All Lives Matter…Unless They Don’t
I’ll begin by simply stating it: Black Lives Matter.
Are you offended by those three words? If so, you need to ask yourself why. Do you feel threatened? If so, what exactly is it that threatens you? If you are white, does the phrase “Black Lives Matter” trample upon your privilege? Does it mean your life matters any less than it did before the lives of Freddie Gray, Ma’Khia Bryant, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, Philando Castile, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Alton Sterling, Daunte Wright, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and many others were taken?
You and I may think all lives matter equally. But let’s not kid ourselves. And until I walk a mile in the shoes of a Black person, I’ll never be able to tell him or her how to feel about this topic. Jason Reynolds, a Black author, explains it well:
“My life matters.” “And if you say, ‘No, all lives matter,’ what I would say is I believe that you believe all lives matter. But because I live the life that I live, I am certain that in this country, all lives [don’t] matter. I know for a fact that, based on the numbers, my life hasn’t mattered; that black women’s lives definitely haven’t mattered, that black trans people’s lives haven’t mattered, that black gay people’s lives haven’t mattered… that immigrants’ lives don’t matter, that Muslims’ lives don’t matter. The Indigenous people of this country’s lives have never mattered. I mean, we could go on and on and on. So, when we say ‘all lives,’ are we talking about White lives? And if so, then let’s just say that. ‘Cause it’s coded language.”
When I say “Black lives matter,” I am not saying “Black lives matter more than any others.” If those in the Black community believe the message they are receiving is that their bodies are “less than,” it’s imperative to understand that Black lives matter, too. We could say “All lives matter,” when our actions and attitudes betray those words. When we say, “All lives matter,” we – perhaps unintentionally – ignore the racism that continues to permeate our culture and bring the attention to ourselves, erroneously sharing space in the victimhood where we were not invited.
Here’s an example, courtesy of pastor Joe Hellerman:
“There are eighty-eight keys on my digital piano. When all the keys are working, I can happily assert, “All keys matter.” But when a bank of six of those piano keys suddenly goes silent, I don’t need to be reminded that all keys matter. I need to take my keyboard to the repair shop, identify the problem, and trust the technician to direct all his resources to fix that bank of broken keys. Because at a time like this, it is the bank of broken keys—and only the bank of broken keys—that really matters. At a time like this, some keys matter more than others.”
We live in a broken world. People are hating. People are hurting. People are dying.
I’m reminded of a brief story in Numbers 12. Moses’ brother and sister (Aaron and Miriam) appeared to be jealous of him. After all, Moses was God’s servant who had a unique relationship with the LORD. Verse 1 tells us that “Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite.” In this case Cushite means “Ethiopian.” Is it possible Aaron and Miriam simply didn’t like Moses’ wife because she had darker skin? Because she didn’t look like them? Because she was an “other?” Obviously, this woman had no control over her appearance, and did not deserve such harsh treatment. But her life mattered, did it not? By declaring that her life was important, it in no way diminishes the lives of Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.
By the way, later in that passage, “The anger of the LORD burned against them, and he left them” (v. 9). Then Miriam was plagued (temporarily) with a skin disease.
I know. To God, all lives matter. I get that. But may we remember that to God, all lives matter equally. A white American family is no better, or no more loved, than a family struggling to make ends meet in Africa (or anywhere).
God is not an American God. God is not the God of white people. When we begin to place more value on one life than another, we spit in the face of our Creator. And when we refuse to listen to a community that is clearly hurting, we disregard Jesus’ command to love our neighbor as ourselves.
There’s so much more to say about this. But I’m mentally exhausted by the events of the last few weeks. I can’t begin to imagine how the Black community feels right now.
So I hope and pray you will join me in some intentional time of silent lament today. Sometimes there’s no more we can say. Sometimes the space of silence is all we need. Sometimes our tears need to flow like rain from an angry and fed-up sky.
In Jesus’ Name,