This essay is part of our series on Race and Racism in America. See the full collection here.
Words matter, especially when words are at the center of controversy and conflict. It is the responsibility of all people to look at words carefully, to understand what the words are, what they mean, and what they are doing.
Three short and simple words have formed a sentence that has captured the attention of the nation. The words “black lives matter” are particularly controversial, having become a major part of the American conversation in 2020.
“Black lives matter,” taken as a sentence, is profoundly true. God made every human being in his image, which means every life on the planet, at every stage, matters. Every human being possesses full human dignity, and by extension, full human rights.
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Furthermore, saying that black lives matter does not mean that other lives do not matter. Indeed, when some people hear, “black lives matter,” they respond by saying that it is wrong to single out one part of humanity. Ever since the phrase sprang into the American imagination, there were others who asserted that “police lives matter,” “blue lives matter,” or “all lives matter.”
During a particular moral and historical context, it is not wrong to say something emphatically directed, like “black lives matter.” Just consider, as an example, Nazi Germany during the 1930s and 40s. The Nazi Party adopted a deadly antisemitism that led to the horrors of genocide during the Holocaust. At that time, to say that “Jewish lives matter” would not only have been right, but would have been morally urgent and necessary.
Fast forward to America in June of 2020. Today, there are very real and urgent moral concerns about the lives and well-being of black Americans. It is not wrong in our context, therefore, to say “black lives matter” as a sentence.
But it’s not that simple.
Black Lives Matter did not emerge merely as a sentence. Those three words function as a message and a platform making a significant political statement—one guided by Marxist ideology that seeks to revolutionize our culture and society.
Understanding the Black Lives Matter Movement
The Black Lives Matter movement was organized by three women: Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, with Alicia Garza serving as the primary spokesperson for the movement. The phrase rose to prominence in the year 2014, when protests broke out after the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in New York City. Both of these men died in confrontations with police. Once the protests began, so too did the use of the hashtag #blacklivesmatter.
Over the past six years, Black Lives Matter has become a well-defined political movement. It is important to recognize that the movement has now joined a network of similar groups that established the Movement for Black Lives. Many of the same people are still involved, and during the specific national ferment of 2020, an amalgamation of influential organizations, political leaders, and corporations have declared themselves as allied with the movement. They are using the hashtag, putting it on their advertising and websites to make clear their solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
In order to understand the movement, we need to look at the statement of the organization made available on the Black Lives Matter website. 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. In the years 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.
Their website then lists several affirmations, which unfold with an alarming intensity. They begin by stating that:
We work vigorously for freedom and justice for Black people and, by extension, all people. . . . We see ourselves as part of the 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 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.
At this point, a theme is beginning to emerge.
We make space for transgender brothers and sisters to participate and lead. We are self-reflexive 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.
In this affirmation, the Black Lives Matter Global Network adopts and promotes the entire worldview of the sexual revolution, which seeks to liberate humanity from the oppressive chains of biological gender. They seek to “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.”
The movement also seeks to remove any vestige of the traditional nuclear family, asserting:
We build a space that affirms Black women and is free from sexism, misogyny, and environments in which men are centered. . . . 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. We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and “villages” that collectively care for one another.
When you look at this language, it becomes clear that Black Lives Matter and the Movement for Black Lives share little in common with the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
The Movement’s Policy Demands
These distinctions are all the more clear in a booklet called “A Vision for Black Lives: Policy Demands for Black Power, Freedom, & Justice.” There, the Movement for Black Lives explains that it has global ambitions, stating:
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 continuing harms of colonialism and slavery.
Included in the vision document are policy proposals, including an end to capital punishment, to money bail, mandatory fines, fees, court surcharges, and defendant-funded court proceedings. It also includes under Item Six, “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.” The authors also demand
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 and formerly incarcerated people) to lifetime education including: free access and open admissions to public community colleges and universities, technical education, . . . educational support programs, retroactive forgiveness of student loans, and support for lifetime learning programs.
Under the Divest-Invest section, the movement, among other things, demands
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 supporting those impacted by the sex and drug trade.
Under Economic Justice, the Movement for Black Lives asserts the need for
A right to restored land, clean air, clean water and housing and an end to the exploitative privatization of natural resources—including land and water. Democratic control over how resources are preserved, used and distributed and do so while honoring and respecting the rights of our Indigenous family.
These are radical claims, which imply the abolition of private property. In this scenario, who would determine what land and water use constitute exploitation? And who would have the authority to seize property from owners who are deemed exploitative? Although this aspect of its message is emphasized less than its anti-racism, the group’s literature demonstrates that the Movement for Black Lives seeks an end to capitalism and free markets.
The Problem with Critical Race Theory
The end of the document includes a glossary, which gets even more interesting. As I said at the beginning, words matter—which is why, in this case, the phrase “black lives matter” actually means, according to the movement, something far more radical and subversive than the simple English would lead you to believe.
Capitalism, for example, is defined as
An economic system in which products are produced and distributed for profit using privately owned capital goods and wage labor. 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.
These statements, definitions, and policy demands are saturated in a Marxist ideology, promoting an intersectional worldview that is fundamentally subversive and destructive. Black Lives Matter operates from a worldview that undercuts human dignity. It sees each person’s identity as determined by externally imposed social structures, which are in turn determined by the human desire to seize power and oppress others. Such identity politics entangles human identity in subjective, materialist terms, diminishing the true beauty of what it means to be made in the image of God. It asserts that all meaning is humanly constructed, and it denies that human beings can ever know—even in part—the objective nature of a reality that exists outside of themselves, because such objective truth does not exist.
In short, the ideology of the Black Lives Matter movement attempts to upend the entire created order. It simply cannot fulfill its promises to bring about justice. Because it radically misunderstands human nature, it can never promote human flourishing.
Marxist Ideology vs. Christian Theology
In this way, the Movement for Black Lives advances a cause entirely separate from the aspirations of men like Martin Luther King, Jr. The Civil Rights Movement drew on theological truth claims as foundational for its moral arguments and imperatives. Christian authority and the Bible formed the bedrock of the Civil Rights Movement. The Movement for Black Lives, however, places authority in mere human solidarity. Indeed, in the 1960s, the Civil Rights Movement was led not just by black men, but by black clergy—they were pastors of churches with a connection to historic Christianity. In contrast, the Black Lives Matter movement is divorced from any institutional connection to the African American church.
Instead of a theological foundation, the Movement for Black Lives roots itself in critical race theory, which actually indicts the Civil Rights Movement as far too mainstream. According to critical race theorists, what was needed in the 1960s was a revolution, not a correction of the American conscience and culture. If you recall, Martin Luther King, Jr. openly called for Americans to live up to our national compact, not to reject it. The Movement for Black Lives, by contrast, seeks to dismantle the foundations of American civilization.
Because of the link between the Movement for Black Lives and critical race theory, as well as intersectionality, it is not hard to understand why the movement is connected to the sexual and gender revolutions. What binds them all together is the pursuit of liberation. As its leaders stated, the movement seeks liberation from the “Western-prescribed nuclear family structure.” In fact, Western civilization as a whole, according to the leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement, represents an oppressive system that must be destroyed. The language of its affirmations and beliefs—from “cisgender” and “Black trans folk” to “transgender brothers and sisters”—points to just how comprehensively the movement is governed by identity politics, grounded in a worldview contrary to the convictions that guided the Civil Rights Movement.
An honest assessment of the movement demands that we take them at their word. When we read their comments and official documents, when we survey the policies they propose and the worldview that guides their moral claims, it is clear that the Movement for Black Lives promotes a revolutionary and destructive agenda that is completely antithetical to a biblical worldview.
Christians like me believe that God calls us to evaluate everything by his Word, by the gospel of Jesus Christ. While we affirm the sentence “black lives matter,” without hesitation and with full enthusiasm, we simply cannot use the sentence, because it will be heard, nearly universally, as a movement, not as a sentence. The sentence is no longer a sentence—it is a movement, a platform, an agenda of revolution at odds with the gospel, contrary to and destructive of God’s creational order.
At the same time, Christians must be those who realize the hurt and fear of our African American brothers and sisters, indeed, of our African American neighbors and coworkers. We must be attentive to what they are saying—we must hear them, listen, and act in a way that demonstrates an urgent level of compassion and Christian love.
We will need the spirit of Christ to do this, because mere words clearly will not do.