All Black lives matter to God, so how do we ensure that all Black lives matter in our communities? How do we live up to the divine mandate to ensure justice is an integral part of our society?
Featured image inspired by a tweet from Jon.
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The Jewish Study Bible
It’s easy to do what’s right when what is right is popular, but even in a moment when saying Black Lives Matters is both right and popular, the deafening silence of those who’ve chosen to say nothing roars loudly. And the only thing that resounds even louder is the performative cries of “Black Lives Matter” from those unwilling to do the work – the unlearning, the reading, the listening, the change of behavior – to ensure that all Black lives do matter.
And this isn’t just a critique of White moderates who are currently more concerned with peace than justice or White “allies” who are marching and tweeting without examining how their own behavior upholds white supremacy. This is also a critique of people of color who refuse to examine the antiblackness in their culture, who are failing to reflect on their personal behaviors and beliefs, who aren’t doing the work to rid themselves of antiblackness. And it’s a critique of Black folk more concerned with their coin than Black lives, more concerned with White feelings than justice for Black folks, more concerned with looting and burning buildings than ensuring Black folks can live with dignity, and more concerned with “not being divisive” than ensuring Black women, transgender, nonbinary, queer and disabled folks are recognized and included in the movement. It’s these actions, or inaction, that inhibit justice in our communities.
Justice Is Necessary
Justice is about making things right. According to Abraham Joshua Heschel, a Jewish theologian and philosopher (and one of my favorite theological thinkers),“justice is not an ancient custom, a human convention, [or] a value, but [it is] a transcendent demand, frightened with divine concern. [Justice] is not only a relationship between [person] and [person], it is an act involving God, a divine need…[Justice] is not only one of [God’s] ways, but [it] is in all [God’s] ways.[i]” Justice is imperative to God. It matters.
Justice must be present in society if we expect to have a healthy, whole, and functioning society. Because it is integral to the way God created community and society, we can’t just pick and choose when justice will be present. It should be a constant in our society.
“No one expects to receive a reward for the habit of breathing. Justice is as much a necessity as breathing is, and a constant occupation.[ii]” That quote from Heschel really illustrates how natural, necessary, and nonrewarding justice should be. But in reality it illustrates how far we’ve missed the mark on justice; it’s a reminder of how lacking justice is in our society…and it is especially jarring since the Black Lives Matter uprising that is currently happening was triggered when George Floyd was denied his breath by a police officer in the streets of Minneapolis.
A World Full of Injustice
But isn’t that the world we have become accustom to? A world full of racial injustices. One where Black people are regularly murdered in the streets without consequences? One where Black neighborhoods are overpoliced, resulting in racial disparities in our criminal justice system? One where Black folks are disproportionately affected by COVID-19, where Black womxn are more likely to die in childbirth, and where racial bias causes medical professionals to believe that Black people don’t feel as much pain as White folks. One where schools in Black neighborhoods are underfunded, where Black employees are underpaid, and where Black folks seeking loans are overcharged. One where Black folks are systematically disenfranchised, and their political voice is suppressed and ignored. We’ve been socialized to accept injustice in the form of racism as a norm in our society.
Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, who was also the first Black woman to run for president, once said, “Racism is so universal in this country, so widespread, and deep-seated, that it is invisible because it is so normal.” Racism is the American way, but that is so far from what God expects of us. So how do we become what God expects of us? How do we ensure the current Black Lives Matter uprising pushes us to become a community grounded in justice for all Black lives?
Develop an Awareness of Injustice
We have to be honest with ourselves about what our inaction will cost us. Over the last few weeks as we’ve been bombarded with all of the corporate Black Lives Matter statements, the one that stood out the most to me was Roger Goodell’s statement on the NFLs behalf. Unlike most of the corporations who released statements, the NFL and racist police brutality have been linked since Colin Kaepernick first sat during the national anthem on August 26, 2016. For almost four years, the NFL had the opportunity to speak out, to choose justice, to side with the victims of oppression, yet they chose not to. So when Goodell said, “We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier,” the first question that came to my mind was “How different would our country look had Roger made this statement when Kaepernick first protested?” How much progress could we have made in those three and half years? How many lives could’ve been saved? How many injustices could’ve been prevented?
A society absence of justice is a society filled with injustices. And when we choose not to fight for racial justice, we are actively choosing to support racial injustice. We can’t decide not to advocate for justice and return back to normal. There is no happy middle ground to return to. Failing to choose justice means you’re actively choosing injustice, and people are harmed by that choice, by that inaction, by that silence.
And the prophets of our sacred text understood the human cost of not choosing justice. That’s why they talked so much about justice. “The prophets’ preoccupation with justice and righteousness has its roots in a powerful awareness of injustice…The urgency of justice was an urgency of aiding and saving the victims of oppression.[iii]” Saving victims of oppression was the priority when Micah 6:8 was written. Micah understood “how the overbearing policies of political, social, and religious leaders of his time affected the peasant class.[iv]” His understanding of the human cost of injustice inspired him to “expose injustice and inequity.[v]”
We must have the same sense of injustice. The harm that injustice causes to other people must break our hearts and move us to action. We can’t ignore and turn our face from injustice because it’s ugly, because it makes us uncomfortable, because it challenges our norms. We must be aware of how people in our society are suffering, how systems of oppression prevent people from living full, dignified lives, how our behavior enables these systems to thrive, and how our silence stands in agreement with injustice.
And this awareness doesn’t come from staying in our own box. Being aware of injustice requires that we listen to and believe those who don’t look like us, who don’t live like us, who don’t love like us, and who don’t experience the world the way we do. Being aware of injustice requires us to read, to listen to, and to learn from those who have been immersed in the work longer than we have. And being aware of injustice requires us to realize that we do not have all the answers.
Stop Allowing Moderates to Dominate the Conversation
Secondly, we have to stop allowing moderates to dominate the conversation if we’re going to build a community grounded in justice for all Black lives. It truly amazes me that 57 years after Martin Luther King, Jr.’s scathing read of the white moderate, the moderate perspective is still being given so much country at the expensive of Black folks. And before this is seen as an attack on “reasonable people,” let’s think about what it really means to be a moderate.
Moderates are individuals who have very mainstream political, social, and religious perspectives. They are folks who avoid extreme views and major social changes. So most moderates simply want to maintain things, and if change must happen, they want that change to come as slowly and as incremental as possible. Moderates don’t want their normal interrupted. But when the choice is between maintaining the status quo and creating a world where all Black lives matter, justice demands we chose the latter…even when it makes the moderate uncomfortable.
It is a privilege to be a moderate. It means you’re part of the in-crowd. You’re somewhere safely inside the circle, and honestly, your concern for those who have been left outside of the circle doesn’t move you to push for more. You choose being included and/or comfortable over pushing for more inclusive and progressive political, social, and theological structures. This is why those who feel safe in their interactions with police officers don’t push for change when Black people talk about how dangerous and deadly their police interactions are. They are included and comfortable in their moderate position. This is why cishetero Black men have been the most resistant to calls for the Black Lives Matter movement to be inclusive of women, gay, lesbian, and transgender folks. This is why people with disabilities are constantly erased from the Black Lives Matter narrative despite the fact that 50% of people killed by law enforcement are disabled people.
Creating a society grounded in justice, where all Black lives matter, requires we do more than be moderate. We have to envision a bold, more progressive society where all are included, and we have to do what’s necessary to manifest that world. We have to become so pained by injustice and the harm it causes other people, that we are willing to leave our comfort zone for the sake of justice. We have to create a world that works for the most marginalized in our communities because a world that works for the most marginalized is a world that works for us all.
Our Voices Are Powerful
Finally, we have to understand that our voices are powerful. Too many people think, “Things will never change, so what’s the point of all of this.” They are rightfully frustrated with the stubbornness of our systems, our culture, and the people in our society. It’s important that we remember that our voices are stronger than those systems, and the only way things don’t change is if we continue to say nothing, do nothing, and allow the world to continue as is. We must continually and consistently use our voices to advocate for justice until our systems, our culture, and people have shifted into agreement.
I’ve spoken to people who have been actively working to defund police departments for years, long before it was popular. It’s their voices, their work, their research, and their organizing that has positioned defunding the police as a realistic option to combat racist police violence and make our communities safe for all Black folks. And now that the masses have added their voices to those who have long been doing this work, defunding police departments has entered the mainstream conversation in a way that we’ve never seen before. This is one example of the power of our voices. When we join our voices together, we have the power to shift the conversation, alter the culture, and produce sustainable change.
In his Letter from the Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” And when the oppressed demand freedom and justice, those of us with a little more power and privilege must stand in solidarity with them and join them in demanding that freedom and justice. That means white people and non-Black people of color must affirm the value of and advocate for all Black lives. That means cishetero Black folks must affirm the value of and advocate for LGBTQ Black lives. That means people without disabilities must affirm and advocate for people with disabilities. Creating a society grounded in justice where all Black lives matter requires that we listen to, learn from, and act with those who are marginalized by our current systems and structures. That is how we build a society that reflects God’s heart for justice.
A Divine Mandate
You can find a lot of things in the Bible – some good, some bad – but one of the most consistent and reoccurring themes in the book is justice. Across testament, time, books, and authors, we find stories of both communities and individuals seeking, advocating for, and receiving justice…and God sides with those seeking justice.
Justice is central to God’s being. That’s why “to do justice” is included in Micah 6:8, a didactic verse designed to teach and provide moral instruction, one of the most influential and quoted sayings in prophetic literature, and a verse that sums up all 613 precepts communicated to Moses. Doing justice is long overdue in our society. It’s time that we create communities that reflect God’s heart, communities that prioritize the needs of the oppressed, communities grounded in justice. All Black lives matter to God. Let’s do the work to ensure that all Black lives matter in our communities as well.
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