By Pastor Mitch Kim
Why would I say, “Black lives matter,” as I did in my Sept 6, 2020 message? Exploring a passage around an ox that gores, I observed that slaves’ lives mattered as much as sons’ lives. Similarly today, Scripture would affirm that unborn as well as Black lives matter, embracing the lives of those that might be otherwise overlooked and marginalized since all humanity is created in the image of God (Gen 1:26–27).
While my message distinguished my words from the goals of any organization, some have raised concerns that “Black lives matter” implicitly endorses the organization of that name. So why would I use words that cause such concern? I have two reasons: a pastoral reason and a missional reason.
A PASTORAL REASON
The pastoral reason is for people within our church. These words are a theological statement of truth from the Scriptures spoken out of a pastoral heart for members of our own church. As I listen to my Black brothers and sisters who for centuries have been devalued by words and actions in this country, I hear that these words profoundly resonate and deeply express to them the value of their own lives. When they share their fears for themselves when out jogging or for their children playing in a friend’s neighborhood or when pulled over by the police, my heart aches. If the statement “Black lives matter” uniquely speaks love and value to such hurting hearts, then I want to minister with those words. And I want to model the power of these words for others that we might speak with compassion to our own brothers and sisters.
Could we not use other words to express the same meaning? Imagine that a wife asks her husband to say, “I love you.” The husband could object to how those words have been cheapened by overuse and instead say, “I will be loyal to you.” The husband could say that his wife should find her identity and affirmation in the love of God and say, “I love you as Jesus loves you.” Yet wise husbands know better. Such alternative wording would fail to communicate to and resonate with the heart of the wife’s request.
Similarly, the pastoral reason for using these words is that I desire to use the words that resonate with the hearts of people whom I love and respect and express God’s love toward them.
A MISSIONAL REASON
The missional concern is that the church must speak to the truth that Black lives matter. As a church, we always seek to connect the unchanging truths of God’s Word to the changing questions of our world. As I look at how the apostles did that work of contextualization, they used even pagan and idolatrous sources as a bridge to proclaim the glorious riches of Jesus Christ (Acts 17:23, 28–29). Throughout history, Christians have contextualized, adopted and reinterpreted pagan symbols and words. Gregory the Great told a missionary to Britain to transform pagan temples into houses of worship for the believers. Martin Luther adapted German bar tunes and set them to music as hymns. In each generation, we are called to translate the glory of Jesus Christ to the questions of our generation and culture. Today, we must contextualize the glory of Christ into the truth that Black lives matter.
These words express a truth that is sadly neglected in our world and even the church today. I believe that the church can reclaim the truth of this, affirming the truth that Black lives matter since they are created in the image of God and have been bought by the precious blood of Jesus Christ. And as we affirm this truth, we can use it as a bridge to proclaim the reconciling and healing power of our Lord Jesus Christ. Protests today reflect a cry for justice in our nation. Sadly, the church has often failed to engage this question and has even been complicit at times in propagating racism in our nation. I see too many young people leaving the church because they feel that the church is not addressing the questions that they are asking. We must seek God’s heart for the oppressed and marginalized and bring a biblical perspective to their questions.
SHOWING LOVE WITH OUR WORDS AND ACTIONS
Words can be cheap. Simply saying the words, “Black lives matter” without demonstrating that value in action is not enough; faith without works is dead (James 2:17). At Wellspring, we have begun to demonstrate intentionally the value of Black lives in a variety of ways. EQUIP classes on race and justice during the past four years have engaged this subject with biblical depth, historical sensitivity, and cultural awareness. “Wrestle” gatherings have invited experts to help us explore issues in light of the racial tensions in our nation. We have partnered with an African-American church in Bronzeville, coming under their leadership to share God’s grace through the provision of practical needs in their community. We have given generously to PADS and Outreach Community Ministries this year to support people in need within our community, many of whom are persons of color.
A small group of people in our church are creating a “Zacchaeus fund;” just as Zacchaeus accompanied his repentance with giving his money to correct injustice, so some are exploring ways to help with the down payment for a house of a Black family in our church. Also, individuals and home groups have been growing in their awareness of racial issues through friendships and relationships birthed in our own multiethnic church. Both word and action are important, and I advocate that we do both.
In sum, “Black lives matter” proclaims the beauty and value of Black lives in the image of God that have been and continue to be marginalized throughout history in our own nation. Many evangelical organizations and denominations affirmed these words, including InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and even the Southern Baptist Convention. Pastorally, I have learned that these particular words uniquely speak in this time. For missional reasons, it is critical to connect these words in the church to the glorious riches of the gospel, as I did in my message on Sept 6. May we live a life of love that loves in both word and deed; “Let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18).