very helpful to this conversation as well.

      I really appreciate Paul’s distinction here, where he says parts that we THINK/SEEM (δοκέω) (to) have less significance need to be treated with special honor.

      Christians can think all they want about parts of the body that they might THINK have less significance (historically women, Catholics, Irish, African-Americans, LGBTQIA, etc)… but it doesn’t change the reality that each is part of the body united in Christ. Whether or not we think those parts are significant ultimately won’t matter… they are a part of the body and are significant to Christ. Period.

  2. As always, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I too was a “all lives matter” person, until I read an article (or more) that helped me understand my own need and reaction to why I wanted to change #BlackLivesMatter so quickly. Those reflections can be daunting but are very powerful. Just yesterday I was asked to preach this week and I’ve been wondering what my focus should be. Perhaps I’ve found it 🙂

  3. You’ve articulated very well the unease I’ve felt around “All Lives Matter”, but hadn’t paused long enough to figure out why. Your posts frequently cause me to change the way I view the world.

  4. Pingback: Back to the Basics with #BlackLivesMatter | Momentum

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