Black Lives Matter

BLM is writing a new chapter in the history of black people's struggle for full equality. What are the implications for churches?
March 8, 2016
Desiree Griffiths, 31, holds up a sign during a 2014 protest in Miami. AP Photo by Lynne Sladky.

The Black Lives Matter movement that has unfolded in cities and on campuses across the nation is writing a new chapter in black people’s struggle for liberation. We asked writers to reflect on what the movement has accomplished, where its energies should be focused, and what implications it has for churches. Their responses are listed below.

Full humanity, by Brian Bantum

The challenge to Christians, by Anthea D. Butler

Jesus of the resistance, by Brittney Cooper

The church's respectability politics, by Gary Dorrien

Black love of black people, by Jennifer Harvey

Black lives rising, by Eboni Marshall Turman

The language of liberation, by Reggie Williams


Letter from Donald Heinz

Featuring Black Lives Matter with so many eloquent voices from the black Christian community was a great idea. But not one of the contributors raised the issue of strategy, something Martin Luther King and others were so adept at.

Assuming most of the protesters’ claims are valid, was it a good idea to interrupt a Bernie Sanders rally? Or was the whole point to profoundly annoy allies in the white community? Perhaps the Black Lives Matter movement could ponder legitimate criticism and not make the rejection of all criticism a necessary part of the movement. Maybe its participants could learn from some of the great activists, from Gandhi to King. 

Donald Heinz
Chicago, Ill.

Letter from Ryan Ahlgrim

I was enlightened and challenged by the essays on Black Lives Matter, but I wonder whether some of the essayists were entirely accurate. Two of the writers rightly referred to the absurdities and injustices revealed in the killing of Trayvon Martin and the subsequent trial. But I believe the jury was correct in that case: there was insufficient evidence of second-degree murder. We do not know who threw the first punch or who was screaming for help.

Another writer claimed that a Seattle crowd at a Bernie Sanders campaign rally was “hurling racial epithets” at two BLM protesters. I checked the news coverage of that event and found only references to “booing” by the crowd; and on the basis of what the two women did (forcing themselves on the stage and taking away the microphone from Sanders, who then had to cancel the event), I would have booed as well.

Another writer commended BLM tactics such as shutting down the Mall of America around Christmas and blocking Chicago streets and commerce during Thanksgiving. But do such tactics foster positive attitudes or understanding for the BLM movement, or do they actually undercut its effectiveness?

I also wondered: Is white supremacy the only factor that is preventing people from embracing the truth that black lives matter? Does the African-American community sometimes engage in or tolerate language and behavior that undermine its own sense of value? Might the goals of BLM be reached more fully if some of its proponents were more self-critical?

Ryan Ahlgrim
First Mennonite Church,
Richmond, Va.