All the children
I don’t know what song children are learning in church these days, but I do remember a standard when I was going up.
“Jesus loves the little children/ All the children of the world/ Red, and yellow, black, and white/ All are precious in his sight/ Jesus loves the little children of the world.”
I am going to assume that pastor C. Herbert Woolston penned these lyrics in hopes that children would learn that God loves everyone regardless of their skin color. Over a hundred years later, we remain comfortable calling persons black or white but we have learned not to call people yellow or red. And, we also want to ask, “what about the brown children?” Again, I want to cut the good pastor some slack. He wrote books on how to teach children about the love of God and was a “child” of his era. He took a tune that was used by Civil War soldiers and transformed it into a song about God’s love. He did the best he knew to do. The point of the song, as the point of the stained glass image below, is that regardless of ethnicity, Jesus loves all.
So, “all lives matter” because all of us were created in God’s image. John 3:16 says, “God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son…” The world would include everyone.
What would Jesus say about “Black Lives Matter?”
Jesus was challenged to name what he considered to be the greatest of the laws. Depending on the Gospel, this was a sincere question or this was an attempt to find evidence against him. And there are slight variations in Jesus’ answer depending on which gospel you are reading. Let’s go with Matthew’s rendering.
34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22, NIV)
The first and second commandments are parallel.
“Matthew substitutes ‘similar to it’ for Mark’s ‘this’… The substitute enables him to interpret the second commandment as equal to the first in importance. ‘Second’ refers, then, to the order in quotation, not to order of importance…. Love for God and neighbor must permeate obedience to all the other commandments.” 1
Jesus makes a parallel between the commandments. The “second” commandment is “as much as” the “first” commandment.
Then, Jesus makes another parallel as he quotes Leviticus 19:18. You must love your neighbor “as much as” you love yourself.
This is what Jesus would say about Black Lives Matter. The point is not that all lives matter. The point is, black lives matter “as much as” any other lives. This is where we have broken the second great commandment. BLM is a political movement that is needed because we who are not black have sinned against those who are. There have been different standards in every way imaginable. Freedom, to begin with. “As much as” opportunities for education, healthcare, legal justice – the list has no end.
This week, I have been reading a book of essays, Remembered Rapture: The Writer at Work by bell hooks. In her essay, “Writing Without Labels,” she says,
“The world of whiteness imposed rigid boundaries. The logic of that world, of white supremacy, had to be resisted. To the extent that I was always struggling against racism, race mattered. Making sure that it did not become the issue that mattered most or the only issue that mattered was the burden placed on me…. When I am at my desk writing, I always think of myself as a writer who is a black woman. I never think: I am black woman writer. Race and gender are made to come first in the world outside, where if one is from a marginalized group anything about you that does not conform to white male standards is acknowledged first and foremost. Even when a black and/or woman writer is praised for not calling attention to race or gender, those categories are still being highlighted.” 2
Race and gender are not the only categories of import for bell hooks, but they are important and should not be denied as influential in any author’s writing.
“Writers who seek to flee any reference to identifying labels of race, gender, class, or sexual practice often do so because the tendency is to make too much of them. Yet to act as though they have no importance whatsoever denies all of us the opportunity to have an expansive understanding of influences and passions at work in the writer’s imagination.” ((Ibid, 51.)
If you are not a writer, you probably have no idea that there is a raging debate going on right now about book publishers’ advances to writers for their books. #publishingpaidme is inviting writers to complete a spreadsheet with the advance offer they were given for their book, anonymously but with identifying markers such as age, gender, and race. There are obvious discrepancies. (There is also now a hashtag, #christianpublishingpaidme.)
This is only one small sample of how some lives do not matter “as much as” another. The focus for the BLM movement is for black persons, of course. But the movement of “as much as” must not end there.
Jesus says to me, “Black Lives Matter as much as your life matters. Act like it.”
- Robert H. Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary on His Literary and Theological Art (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 449, 450.
- Bell Hooks, Remembered Rapture: The Writer at Work (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1999), 50.