I’ve been seeing various forms of a meme/image going around on my Facebook feed, shared by well-meaning Christians. It pops up every time there’s another spark of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. The image varies, but the text is the same:
“2000 years ago, Jesus ended the debate on which lives matter. He died for all.”
It seems to be shared in the same way the hashtag All Lives Matter gets shared–by people who want to love on everyone, regardless of their race. And on the surface, it’s true! Jesus did die for everyone. His sacrifice is the only reason anyone can follow God–because we are all sinners, and therefore we cannot reach God on our own.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.Romans 3:23-24, NIV
So if it’s true that Jesus died for everyone, why is it a problem to say it?
I would like to draw your attention to a parable Jesus gave us to explain what it means to love our neighbor as ourselves. This parable can be found in Luke 10:25-37, and it’s a fairly well-known parable within Christian circles. Basically, what happens is this: A man is robbed and beaten, left on the road to die. A priest and a Levite, both presumably good Jewish leaders, see this beaten man and pass him by. Then a Samaritan saw the man, bandaged and disinfected his wounds, brought him to an inn to continue caring for him, and then paid for the man to continue to receive care from the innkeeper until he could return from his journey.
After telling this parable, Jesus asks his audience, an expert in the law, which person was a neighbor to the beaten man.
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”Luke 10:37, NIV
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
When a well-meaning Christian responds to #BlackLivesMatter with some variance of “All Lives Matter,” they are not wrong. They are not trying to be mean or insensitive. But they are missing the point.
In the culture of the time and place Jesus became human to die for us, for all of us, Jews were oppressed–they were the ones who were subjugated by Romans. They could get wrongfully incarcerated and expect little to no justice. This didn’t always happen–not ALL Romans were bad–but it happened enough that it’s a clear trend even in the Bible. You can see an example of this when Paul and Silas get arrested and beaten for removing a spirit from a possessed slave, and then the soldiers are scared half to death when they learn they had just beaten Roman citizens and not random Jews (Acts 16:16-40).
If you were to witness this situation, if you were a Jew who saw fellow Jews beaten and arrested for helping someone who could not help herself, would you not think something along the lines of “Jewish lives matter”? When you saw that the only reason Paul and Silas received any form of justice was not because they were treated unfairly, but rather because they were Romans, would you not want to shout from the rooftops that “Jewish lives matter”?
In our current American culture, Black Americans have been wrongfully oppressed for hundreds of years. They were stolen from their homes and thrown on ships to be sold to white Americans as slaves–assuming they survived the journey. Then they were beaten, raped, separated from their families, and enslaved for so many years it’s not really fathomable for must of us. When the country went to war with itself to finally prove that Black lives do matter, it worked–a little. The problem is that Black lives have never seemed to matter as much as white lives. And this is a big problem.
When we respond to #BlackLivesMatter with “ALL lives matter,” we are being the priest and the Levite, passing a clearly beaten man on the road and ignoring him. Instead of looking at why this hashtag is being shared and popularized right now, instead of seeing the evidence of severe, systematic, ingrained racism that Black Americans have been experiencing first-hand for hundreds of years, we are dismissing it, and in doing so, dismissing them. We are saying yes, Black lives do matter, but not enough for me to do anything about the reality that in America, they matter less than white lives.
Black Americans don’t need our pity. They don’t need us to pat ourselves on the back because we posted a picture of a cross with the hashtag “All Lives Matter” on social media. They need us to examine our prejudices, to move past our defensive shouts of “But I’m not bad! Not ALL white people are bad!” And they need us to acknowledge our sin. Because if we are ALL sinners, saved only by the grace and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who was wrongfully accused of blasphemy, beaten, tortured, and murdered on a cross, then we need to examine our sin of racism–no matter how hard it is for us to see–and repent.
If you would like to learn more about the Black experience in America and what you can do to affect change, a number of reading lists and suggestions have gone out, including the following:
- Antiracist Reading Recommendations from Loyalty Bookstores: https://bookshop.org/lists/antiracist-reading-recs
- An Antiracist Reading List from Ibram X. Kendi: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/29/books/review/antiracist-reading-list-ibram-x-kendi.html
- African American Literature Book Club, which has resources in a variety of formats: https://aalbc.com/
- The Bail Project, Inc., which combats mass incarceration, including those going on due to the protests across the nation: https://bailproject.org/
- A list of Black-Owned Bookstores to Support: https://blog.libro.fm/black-owned-bookstores-to-support-right-now-and-always/