My daughters attend a public school that celebrates diversity. But sometimes when they come home with a new song, I point out that what they have learned was originally a Jesus song. Amazing Grace sung in Navajo without explanation of the words, I’ve Got Peace Like a River and We Shall Overcome taught without reference to their gospel origins. Now my girls will ask me: “mummy, is this a Jesus song?”
Some white Christians worry that saying the specific words “black lives matter” signals a wholesale embrace of progressive views. This is an understandable concern. The Black Lives Matter organisation presents racial justice as a package deal with celebrating LGBT romance and identity. We must carefully disentangle these differences. Still, many theological conservatives, including many black Christians, are glad to march under the “black lives matter” sign, because these words are a statement of truth.
Given the history of white evangelical failure to recognise black people as their equals before God, I gladly affirm that black lives matter, despite the fact an organisation with that name expresses other beliefs I cannot embrace. If there were a secular organisation called “unborn babies matter” I would say those words too, even if that organisation waved a rainbow flag, because unborn babies matter. If I were concerned people might think I affirmed everything else that organisation stood for, I’d simply add two words: unborn babies matter to Jesus.
Some respond with “all lives matter,” but this qualifier misses the point. For centuries, black people were treated like their lives didn’t matter. That’s the problem being addressed, the truth that needs to be upheld. Just as we recognise that unborn babies matter needs to be said. But we must also recognise that from a consistently atheistic perspective, no lives matter. Human beings have no natural rights. Just as spiders, chimpanzees, and hyenas have no natural rights.
Ultimately, black lives matter not because progressive people have told us so, but because the equal value of every human being, regardless of race, walks off the pages of scripture with the sound of a trumpet. Black lives matter enough for the Son of God to shed His blood so that black men and women might have eternal life with Him. Black lives matter because Jesus says so.
Christians must work for justice for historically crushed and marginalised people because Jesus came to bring good news to the poor, and to set at liberty those who are oppressed. Christians should be the first to fight for racial justice and to pursue love across racial difference, not because of any cultural pressure outside, but because of scriptural pressure inside. Black lives matter is at heart a Jesus song, and we must sing our Saviour’s song no matter who else plays the tune.
As we hear the tear-stained words of Anthony Ray Hinton’s sister: “thank you Jesus, thank you Lord.” We must ask, why would a black woman in a state with one of the worst records of racial justice and one of the highest levels of Christian identification thank Jesus for her innocent brother’s release?
Because she knows that Jesus is on the side of the poor, oppressed, and falsely accused.
Because she knows that black people have been followers of Jesus from the first.
Because she knows that black lives, like her brother’s, matter. Not because of progressive organisation bearing that name has capitalised on a cultural moment.
But because black lives matter to Jesus.
By Rebecca McLaughlin