Now, here’s a thing – Some subjects can be difficult and somewhat touchy to talk about. ‘Black Lives Matter’ is certainly one of those. What is the Christian view on it? Well, there isn’t one, firstly because the topic itself has become broad and diverse with many different strands. Secondly, even if we take one strand of it there are different points that can be made about it and different perspectives that will be brought to bear. So, I can only give you a personal view on it, but hopefully one that is helpful.
‘Black Lives Matter’ is a movement that started in America following a number of well-publicised incidents where black men were shot and killed by the Police. On their website the Black Lives Matter Global Network states that ‘Black Lives Matter’ ‘…began as a call to action in response to state-sanctioned violence and anti-Black racism.’ It has undoubtedly broadened out from those origins and now seems to embrace a variety of causes that go beyond protest at ‘unlawful killings’. So for example, there are now frequent demonstrations against public monuments and institutions associated with historical figures who were involved in the slave trade. This is beginning to be extended to the whole interpretation of history itself, which is seen as being white-focused and excluding of the experience of non-white and oppressed people.
Anyway who has a knowledge of the history of black civil rights in America will know that it has been a long, hard, road. Slavery in America was abolished during and after the American civil war (1861-65) and that was followed by a series of measures designed to make that abolition meaningful and to ensure the rights of black people as US citizens. This period of ‘Reconstruction’ in the American South lasted about fifteen years but was then followed by a re-assertion of white supremacy and black subjugation, exemplified by the introduction of so-called ‘Jim Crow’ laws that brought in racial segregation and other measures that oppressed black people. In the 1950’s and 60’s the tide was turned, largely by the rise of the civil rights movement, mainly led by black Christians.
However, it remains the case that black people in America are generally poorer, less well-educated more poorly-housed and more likely to be dealt with harshly by the justice system. Of course, not all of this applies to all black people and some opponents of Black Lives Matter will also point to the higher levels of criminality in black communities as being a factor in their treatment.
In terms of the UK, proponents of the Black Lives Matter movement will argue that historically black people’s experience here is similar to that of those in America and that the British imperial history reflects the same sort of subjugation of black people as American slavery did.
Where does this leave us? Well, the arguments will continue, that’s for sure. Some people will continue to be angry or bemused one way or the other. (For example, a friend of mine said ‘Surely, all lives matter’? – True, but missing the point, I feel – not all lives are threatened or affected in the same way.) I am proud of the fact that in our fellowship we have people from many different backgrounds – including black African, white African, Pakistani, Indian, Eastern European and South American, meeting together in the name of Jesus. Martin Luther King once said that he wanted ‘his children to be judged on the content of their character, not the colour of their skin.’ Whilst angry and complicated arguments rage around us, that seems a good maxim to hold to.