Black Lives Matter to Christ and Multnomah University
Black lives matter to Christ and Multnomah University. I understand that this statement is loaded with controversy, but I believe it needs to be addressed in our community if we are to move forward. Immediately, some of you may be responding with, “All lives matter to Christ.” Some of you may respond that the Black Lives Matter Movement represents many things Multnomah should not align with biblically. I understand your sentiment and your concern. As I listen and learn as President and as a pastor, I am also growing in my understanding of why those responses feel hurtful and dismissive to our Black sisters and brothers in Christ. I want to take this opportunity to explain why that response can be painful and minimize the deep hurt felt by the Black community. I do not speak for Black people, but I am committed to using my platform to bridge gaps and promote all of us being more Christlike, educated, and compassionate when it comes to these issues of race. We are called as followers of Christ to love and support our Black sisters and brothers at this time.
When we hear “Black lives matter” and respond by saying, “All lives matter,” we negate the reality that we have systems and institutions that produce racially disparate outcomes, regardless of our good intentions. In my listening, I have learned that this response can also communicate that we don’t care that Black people are twice as likely to be killed by police than White people.1 Or, five times more likely to be imprisoned than White people.2 Or, five times more likely to be threatened with the use of force or actually experience the use of force by police officers.3 When we say, “All lives matter” in response to the assertion that Black lives matter, our Black sisters and brothers hear us say, “We don’t care that you are being unfairly treated, and even killed, just because of the color of your skin.” A commonly offered example to demonstrate how hurtful “All lives matter” can be is: Imagine that a house is on fire and the fire department is called, but when they get to the neighborhood and want to spray water on the house that is on fire, all of the neighbors begin complaining by saying, “Our houses matter too! All houses matter.” Yes, all of the houses in the neighborhood matter. But one is on fire. Tending to the house on fire is not saying that the other houses do not matter. Neglecting the house on fire, however, is a problem for all. Black people are asking us to step up and join them in fighting racism. Unfortunately, many times our engagement minimizes their struggle instead of identifying with their pain.
I imagine some of you may be thinking, “What about the first responders that are being shot or killed?” We grieve and condemn violence. Attempts to target first responders are wrong and must stop. However, we must stop centering on other pain and other arguments when our siblings in Christ are asking if they matter. We must stop changing the subject. Supporting the assertion that “Black lives matter” doesn’t negate our grief over others being killed or any other issues that grieve God’s heart. Our Black sisters and brothers want to know if we will enter the conversation and work with them to eliminate racism in America. They are crying out and asking, “Do I matter to you, and do I matter to Christ’s church?” When we hear people ask if “Black lives matter,” please join me in saying a resounding and unqualified, “Yes!”
When we affirm that Black lives matter, we align with Christ’s love for his people and the heart of the Gospel. Saying that Black lives matter does not mean you ascribe to every tenant of the movement or support all that the organization stands for. It means you understand the stakes for our sisters and brothers in Christ when we act in ways that assert that Black lives don’t matter as much as ours. Several of our Black alumni have shared their pain as they hear the rejection of the statement that their lives matter. One of our Black alumni called on White communities to better understand the difference between support and solidarity. As the President of Multnomah University and a pastor, regardless of what you think about the Black Lives Matter Movement or organization, I encourage you to listen to Black voices and to affirm that they matter to you.
Ephesians 3:6 (NIV) states that “This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” At the heart of the good news of Jesus Christ is that He made us all one in Him. He died for all of us and built us into a new family—His family. Black sisters and brothers are equal heirs and sharers in Christ. They are vital to the work of the church and God’s kingdom on earth and in heaven. We are all humans with dignity and value to God—so valuable that Christ died for all of us. All of this is true.
Always, but right now especially, please listen to the cries of the Black community. They aren’t asserting that their lives matter more than someone else’s. They are asking us to consider that until their lives matter equally, justice and the fullness of the gospel are not going to be realized. When one part of the body hurts, we all hurt. Now is the time to “make known the manifest wisdom of God to earthly and heavenly powers” (Eph 3:10, NIV) and unite with our Black sisters and brothers to eliminate the sin of racism in our nation.
This is more than a trendy political or cultural movement. We want to affirm at Multnomah that Black lives do matter to us and to affirm our commitment to uprooting the areas where we have said with our actions that they matter less. We are listening. We are learning. The next time you hear “Black Lives Matter,” join us in saying, “Yes! They do!”
G. Craig Williford, Ph.D.
1. Mapping Police Violence. (2020). Mapping Police Violence. Retrieved from https://mappingpoliceviolence.org/
2. Federal Bureau of Prisons. (2020). Inmate race. Retrieved from https://www.bop.gov/about/statistics/statistics_inmate_race.jsp
2. U.S. Census Bureau. (2020). Quickfacts; United States. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/US/RHI225218
3. Bureau of Justice Statistics. (2020). Combined state and federal imprisonment rate per 100,000 U.S. residents of a given race or ethnicity 2008-2018. Retrieved from https://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=tp
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