Explaining 'Black Lives Matter'

Protests on Dec. 27 in New York City. a katz /

Protests on Dec. 27 in New York City. a katz /

It is difficult to understand why people, particularly Christians, view a statement as patently obvious as “Black Lives Matter” as a subject for controversy. However, sometimes the most obvious things still need to be said.


Black lives matter because God made every one of us in God’s image. Black lives matter because the Bible tells us that we are part of a body and the eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” Black lives matter because God pays particular care to those crying out under the burden of injustice and oppression.

As people of faith in a neighborhood that has been rocked by protests, tear gas, and arrests, we have sought to stand in solidarity with those who are groaning under the burden of oppression. We offer some physical support — hand warmers, a cup of coffee, an extra pair of socks, but we also offer our presence. The Bible often refers to Christians as “witnesses,” and there is something important about simply standing next to our neighbors in the streets and seeing what is actually happening.

We firmly believe that Jesus needs to be down in the clouds of tear gas and he lets us, his people, participate in his reconciliation by bringing him there with our own two feet. Christians, and particularly evangelicals, need to be in the streets. Our neighbors are just outside our doors, crying out that the system is broken and that our culture doesn’t value the lives of our brothers and sisters. We, as Christians, believe in sin and brokenness and we need to live out our belief that God values all of God’s people even as our culture picks and chooses who is worth caring about.

Weekly Wrap 1.16.15: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

1. Can the U.S. Ever Figure Out its Messed-Up Maternity Leave System?
“According to the United Nations’ International Labour Organization, there are only two countries in the world that don’t have some form of legally protected, partially paid time off for working women who’ve just had a baby: Papua New Guinea and the U.S.”

2. Post-Evangelicals and Why We Can’t Just Get Over It
Rachel Held Evans pens this spot-on column about identity and why it can be difficult to “simply” ditch the label: “When you grow up believing that your religious worldview contains the key to absolute truth and provides an answer to every question, you never really get over the disappointment of learning that it doesn’t.”

3. This Is What the Oscar Nominations Look Like Without All the Men
A really great visualization.

4. From Lone Wolf to Wolf Packs, What Paris Says About a New Model of Terror
If some interpretations of the recent terrorist attacks hold true, they "point to a dangerous evolution [in] global jihadism: an acceleration in hard-to-detect lone-wolf or wolf-pack attacks that hinge more on the proliferation of an ideology than actual sponsorship by any group.

Thanksgiving and a Theology of Despair

tomertu /

tomertu /

Are you feeling pressure to be thankful?

We are in the midst of the Thanksgiving season. I’m reminded everywhere I go to “Be thankful!”

Well, call me the Scrooge of Thanksgiving, but I’m just not feeling thankful. The more someone tells me to “Be thankful!” the more I feel a sense of despair.

Be thankful? In the midst of Ferguson, Mo.? Jim Wallis writes that, “Many black families woke up this morning knowing that the lives of their children are worth less than the lives of white children in America.” And what will white America do about it? Nothing new. One side will continue the status quo of racism by denying that it even exists and then they will blame the victims. I firmly stand in the other side that blames America’s deeply embedded structures of racism, economic injustice, and educational inequality. To make matters worse, America is sharply divided over the shooting in Ferguson. Each side of the division blames the other for tragic violence. Sunday’s heated debate on Meet the Press between former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Georgetown Professor Michael Eric Dyson is indicative of the deep racial tensions underlying not only Ferguson, but every city in the United States.

My Facebook news feed and the media are telling me how I’m supposed to feel about Ferguson. Outraged. Hurt. Anxious. Guilt. Anger. Bitter. But certainly not thankful.

VIDEO: Not in Our Name

When facing a new threat, it is easy for the media and news consumers to cast judgment on an entire demographic, as is being done to the Muslim community in the wake of ISIS. In his piece “On Being a Muslim Parent” (Sojourners, December 2014), Eboo Patel addresses the struggles of having to shield his children from Islamophobia in a time when fear is contagious.

Likewise, British Muslims have begun a social media campaign called #notinmyname to combat these stereotypes perpetrated by the Islamic State militants. In this way, members of the Muslim community are able to speak in defense of themselves and the values their community truly stands for.

Watch the video below and read tweets from online #notinmyname users to hear truth and clarity from an active and global Muslim community. 






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VIDEO: Requiem for Mike Brown

Rather than taking to the streets, demonstrators took to the theater in October to protest police brutality in Ferguson, Mo. Audience members who came to enjoy the St. Louis Symphony perform Brahms’ German Requiem were also confronted with singing protestors, asking them, “Which side are you on?”

“Advent is a season of disruption, a season of silences and unexpected angelic choirs, one of prophetic demands and alarming wake-up calls.” Advent forces us out of complacency and into necessary disruption to ask us difficult questions: Are we on the side of the oppressed? Are we on the side of the meek and the mourners? The side of the singing peacemakers? Read more in Rose Berger’s “Season of Disruption” (Sojourners, December 2014).

Watch this video to see how the audience reacted to the “disruption.”

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Incubating Peaceful Revolution

IN NOVEMBER 1964, as the long Cold War heated up again, this time in Vietnam, Trappist monk Thomas Merton set forth a koan to 14 peacemakers: “By what right do Christians protest?” For three days, these activists and theologians—famously uniting Catholic and Protestant faith traditions—met with Merton in the Kentucky hills, grappling with how and why Christians should resist the violence of war.

Historian Gordon Oyer has re-created this meeting so pivotal to the peace movement and—most important—assessed its meaning for our time. The historic retreat is meticulously sourced with detailed textual analysis of the presenters at the retreat and the writers who influenced them. Particularly impressive is the lucid summary of the era and the delicacy and respect with which the author treats cultural and doctrinal differences among the participants.

Ecumenism in peace work is thankfully common today, but in the early ’60s the blending of faith traditions at the retreat was groundbreaking. Even more revolutionary were the two Masses the group celebrated together, with Jesuit priest Dan Berrigan presiding, everyone in the group receiving communion, and John Howard Yoder, a Mennonite theologian, preaching at the second liturgy. (Both practices were proscribed at the time.)

Attendees included Phil Berrigan, later one of the creators of the Plowshares actions for nuclear disarmament, and A.J. Muste, dean of the U.S. peace movement at the time, with years of experience in War Resisters League, the Committee for Nonviolent Action, and the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR). FOR’s Paul Peachey and John Heidbrink were instrumental in initiating and organizing the retreat, although neither of them could attend in the end. (Neither could two other invitees—Bayard Rustin and Martin Luther King Jr.)

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The Emptiness of Gun Violence

Empty shoes at the Wisconsin State Capitol represent 467 gun deaths in Wisconsin

Empty shoes at the Wisconsin State Capitol represent 467 gun deaths in Wisconsin. Image courtesy Phil Haslanger.

The empty shoes came in all shapes and sizes — cowboy boots and sneakers, children’s sparkly shoes and women’s dress shoes. They filled step after step going up toward the entrance of the Wisconsin State Capitol. 
The shoes — 467 pair of them — represented the death toll from guns in just one state: Wisconsin.  

"I want you to look at these empty shoes," Jeri Bonavia, told the crowd gathered on the Capitol steps on Monday. "I want you to bear witness. All across our state, families are aching with emptiness." 

Bonavia is the executive director of the Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort, which is using this display of empty shoes in five cities around the state this week. 

In the nationwide scheme of things, Wisconsin has a lower death rate from guns than the nation as a whole. The annual average of 467 from murder, suicide and accidents is just a fraction of the approximately 30,000 gun deaths each year across the U.S.  

And yet the row upon row of empty shoes on the steps spoke to the heartache that comes with each death, whatever the toll in whatever state.  

Michael Brown's Funeral Echoes with Cries for Justice

Photo by Christian Gooden, courtesy of St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Rev. Al Sharpton speaks at Greater Grace Church in Florissant. Photo by Christian Gooden, courtesy of St. Louis Post-Dispatch

ST. LOUIS — Justice was a recurring theme as thousands of mourners packed the mammoth Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church on Monday for the funeral of Michael Brown, a black teen whose fatal shooting following a confrontation with a white police officer set off weeks of sometimes violent protests.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, among the speakers, called for a “fair and impartial investigation” into the shooting.

“We are not anti-police, we respect police,” Sharpton said. “But those police that are wrong need to be dealt with just like those in our community who are wrong need to be dealt with.”

Benjamin Crump, a lawyer representing Brown’s family, alluded to the “three-fifths” clause in the Constitution for counting slaves (which actually was an anti-slavery clause) and demanded that Brown get “full justice, not three-fifths justice.”

Brown’s body was being laid to rest, but the controversy surrounding the Aug. 9 shooting was far from over. Prosecutors have not determined whether the Ferguson police officer, 28-year-old Darren Wilson, will face charges in Brown’s death.

God Hears the Cries of #Ferguson: A Burning Bush and a World on Fire

jorisvo/ and Light Brigading and Shawn Semmler/Flickr

jorisvo/ and Light Brigading and Shawn Semmler/Flickr

"Then the LORD said, 'I have observed the misery of my people…I have heard their cry…Indeed, I know their sufferings…’ - Exodus 3:7

For the last few weeks, the eyes of America have been riveted on the town of Ferguson, Missouri, a formerly little-known suburb of St. Louis. It was there on Aug. 9 that an unarmed African-American teenager named Mike Brown was shot six times by police, sparking ongoing protests and demonstrations by grief-stricken and outraged citizens. Clashes between demonstrators and heavily armed local police, highway patrol, and the Missouri National Guard have been the subject of extensive coverage and all manner of commentary across broadcast and social media.

These demonstrations in Ferguson represent something more than just lament for the tragic death of Mike Brown. They are an outcry at the demonization of black men, racial profiling, institutional racism, intergenerational poverty, the militarization of law enforcement, and a culture of incarceration in America. Over the last three weeks, Ferguson has become a flash point for urgent issues facing minority communities, issues which have been largely unnoticed or ignored by the majority white culture. The #Ferguson hashtag no longer just refers to the events happening in Ferguson but has come to represent a national conversation about the toll that institutional racism and its many diabolical expressions have taken on our fellow Americans.

In the days following Mike Brown’s death, columnist Leonard Pitts, Jr. described the protests as “an act of outcry, a scream of inchoate rage. That’s what happened this week in Ferguson, Mo. The people screamed.” These screams echo of the cries that God heard from the Hebrews enslaved in ancient Egypt.