Black Lives Matter or All Lives Matter?

This one was really tough to write.

It seemed that every time I had my story together, some conflicting information would emerge and disrupt my narrative entirely. (I changed the title three times.) Maybe that’s a sign that I wasn’t (or I’m not) qualified to write it. Either way…

 

Let’s start with a personal confession.

Up until a few years ago, I was solidly in the “all lives matter” camp. As a Christian, I have long felt that this country celebrates death way more than it should, be it violence on television, (shows, movies, or the news), abortion rights, or our infatuation with the military (north or south of the Mason-Dixon line). To me, “Black Lives Matter” seemed like an unnecessary division – (of course black lives mattered. Every life matters. That’s like saying, “people with red hair need oxygen.”) Maybe “Black Lives Matter, Too” would have registered a little better for me, maybe not. Regardless, it never really made sense to me until one key event a little over two years ago.

On February 14th, 2018, Nikolas Cruz walked into his alma mater, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and began shooting people. He killed 14 students, three staff members, and wounded 17 others.

It wasn’t long after that it seemed like the entire country (or at least half the country) erupted in empathy. Thousands of people marched on Washington, DC. Every talk show picked up the issues of school violence, gun policy, and mental health. Schools were bussing children to public demonstrations to show support for the victims and the cause. And a lot of the rhetoric focused on gun control.

When violent instances such as this stir up public support for gun control, the gun community will often point to the crime and murder rates of cities that already have tight gun restrictions. So this time, on a curiosity, I searched for “crime victims in Chicago.” I came across a website that profiled every murder victim in the Chicago area. The website, which has since been taken down, would sometimes show a picture of the victim (from when they were living), along with basic demographic information: age, ethnicity, date of birth / death, cause of death, etc.

I scrolled through it, and here’s what I saw:

  • young black man
  • young black man
  • young black man
  • young black man
  • young Hispanic man
  • young black man
  • young black man
  • young black man
  • young black woman
  • young black man
  • young black man
  • young white man
  • young black man
  • young black man
  • young black man

I scrolled for about 20 minutes, and the pattern never changed. And, then, it hit me.

At Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, fourteen kids were murdered (11 white, 2 Hispanic, 1 Asian). In Chicago, that level of violence would be considered a bad week. Yes, the Douglas shooting was a single incident, but Chicago was losing children to murder at about a rate of two per day. Fourteen kids died in a high school shooting, and the country cried in solidarity. The same number of people died in a bad week in Chicago, and no one blinked.

Why?

Does the time of death (or close proximity to other deaths) make one death more impactful than the other? Not to the people who knew the victims. Where was the media coverage or the protests or rallies in Chicago?

My guess: the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students were mostly middle-class and white, and the teens who died in Chicago were mostly poor and black.

Pope Francis had been saying for a long time that the world does not care about the poor. And at this point, I realized that in this country, people just don’t care about black people as much as they care about white people.

But yet, God certainly does, and He calls us to do the same.

 

The Bible verse you’re probably thinking of…

You may have seen the meme floating around about the Parable of the Lost Sheep (Luke 15:4). “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?”

Luke15.4 Image2

Seems timely and relevant to me.

It doesn’t mean, “abandon the 99, or throw them to the wolves and go after the one.” It means, “the 99 are okay as-is. Go and help the one that needs it.” And in this case, it’s our black or brown brothers and sisters in Christ that need help.

 

But what about the violence / looting / fires?

Depending on where you get your news (or even the social and political orientation of your Facebook friends), there appears to be two different “personas” to Black Lives Matter, and that’s what made this so tough to write. Because depending on where you look, Black Lives Matter is either a peaceful call for recognizing human dignity or a battle cry for public destruction.

You don’t have to search very hard to see articles and opinion pieces supporting the movement or denouncing it. White people, black people, and everyone in between have all weighed in… on both sides.

And it’s not even always clear who is doing the violence. Jesus warned us against “wolves in sheep’s clothing” (Matthew 7:15) The Pew Research Center has some interesting surveys on it. Here and here.

When I set out to write this post, one of my objectives was to speak out against the violence. So let me just take a minute and check that box:

  • The violence is wrong, whether done by a man in a uniform or a man in a mask.
  • There are lots of ways to protest (and vent emotion) without destruction, and even ways to do it without breaking the law.
  • And yes, I recognize that police can also do their jobs without murdering people in custody. I haven’t lost sight of that.

 

Doesn’t anyone respect authority anymore?

I spent some time looking around for Bible verses about being a good citizen and respecting the authorities of powers above us, and I came across a list of 90. Some were right-on, others were a little bit of a stretch. Here are a few that stood out:

  • “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” (Romans 13:1)
  • “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people.” (1 Peter 2:13-15)
  • “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Hebrews 13:17)

Then I sent a draft of my post to a good friend and Christian author who’s much more educated about the issue than I am. She pointed out that the very scripture passages I highlighted had been used to advocate for slavery years ago. She had a point…

Up until she told me this, I really thought that the only Bible verses that were used to perpetuate slavery were those that specifically mentioned slaves. How wrong I was. (The Bible Museum in Washington DC has a copy of a “Slave Bible“, which were given to slaves to encourage their Christian faith. These Bibles, though, have been redacted of anything related to freedom. A senior employee at the Museum told me that even the entire book of Exodus had been removed. That is a horrible offense.

“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.”  (Revelation 22:18-19)

One of the other challenges I had in writing this is, “where does this all end? How do you know when it’s enough? How do you know when debts have been paid and everything is ‘fair’?” I think that’s a relevant question today, as we try to figure out what it would look like when in our country “black lives matter.” What would true racial equality look like?

The idea of an unarmed white man in handcuffs being strangled to death by the police seems unthinkable. (I haven’t been able to find any examples of it happening in recent history.) Imagine the outcry. Seriously, take a minute and try to envision how the country would react if a white man had a counterfeit $20 in his wallet and was then cuffed and executed on the spot.

Now, I certainly don’t condone, agree with, or in any way support the violence and destruction, but maybe it’s a good sign that when a black man dies in that fashion, the entire country is outraged. Maybe that’s the price of a murder like that: “an unarmed black man gets murdered by police while in custody, and cities burn.”

I doubt it’s a “fair” trade-off, but maybe with the stakes that high, we can all remember that black people are, in fact, people. And just like white people, their lives matter.

I look at the divide on this issue, and it’s like watching two of your friends fight – you know why they’re fighting, and you know you could solve the problem if they’d just listen to you, but still, they insist on punching each other, and it makes you sad.

 

I just want to be this guy

Rahul lives near Dupont Circle in Washington, DC. During the protests, police had corralled a group of protesters and were making bulk arrests for violating curfew. (That night, they arrested nearly 200 people.)

Outside of Rahul’s home, people were being beaten and tear gassed. So, without thinking, Rahul opened his doors and started rushing people into his home. At least seventy (yes, 70) people came in. And then, after thinking, he brought them milk to help with the tear gas. He ordered pizzas for them. He let them stay overnight, until the curfew lifted at 6:00 am the next morning.  This was during the height of COVID-19 fears, when most people weren’t even letting their family members into their houses.

Does any of this sound familiar? It should.

First, Genesis 18:8: When Abraham was sitting at the entrance to his tent during the heat of the day, God and two angels came to visit him. Abraham begged them to stay a while and rest as he prepared some food. Verse 8: “He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them…”

More importantly, the story continues. God and His angels were on their way to Sodom and Gomorrah to destroy the cities for their wickedness. After Abraham’s adamant pleading, God told Abraham that He would spare the city if He could find ten righteous people living there. And at some point between Abraham’s tent and the cities, He departed and the two angels proceed to Sodom, where Abraham’s nephew (named Lot) lived with his wife and two daughters.

When the angels arrived at the city, they found Lot sitting by the gate. He begged them to stay with him as a guest, but they said they were going to stay the night in the town square. Lot insisted that they stay in his house instead of a public space, and the angels agreed. When the locals saw the two angels (who, to them, looked like ordinary men) go into Lot’s house, they tried to break down the door to gangrape them. Long story short, the angels blinded the villagers so Lot and his family could escape before the city was destroyed. (Apparently, there weren’t ten righteous people in the whole city, but God still removed the four righteous so they wouldn’t face His judgement. That should give us all hope.)

Out of the goodness of his heart, Abraham welcomed strangers into his house. That act of kindness opened the door to save the life of his nephew and his family. Out of the goodness of his heart, Lot pulled people off the street and protected them in his house. That decision saved his life, and the lives of his family.

Rahul acted very similarly. Do you think black lives mattered to Rahul? Definitely. And I’m guessing that when Rahul looked out at the people being beaten and gassed, he didn’t see black or white people; he saw people.

Regardless of what side of the media-pushed divide you may fall on, Rahul did the right thing and helped people in need. And I’m glad his story is being told. It gives us an honest and humble picture of what to aspire to as anger and divisiveness are pushed as normal.

Don’t steal. Don’t murder. Put out the fires. Sweep up the glass. Give a bottle of water to someone who’s thirsty.

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