View from the Southern Baptists: Black lives matter

John Piper, the Gospel Coalition and other US Christians take BLM seriously

Conservative Christian leaders in the US are stating clearly: “Black Lives Matter”.

Statements in support of racial equality have come from leaders in conservative evangelical denominations, including  J. G. Greear, President of the Southern Baptist Convention – the largest protestant denomination in the US.

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Editors note: In this story, we have chosen to quote at length from evangelical leaders in particular, because statements from Christians who are more to the “left” tend to be more predictable on this topic.

“We know that many in our country — particularly our brothers and sisters of colour — are hurting,” Greear said in a Facebook live event that took the place of his Presidential address earlier this month.

“Southern Baptists, we need to say it clearly as a gospel issue: black lives matter. Of course, black lives matter. Our black brothers and sisters are made in the image of God.”

“Let me echo my friend Jimmy Scroggins, a pastor down in Florida, in saying that ‘black lives matter’ is an important thing to say right now because we are seeing in our country the evidence of specific injustices that many of our black brothers, and sisters and friends have been telling us about for years,” Greear said. “And by the way, let’s not respond by saying ‘oh, well, all lives matter.’

“Of course all lives matter … That’s true. But you’re missing the point.”

“We know that honouring Christ in this moment, that means listening to those who hurt, it means lamenting with them, and bearing their burdens. Pursuing justice means labouring for the protection of others as fiercely as we would our own children,” Greear said.

“A racially reconciled church requires more than just sentiment and hashtags and Twitter posts. It requires the humility to listen to one another, the empathy to see things from another’s perspective, the charity to give their motives the same benefit of the doubt that we would want them to give to us.”

Greear addressed race relations and sexual abuse as issues his denomination need to get right, in order that the gospel could be heard; the theme for his address was “the Gospel Above all”.

He made it clear he was endorsing the slogan “Black Lives Matter” rather than the entire platform of the movement. He singled out the call to defund police as an example of something he did not endorse.

The 25th anniversary of the Southern Baptist Convention’s motion of repentance for racism occurred this month.

In a follow up to Greear, the President of one of the denomination’s largest theological colleges – Adam Greenway, of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary – wrote a ‘Juneteenth‘ letter. “To our black brothers and sisters, we affirm that black lives do indeed matter. But this statement is simply the bare minimum affirmation, for black lives do not just matter — black lives are made in the image of God, black lives are loved, and black lives are worthy of being treated with the inherent dignity bestowed by God himself.” This seminary is based in Fort Worth, Texas, the state where the June 19, 1865, proclamation of the freeing of the slaves was made.

An Assemblies of God (AoG) college in Minneapolis – North Central College – stepped up to host the funeral of George Floyd, who died because a police officer kneeled on his neck cutting off his air supply.

The AoG media site published a sermon by Joshua Brubaker Canales, lead pastor of Mission Ebenezer, a megachurch in Greater Los Angeles. The AoG is the largest of the Pentecostal churches in the U.S.

“Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd’s murders are yet another reminder of the continued injustice that African-Americans are facing in our country since its inception,” said Canales.

“Systems have been put in place to allow these injustices to go unchecked. We, as a nation, must take full responsibility for its actions and inactions. For far too long racism has existed in institutional systems, criminal justice systems and our government. It has also dwelled in our own thoughts, hearts, conversations, homes, cliques and our churches. And yes, even in our own church.

“How will the world change if we, the church, do not? It is going to require that we all take a look at what’s inside, checking our own hearts …

“Mission Ebenezer, we must stand together with the black community, united in prayer, worship, the word and, most importantly, in action. We will use these four cornerstones to make an impact and make a change in our church, community and the world. Are you all in?”

“We must be careful how we criticise Black Lives Matter in the absence of an evangelical alternative.” – Mika Edmondson

Back in 2016, Presbyterian minister Mika Edmondson was asked by the council of The Gospel Coalition “to help them consider how God is working for justice and mercy in our racially charged and polarised society.” His address described the Black Lives Matter movement, carefully exploring how it differs from Martin Luther King Jr’s Civil Rights Movement.

“There are enough major differences to say Black Lives Matter is not an extension or rebirth of the Civil Rights Movement,” said Edmondson.

“Still, I strongly recommend full engagement with the concept and critical engagement with the movement, especially since there’s no evangelical alternative to Black Lives Matter. It grieves me deeply to say there’s no evangelical movement robustly, consistently, and practically affirming the value of disparaged black people. So we must be careful how we criticise Black Lives Matter in the absence of an evangelical alternative.”

“Like the Civil Rights Movement, Black Lives Matter addresses racialised inequities in the criminal justice system and policing, disparities in education and healthcare, mass unemployment and underemployment.

“The church cannot affirm their Black Lives Matter leaders’ view of sexuality. We must maintain a biblically rooted sexual ethic. Nevertheless, we must critically engage the ethical questions they raise and decry the injustices they’ve highlighted.”

As a good Presbyterian, Edmondson challenged The Gospel Coalition council with a question from the Westminster Confession of Faith’s Larger Catechism (a series of questions often learned by heart) – “Question 135 asks, ‘What are the duties required in the sixth commandment?'”

“Answer: “The duties required in the sixth commandment are, all careful studies, and lawful endeavours, to preserve the life of ourselves and others by resisting all thoughts and purposes, subduing all passions, and avoiding all occasions, temptations, and practices, which tend to the unjust taking away of the life of any.

“I can’t even be a good Presbyterian unless I make a ‘careful study’ of issues that tend to the unjust taking away of life! That means I can’t even be a good Presbyterian unless I’m carefully engaged with issues like the ‘Flint Water Crisis‘, mass incarceration, disparities in housing and healthcare, and yes, police brutality …”

“Why is Black Lives Matter more torn up over black people dying than we are? The fact that Black Lives Matter leaders distinguish themselves from the Church and has queer leadership is just an indictment against the evangelical Church.

“They have more moral sense than we do!”

“The rise of Black Lives Matter points to the failure of the Christian Church to make the cause of human dignity and racial equality our own …” – Albert Mohler

Gospel Coalition leader Albert Mohler wrote a response to Mika Edmondson, finishing with comments which may surprise some conservative Christians today.

He described Edmondson this way: “His argument is that Black Lives Matter is judgment on the Christian Church, which it surely is.”

“The rise of Black Lives Matter points to the failure of the Christian Church to make the cause of human dignity and racial equality our own … He was able to document the great moral and theological problems involved with the #BlackLivesMatter movement, but he made us all see — even helped us all see — the truth that our own failures led to the emergence of this movement.

“He helped us see that a real crisis of human dignity, and every real threat to black lives, requires that theCchurch in America answer this movement and respond to this crisis with the full power of the gospel of Christ and the full richness of Christian truth.

“I also realise that, even just a few years ago, Dr. Mika Edmondson’s address could not have been heard in the way it must be now. I can only pray that even just a few years from now, his address might no longer be necessary. Black lives do matter. We have to say that even more powerfully than #BlackLivesMatter does.”

Mohler returned to the topic recently, traversing the same ground as Edmondson, arguing that the sentence “Black Lives Matter” must be endorsed, while disagreeing with some of the platforms of the organisation. But Mohler also urged caution in saying that to a hurting black community.

“Patently, black lives matter. That is true.” – John Piper

John Piper, another prominent conservative preacher, recounted his own change of mind about Black Lives Matter at about the same time. He had gone to the blacklivesmatter.com website and found it’s endorsement of progressive left causes, in particular LGBTIQ issues, off-putting.

“Well, a few weeks later I was in Louisville with the ‘Together for the Gospel’ team, which included Thabiti Anyabwile. And, if you don’t know Thabiti, he is a black pastor in Washington, D.C. and he is, as everyone who knows him realises, intellectually, theologically, culturally, highly intelligent, highly articulated, highly courageous, highly levelheaded, and not a pushover. And he let me know clearly, that wasn’t helpful.

“He helped me see for the mass of … folks, black folks in particular, that website is a non-issue. It doesn’t even exist. They don’t know it is there. It is not driving anything.

“Therefore, my call now [is based upon] my learning afresh of needing to make distinctions between, one, a patently true slogan — black lives matter — and, two, ideological roots of a name that may be the real roots, or they may have been co-opted. I mean, the name may have been co-opted … [Editor’s note: The website was actually started by the inventers of the slogan.]

“We learn from these conversations to distinguish the plain truth of the slogan, the ideological nature of its origin, and the strategies of action that may or may not always be the best.

“Patently, black lives matter. That is true. And before — this is another little lesson, maybe. I am just sticking this in — before we say anything like, ‘All lives matter,’ before we say that, we need to pause. Because if you quickly add that, it sounds like a rebuke.

“It sounds like a minimising of what was just said.

“It sounds like the point that was trying to be made isn’t worth being made. So you don’t want to make that point. You don’t want to say that.”

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