Matt Chandler, a megachurch pastor and President of the Acts 29 Network, recently criticised anyone not supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. Referring to Christian scepticism about the BLM movement, Chandler stated, ‘It’s like this brain-broke disjoint that’s got us acting absurd and then critiquing this movement as being evil and dark.’
JD Greear, President of the Southern Baptist Convention, also stated, ‘Southern Baptists, we need to say it clearly as a gospel issue: Black Lives Matter.’
Why has this simple three-word phrase become a political weapon of massive social and emotional upheaval?
Black Lives Matter is more than a slogan or hashtag alerting the world to racial injustice following the deaths of black man such as Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and George Floyd. BLM is a powerful political movement.
I do appreciate the strands of the BLM movement which speak up for the dignity, equality, and value of image-bearers of God. But before we jump onboard with a hashtag or movement, we as Christians must adequately understand what we are supporting. And under scrutiny, we see three critical contradictions between the historic Christian worldview and BLM.
1. Defining justice
God declares his love of justice in Isaiah 61:8. But is everything currently being decried as ‘injustice’ actually an issue of justice from a biblical perspective? We must define such terms carefully and understand the biblical precedent for justice; we need to know exactly what is worth taking to the streets and ‘fighting’ for.
Hebrew has two key expressions for ‘justice’. The first is tzedakah, sometimes translated righteousness or charity. It refers to our day-to-day choices and relationships, and what they reveal about the heart. How are we treating family members, colleagues and friends? Are we demonstrating fairness, generosity, and equality? That’s tzedakah.
A second word often translated as justice is mishpat. It means punishing wrongdoers and caring for the victims of unjust treatment. Mishpat concerns the world of judges, laws and law courts.
A foundational principle of mishpat is impartiality. Judges are commanded to ‘Hear the cases between your brothers, and judge righteously between a man and his brother or the alien who is with him. You shall not be partial in judgment. You shall hear the small and the great alike’ (Deuteronomy 1:16-17).
With these definitions in place, let’s look at some of the distinctives of the BLM approach to justice, as stated on blacklivesmatter.com:
We affirm the lives of Black queer and trans folks, disabled folks, undocumented folks, folks with records, women, and all Black lives along the gender spectrum. Our network centers those who have been marginalized within Black liberation movements.
We are guided by the fact that all Black lives matter, regardless of actual or perceived sexual identity, gender identity, gender expression, economic status, ability, disability, religious beliefs or disbeliefs, immigration status, or location. We make space for transgender brothers and sisters to participate and lead. We are self-reflexive and do the work required to dismantle cisgender privilege and uplift Black trans folk, especially Black trans women who continue to be disproportionately impacted by trans-antagonistic violence.
These are the issues BLM fights for. Anything departing from thisagenda will be seen as obstructive and unjust. It also means that bringing biblical truth and historic Christian doctrine to bear on any of these matters will be labelled as unjust.
2. Black life vs all life
I was a BLM proponent when it started in 2013. But I now realise that I was endorsing unbiblical and ungodly ideas. Yes, black lives matter and God is equally concerned with all human life. At no time should anyone be subjected to racism, shame, abuse, mistreatment or death because of their skin colour. All humanity bears the image of God and he desires a loving relationship with his creatures.
In Matthew 6 we read of our Heavenly Father’s knowledge and care for our physical needs and wellbeing. John 3:16 speaks of God’s love for the world and 2 Peter 3:9 affirms that he desires none to perish but all to repent. Nowhere in the bible is God’s self-sacrificial and redeeming love connected in any way to the colour of our skin.
The BLM organisation does not hold to this standard. According to their website
Black Lives Matter Foundation, Inc is a global organization in the US, UK, and Canada, whose mission is to eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes. By combating and countering acts of violence, creating space for Black imagination and innovation, and centering Black joy, we are winning immediate improvements in our lives.
The stated goal of Black Lives Matter is to work for the benefit ofBlackpeople,not all people. This jars with the focus of Scripture, which exhorts us to promote the good of all people, irrespective of color.
3. The deconstruction of the nuclear family
Scripture defines the nuclear family as starting with one man and one woman. In Genesis they are instructed to be fruitful, to multiply and to have dominion over the created order.
God’s conception of the family unit is repeated in the New Testament: ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’ (Ephesians 5:31).God’s intended and unchanging revelation of the nature of a family is of one man and one woman.
BLM again stands in contrast. In fact, they appear to be directly against the formation of a nuclear family as defined by Scripture:
‘We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and ‘villages’ that collectively care for one another, especially our children, to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable.’
This ‘disruption’ of the nuclear family structure intervenes in a system directly instituted by God. When we attempt to redesign God’s plan, we create idols and undermine the foundation of our societies.
A biblical case study of this is found in 1 Samuel 8. The judge and prophet Samuel appointed his sons to lead the nation of Israel. But his sons perverted justice, partly causing the nation of Israel to demand a king instead. This demand essentially attempted to redesign the theocratic government of Israel currently in place. But it only led to a downward spiral of war, corruption, exile and further separation from God.
Am I saying that Christians shouldn’t speak out against racial injustice? No. The idea of standing for justice isn’t new to Christianity. Throughout church history, Christians have committed themselves to the service of society’s vulnerable,leading the way in the establishment of schools, hospitals, orphanages and the like.
In Isaiah 10, God’s people are reprimanded for creating unjust laws that directly impacted orphans and widows – the most vulnerable group within that society.
James 1:27 says, ‘Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.’ Again, the highest regard for justice in society is put forward.
What’s new and concerning is the idea that we need organisations or movements to dictate how, when and where we must take a stand and what justice must look like.
Where there is any kind of injustice, Christians should responsibly use their voices to speak truth and campaign for justice. However, before we partner our finances, social media accounts or time with a ‘justice’ movement we must understand their ethos and perceive how they define ‘justice’
We should ask these questions:
Does this organisation support the biblical Christian worldview?
Is this hashtag ill-defined (even if well-meaning)?
Will my audience mistake the hashtag as support for something that doesn't align with the Christian worldview?
My hope is to see a distinctly Christian approach to justice and unity arise in this cultural moment, not one based on the world’s definitions.
Monique Chantal Duson is a public speaker and founder of the Center for Biblical Unity, addressing issues of race and the biblical worldview.