In honor of the one-year anniversary of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Mo., Sojourners asked a variety of faith leaders — Catholics, Baptists, Muslims, humanists, evangelicals, and mainliners — to reflect: How has your faith been challenged, affirmed, or deepened by the Black Lives Matter movement? Has your theology changed? And, most importantly, what are we being called to do?
Here’s what they said:
Rahiel Tesfamariam, founder and publisher of Urban Cusp: "As a follower of Christ, the most influential and powerful freedom fighter to ever live, I count it an honor to be engaged in the work of racial justice at this critical moment in history. The movement for black lives has brought newfound meaning and purpose to my sense of ministry and calling. I am so deeply inspired by my generation's model of radical love and resistance that has transcended all traditional understandings of how social change happens. When we collectively say that we believe we will win, it reaffirms my faith in the unseen."
Meg Olson, Director of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, Archdiocese of St. Louis: "For me, Black Lives Matter has redefined what discipleship should and must look like. The night before the Grand Jury announcement, I was standing in a circle with about 300 other protesters, blocking a very busy intersection in St. Louis. Amidst the angry honking horns and frustrated police we chanted, "We must love and support one another." At that moment I realized that this is what it means to bear witness to suffering, to love your neighbor, and to lay down your life for a friend."
Eboo Patel, author of Acts of Faith and Sacred Ground: "I was a high school student in the western suburbs of Chicago during the Rodney King incident in the early 1990s. There was very little open talk about it, but plenty of not-so-soft whispers that this was just the police doing what they needed to do. It was one of those moments when the implications of being not-white in America were laid bare for me. A generation later, such implications are being laid bare for many more people with far greater frequency. There is so much evidence that the discussion has burst out into the open, and the notion that wanton shootings and gratuitous beatings ought to be an accepted part of the police toolkit is being intensely questioned in the court of public opinion (and the occasional court of law as well).
I wish that Michael Brown and so many others did not have to give their lives for this. It is up to all of us — black and white, Christian and Muslim, rich and not-so-rich — to make sure that those lives were not given in vain."
Rev. Dr. Yolanda Pierce, Director of the Center for Black Church Studies and Associate Professor of Religion and Literature at Princeton Theological Seminary: "The work of justice is deeply theological. Our church communities must foster a faith that gives people room to grow, to stretch, and to ask the tough questions. A grieving people need a theology for such a time as this, a theology that speaks to this present age. White churches, in particular, must end their silence and address the pain of grieving black lives, because the work of justice is collective. Even if you cannot possible understand all the reasons for our pain, you can come alongside a grieving people in love, humility, and solidarity." From "A Theology for a Grieving People"
Karen Swallow Prior, Professor of English at Liberty University: "As a Christian who believes all lives matter, I recognize that different lives in different times and different places face particular obstacles and injustices. The Black Lives Matter movement has pushed to the forefront within my own church community a growing recognition of the reality and pervasiveness of systemic racism. "Black Lives Matter" is the echoing refrain in the song we who value all life will sing together until all lives are truly equal and free."
Mark Charles, Navajo activist, speaker, writer, and blogger: "We live in a nation and attend churches that like to proclaim that #AllLivesMatter. However, the reason both institutions use such inclusive language is because they have an implicit bias, rooted in a doctrine of discovery, that clearly believes blacks and Natives are sub-human. This is why we must protest and specifically state that Black and Native Lives Matter. According to church doctrine, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, and the U.S. Supreme Court, we are literally not included in the group "all."
It is my prayer that someday soon our country will both become aware of, and sufficiently repent from, its implicit bias. But until then, we will continue to proclaim that #BlackLivesMatter and #NativeLivesMatter. One of the primary struggles facing the followers of Christ today is to treat as human those who our nation, our leaders, and even our churches tell us are not."
Micky Jones, Director of Training and Program Development for TransFORM Network: "Mike Brown means new theology. Mike Brown means the church has had a wake-up call. If or how it will be answered is the question. Mike Brown means from Episcopalians to Disciples of Christ to Lutherans to Methodists to United Church of Christ to the Southern Baptist Convention, so-called followers of Jesus are being watched for how they engage #PropheticGrief in this age. If the body of Christ cannot weep with black mothers burying their children, then it is bankrupt, hollow, and full of dead bones that no church revitalization program can fix." From "Mike Brown Means"
Ed Stetzer, Executive Director of LifeWay Research: "God has used #BlackLivesMatter to remind me to speak up (and work) for greater justice, and to try to encourage others in my sphere of influence to do the same. It reminds all of us of a painful reality, made clear again this past year: systemic racism exists — and it even costs lives. That should call all of us to advocacy and action."
Chris Stedman, author of Faitheist: "In 1940, A. Philip Randolph — a deeply committed civil rights activist who was one of the primary organizers of the 1963 March on Washington and a signer of the second Humanist Manifesto — wrote, "Justice is never given; it is exacted and the struggle must be continuous for freedom is never a final fact, but a continuing evolving process to higher and higher levels of human, social, economic, political and religious relationship."
Seeing the continued devastation and dehumanization caused by white supremacy, it is clear that Randolph's words are just as true and essential today as they were then. Like Randolph, I am a Humanist, and thus I believe it is up to human beings to address human problems like systemic racism. #BlackLivesMatter is vital because it seeks to exact justice — directing our collective attention to the continuing struggle for freedom and challenging more of us to do what we can to bend the arc of the moral universe closer and closer toward that justice."
Rev. Dr. Elizabeth D. Rios, co-pastor of Passion Christian Church and National Latino Evangelical Coalition board member: "This movement for me ushered in an age of courageousness like never before to walk our talk and take the risk of being polarized in an effort to be a voice to the voiceless and powerless. If more of us faith leaders had the courage to engage and confront the powers, perhaps solutions would come faster. It has made me reflect on this one truth, everyone who has ever ushered in change and progress in the area of social justice, and preached for or against something long before it was fashionable to do so. My conviction due to the #BLM movement is simply that those who stand quietly on the sidelines while injustice is done are just as guilty as the spiritual forces that drive fallen systems in a captive world to do them."
Ralph McCloud, Director of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development: "The Black Lives Matter movement reminded me of issues that threatened black life specifically; how even those sworn to protect can often be blinded by racism and anger. The movement reminds me of the importance of defending life, especially where it is most threatened. Seeing people unite around the Black Lives Matter movement reminded me of the innate goodness of humanity. To see good people rally, speak out, pray, and decry the sin of racism is inspirational and stirring. It reminds me of how far we have to go — but with God’s enduring grace accompanying us along the way, we are fit for the task."
Anna Sun, Associate Area Director, InterVarsity SanDiego: "The #BLM movement has challenged me to mourn with those who mourn — especially as a mother myself, to mourn with the mothers of the black men and women (and sometimes even children) who have died this past year because of the continuing influence of white supremacy in this country. It has challenged me into the sacred but difficult space of wrestling with the Lord over the overwhelming brokenness, racism, sin, and dehumanization in our country and world. It has challenged me to use my voice as an Asian American woman alongside the voices of the black community to call out the sins of racism and injustice and to call on God's kingdom to come here on earth as it is in heaven."
How about you? How has the Black Lives Matter movement influenced your faith? How are you working to end systemic racism? Tell us below in the comments!