Thursday, June 18, 2020
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Thursday, June 18, 2020. I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
A Sentence or a Movement? A Look at Black Lives Matter
Words matter. Christians understand that words always matter. And especially when words are at the center of controversy and conflict, sometimes confusion, it is the Christian's responsibility to look at the words very carefully, to understand what the words are, what they mean and even what the words are doing. When you consider the words “Black Lives Matter” in the year 2020, you're talking about words that together have become a major part of the American conversation, an urgent part, yes, a controversial part. About those words there is often more heat than light. It's our responsibility to try to look at those words, “Black Lives Matter” and figure out what they mean and how we as Christians should understand those words when put together, considering those three words, every single one of them is a simple English word, very short. English words that at least at first appearance should be readily understood, “Black Lives Matter.” You put them together and it is a phrase, but not only that, you put them together and they are a sentence, “Black Lives Matter.”
Now, what do we think about that sentence? Well, just taken as a sentence it is obviously and profoundly true. We're talking about human beings made in the image of God, we're talking about black lives in particular in the United States and we are saying that those lives matter. In the sense of a sentence, when you say “Black Lives Matter,” that doesn't mean that you're saying that other lives do not matter.
And of course, it's right for Christians always to affirm that we believe that every single human being at every point of development, under every condition and of every race and ethnicity and language, and you could go throughout all of the human characteristics, every single human being, every single human being past present and future is a creature made in the image of God, an image bearer, a human being that possesses full human dignity and needs to be recognized as having by divine right full human rights. That's a very important issue.
In the aftermath of the words “Black Lives Matter” becoming a part of the national conversation, there were those who said, "It's wrong to say ‘Black Lives Matter’ because that's singling out one part of humanity. You need to say, ‘All Lives Matter.’" And in the middle of controversies in which the phrase “Black Lives Matter” sprang into the American imagination, there were those who said, "You need to say that police lives matter,” or according to at least one construction, "Blue Lives Matter." Is that true? Of course, it's true. But it's not wrong in a particular moral and historical context to say something emphatically directed as the words “Black Lives Matter” as a sentence would make clear.
Just consider an analogy from the 20th century. This should be very easy to understand and for a lot of Christians it should be immediately clarifying. Let's say that we're in the context of Germany during the 1930s and not to mention into the 1940s. Let's consider the fact that even in the 1930s with the rise of the Nazi Party, there was an official and deadly anti-Semitism that was already becoming official state policy in Nazi Germany.
It would have been right in every sense, it would have been right in every way, it would have been morally urgent and necessary in that context to say, "Jewish lives matter." Looking back at that horrible moment of anti-Semitism and eventually the genocide of the Holocaust in the 20th century, Christians would understand that it is a matter of Christian truth telling to say that Jewish lives matter. Now, you fast forward and you understand that when there are particular dangers to any part of humanity, and in this case, we're talking about very real urgent moral concerns about the lives and the wellbeing of black Americans in our midst, it can't be wrong to say in that context, “Black Lives Matter," as a sentence.
But the problem with the sentence is that it didn't emerge merely as a sentence. And so, as it functions now, those three words together are effectively a movement. They are a message, they're a platform, they're a political statement. And in the age of social media, they are often a hashtag, #BlackLivesMatter. Now the clarification comes when we understand that the phrase “Black Lives Matter” right now is not merely in our culture, the combination of those three simple English words into a simple sentence. That is not now how the phrase “Black Lives Matter” functions. Again, it would be a violation of the gospel and of the Holy Scriptures to say that black lives do not matter. We have to say, "Black Lives Matter," but it's not just a sentence anymore. Nor was it a sentence when those words put together began to become a part of our national conversation. It wasn't just a sentence. It was going back to the year 2013, but especially in 2014 and thereafter, a political statement referring to a particular movement that emerged in a particular context. And as we come to understand, even those three words, “Black Lives Matter” don't mean exactly what we might think they mean. Those simple words are not operating in this sense as simply as you might think.
The organization, the platform, the movement known as Black Lives Matter emerged in the year 2013. It was organized by three women who say they are not the leaders because the movement we are told has a decentralized leadership, but nonetheless they are the founders. And especially when it comes to one of those three women, Alicia Garza, she has been the primary spokesperson for the movement.
The three African American women who started the movement are Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi. They started a movement back in 2013, but it really sprang into the American consciousness the following year in 2014, with protests that had followed the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson near St. Louis and Eric Garner in New York City. Both of them died in a confrontation with police. The protest that followed began to use the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. It became a major development in social media and in the nation's consciousness. And it came as a political argument, a specific and rather well-organized political argument. One of the explanations for that is that the movement had actually begun before 2014 by a matter of months, and the arguments were already coming together.
Now, as you consider Black Lives Matter in 2014 and fast forward over the course of the last six or seven years, the reality is that it has become a rather well-defined political movement. In more recent times, and especially in the national foment in the year 2020, it's important to recognize that the movement that was begun in 2013 as the Black Lives Matter network joined with other similar groups later to establish the Movement for Black Lives. Basically the same people still involved, the Movement for Black Lives as it is organized, an extension of the movement known as the Black Lives Matter network. When the Movement for Black Lives was organized, it declared itself to be the continuation of the argument of Black Lives Matter, and the hashtag and the nomenclature is still very much used.
One of the most interesting developments of recent months, indeed you could say recent years, but with real intensity and velocity in recent months, you've had many American organizations, political leaders, and in particular corporations and businesses declare themselves now allied with Black Lives Matter. They often use the hashtag, they're often now putting it in advertising and on their websites to make clear their solidarity with Black Lives Matter.
Now, there are huge ironies here. In order to understand that we need to look at Black Lives Matter in several different, very, very important dimensions. One has to do with the fact that if you look at the statement available right now at the Black Lives Matter website, What We Believe, it begins by saying that the Black Lives Matter Global Network began to organize as a chapter-based, member-led organization "whose mission was to build local power and to intervene when violence was inflicted on black communities by the state and vigilantes."
The next sentence says this, "In the year since we've committed to struggling together and to imagining and creating a world free of anti-blackness where every black person has the social economic and political power to thrive." As you continue looking at this What We Believe statement at the website of Black Lives Matter, it comes to certain affirmations. "We work vigorously for freedom and justice for black people and by extension all people." You continue on down through the list, "We see ourselves as a part of a global black family and we are aware of the different ways we are impacted or privileged as black people who exist in different parts of the world. We are guided," says the statement, "by the fact that all black lives matter regardless of actual or perceived sexual identity, gender identity, gender expression, economic status, ability, disability, religious beliefs, or disbeliefs, immigration status, or location."
If you're catching onto a theme, it continues with intensity. "We make space for transgender brothers and sisters to participate and lead." The next sentence, "We are self-reflective and do the work required to dismantle cisgender privilege and uplift black trans folk, especially black trans women who continue to be disproportionately impacted by trans-antagonistic violence. We build," says the statement, "a space that affirms black women and is free from sexism, misogyny, and environments in which men are centered." Later the statement says, "We make our spaces family-friendly and enable parents to fully participate with their children. We dismantle the patriarchal practice that requires mothers to work double shifts so that they can mother in private even as they participate in public justice work."
Immediately following is this sentence: "We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and 'villages' that collectively care for one another, especially our children to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable.” It continues, "We foster a queer affirming network. When we gather we do so with the intention of freeing ourselves from the tight grip of heteronormative thinking, or rather the belief that all in the world are heterosexual unless she, he, or they disclose otherwise." Finally says that We Believe statement, "We cultivate an intergenerational and communal network free from ageism. We believe that all people regardless of age show up with the capacity to lead and learn. We embody and practice justice, liberation, and peace in our engagements with one another."
Now, when you look at that you recognize there's some language here that would be very familiar to anyone who knows the civil rights movement during the 1960s and beyond. But perhaps what becomes most evident is the fact that there is a great deal of language here that wouldn't have fit in the traditional civil rights movement at all.
What Is the Worldview Behind the Black Lives Matter Organization?
There has been some good work done already by African American scholars and others indicating the distinctions between the Black Lives Matter movement and the civil rights movement, and most of those become very apparent right here.
Other of the distinctions become clear when you look at the larger document known as a Vision for Black Lives that was issued by the Movement For Black lives. Again, it's available at their website. By the time you look at this statement the movement has what you can only describe as comprehensive and global ambitions. "While this platform is focused on domestic policies we know that patriarchy, exploitative capitalism, militarism, and white supremacy know no borders. We stand in solidarity with our international family against the ravages of global capitalism and anti-black racism, human-made climate change, war and exploitation. We also stand with descendants of African people all over the world in an ongoing call and struggle for reparations for the historic and ongoing harms of colonialism and slavery. We also recognize, and honor the rights and struggle of our indigenous family for land and self-determination."
Under the statement on end the war on black people, the movement demands an end to capital punishment, an end to money bail, mandatory fines, fees, court surcharges, and defendant-funded court proceedings. Under Item 6 here, "An end to the war on black trans, queer, and gender nonconforming people, including their addition to anti-discrimination civil rights protections to ensure they have full access to employment, health, housing, and education."
Under the section on reparations the words include these, "Reparations for the systemic denial of access to high quality educational opportunities in the form of full and free access for all black people, including undocumented and currently formerly incarcerated people to lifetime education, including free access and open admissions to public community colleges and universities, technical education, technology, trade, and agricultural, educational support programs, retroactive forgiveness of student loans and support for lifetime learning programs."
Under the section entitled Divest Invest, the movement demands among other things, "The retroactive decriminalization, immediate release, and record expungement of all drug-related offenses and prostitution and reparations for the devastating impact of the war on drugs and criminalization of prostitution, including a reinvestment of the resulting savings and revenue into restorative services, mental health services, job programs, and other programs supported by those impacted by the sex and drug trade."
Under the section on economic justice, the movement demands, "Democratic control over how resources are preserved, used, and distributed and do so while honoring and respecting the rights of our indigenous family." Under the section entitled Community Control the platform demands, "An end to the privatization of education and real community controlled by parents, students, and community members of schools, including democratic school boards and community control of curriculum, hiring, firing, and discipline policies."
There is a following section on political power, but then the document gets to a glossary. And this is where things get more interesting than you might have expected. As I said in the beginning the three English words, easy to understand you would think would be “black” and “lives” and “matter.” And as I said emphatically, if those three words are put together as a sentence, the sentence is astoundingly, unquestionably right. But as you look at the use of those three words, “Black Lives Matter” in this movement and within the platform, it's interesting that the word “black” is defined in the glossary of the Movement for Black Lives.
Here is the definition of black: "Black is defined as a person who identifies as black AND has African indigenous ancestry that predates colonization." Very, very interesting. African indigenous ancestry that predates colonization. What's going on here? It is basically very similar to the effort that is now summarized by the letters, ADOS, A-D-O-S. African Descendants of Slavery. That means slavery in the United States. That is to say that covered most specifically in this document and in the platform of the Movement for Black Lives, are those identified as African American as black Americans whose ancestry was African and who also had experience in the United States under the regime of slavery.
This glossary by the way also defines capitalism and anti-capitalism. Capitalism is defined as, "An economic system in which products are produced and distributed for profit using privately-owned capital goods and wage labor." The statement goes on to say, "Many feminists assert that a critique of capitalism is essential for understanding the full nature of inequality, as global economic restructuring based on capitalism reflects a particular ideology that celebrates individual wealth and accumulation at the lowest cost to the investor with little regard for the societal costs and exploitation."
Black Lives and Black Lives Matter: Thinking Carefully and Prayerfully
But at this moment I want us to understand that the movement known as Black Lives Matter includes several distinctions that are very different than any kind of civil rights movement coming before, and by the mainstream civil rights movement in the United States in particular. I would identify at least four of these issues. I'm not the first to notice some of these and there have been African American scholars who have pointed to these distinctions.
The first is the distinction that is theological. That is to say, what is the authority that is claimed in this movement and in its moral imperatives? The authority here is a form of human solidarity. But the authority claimed in the civil rights movement was a Christian authority. That is to say they claimed the authority of the Holy Scriptures. They claimed the authority of the inheritance of Christianity as a theological system in arguing for the authentic humanity and thus the equal dignity of black Americans. As you look at the leadership of the civil rights movement in the United States, especially in the 1960s and beyond, one of the things you note is that most of the leaders were not only black men, they were black clergyman, they were pastors of churches or at least they were in a clerical role.
There were often identified as Martin Luther King Jr. was identified as The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. That invoked a certain connection to historic Christianity that became a great deal of the moral impetus behind the civil rights movement. It was a claim that in particular American Christians were being unfaithful to our theology in failing to see the equal dignity and to affirm the equal worth of black lives. That was essential to the civil rights movement.
In contrast, the Black Lives Matter movement is divorced from any kind of institutional connection to the African American church. It is a very, very different movement, it started out very different. That was made clear by the three women, Alicia Garza and Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, who established the movement back in 2013. It's also interesting that many of the leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement or the Movement for Black Lives are rather openly critical of the civil rights movement of the '60s for having under-argued the case.
This should remind us of the fact that much of the ideology behind the Black Lives Matter movement which goes back to critical race theory, emerged by academics, African-American academics who rejected the civil rights movement as being far too mainstream, and in error in continuing an affirmation of the American experiment when what was needed was revolution, not a correction of the American conscience and American culture.
You recall that Martin Luther King Jr. openly called for Americans to live up to our national compact, not to reject it. But the Black Lives Matter movement and the Movement for Black Lives are far more radical, they're really calling for a replacement. And as we saw in the documents, they're actually calling for a global revolution along these lines. In this sense it is rejectionist rather than reformist, that's a crucial distinction. But in the rejection it's not only a rejection of American culture as it stands as rather hopelessly racist by their view, it is also a rejection of capitalism that becomes very, very apparent. And of course, as you look at this you recognize that at least two of the three founders of the movement identified as Marxists.
It's not an accident then that there is here an open rejection of capitalism. It's very straight forward. And as you look at the documents, it's not a surprise then that the platforms call for a deconstruction or a destruction of global capitalism and capitalism as the economic system in the United States. And as you look at the documents, it is not a misreading to understand that they know what capitalism is and that is exactly what they are rejecting, this is not just a slogan.
But you also noticed in both of these documents, the platform of the Movement for Black Lives and in the beliefs statement of Black Lives Matter, there is a huge investment in intersectionality and especially in the issues of sexuality and gender. There is an emphatic connection between the sexual revolution and the gender revolution on the one hand and the Black Lives Matter movement as a movement tied to other issues of what they claim to be liberation. You put this all together and you understand how intersectionality works.
Now in the context of identity politics, that is the claim that there are identity markers that become primary for human beings and most of those it is argued are socially constructed, they become issues of political contests when identity politics becomes the political game, and intersectionality is the collection of different features of identity politics where they intersect, thus the intersectionality. Once again, this is historically explicable by the movement. Two of the three women, Alicia Garza and Patrisse Cullors identified as queer, that's the word that they used. In other words, they were intending to identify as resisting the, by their language, heteronormativity of the larger culture and also of the previous civil rights movement.
All this is explained by the same basically Marxist superstructure of the thought behind the movement. Language, such as sexual identity is actually perceived. Sexual identity, gender identity, gender expression, you go on, transgender brothers and sisters, black trans folk, black trans women—all of this comes together to indicate just how thoroughly, how comprehensively these issues are driven through the Black Lives Matter movement.
It's also extremely interesting in the year 2020 to understand that right now in June of 2020, you not only have a massive shift towards popular support for the Black Lives Matter message but you also have Pride Month in the United States. And so you have newspapers such as USA Today that have been running a series of articles about the intersection of black identity or black identity politics and LGBTQ identity.
But extending the radicality of this statement we go back to the sentence, "We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other,” and it goes on to speak of extended families and villages that exercise collective care. Now, behind all that is far more than we can unpack on The Briefing today, but understand that there is the accusation here or the critique that the nuclear family as we know it is a Western patriarchal oppressive invention.
The first distinction is theological and the second is economic, the embrace of Marxism, and the third has to do with the intersectionality with the issues of the LGBTQ revolution. But the fourth big issue really does come down to the fact that the movement is demanding a total, a comprehensive revolution. The argument here is that Western civilization, Western societies in general, and the United States of America in particular are a broken experiment that must be replaced. And not just replaced in and of themselves but replaced as part of a global revolution, reshaping all of human society.
Last week the New York Times ran an article with the headline, “On Black Lives Matter, the Public Has Quickly Moved to the Left,” indicating that polls and surveys, not to mention a look at American corporate and political life indicate an open embrace of the Black Lives Matter movement and message by a rapidly increasing percentage of Americans, at least when it comes to the words and what they think the words mean.
But I spent this much time on this issue today because it demands this much attention and careful and charitable Christian thinking. We need to understand that this is a movement that defines itself. And an honest assessment of the movement means that we take them at their word when we read their words and understand the platform and the message. This is a movement intending to send a very clear and very revolutionary message. But the most important issue for Christians in the United States driven by the gospel and biblical truth is to carefully and prayerfully consider what we are to think about this movement, how we are to speak of it and how we are to use these words.
The point is that the words “Black Lives Matter” right now when put together mean more than the words “Black Lives Matter” and even more than the sentence. The sentence as an English sentence taken alone is profoundly true, and Christians would affirm it. But as the sentence is now a part of our national conversation and vocabulary, it doesn't mean simply what the three words put together in sentence structure mean. It should tell us a very great deal about how American institutions and corporations are falling over themselves to try to put the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter on their websites as clearly and as quickly as possible.
How you have groups such as the Boy Scouts of America. Yesterday CNN indicated that the Boy Scouts of America has released that it is now officially in support of Black Lives Matter and is going to include diversity training in the merit badges for those who would try to achieve the rank of Eagle Scout. But remember the Boy Scouts of America is already capitulated to the LGBTQ revolution. Now it's joining Black Lives Matter, it all really does fit together and Black Lives Matter and the Movement for Black Lives have told us how.
As Christians we're called upon to evaluate everything by God's Word in Scripture and by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And thus to try to speak as candidly and as urgently as I may and must, we affirm the sentence enthusiastically, unhesitatingly. But the sentence right now is no longer just a sentence, it is a movement, it is a platform, it is a message. And that platform turns out to include many points that are antithetical to biblical Christianity.
But we have many African American brothers and sisters in Christ, also neighbors and people who are in our community who are hurting and fearful and we need to be very careful and attentive that we hear what they are saying, our brothers and sisters in Christ. We need to be careful how we are speaking. And that means that we have to confess together that we will need the Spirit of Christ because mere words clearly will not do.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information go to my website at AlbertMohler.com. You can find me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.