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Yes, Black Lives Matter, But What Is The Question?9 min read

April 22, 2015 6 min read

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Yes, Black Lives Matter, But What Is The Question?9 min read

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Two months ago in my neighborhood, just a few doors down from my house, a 16-year-old African-American was shot by police. He allegedly pointed a gun at an officer when he and four other perpetrators were caught breaking into my neighbor’s residence. The officer shot and killed him in self-defense. Other guns were found in the stolen vehicle they had driven and parked outside the house. Clearly, these were morally corrupt people. But his friends & family have gone to newspapers, social media, and held vigils. “Justice!” they shouted. “Black Lives Matter!” “We demand answers!”

Yes, black lives certainly do matter. And the #blacklivesmatter hashtag campaign was started to shed light on instances of police brutality, excessive force, and the intentional targeting of African Americans. And like nearly every other movement, surely there is some truth to the message. To target and harass any human being simply because of ethnicity is evil. But honesty also compels us to acknowledge that the #blacklivesmatter movement in some small circles (such as the violent Ferguson rioters) has become an excuse for breaking the law.

With race relations seemingly worsening in America, Christians need to remember some important truths about race, justice, law, and God’s Word. You see, this discussion isn’t really about race for the Christian – it’s about being faithful to Christ in the midst of sinful society.

Racism Has Been Marginalized In America, But Racism Still Exists Because Sin Still Exists.

It is a mistake to assume that racism has been eradicated in our society. Though the days of government supported segregation are over, the painful memories they created still linger. Many still remember having separate water fountains, schools, cinema seating, and restrictive voting regulations. And though today’s pluralistic society has rightfully made it taboo, racism still lurks in the shadows. We are naive to think that people are not sometimes discriminated against because of ethnicity. It happens to me in predominantly-black Montgomery, where whites represent only 37% of the metropolitan population[1], and it happens to others in predominantly white areas of the country.

Racism exists in America today because sin still exists. Sin makes us selfish. It makes us prideful. It makes us self-absorbed. The gospel says to love your neighbor as yourself (Jas. 2:8), whereas sin says to love yourself more than your neighbor. The gospel says we are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:28), whereas sin says I am better than you. The gospel says to treat others the way we want to be treated (Matt. 7:12), whereas sin says to treat others as lesser beings.

We may define racism as the “the explicit or implicit belief or practice that qualitatively distinguishes or values one ethnicity over the other”[2]. That’s sinful. And thus Christians must respond with compassion when we hear of the pain the sin of racism has inflicted on our fellow man.

Black Lives Matter, And So Do All Other Lives. 

Sending a barrage of bullets into the body of a man who is no threat to you is an abuse of power. The shooting of Walter Scott in April 2015 reminds us of the need for greater accountability when using deadly force. Yes, black lives matter, but what about other lives? We cannot be inconsistent in our valuation of human life, otherwise we are just as prejudiced as everyone else.

What about the roughly million unborn babies that are murdered in America every year[3]? Do those lives matter? Where is the #babylivesmatter movement? Where is the outrage over the estimated 56 million babies who were torn apart in the womb since 1973 because of selfishness of mothers and fathers and doctors who cared more about themselves than the innocent?

We cannot forget that we are all made in the image of God (Jas. 3:9) and that we all share both a human father (Acts 17:26) and a heavenly Father (Mal. 2:10). Every life matters: the African-American, the white American, the law-enforcement officer, the unborn child, the sex trafficking victim, the illegal alien, the abuse victim. Every life has worth, and to value one over the other will always be sinful.

Law Enforcement Exists To Enforce The Law.

I am thankful that most of America does not look like the streets of Ferguson, Missouri in late 2014. I am thankful that we largely have a government that enforces justice relatively well, despite the rare isolated instances of corruption and abuse.

God has ordained government to execute justice and maintain order (Rom. 13:1-7). It is a high calling to be a law enforcement officer. We need to allow law enforcement do its job (v. 1). To resist legitimate authority is to resist God’s servants (v. 2). Good citizens should not have to fear police officers (v. 3). Even when we feel law enforcement is abusing their power, the Christian must reasonably submit to their authority (Paul wrote Romans 13 to Christians living in tyranical Rome, after all). Law enforcement must sometimes use lethal force when executing judgment (v. 4), and since law enforcement officers are human, sometimes their judgment is wrong. Regardless we must be in subjection because government is necessary to human flourishing (Rom. 13:5-7; Matt. 22:21).

Law Enforcement Is Not Above The Law It Enforces.

In my experience with law enforcement officers, most exercise restraint, caution, and even compassion. I do not fear police officers. Yet the word “enforcement” implies power and authority, and police officers are not immune to abusing their office. We live in a world corrupted by sin – sometimes sin in the lives of powerful people.

John the Baptizer warned soldiers not to “extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages” (Luke 3:14). John knew their temptation to abuse their power and use excessive force for greediness. He was later executed for telling the king that his position did not excuse him from the sin of adultery (Matt. 14:4). Government is charged by God not to be a terror (Rom. 13:3), and will ultimately be charged by God’s law.

Sometimes police abuse their power. We cannot control them, but we can control ourselves. Knowing you will stand before Christ on judgment day (2 Cor. 5:10), how should the Christian respond to an abusive law enforcement officer? If you are going to be killed on the basis of your ethnicity anyway, would you rather stand before God knowing you submitted to the corrupt police officer (Romans 13:1-7), or would you rather stand before God because you refused to cooperate on that basis of your “dignity”? What would Jesus do (cf. 1 Pet. 2:21-25)?

To The Christian, “My People” Will Always Be Fellow Christians.

These days we hear the phrase, “my people” so often in reference to race. Yet Christians are colorblind people. We see in terms of souls and eternity. We are part of a family that does the will of the Father (Matt. 12:50).

When I became a Christian, I put every other earthly allegiance behind my loyalty to Christ and His people (the church). We are all equal in the eyes of God (Gal. 3:26-29). The only “people” I have today are God’s people. I cannot vote, support, defend, or antagonize simply because of skin color or ethnicity.

There Is No Honor In Dying While Committing Sin.

The worst thing that could ever happen to you is to die in sin (Luke 13:5; Rom. 3:23; 6:23). Eternally cursed is the man who died while committing a crime. There is no honor due the man who died the death of a wicked person (cf. Ex. 22:2), even if he did not deserve to die according to our secular justice system.

Those who are killed in the act of a crime are not martyrs for civil rights, they are just criminals who, while committing their crime, happened to be killed by what is sometimes the sinful or miscalculating hand of law enforcement. We mourn the eternal punishment they are now experiencing, since they died apart from the gospel (Rev. 20:15).

Maintaining personal dignity and pride is of little importance to the Christian.

The attitude that says, “I deserve respect because of my ethnicity – dignity at all costs” is fundamentally opposed to the gospel. Because Christ now lives in us (Gal. 2:20), He is now our model. Philippians 2:5-7 says,

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (ESV)

Jesus said,

The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (Matt. 23:11-12, ESV).

This matter of civil rights has everything to do with dignity. Yet Christians – who have been told not to resist an evil person (Matt. 5:39) – who have been charged to turn the other cheek (v. 39) – who have been commanded to be willing to give up the very clothes on our back (v. 40) – cannot make this movement about ourselves. We must love and serve our neighbor (v. 41; Matt. 22:39) and seek the best him, regardless of whether he is white, black, yellow, or purple – even if he is disrespecting us because of our own skin color.

The non-Christian demands personal dignity, claiming, “I deserve this.” But the Christian places dignity on others, regardless of whether they deserve it. The non-Christian demands to be treated as an equal. But the Christian understands that he is unworthy of respect (Acts 20:24) and is nothing compared to Christ (John 1:27).

Conclusion

The pain of racism reminds us that this world is not our home. We cherish the words of Paul,

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. (Rom. 8:18-22, ESV)

A political movement can never be a permanent fix to the fundamental sin problem. The gospel turns this movement upside down, saying, “This isn’t about me, it’s about my neighbor.”

Your comments are welcome and encouraged, even if they are in disagreement. However, please keep your comments relevant to the article. For my full comment policy, click here.

Photo Credit
Header Image: Credit Flickr Creative Commons User Scottlum.

Endnotes
[1] “American FactFinder”. United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2011-05-14.
[2] http://www.desiringgod.org/sermons/abortion-race-gender-and-christ
[3] http://www.nationalrighttolifenews.org/news/2014/01/abortion-statistics-united-states-data-and-trends/#.VTZcHa1Viko

Ben Giselbach is the pulpit minister at the Edgewood church of Christ in Columbus, GA. He and his wife Hannah have two children, Ezra & Colleyanna. Ben is a graduate of Freed-Hardeman University and has returned to pursue his MDiv. He has written three books in his You Are A Theologian Series: Thinking Right about the Bible, Thinking Right about God, and Thinking Right about Salvation.
7 Comments
  1. Scott Shifferd Jr.

    Amen. As long as there is hate, those who hate will find anything different about you to hate. Among the most apparent characteristics is a person's skin. The love of Christ as demonstrated in the Gospel is the only answer. Love because God loves you. Forgive because God forgives you.

  2. Mike

    Excellent work brother.

  3. Jayly M. Jackson

    Brother, I am inclined to agree with you, very much so. But what I was hoping that you addressed was how, not in the world, but in the church how racism is prevalent. We have not done much in the church to bridge the gap. Some would disagree with me and that is ok. We could and should do better than we have. You, just like me, live in a place where there is a "white" church and a "black" church. As an African American, I have noticed over that over the years that when I have been apart of a "white" congregation, I tend to not be asked to work within the service (especially lead songs) or if I am, it is almost like the leadership really does not want me too. I see that many African Americans will gladly visit the "white" church doing gospel meetings, Ladies' days or VBS time but when the offer is extended to visit the "black" church for the same functions, no one from the "white" church attends. When I have brought this up in the past to the Shepherds, I have been told, "don't worry about that", or "it is hard enough to get people to show up here, let alone there", or "if we did not want you here, we would escort you across town", that last one was just said to me last year. I am just saying, with all that you stated, I hope that we (all races) would really take a hard look at ourselves more so than we do those that are on the outside because we should expect that from the world. It is hard to accept that this problem of racism is so prevalent in the church. Some might think that it is not, but it is...all around involving all races. Thanks for your work.

    • Ben

      Jayly - thanks for the good comment. I agree with you too, and am sorry about how discouraging it can be. Oh how I wish predominantly 'white' and 'black' congregations had better relationships with one another! It is one thing to have congregations that enjoy a similar cultural background, it is entirely another thing to allow those cultural differences to isolate brethren from one another. We have ways to go in becoming the "one" body of Christ!

    • westcobbHeather

      I am sad to hear this has been your experience. Our church is very diverse with many backgrounds and cultures represented. We have several different men in leadership positions who lead our worship as well as other programs around the church. We embrace each other as one body in Christ and not as individual races and genders. I am so sorry that has been your experience. You are right. We have to do better in the church.

      • Jayly Jackson

        Thank you for your thoughts. Just like you, I will not give up on the church and will continue to pray for her. Where is your congregation? Sounds like one my family would love to be a part of...

  4. wordpressap

    Thank you for a great article. I am especially grateful for all the scripture and not the "I think" 's usually seen in article about racism.

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