If Christians reject Black Lives Matter because the movement is filled with flaws, they must also reject Christianity for the very same reason. Because Jesus himself was perfect, but the people and institutions that claimed his namesake’s faith certainly weren’t — and aren’t.
History is filled with Christians committing numerous atrocities under the guise of Christianity. Events like the Crusades, the Inquisition and other countless examples of misuse — including modern evils such as child abuse, bigotry, xenophobia, exclusivity, and hateful rhetoric — reveal that the religion of Christianity has routinely fallen short of Jesus’ example.
Despite this, I can still look beyond the countless shortcomings and see the foundational truth of Jesus. Yet many Christians refuse to give the Black Lives Matter cause the same benefit of the doubt. Just as Christians don’t judge Christianity by its worst moments, we also shouldn’t do the same for this movement.
For many Christians, it’s hard now to imagine that Jesus was hated and judged by the religious leaders of his day, being unfairly criticized throughout his ministry, and routinely facing a wide variety of vitriolic accusations.
A movement that’s pursuing equality, justice, dignity, respect and accountability should be supported, because these are virtues that the gospel of Jesus is all about.
But Jesus and his followers had a horrible reputation, and he was accused of being a blasphemer and deceiver. He hung out with sinners, prostitutes, the “unclean,” the demon-possessed, the Romans, foreigners and those on the fringes of society. His disciples consisted of a tax collector, a zealot, a sword-wielding attacker, and a traitor. Jesus started riotous mobs, and even created havoc the most sacred of places — the temple.
So to denounce a movement because of immoral associations, or contrary beliefs, or unlawful incidents, or because of its notoriety is ironic, especially for Christians who base their faith on a man who encapsulated all of those things.
Jesus, who came from a people that often suffered under the Roman ruling class, was eventually unfairly arrested, abused, tortured by government authorities, mocked amid a jeering mob, and humiliatingly executed on cross.
He angered too many leaders, confronted too powerful a government, and enraged too many people — so they eventually murdered him.
The life of Jesus is always the best example for Christians to follow, and anything that is anti-Jesus (violence, hate, shame, racism, bigotry, and apathy) should be rejected, while everything Christ-like (seeking justice, revealing truth, serving, protecting, uplifting, encouraging, healing, caring, sacrificing, empathizing, empowering, freeing, reconciling, restoring, forgiving, and loving) should be honored and pursued.
The reality is that the Black Lives Matter movement, like most things in this world — including you and me — is an imperfect and complex entity consisting of both good and bad elements. But a movement that’s pursuing equality, justice, dignity, respect and accountability should be supported, because these are virtues that the gospel of Jesus is all about.
This doesn’t mean Christians should excuse sin, condone violence, or dismiss hurtful actions. And it doesn’t mean you can’t support cops, or be a Republican, or disagree with anything being done, said, and communicated. The danger is when Christians downplay, disregard, or completely throw out the truth that people of color have been — and are being — oppressed by a broken system that’s infected with inequality, discrimination, lack of accountability, and racism.
Unfortunately, some Christians — especially white, conservative Christians (but not all of them) — are using the imperfect aspects of the movement as an excuse to support rhetoric that denies the existence of racism, inequality, white privilege, and works on the assumption that the cause is some sort of made-up overreaction, misunderstanding, or liberal agenda.
If Christians have nothing to do or say to support the lives of the marginalized and abused, what good is Christianity at all?
For Christians who deny that Black Lives Matter, the sin is failing to realize that people who are loved by God, and made in God’s image and likeness, aren’t being treated like it.
Black Lives Matter is a civil rights movement, a human rights movement, and deeply spiritual cause that requires followers of Christ to imitate the example of Jesus: to help, stand up, speak out, and sacrifice for those in need.
According to Jesus, Christians are called to:
Defend the oppressed, not smear their image.
Empower the maligned, not deny their cause.
Stop corruption, not rationalize it.
Seek justice, not ignore injustice.
Stop persecution, not blame the persecuted.
Historically, our nation’s most tragic civil and human rights victims have either been “not Christian enough” for mainstream churches and denominations to support, or there was simply too much passivity and apathy to do anything.
During the Indian Removal Act, Native Americans weren’t Christian enough to defend. During times of nativism, the Catholics and immigrants weren’t Christian enough to defend. Throughout the segregation era black Christians didn’t have the support of many white Christians, and when the U.S. put its Japanese citizens in internment camps during WWII, mainstream Christianity was largely silent.
In every modern opportunity to be a radical countercultural force for good in the U.S., many white Christians blew it by conjuring up excuses, looking the other way, and even being directly complicit in the subjugation of other human beings.
So here we are again, facing a historic crisis, where people are fighting for their rights and dignity, and once again many Christians will have to choose whether or not to act. Which begs the question: If Christians have nothing to do or say to support the lives of the marginalized and abused, what good is Christianity at all?
Many white Christians will be afraid to say #blacklivesmatter because they think it’s too political, or too progressive, or too liberal, or too unfair, or too controversial. But saying #blacklivesmatter isn’t denying one particular group’s worth at the expense of another. Rather, it’s affirming that people of color are to be loved as divine creations made in the image of God, and they aren’t being treated like it. Instead they’re being dehumanized by a society that has consistently devalued and exploited their lives.
In a previous article I wrote these words, and I think they’re more important now than ever:
The Bible tells us that Jesus cared deeply about the social causes around him.
Instead of saying all lives matter, Jesus said, “Samaritan lives matter.”
Instead of saying all lives matter, Jesus said, “Children’s lives matter.”
Instead of saying all lives matter, Jesus said, “Gentile lives matter.”
Instead of saying all lives matter, Jesus said, “Jewish lives matter.”
Instead of saying all lives matter, Jesus said, “Women’s lives matter.”
Instead of saying all lives matter, Jesus said, “Lepers’ lives matter.”
Even though Jesus loves everyone, even to the point of dying for their sins, he went out of his way to intentionally help specific groups of people — the alienated, mistreated, and those facing injustice.
So saying “Black Lives Matter” and participating in a movement seeking justice, positive reform, and empowerment is one of the most Christ-like things we can do.
God help us.
A version of this post originally appeared on Sojourners.