Black Lives Matter or black lives matter?
February 3, 2016
I have been weighing for some time the possible benefits and dangers of writing something about the current debate over race relations generally and within the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) specifically. The ice of this discussion is notably thin so there is little or no room for error either real or perceived.
My goal in this piece is to address the problem of Christians associating with and/or promoting the Black Lives Matter (BLM) organization and perhaps make a suggestion or two along the way. Since some of my brothers and sisters within the PCA are positively inclined toward BLM to the extent of association and promotion I believe it is important to openly discuss what it is exactly that BLM promotes.
There have already been some excellent articles pointing out some of the problems with BLM:
From the BLM website:
Black Lives Matter is a unique contribution that goes beyond extrajudicial killings of Black people by police and vigilantes. It goes beyond the narrow nationalism that can be prevalent within some Black communities, which merely call on Black people to love Black, live Black and buy Black, keeping straight cis Black men in the front of the movement while our sisters, queer and trans and disabled folk take up roles in the background or not at all. Black Lives Matter affirms the lives of Black queer and trans folks, disabled folks, Black-undocumented folks, folks with records, women and all Black lives along the gender spectrum. It centers those that have been marginalized within Black liberation movements. It is a tactic to (re)build the Black liberation movement.
Among BLM’s “principles” is the statement, “We are committed to disrupting the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure.” BLM also states that they are “committed to fostering a queer-affirming network…with the intention of freeing ourselves from the grip of heteronormative thinking.” They also state their intention of “doing the work required to dismantle cis-gendered privilege and uplift Black transfolk…” I could go on but you get the idea.
There is no question that BLM advocates positions which are antithetical to God's Word.
I am left wondering how it is even an option for a Christian to support, openly or otherwise, any organization which pursues such abominable ends.
The site is filled with the sorts of inflammatory language which if voiced by whites on behalf of “Whites” would be rightly considered racist and divisive. If a redemptive conversation is truly desired then racist and deliberately provocative rhetoric ought to be shelved by all participants.
It seems to me a particularly condescending form of paternalism for whites to excuse behavior in one race which they would never tolerate in their own.
As many of my PCA brothers and sisters know, our denomination is currently working to draft a statement of corporate repentance for racism. It is understandable why. Southern Presbyterianism has a sad history of racism extending well into the 20th century as various churches openly advocated racial segregation and other unacceptable positions on race. Indeed southern Presbyterians do a disservice to our brothers and sisters as well as to our Lord when this history is either denied or excused. We also err when we deny that the racism of the 1960’s, for instance, has absolutely no bearing on present reality for many of our brothers and sisters.
However I am torn on the propriety of a corporate statement of repentance. Certainly there are times when whole bodies ought to corporately repent of sins. This was the case with Old Covenant Israel at various times. But it seems to me that the PCA does not correspond in this sense to Israel under the Old Covenant. There are PCA churches across the country which have no history of racism. A rather large percentage of PCA churches were not even in existence until the 1980’s, 90’s, and beyond. How would it be anything other than empty symbolism (at best) for churches to repent of sins for which they share no guilt? I cannot help but think that such a statement would tend to empty repentance of its actual force. Otherwise, the PCA ought to also compose a statement of corporate repentance for the theological liberalism and rejection of biblical authority which characterized so many northern Presbyterians in the 1920’s and 30’s and southern Presbyterians in the 1960’s and 70’s.
Certainly there are churches within the PCA who do indeed have a history of racism. Those churches by all means should be urged to, if they have not already, openly acknowledge this past and offer sincere repentance. And that repentance ought to be more than a carefully worded statement. It ought to be a repentance expressed in action as is all genuine repentance. That seems to me to be a much more biblical and therefore meaningful approach to repentance.
But there is something by way of public statement that the PCA can do which would avoid the vagaries and errors of a statement of denominational repentance. Over the years the PCA has produced clear statements condemning such sins as abortion and homosexuality. It would be helpful, I believe, to have an equally clear statement condemning racism as a sin incompatible with the gospel of Jesus and unwelcome in the PCA.
I am blessed to serve a church which has in the past and continues to this day to make genuine progress in bridging various ethnic and socio-economic boundaries in our community. And while we have made strategic choices toward this goal, those labors have all been within the orbit of the ordinary means of grace. We’ve joined no national movements nor engaged in accusations and recriminations. We have, by God’s grace, avoided treating each other as ethnic monoliths. Does it look like the wedding supper of the Lamb yet? Of course not! But neither liberation theology nor partnerships with the ungodly have been necessary to make measurable progress.
I trust that any church or office-bearer in the PCA who has clearly held and advanced the sin of racism would face discipline from the denomination. I trust also that all churches in the PCA will make clear that racism is no more welcome within the fellowship than are the sins of adultery or slander.
During these days I pray that the PCA will not be taken off course by the siren song of the social gospel. I pray that we will be aware of the failures of past generations of Presbyterians which has led to grievous apostasy for an untold number of souls.