Black Lives Matter: 24 Biblical Considerations
Should Christians Use the Term "Black Lives Matter"?
Do black lives matter? On the face of it, it seems like a fairly straight forward question that should simply be answered with a resounding: of course. Any Christian who affirms the image of God should be quick to oppose racism in any form. In that sense, Christians should be the first ones to say: black lives matter.
But it doesn’t take long to realize the BLM movement has snowballed into something much larger, and much more complicated. When answering that question today you are now responding to a whole movement. A movement that speaks on policing in America and use of force, the presence of systemic racism, white privilege, protestors, looting, reparations, housing policies, the prison system, the war on drugs, social services, whether or not statues of confederate soldiers should be torn down, and sundry other issues. Even more difficult, the official BLM movement has explicitly embraced ideologies that are contrary to a Christian worldview, such as LGBT perspectives, and critical race theory and intersectionality. So how can Christians partner with such an enterprise without endorsing sin or endorsing something that we really don't know enough about to take a firm stand on?
My burden in writing this is a pastoral one. I am no political nor judicial expert. I do not pretend to know everything and admittedly feel perplexed by much of it. I, along with the apostle Paul, admit that I only “know in part.” How are we to know what to believe? Who are we to listen to? I am reminded of the Father’s admonition to Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration, “This is my Son, listen to him!” Luke 9:35. My aim in this is to provide Biblical categories for us to think through these complicated issues so that we may first and foremost “Listen to him!”
"Your Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path"
Imagine a boat trying to navigate through a rocky channel in the dead of night. There are deadly cliffs on either side that could destroy the boat, but there are also lighthouses positioned along the coastline to help ships navigate through safely. The captain may not be able to see precisely where all the rocks are, but he knows if he threads between the lighthouses on each side he will survive. That’s what I am aiming to do with each of these points: place lighthouses on each side of this issue that keep us from veering to an extreme and making a shipwreck of our faith.
24 Biblical Beacons:
1. All people are descended from Adam and made in the image of God and are therefore deserving of respect and protection from discrimination/abuse. Genesis 1:27, 3:20; 9:6; Malachi 2:10; Acts 17:26. Thus, Biblically speaking, there is only one “race,” but numerous ethnicities. For more on this, read here.
2. All people of all ethnicities are sinners, capable of any sort of depravity. Gen 6:5; Rom 3:9-18, 23; Eph 2:1-3.
3. Diverse ethnicities display the creativity of God and should be celebrated. No one ethnicity is superior to another. Rev 5:9-10; 7:9-12. God has always intended for His people to be comprised of many diverse ethnicities. Gen 12:1-3; Isaiah 42:6; 49:6; 52:10; 60:3; John 8:12; Acts 13:47; 26:23; Rom 1:16.
4. Ethnic animosity, racism, tribalism, and xenophobia are sins that have been present from the beginning and must be repented of. Numbers 12:1; Acts 6:1-7; Gal 2:11-14; Rom 15:7; Eph 2:14.
5. The world, the flesh and the devil together can codify any sin into systemic structures, so that economies, governments, jobs, schools—any institution—can perpetuate, encourage, and ingrain sin more thoroughly in the hearts of those participating in it. Rom 1:28-32; 2 Cor 4:4; John 12:31; Titus 3:3; 1 John 2:15; 1 Cor 2:12; Gal 4:3; Acts 19:24-25. For more on this, read here.
6. We are all morally responsible/capable creatures who will answer to God for how we lived. No one will escape this judgment because he was a certain ethnicity or a part of a majority or minority culture. Matt 25:31-32; Romans 14:10; 2 Cor 5:10; Romans 2:6-11; Gal 6:7.
7. Governmental authority is a gift given by God. Gen 9:6; Judges 21:25; 2 Sam 23:3-4; Proverbs 29:2; Romans 13:1-7; 1 Pet 2:13-14.
8. Governmental authority has the right to use force (including lethal force) to punish evil. Gen 9:6; Rom 13:3-4; 1 Pet 2:14.
9. Governmental authority and its use of force can be (and often is) abused. Rev 13:1-8; Daniel 7:1-8; Mark 6:14-29; Mark 15.
10. It is the responsibility of God’s people to practice God’s “justice and righteousness” by defending and advocating for the most vulnerable, abused, and destitute in society. Genesis 18:19; 1 Kings 10:9; 2 Chron 9:8; Psalms 33:5; 89:14; 97:2; 103:6; Proverbs 31:8-9; Isaiah 1:17; Jer 22:3; Amos 5:24; Matt 25:31-46; James 1:27.
11. It is the responsibility of God’s people to not overcome evil with evil, but with good. Matt 5:43-48; Rom 12:14-21.
12. It is the responsibility of God’s people to submit to the governing authorities as long as they are not coercing us to sin. Romans 13:1-7; 1 Pet 2:13-14; Acts 4:19-20; 5:29.
13. It is the responsibility of God’s people—black, brown, and white—to find their primary identity in their citizenship in the kingdom of God, not in their ethnicity or culture. All cultures must submit themselves to the culture of God’s Kingdom—which is not synonymous with white, Anglo-European culture. Gal 3:28, 6:15; Rom 3:30; 1 Cor 12:12; 1 Cor 9:19-22; 1 Cor 10:32; Eph 2:11-22. For more on this, read here.
14. It is the responsibility of God’s people to overcome racial hostilities within the church. If we do not, we compromise the gospel. Eph 2:11-22; Acts 6:1-7; Gal 2:11-14. For more on this, read here.
15. It is the responsibility of God’s people to both weep with those who weep and mourn the lawlessness of our land. Rom 12:15; Ps 119:136. We should not speak carelessly like Job’s friends so that we sound like we are calloused to those who are suffering nor should act like our personal experience is monolithic. Prov 25:11; Col 4:5-6; Eph 4:29. We should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. James 1:19-20. For more on this, read here.
16. It is the responsibility of God’s people to acknowledge the depths of our own sin, which may include the sin of racism, and to repent of it. 1 John 1:8-10. We who have experienced the grace of God in Jesus Christ should be more aware of our own sinfulness than anyone else’s and quickest to admit it. This means that we, more than anyone else, should be open to the idea that we may be harboring racism in our heart. Matt 7:1-5; 1 Tim 1:12-15; Luke 18:9-14.
17. It is the responsibility of God’s people not to participate in showcasing our deeds of righteousness simply to earn the approval of men. Matt 6:1-4; Luke 6:26; Gal 1:10.
18. It is the responsibility of God’s people to not bear false testimony, slander, or gossip, nor to rush to judgment hastily when reliable information is insufficient. Eph 4:25; Eph 4:31; Col 3:9; Prov 18:17.
19. It is the responsibility of God’s people to not endorse or make it look like we approve of what God hates. Rom 1:28-32; 1 Cor 13:6; 1 Cor 6:9-10.
20. While it is possible to be sinning unintentionally (Numbers 15:28), the Bible teaches that individuals are not held morally culpable or responsible for the sins of past generations. Deut. 24:16; Jer. 31:29-30; Ez 18:1-32. For more on this, read here. This, however, does not exclude the category of corporate confession of sin. Dan 9:20; Neh 1:4-6.
21. It is the responsibility of God’s people to use our resources to love our neighbor as ourselves, which includes using our time, energy, and money. Luke 10:25-37; Matt 22:34-40.
22. It is the responsibility of God’s people to pursue this love of neighbor first and foremost within the church, and secondarily in the wider community. John 13:34-35; 1 John 3:11-18; 1 John 4:20; Gal 6:10. This means that before we move to correct injustices “out there,” which often have little to do with our own sin and require little from us, we should first look “in here” and see if there is anyone whom we have sinned against within our community and seek repentance and restoration. Matt 5:23-26.
23. It is the responsibility of God’s people to submit to God’s Word in all matters, whether or not it endorses our perspective, political agenda, or conveniences. 2 Tim 3:16-17.
24. It is the responsibility of God’s people to both be angered and sorrowful over injustice, but to remain joyful and peaceful in the Lord. We do not grieve as others do who have no hope, but know that our ultimate hope resides in our coming King, so we can “Be angry, and…not sin”. Eph 4:26; 2 Cor 6:10; John 16:33; 1 Thess 5:16; Matt 6:34; James 1:20; 1 Thess 4:13.
Let Each One Be Fully Decided in His Own Mind
So, where does this all leave us? Should Christians use the term “black lives matter”? This, of course, is a different question than the question "do black lives matter?" The answer to that is obvious: of course. However, should Christians actively use the term "black lives matter" when it now comes with the attendant baggage? I think using or not using the specific term black lives matter is finally a matter of conscience where “each one should be fully decided in his own mind,” Rom 14:5. We must let God’s Word calibrate our conscience as we examine the situation. That will lead some Christians to feel that their consciences permit them to align themselves more closely with the BLM movement while other Christians do not. In this we must commit to, “not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother,” Rom 14:17. So Christians who have put a BLM logo on their profile picture should not look down on those who didn’t, and those who didn’t shouldn’t assume the worst about those who did.
What isn’t a matter of Christian liberty, however, are the 24 Biblical principles laid out above. To return to our boat analogy, the channel between the rocky shoals may be wide enough for different boats to take slightly different paths, but there are boundaries. If a boat ignores a lighthouse, it will end in the boat destroying itself. If someone is distancing themselves from the BLM movement because they are harboring racism in their heart, they are in danger of making a shipwreck of their faith. If someone is participating in the BLM movement only because they love the approval that comes from the world, they are in danger of making a shipwreck of their faith. Neither of those two are allowing God's Word to be their final authority (even if they think they are).
If someone were to ask me “do black lives matter?” I would likely answer, "Of course, black lives matter. I do disagree with some perspectives the movement as a whole holds, however. Maybe you could explain to me what you mean when you use that term?" And depending how they answer, I may need to clarify my answer in line with the Biblical principles laid out above. The president of the seminary I graduated from recently released an article that does a good job of highlighting the nuance needed by Christians who want to affirm what is good in the BLM movement, while distancing ourselves from what is wrong.
If you’d like some resources to explore this issue further:
- Here is a 17 minute video of Phil Vischer explaining his understanding of what constitutes "systemic racism" in America.
- Here is a more critical evaluation of recent views on race from Voddie Baucham.
- Here is a more sympathetic evaluation of the BLM movement from Mika Edmondson.