Evangelicals, Black Lives Matter and The New York Times

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Last week the New York Times ran an article discussing the trepidation some Evangelical Christians face when it comes to the Black Lives Matter Movement.

It notes that religious support for Black Lives Matter generally lies with Christians and denominations that are more progressive, like the United Church of Christ, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the American Baptist Churches, whereas more conservative Christians, groups and denominations are much more cautious in supporting a movement with such a radical agenda.

Part of this tension is seen in the repercussions InterVarsity encountered last month after a keynote speaker, Michelle Higgins, spoke at the Urbana Missions Conference where she not only argued in favor of Christian support of Black Lives Matter, she insulted the sincerity and authenticity of the Christian commitment to being Pro-Life but seemingly ignoring the issue of adoption.

From the New York Times:

InterVarsity, one of the country’s leading campus Christian organizations, is known for its history of racial cooperation and integration. But many of its members and supporters are conservatives who oppose abortion, support law enforcement and are skeptical of the welfare state. And in her wide-ranging comments about social justice, Ms. Higgins did little to make her speech more palatable.

“We can wipe out the adoption crisis tomorrow,” Ms. Higgins said at one point. “We could wipe it out this week, but we’re too busy arguing to have abortion banned, we’re too busy arguing to defund Planned Parenthood. “We are too busy withholding mercy from the living,” she said, “so that we might display a big spectacle of how much we want mercy to be shown to the unborn….

Even had Ms. Higgins never ventured into the dangerous terrain of abortion politics, her speech probably would not have pleased many evangelicals, who consider Black Lives Matter to be a liberal movement.

“Consider Black Lives Matter to be a ‘liberal’ movement?” That’s like saying some people “consider” it lighter in the daytime than it is at night. And Black Lives Matter isn’t “liberal.” It’s a progressive movement, period.

More from the New York Times:

The historian D.G. Hart, who teaches at Hillsdale College in Michigan, noted in a blog post that the website BlackLivesMatter.com, a prominent one within the movement, expresses support for transgender and gay rights, issues that are problematic for conservative Christians.

“Some who support justice for African-Americans and oppose police brutality may wonder legitimately what Caitlyn Jenner or Dan Savage have to do with Freddie Gray or Tamir Rice,” Dr. Hart wrote on the website Patheos, contrasting icons of the transgender and gay rights movements, with black men whose deaths have galvanized Black Lives Matter.

The discomfort of evangelicals about Black Lives Matter goes beyond specific policies. Many believe that the church should not be intimately involved with politics.

In an interview, Dr. Hart, a member of the conservative Orthodox Presbyterian Church, said that he took police brutality and racism seriously, and that those concerns might affect his voting in local or statewide elections. But in general, he thinks the church should not be a political actor.

“I tend to be a Machen guy,” Dr. Hart said, referring to J. Gresham Machen, the Presbyterian theologian who died in 1937 and was known for his belief that political participation could sully the church. “He believed that the church doesn’t do politics, though individual Christians may.”

Mimi Haddad, an evangelical, leads Christians for Biblical Equality, which works for the equality of women, including those in the church. She signed an open letter, printed in the liberal evangelical magazine Sojourners, congratulating InterVarsity for showcasing Black Lives Matter.

The Times reasons that this conservative Evangelical cautiousness stems from conservative Evangelical groups, “support[ing] Republican candidates [and being] uncomfortable with the movement because of its embrace of liberal politics, associated with Democrats.”

An interesting read regarding the obvious fact that Evangelicals aren’t a monolithic demographic who think and act the same. Nevertheless, a few observations are in order.

It’s noteworthy that the piece argues that progressive Christians support Black Lives Matter because of the teachings of Jesus and Paul — a thoroughly religious reason, of course — but conservative Evangelicals don’t support the Black Lives Matter because of their unflinching loyalty to the Republican party — a thoroughly political, non-biblical reason. It’s a passive way to commend progressive Christians (and by extension, the author?) for their fidelity to the Bible and dismiss conservative Evangelicals as playing politics. The Times doesn’t hesitate for a moment to consider that one reason conservative Evangelicals refuse to support Black Lives Matter is that its leftist agenda and confrontational tactics contradict the gospel’s rendering of mercy, love, and reconciliation.

Put simply: progressive Christians, good; conservative (political) Evangelicals, bad.

Also, I’m not sure I agree with Hart’s assessment that the church should abstain from politics. How far should that go, exactly? Honestly, at some point or another, all of politics deal with morality. Is it moral, or right, for the government to penalize some people through burdensome taxation, simply because they make more than others? Why? Based on what system of morality? Doesn’t it violate the directive against stealing? Or, is it morally right to weaken a citizen’s right to defend oneself, one’s family and one’s property through troublesome and prohibitive gun laws that seek to disarm him or her in the face of danger? If so, based on what moral value system? And, isn’t it morally right to influence policies that seek to mitigate racial inequality — a justice for some that doesn’t come at the expense of others? Is it morally right to seek “justice” for one racial group, if it causes an injustice to another? Why or why not? Again, based on what system of morality?

Though I share Hart’s viewpoint concerning the danger regarding the intimacy of churches and political parties, I would argue that it’s because of the self-imposed limitation and silence of many churches and their pastors from discussing political issues that’s led to the declining presence of the church’s religious influence upon our culture. This voluntary withdrawal has created a moral vacuum in which movements like Black Lives Matter have filled. This void has facilitated a thick moral confusion among Christians and non-Christians alike, emotionally manipulating and intimidating people into supporting “black lives” in a specific way or risk being labeled a racist and/or non-Christian. It’s to the detriment of both Christians and culture not to speak out confidently — with a Christian perspective rooted in both the bible and church tradition — on pressing cultural and political issues.

Conservative Evangelicals have the unique ability to fix this problem of refusing to preach and practically apply God’s word to how we should live in the world. Jesus is our guide. There’s a reason why the overwhelming majority of Jesus’ teachings and parables dealt with life outside of synagogues and the Temple — because outside of religious centers is where we live the overwhelming majority of our lives. If Jesus was able to do it, so can conservative Evangelicals.

Conservative Evangelicals need to increase their presence to inform and teach others as to how racial inequality and racial reconciliation should be approached — and it doesn’t include Black Lives Matter. If the church was on the forefront of this issue — discussing from a biblical and theological perspective on why all black lives matter (and not just ones in police custody or killed in police-involved shootings) — it would be much clearer why there’s an obligation to reject the Black Lives Matter movement. The church should be saying that black lives matter because they are created in the image of God, not because they’re black — and if these ‘black lives’ are Christian, that their primary identity is centered in Christ, not in being black; that black lives matter means black families need to be restored, black abortion needs to be reduced and black children need a married mother and father; that black lives matter means black children deserve quality education not abandoned in failing schools; that black lives matter means instilling and reinforcing Christian values at home and at church to mitigate the self-destructive behaviors that lead to disproportionately high numbers of blacks imprisoned; that black lives matter means much more than an empty slogan and socially-provocative, self-aggrandizing, behavior.

If conservative Evangelicals believe Jesus is Lord of all, they should start acting like it. Engage culture and politics using the gospel and common sense. Don’t be afraid to reject Black Lives Matter — not because you’re racist, or you’re a Republican, but because it doesn’t square with the template of reconciliation found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

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Rob Schenck Is Wrong- One Can Be Pro-Life and ‘Pro-Gun’

 

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Last week Reverend Rob Schenck, an evangelical Christian, published a morally confusing, anti-firearm piece in the Washington Post, in which he claimed that one can’t be both pro-life and pro-gun at the same time. Specifically, the tenor of the piece took the position that Christians can’t be pro-life if they’re pro-gun.

For starters, Schenck’s position — that one can’t be both pro-life and pro-gun — is a false dichotomy. Many have argued, some quite persuasively, that there’s very little tension between being pro-life and defending the Second Amendment. Even further, many have convincingly argued that owning a gun — for proactive protection or as the result of being victimized by criminal activity — can be used to defend innocent people from (further) violence and evil. This is a very practical example of being pro-life.

Schenck says he previously believed that “we had a God-given right to defend ourselves,” and that he believed, “the Second Amendment guarantees a right to bear arms, and that anyone should be able to obtain a gun.” Now after viewing “the after-effects of gun violence firsthand,” he believes differently saying, “These experiences, followed by careful theological and moral reflection, left me convinced that my family of faith is wrong on guns.”

Here’s part of the moral confusion regarding Schenck’s conversion on gun-ownership. Is he saying that Christians don’t have the God-given right to defend themselves – period — or that Christians don’t have a God-given right to defend themselves with guns? And if it’s not a God-given right (again, why not?), can Christians engage in self-defense if it’s a government-granted right? More important, if the right to defend oneself, which includes acts of protecting oneself in addition to other innocent people- isn’t granted by God and only by government, government can also take that right away, leaving millions of people, including Christians, defenseless against a tyrannical government, and civil criminal enterprise. Is Schenck morally, politically and theologically okay with that potential outcome? Why or why not?

The effects of gun violence that Schenck says were instrumental in his transformation are the mass shootings in Pennsylvania, that left five Amish schoolgirls dead, and the mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard where twelve people were killed and three others injured. It’s puzzling that he refers to these examples as evidence that Christians can’t be pro-life and pro-guns, considering the details of both incidents. In the first example, the mass murder of defenseless Amish schoolgirls wasn’t an act of self-defense whatsoever. The man responsible for that evil reportedly had unresolved grief over the death of his minutes-old daughter almost a decade earlier. His suicide note mentioned that he was still angry with God because of it.

The second example of the Navy yard shooting, the murderer clearly suffered from mental issues, saying that he heard voices in his head. He also claimed to be the victim of low frequency electromagnetic waves, which influenced him to commit this evil. Again, this is nowhere near what one would describe as self-defense. To use these two examples of mass murder as the foundation for the claim that Christians can’t be pro-life and pro-gun, or to undermine the defensive nature of gun ownership in general, is very shortsighted, deeply misguided and frankly, inexplicable.

Schenck then offers this,

“But I disagree with my community’s wholesale embrace of the idea that anyone should be able to buy a gun. For one thing, our commitment to the sanctity of human life demands that we err on the side of reducing threats to human life. And our belief in the basic sinfulness of humankind should make us skeptical of the NRA’s slogan, “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun.” The Bible indicates that we are all bad guys sometimes.”

Wholesale embrace?” Schenck doesn’t quantify this nor does he provide any examples to support this sweeping generalization; it’s simply true because he says it is. Where have any well-known evangelical ministers, groups, denominations or lay Christians claimed a “wholesale embrace of the idea that anyone should be able to buy a gun,” with no restrictions? If this sentiment is as common as Schenck would have us believe, he should have no trouble specifying considerable support for such a tenuous proclamation. Moreover, many people are very clear that criminals and those suffering from mental illness that should necessarily be exempt from owning guns, and rightly so. This position clearly and directly contradicts Schenck’s charges against an evangelical, “wholesale embrace” that anyone should be able to buy a gun.

Schenck continues his with his morally confused change of heart saying, “our commitment to the sanctity of human life demands that we err on the side of reducing threats to human life,” but discounts using a gun to do just that. In the absence of a gun, how would Schenck like to see Christians reduce threats to human life in a situation where the very threat(s) to human life have guns? The Second Amendment allows citizens to legally own a gun to use as protection in situations where it mitigates the discrepancy between a criminal the size of a linebacker and a much smaller, weaker victim — man or woman.

Having a gun to defend oneself and others actively demonstrates the sacredness of life. Willingly sacrificing oneself and not doing what one can to protect human life, when one has the chance, actively undermines his call to reduce threats that endanger life.

And aside from the obligatory demonizing of the NRA, Schenck ignores the fact that many people have responsibly used guns to protect against, thwart and end criminal activity by others who’re not so keen on valuing human life. People, especially Christians, have rescued the weak and needy, and have delivered them from evil (Psalm 82:4) using the very thing Schenck condemns.

Schenck then engages in an outright appeal to moral equivalence, that when taken to it’s logical conclusion, nullifies the obligation to do good and fight evil. He says, “The Bible indicates that we are all bad guys sometimes.” And? So we’re “all bad guys sometimes,” means what, exactly? Christians can’t be good, or do good? Apart from moral equivalence, some people are more than just “bad” sometimes; they’re evil. Within the moral spectrum, there are gradations of good and evil. To ignore that, and our part to try and overcome it, is dangerous.

But if Christians are “bad guys sometimes,” why engage in any acts of charity, mercy, and goodness- which can include defending innocent lives with guns? As a Christian, Schenck knows that Christians are called to fight against bad and evil — both within themselves but also in the world. In other words, Christians are to combat evil. What were to happen if Christians used Schenck’s mindset and applied it to protecting preborn lives from abortion? Should Christians stop trying to save these lives because sometimes Christians can be “bad guys?” This position simply makes no sense.

Schenck then says,

“…anyone using a gun for defense must be ready to kill. Such a posture is antithetical to the term “evangelical,” which refers to the “evangel,” or gospel. The gospel begins with God’s love for every human, and calls on Christians to be more Christ-like. At no time did Jesus use deadly force. Although he once allowed his disciples to defend themselves with “a sword,” that permission came with a limitation on the number of weapons they could possess.Numerous Bible passages, such as Exodus 22:2-3, strictly limit the use of deadly force.

Schenck conflates the moral implications of killing and murdering. Killing while defending innocent human life is acceptable; murdering innocent life isn’t. It’s precisely why the proper translation of the Sixth Commandment is “thou shalt not murder” rather than” thou shalt not kill”: God makes a clear moral distinction between killing and murder. It’s why the Bible gives clear instructions for the punishment of murder — death, which differs from the punishment for killing — time served in sanctuary cities.

How making a moral distinction between killing and murder — being prepared to use a gun to do the former and not the latter, in an attempt to save lives — is antithetical to the gospel is anyone’s guess. This actually gives credibility to the gospel rather than detracting from it.

To appeal to Jesus’ lack of doing or saying something, as a model to follow, can be theologically tricky. It’s applicable in some areas, not in others, like gun ownership. Just because Jesus didn’t mention a specific topic or didn’t engage in a specific activity, doesn’t mean we should automatically apply that omission to our current situation. Jesus didn’t specifically mention abortion; should Christians ignore that issue, allowing even more lives to perish because of our passivity — and thereby becoming less pro-life? He also didn’t mention homosexuality; should Christians simply ignore the seriousness of this issue and its far-reaching moral, cultural, and physical consequences?

Yet Jesus did encourage his disciples to carry swords (Luke 22:36, 38), plural, for protection and sell-defense. But Schenck diminishes this example, which can and should be applied to gun ownership, by changing the subject from self-defense tothe actual number of weapons one should (or shouldn’t) have for self-defense. So is Schenck against using guns for self-defense in total, or is he simply against the number of guns one might have for self-defense?

Additionally, Schenck cites Exodus 22:2-3a to defend the idea of limiting deadly force, but these verses also permit one to protect one’s family and property. Verse two allows for the striking and killing a person if he breaks in during the night- the time where a family is most vulnerable to theft or worse. Appealing to this passage undermines- and further confuses- Schenck’s position rather than bolsters it.

I very much disagree with Schenck’s position — I think people can and should own guns and they have a moral obligation to learn how to use them safely and legally to protect themselves and other innocent people from criminal intent and other forms of evil. He’s wrong to advocate and defend a false dichotomy between supporting the right to own guns and being pro-life. These two issues aren’t mutually exclusive, as he and those who share his view would have Christians believe. There are many Christians who would love to exercise their legal rights to own a gun for protection but are prevented from doing so by prohibitive laws and a lack of financial resources. Would Schenck tell the number of gun-less Christians, who live in the inner cities of Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, Oakland and elsewhere who are terrorized and killed by criminals with guns that all is well- that their position is ‘pro-life’ even as they lose theirs?

Schenck’s position on gun ownership needs considerable clarification. He confidently proclaims that he’s against fellow Christians maintaining a defensive, anti-life position because they own guns. Is he then saying that he’s against using that gun to deter crime and other evil? After all, that’s what the defensive position he laments, defends against.

If Schenck can’t be pro-life and pro-gun, that’s fine — for him; it’s his personal decision. He’d still be misguided, but his morally and theologically confused position would only apply to him. It should exclude the slandering and mischaracterization of responsible, sober-minded gun owners — the overwhelming majority of whom are law-abiding citizens.

This isn’t a condemnation of Schenck. He seems to be a good and decent man. Yet on this issue, he seems emotionally confused and unwilling to acknowledge the nuances, realities and the moral requirement to protect life. It appears as if he is using his faith to justify his anti-gun ownership transformation.

InterVarsity Seduced by #BlackLivesMatter, Compartmentalized “Justice”

Despite the incongruity between its activist agenda and what the name of the organization (and hashtag) superficially implies, the social current of #BlackLivesMatter has successfully swallowed a number of churches and Christian organizations in its supposed quest for racial and social “justice.” InterVarsity Christian Fellowship is the latest victim to be seduced by the cultural fad of “justice” — always compartmentalized — at the expense of biblical justice, which is supposed to permeate the totality of the Christian’s life.

During InterVarsity’s Urbana missions conference, Michelle Higgins, director of Faith for Justice, a Christian advocacy group — and herself a member of #BlackLivesMatter — lectured listening Christians about the need to be involved in the fight against racial injustice. Fighting against racial injustice, in addition to all forms of injustice, is a Christian obligation that’s firmly rooted in the mission of the church. The body of Christ is — and should be — the vessel of racial reconciliation, predicated on Christ having overcome all superficial forms of division and separation, including those based on racial and ethnic considerations.

But for Higgins, or any Christian, to conflate the fight against racial injustice with supporting the agenda, intent, and behavior of #BlackLivesMatter is “chasing after the wind” — a fool’s errand that leads many sincere Christians astray. Christian leaders have a tremendous responsibility to be voices and examples of reason. Christian credibility is at stake. So it’s a cause for concern when Christians engage in negligent and questionable behavior. Here it involves using racial guilt to manipulate Christians into supporting a movement that perpetuates a secular social and political narrative that consists of lies and racial paranoia under the guise of fighting racial inequality.

During her speech, Higgins sought to religiously justify support of #BlackLivesMatter in a manner similar to the Christians and theologians that used Christianity to justify the black power movement of the past.  Higgins said, “Black Lives Matter is not a mission of hate. It is not a mission to bring about incredible anti-Christian values and reforms to the world. Black Lives Matter is a movement on mission in the truth of God.”

That a Christian felt comfortable enough to say this with a straight face is disturbing. The fact that the audience was so embracing of her message, especially in light of the rhetoric and strategies used by #BlackLivesMatter activists is even more disturbing, reflecting poorly on Christians. The claim that #BlackLivesMatter is on ‘mission in the truth of God’ is about as true as the claim made at Michael Brown’s funeral — that he was “out spreading the word of Jesus Christ” before he was killed.

Brown was actually stealing a box of cigarillos from a liquor store shortly before he was killed.

Higgins continued, noting the presence of racism in various areas of life where she claimed the church is silent, including the racial disparities in education and the criminal justice system — obligatorily mentioning the cases of Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner and Michael Brown. She then clarified what she wants people to think #BlackLivesMatter means, saying,

“Now, I don’t want all people of color to go scot-free for wrongdoing – I don’t want to see people of color never arrested for anything. Black lives matter doesn’t mean all black folk can kill people and steal stuff…. that’s not what we want, that’s not what I want. What do we want? Justice. And what is justice? Justice means my baby boy, my baby girl will not be tried, condemned… executed on the street. That’s justice. Justice means the burden of supremacy…is not up on you, because God is pleased with you. Therefore, you can be pleased with everyone he has made.”

Higgins added,

“BlackLivesMatter demands that we face facts and tell the truth…it demands that I know myself and that I see you, it demands that [we see] those that have been in prison… and executed… because of their skin color, and that we free them. It demands that white and black and brown and Asian and Hispanic brothers and sisters be treated as one. Redefine justice the way that God defines justice; your God is not white, he’s not Japanese or Congolese — your God is God.”

Ok, let’s face facts and tell the truth.

Here’s a fact. There are racial disparities in education and the criminal justice system. And there is a case to be made, at least in education, that the disparities are partially the result of substandard education intentionally delivered to poor black and Hispanic children. Deliberately giving poor children less access to quality education is a partial predictor of future dependency, contributing to a growing underclass. Chicago, Detroit and New York are perfect examples. This cause should be taken up by Christians, but #BlackLivesMatter has nothing to do with it.

Further, if the goal is to reduce the racial disparities in education, people should not only advocate that poor children receive better quality education, they should also encourage the redemption and reconciliation of the black family. Not only would that contribute to the mitigation of academic disparities suffered by blacks, increasing the number of intact black families would also mitigate the racial disparities in the criminal justice system. Blacks aren’t locked up disproportionately simply and only because they’re black. Blacks are imprisoned disproportionately because of the disintegration of the family and the collapse of the Christian moral value system.

Speaking of criminals, here’s another fact: #BlackLivesMatter valorizes black criminality and sanctifies black criminals. The lives of everyday blacks don’t matter to this movement, including the lives of blacks tormented by black criminals. This is why #BlackLivesMatter is a misnomer. The only black lives that matter to these social agitators are the ones killed by (white) cops, largely the result of the actions of the criminals themselves. Defending and honoring the lives of black criminals over the lives of blacks that aren’t criminals, but in need of our attention, is despicable and unworthy of being called or legitimized by Christianity.

Moreover, with the exception of Tamir Rice — who was shot and killed because he was playing with a toy gun that police officers mistook for real — Michael Brown and Eric Garner were killed because they attacked police officers or resisted arrest when their criminal behavior was confronted. (Sandra Bland also refused to listen to an officer’s command, which resulted in a physical confrontation.) This isn’t to say that they deserved to die, but they also weren’t “innocent” nor were the merely “victims” because of their race. There are consequences when one confronts police officers, is insubordinate to police officers or resists arrest. For Higgins to conflate their deaths with the possibility of her “baby boy” and her “baby girl” being “tried, condemned… and executed on the street” — presumably because they’re black and nothing else — trivializes any real understanding of what justice entails.

Further, where specifically has anyone, in modern America, been “executed” in prison only because of his or her skin color? That’s a heavy charge that deserves to be supported by very firm evidence, particularly when said by someone who self-identifies with the name of Christ. Without supporting evidence, it’s a lie. Additionally, why exactly should we “free” anyone in prison, as a rule, merely because of his or her skin color?

Now the obvious but compulsory disclaimer: fighting against racial injustice and inequality is the Christian thing to do; there aren’t many Christians that would argue against doing so. Christianity’s influence was responsible for ending slavery and was the moral motivator and sustainer of the civil rights movement — the last great moral movement in our nation’s history. Supporting #BlackLivesMatter isn’t the proper or most effective and practical way for Christians to meet the challenge of fighting the vestiges of racial injustice. In many ways, supporting #BlackLivesMatter contributes to racial discord and perpetuates racial acrimony.

Additionally, part of fighting racial injustice is to resist the reflexive urge to label every socio-economic disparity a result of racial injustice — a characteristic of #BlackLivesMatter. Purposefully mislabeling every racial disparity between blacks and their racial counterparts, the result of “racism,” trivializes actual occurrences of racism, preventing these occurrences from being appropriately addressed. It also stifles constructive strategies (which have nothing to do with race) that can be implemented to diminish socio-economic gaps that continue to exist.

Trying to address racial discrimination is one thing. Trying to do so facilitated by the dishonest rhetoric and antagonistic behavior of the #BlackLivesMatter organization should be of no interest to Christians. Christians shouldn’t allow themselves to be influenced by the kind of overt deception that #BlackLivesMatter espouses, and they shouldn’t legitimize the tactics and secular agenda of such a duplicitous organization.

Sadly, InterVarsity undermined its religious credibility by granting unearned moral authority to #BlackLivesMatter. Shame on Michelle Higgins for conflating the fight against racial injustice — a worthy cause — with the questionable and unworthy cause of #BlackLivesMatter. And shame on InterVarsity for legitimizing this error by giving Higgins such a big platform to mislead so many Christians