I’d like to share a few thoughts today on how we might think about and respond to a statement like ‘black lives matter.’ Note: I’m not talking here specifically about any organized political movements, but rather the statement itself.
Many of my friends immediately respond to the phrase by stating ‘all lives matter.’ My perception is that in stating this, they believe that is is the only statement that should really be made about which lives matter.
My conviction is that while we should always stay rooted on the foundation that all lives matter, it is also appropriate to specifically call out groups of people that have perhaps not been equally valued. I will give a practical example and then show that Jesus does this constantly in his teaching and ministry.
First, all lives matter because we all all created in the image of God and his life is what animates us. Every human being is created in the image of God. Furthermore, we recognize that God continues to love the whole world (all lives). So much so that whosoever believes in him might have everlasting life.
But the question we struggle with is whether it’s appropriate and even good to make statements like ‘black lives matter.’
Before sharing some examples from Jesus, I’d like to prove to my fellow conservative friends that you already agree that it’s good to point attention to specific lives that matter and we feel have been neglected. I’m speaking here about the unborn. For many of us, abortion is an issue that we believe worth calling attention to. Why? Because we believe that life in the womb is real human life and to choose abortion is to choose to end a human life. But not everyone sees it that way, right? So we could comfortably say something like ‘unborn lives matter.’ Of course they do. And let me be frank to my fellow conservative friends. If I made the statement ‘unborn lives matter’ you would not respond ‘all lives matter.’ You would rather say something equivalent to ‘amen.’
All lives matter. But throughout history, some lives have seemed to matter less to various people groups than others.
During the first century in which Jesus became human flesh, almost everybody felt that some lives were more important than others. Romans didn’t think that Jewish lives were particularly important. They didn’t think that slaves’ lives were as important as free people’s lives. They didn’t think that non-citizen lives were as important as Roman citizen’s lives. (See Paul’s treatment in Acts 16)
Unfortunately the Jewish mindset of the time wasn’t always a lot better. Jews didn’t believe that Gentile lives mattered as much. Saul of Tarsus didn’t believe that disciples of Jesus lives’ mattered before his conversion.
As a matter of fact, most Jews didn’t believe that Samaritan lives mattered. They wanted nothing to do with the Samaritans. When Jesus and the disciples were traveling through Samaria and were unwelcome and insulted by them, James and John asked Jesus to call down thunder on them and destroy them. (Luke 9: 54). Did James and John, disciples of Jesus, believe at that time that all lives mattered equally? Did they believe that Samaritan lives mattered? No, they did not. Hence, Jesus’ purposeful journey to Samaria and ministry there and his well known parable of the Good Samaritan were given at least in part to show both his disciples and us that Samaritan lives matter.
Palestinian Jews in the first century didn’t believe that prostitutes lives mattered as much. The stones in their hands proved that.
They didn’t believe that tax collectors lives mattered. Those traitors deserved whatever they had coming. Yet Jesus called them to follow him.
And friends, neither the Roman government nor the majority of the Pharisees and Saduccess believed that Jesus’ life mattered.
It’s true. They didn’t not believe that the Son of God in human flesh’s life mattered. And so they took it. The truth about him didn’t matter, so they made up lies. His innocence didn’t matter, so they trumped up charges. Justice didn’t matter, so the most truly innocent man that ever lived suffered the most painful and unjust death.
If I were to say to you, ‘Jesus’ life mattered’, you would not respond all lives matter.
You don’t have to agree with me, but here’s how I think about this one.
I live and breathe the reality that every single life matters deeply to God. And I hope that the way that I live and treat other people shows that to be true.
That’s where I stand in the kingdom of God. But the kingdoms of this world do not always represent that kingdom very well. And our country has not as always as well. Our past actions have not shown that all lives matter. We can say what we want but we’ve not acted like Native American lives matter. We’ve not acted like Irish lives matter. We’ve not acted like Chinese lives matter. We’ve not acted like Black lives matter. We’ve not acted like Mexican lives matter.
All lives matter. But at many, many times we’ve not acted as though every life matters or that every life matters equally.
All lives matter. That’s where I live.
But when someone makes a statement that points to the reality that we’ve not always – and still not always today – valued all lives equally…
I think I’ll choose to simply agree.
Black lives matter?
Yes, they do. I can just affirm that statement without further comment.