“I see you went to the black lives matter protest and have been posting a lot of things related to racism in Australia, are you, as a Christian, supporting the push of what the Black Lives Matter movement are saying about the current state of race relations in this country?”
My response: “Yes. I think as a follower of Jesus, this movement has highlighted a problem that has been there for many years- the problem is that the legacy of the pains of dispossessing the peoples of these lands still continue to this very day. As a follower of Jesus, I feel compelled to do something about this. And I think the movement known as Black Lives Matter is bringing this to our attention in fresh ways”
So here I am, writing this response piece, to Christians who are asking questions around Black Lives Matter within Australia. With the Black Lives Matter movement going on all throughout the world at the moment, I have had numerous conversations with different people sharing their differing responses to the movement itself- everything from overwhelming support, to supporting with qualifying nuances, to people saying “But don’t all lives matter?”. Jesus said to “go into the world and make disciples” (Matt. 28:16-20); it’s important to recognise that he didn’t say to “Go and make converts” but disciples. The word basically means to “students”, and was used by Jesus to make students of Him & His Kingdom. And as students of Jesus learning the ways of the Kingdom, I believe it is an imperative to know how Christians should respond to things going on in the world in distinct Christlike ways. And so, I want people to know how to respond to this movement as disciples of Jesus.
First Things First
Now of course, you might ask why am I writing this? After all, there are resources out there already- and this is true. Yet there will be people specifically within my world that have been asking me questions- these people value my thoughts on things, and as such I want to use my platform to speak into these things. Also, I send these people resources so that they themselves learn to educate themselves in everything that’s happening. However, people still ask me how I respond to the questions raised by those who are suspicious or against the Black Lives Matter movement. So, I have decided to write this. That said, I don’t want to use this article to centre the conversation around me and how I am involved in these times. Rather I want this to be a gateway into other Christian voices speaking into these times- specifically voices of black and Indigenous Christians who have a visceral perspective on this. As such, I’ll be providing resource links for people to move beyond this written piece and into the important work that black & indigenous people of colour have been doing for many years.
So why Black Lives Matter?
My appeal towards this movements work of bringing to our attention racism in these lands (and abroad) is because I am a follower of Jesus. Now, this might shock a few readers, with responses like “But isn’t the movement a movement of the left?” or “But isn’t this movement just cultural Marxism?” or “But surely racism is a sin issue- why pin people against each other?”. Let me say right now that these are actually the type of questions I’ll be addressing, and more. In fact, this piece will be written up as a back-and-forth Q&A of the types of a responses I have heard from people of faith as it relates to the movement known as Black Lives Matter.
Sometimes people get the impression that I, and many others, are just being swept up in a movement of the ideological left- leaving behind any explicit affiliation with faith. People have spoken of the movement as “Cultural Marxism” for example. So, let’s set up the discussion for a second before launching into the questions that people have asked me and others by addressing this concern that this movement is only about being on the ideological left.
To start with, whilst the organisation known as Black Lives Matter appears to be a organisation that aligns with ideologies of the left (and does have a broader Foucault-like marxist ideology), I would say that the movement itself is not ideologically monolithic, and that it is possible to broaden ones engagement beyond questions of “is this left or right?” but “Is this highlighting real concerns that need to be addressed?”. Listening to the people of colour of Christian faith, I am learning that what they see of this movement is that it is doing the important task of raising our awareness of problems of systemic racism in society that have existed for millennia, and is motivating people to do the work of addressing racism in their societies. That doesn’t mean such a movement doesn’t typically engage in left-wing politics (it certainly does), but it is uncharitable to assume that a follower of Jesus engaging with Black Lives Matter simply equates full-fledge support of left-wing political thought & theory. If a follower of Jesus can pivot towards raising awareness to systemic racism and calling people to mobilise for change, then this doesn’t have to be beholden to any particular political ideology. For thousands of years, before this modern movement existed, we have been commanded to heed the call of loving our neighbour- with particular emphasis on the wellbeing of those mistreated in society (In fact, one conservative estimate says there is about 3500 verses related to how we treat people in society who are having it tough, so this is not small thing). And such, a movement that brings awareness to the plight of our fellow human beings is not something to lightly dismiss. Now, I know some people might say “But there isn’t a problem” or “But we need to go about addressing racism in different ways” or “the language of ‘systemic’ is language that’s political”– let me say that we will be exploring these push backs later on. But give me the benefit for the doubt for a moment: suppose there is a problem in our society as it relates to people of colour more broadly, and our First Nations people more specifically, then seeking to love our neighbour will include wanting to address the things both in our hearts and society that holds back our neighbours from being the people God has made them to be.
But for those who are still concerned about this movement, firstly this article will be addressing those questions, but secondly let me just say for the record that there are parts of this very broad movement that that do have Christian undercurrents. For example, In Perth, at the protests, I heard from the stage Noongar elder Uncle Ben Taylor (who regularly speaks at Churches)- and this had set the spiritual undercurrent of the protest to the point that even those at the rally who don’t identify as Christian could sense that there was something special going on. And I would call that something special as the sacred, of being swept up in something larger than ourselves. Now of course that doesn’t mean every response coming out of the pain of deaths of people of colour (or racism more broadly) is of course Christlike, but should that downplay that which can have a deeply spiritual undercurrent? Now of course, the movement is diverse- and as such there will be different rhetoric, ideology, and practices within the movement itself that as a follower of Jesus I can’t get behind. For example, I was at a protest where there was a small minority of signs that incited murder against police officers. That would be an example of something I have seen at a protest that I cannot faithfully endorse as a follower of the nonviolent revolutionary messiah called Jesus- but the answer to that is to simply not be part of that specific part & approach to the otherwise diverse movement. It doesn’t always have to be about the ideologies around you, but it can and must be about the proximity to peoples pain that shapes us in such ways that we don’t simply sit on the side-lines and remain silent and pretend everything is okay. As I have heard one Christian leader say in the past, “We can get so caught up in ideological purity then ending the suffering of others”. All that said, I want to go beyond political games of left vs right, and draw people into the only politics that challenge all, namely the politics of The King, that is, King Jesus1.
One last thing…
Now, before I formally begin on some of the questions people are raising, I want to say one final thing. I am also writing this as someone who wants to build bridges in having fellow followers of Jesus who would otherwise be part of the journey of seeing black lives matter, but only if they saw the connection in their faith. As such, I am writing with this audience in mind. So I will not be attacking followers of Jesus who aren’t at Black Lives Matter protests. That’s just not my jam. But that doesn’t mean I won’t be saying anything at all- as this piece will indeed be addressing doing the work of being one who pushes against the evils of racism. The truth of the matter is, I didn’t always say “Black Lives Matter”- but I do now. And it was because I did the reading and because people took the time to educate me. I needed to hear the stories of pain, anger, and hope, and read the theology and the stats- and the people who educated me on this journey were both kind and straight forward with the unsettling truths. And so, I ask myself “How would I want to speak to 2015 Nathan? Would I berate that kid? Or would I just give him niceties’ and not name what’s going on in this world of racism? Or would I come alongside him and journey with him with grace and unsettling truth?”. I hope I would come alongside him with grace and the unsettling truths. I would come alongside him with the stories of pain, anger, and hope, and offer theological resources with such pain, anger, and hope. I am reminded of Jesus hanging from the cross and saying “father forgive them, they just don’t know what they are doing”. In the same way, we honestly don’t know sometimes until we know, and yet in our not knowing we can crucify people unknowingly. Using “Father forgive them, they just don’t know” as the paradigm of approaching this saves us from both, on one hand, the stoicism that seeks to approach this topic in the abstract ways, and, on the other hand, approaches this topic with a type of harshness that shames without setting us free. “father forgive them, they just know what they are doing” both faces the harsh realities of our crucifying beliefs, yet has our most merciful saviour offering us forgiveness in the process and bringing to us new ways of life as we turn from the old and towards the new.
So now, let’s start to address some of the questions people are asking:
1. “Do you really think there is a problem in Australia in the same way it’s spoken about in the rallies?
The short answer is yes. In Australia, the plight of how we treat our Aboriginal & Torres Strait brothers & sisters is shocking.
There have been 432 deaths in custody in Australia alone since 1990 with no legal convictions at all. One recent whistle-blower news report says that senior members of WA Police – routinely referred to Aboriginals as “the lowest race on earth”, as “animals”, and as “cockroaches”1. That there was constant bad mouthing about Aboriginals with no repercussions for anything racist said about Aboriginals. The Guardian reported in 2018 that “Almost 30 years after the royal commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody, only two-thirds of its recommendations have been fully implemented, and the rate of Indigenous incarceration has doubled”2
Social Reinvestment WA says that “Aboriginal & Torres Strait islander are 3% of the population but 38% of Australia prison population in Western Australia. This the highest Incarceration rate in the world. Compared to other Australians they are 10 times more likely to have children taken into care, 2.1 times more likely to have poor health, 1.3 times for likely to experience mental health issues, 2 times for likely to suicide, & young people are 5 times more likely, earning $300 less a week, experiencing 30% more unemployment, 22% less likely to finish year 12, and living 13.4 years less than the average for men in Western Australia.”3
In the last few weeks since this was written, an ancient sacred site was destroyed by Rio Tinto which brought about public outcry (Imagine if we found coal underneath the Opera house? Would we be willing to blow up that?). And this is nothing new.
Also, our constitution still doesn’t recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in their constitution, and we are still one of the only the only commonwealth country to lack an Indigenous treaty. For many many years, Indigenous leaders have been campaigning for changes to make a more just society, and yet over and over again their plight is ignored. This is just a handful of injustices. So, does Australia have a problem with how we treat our First Nations people? The short answer is: Yes.
But even with all this considered above, this all exists sits within a much larger problem. Historically, Europeans came into these lands over 230 years ago. Over the course of time, the population of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people has decreased by 90%. This decrease in population is linked to the introduction of disease, and also systematic killings of particular First Nation people groups, as well as indiscriminate imprisonment. In their lands, those from overseas renamed everything as if it didn’t have names, continued the European settling project by going into lands that weren’t there’s and digging it up & building around it within their own worldview of domineering a land that was considered by the First Nations people as sacred (and in doing so displaced entire people groups), built statues that honoured people in a positive light despite the fact that a lot of these early ‘pioneers’ had a history of looking down and dismantling the already present peoples world, we flew a flag as if these were now lands of the people who came across from overseas (now claiming themselves as dominant culture), the implicit assumption that the western way of life was in the populations imagination of the peoples settling into these lands, and the history books were written in ways that significantly downplayed the effects of people from overseas coming to these lands. Ways of life emerged in the now dominant culture, and these ways of life centred on the people who had come to settle in these lands- such ways of life had the implicit belief that only if the First Nations people succumb to the western solutions that all would benefit (Because apparently it’s somehow all correct). All of this soaked into this now new dominant western society, and we have continued drinking the cool aid to this very day. The solution that we “just move on from our past” fails to take into account how the legacy of these lands being colonised has set up a way a society runs that still hasn’t been challenged to its core. Now someone might say “But things have changed! We have even made changes such as giving the Aboriginal people the right to vote”, yes, but the destiny of these lands is still in the hands of those who are the descendants of those who have come here, rather than re-centred onto the peoples who know how to live in their home of 60,000 years. Think about it: who decided that the First Nations people could vote? The Australian government. Which implies what? That they are the ones in charge now, and they set the status quo of how the peoples- whose home it is- will be treated. Despite the fact that these lands were not a free-for-all, we still believe that we are the ones who get to decide how things are run, how things are named, how the history is taught, what all the solutions are, over against people who know what it is to live here for 60,000 years in flourishment and who also never gave these lands over to the people coming here in the first place. We invite First Nations people to the table, yet don’t fess up and say that the table isn’t ours to start with. And that is the core problem. We are still soaked in a story of colonisation that subtlety guides how we go about the future of these lands. So instead of surrendering, we say “Well, that how history has played out, and we can’t change it now, we just have to move forward and get over it”. But to say “Let’s move forward” without the dominant culture re-centreing this movement forward unto the original inhabitants of this land, without the table being theirs, is all a slap in the face. A true movement forward would be to implement change that re-centres the First Nations people as the people who can lead the way of their home. Because to not do this would be to continue to carry the legacy of on-going colonisation that still harms to this very day. This is the much larger task of decolonisation.
Now, people freak out and assume that this means that when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people take their rightful place as the custodians of these lands in practice that they will kick anyone who isn’t them out, or seek revenge, or that peoples who are not Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander can now not have a say. But to think this assumes that our First Nations people are not ones to show hospitality, or care for those to whom they will let stay in their home, or would simply implement some sort of systemic revenge. Quite the contrary, there is a hospitality in our First Nations peoples. When Aboriginal and Torres Strait people talk about sovereignty, it’s not in the western way. The western way wants to take over and stomp out the current peoples & land, whereas a First Nation understanding of sovereignty is about leading the way in seeking the interconnectedness between all people and the land that we reside on. Far be it that this is about a ‘take back take over’ the way we understand it, the First Nations people are speaking of a different type of leading. Speaking specifically on the concern that we would be somehow kicked out- the problem isn’t so much that people have come to these lands, the problem is that these lands have been unfairly occupied by people who broke into these lands like a thief breaking into someone homes. Breaking into someone’s home and just changing everything, and then saying to the inhabitants of the home “Okay, we are going to decide how things go now, but hey, we’ll let you have a say of course- but only if we approve, only if we stay on top”. This cannot be. “From one man, he created the nations of the whole earth, he decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries” Paul says in Acts 175. There was a determining of boundaries, yet that doesn’t mean people wouldn’t travel and live in other lands (There is a clear biblical precedent across both the Hebrew and Christian scripture to look after the refugee in your land), but it would be done as a posture of hospitality from the custodians of these lands, rather than brute takeover from European settlers. The point wouldn’t be to go backwards to a time where people from other nations aren’t here- in his book Shalom and the Community of God, Indigenous theologian Randy Woodley says it like this “While I am not saying that we should all live in the past, that is, to say we should live in another time, I am saying that we should not live as if the past has no bearing or reference to the here and now”. So, it would be that our First Nations people to be the ones who inform- out of their destiny as those placed in these lands by the Creator- what it means to now have many peoples in these lands. As Indigenous Christian leader Brooke Prentis herself has said, that this model of moving forward would be out of a place of friendship. And such friendship & welcome would be modelled after the First Nations people as our guide as the custodians of these lands. Yet once the Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander rightful place has been restored, we should expect that these lands to have a make-over. Like any newly established friendship that once had animosity, if there has been hurt then there will have to be confession, there will have to be tears & truth telling, and there will have to be concrete change (and yes there would be collaboration to what this looks like, as long as this collaboration happens still with the ‘house’ being reinstated as their home). Things might not be the same, but things will be better for all people.
The problems that are happening today are just the symptoms of the much deeper disease of assuming that an attitude of Europeans settlement should still be dominant- despite the fact that these lands were never succeeded in the first place. Things like the demands of the Uluru statement- if put into place- would be like a good doctors scalpel that starts to remove the practices perpetuated by the legacy of colonisation that are still dominant to this very day. The legacy of such a colonisation took children away from their family, legacy of such a colonisation set up a government here and then told the First Nations people that they couldn’t be included, the legacy of such a colonisation has had stolen wages, the legacy of such a colonisation goes into lands and blows up sacred sites because we want to mine, the legacy of such a colonisation can’t even give a detailed & disturbing history told as part of the non-negotiable & mandated standard of education, the legacy of such a colonisation blames Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people for their incarceration rates- (t we won’t admit that we have caused collective trauma that has of course led to this), the legacy of such a colonisation wants to solve things- but do so whilst still being in charge of these stolen lands. As you can see, we have serious problems in these lands, and we need to cast out the spirit that harms and hurts.
2. So, what’s actually the concrete goal of the black lives matter movement in Australia?”
Before we get to the concrete goals, let me start by saying that, as a follower of Jesus, the ultimate goal, the ultimate dream if you like, is a world that is ruled by the love of God as revealed in the person of Jesus. The end of the book of Revelation ends with what’s called a new heaven and a new earth (Or as some scholars would say is new creation) and this is basically a world that has been washed anew by Jesus. Now, this future world will have “many tribes, nations and tongues” (Rev. 7:9), meaning that neighbourly love of many cultures is part of God’s new world. The implication is that racism will no longer exist.
That then trickles down into the question: “how do we address racism in the world?”. Anything that doesn’t recognise the image of God in the other- whether it be a system, a worldview, a politics, or a human heart- has to be repented of (repentance means change, not just confession). And just to be clear: this repentance isn’t about creating black versus white, but rather everyone verses racism. Racism is that global zeitgeist that has affected us all, and we all need to be exorcised of it. So, this repentance isn’t about attacking people for being white, but rather dismantling the legacy of cultures effected by this zeitgeist of racism. In particular to this, I am thinking about the zeitgeists work that has generated the belief in the constant expansion of empires at the expense of other cultures- or what we call colonisation.
In Australia, colonisation disposed an entire culture. This has of course worked itself into Australian society, so much so that its effect has caused so much pain for our First Nations people. So, this makes the goal of racism being addressed in Australia even more particular: we must seek to have a society where- anything birthed out of colonisation and that doesn’t bring flourishment for all people- must be dismantled.
Now, that itself gets more specific when you see the concrete goals that are wanting to be addressed in the Black Lives Matter movement in Australia. As I have said, the movement is ideologically diverse. However, there is some brand consensus on certain goals, such as
-Law reform, which would look like implementing all the recommendations of the Royal Commission into deaths in custody
-Truth telling, to understand our shared history & combat racism, in every school, workplace, and household.
-Seek aboriginal community led solutions to social issues, such as the displacement of children
-And of course, sovereignty for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, which is enshrined in the much more broader goal of the Uluru statement from the heart, which reads:
“We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country. When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country. We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution. Makarrata is the culmination of our agenda: the coming together after a struggle. It captures our aspirations for a fair and truthful relationship with the people of Australia and a better future for our children based on justice and self-determination. We seek a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history”.
Now, how that breaks down and trickles down further and further is beyond my expertise, but the goals are stated. Ultimately though, this is about God’s future breaking into the present, and that will include dismantling the ongoing effects of colonisation, and having a world where all people (black, white, and many peoples) walking together- seeing our differences, yet walking together.
3. “But surely this is a sin problem, not a skin problem? Surely the way we deal with this is that way? Not getting involved in Black Lives Matter?”
The thing is, is that there is a sin issue- but this sin issue is not less than my heart, but it certainly is more than just my heart. Often this is said as a way of minimising seeking reform in society that deals with laws & practices constructed out of a place of implicit and explicit racism. I want to say racism is sin- and dealing with sin is of course a matter of the heart, but that in no way means we don’t want to seek reform that also deals with the sins of unjust systems. Laws can curb & restrain the heart from acting on unjust impulses. Martin Luther King Jr says “Laws won’t make people like me, but laws will keep people from nudging me“.
There is also a large biblical precedent of systems being sinful that needed reform. For example, Jesus turning over the tables at the temple was a way of overturning the religious economic structures of the temple6. Or the Hebrew people having economic jubilee laws in place that were good & holy safety nets, and in place precisely because peoples could be sinful and not look after their poor neighbour that therefore meant that the Hebrew people needed laws that would make such safety nets happen regardless of how they felt. Did the people at the temples heart change when Jesus overturned tables? Maybe, maybe not. But, the dismantling of the unjust structures was an overturning of the larger sins in society. If Jesus is Lord of all creation (and not just Lord of individual lives- though no less than that of course) then should we should not be surprised to find that Jesus would seek the repentance and reform of the systems that we prop up? Jesus bypasses the temple elite and goes to overthrow the temple- and we don’t batter an eyelid over this. Yet when we go after legislation in the here & now, all of a sudden, we only talk about the heart. We need both change of hearts and change of laws7. It is true that without heart change, law would still easily be broken. However, the impulses are curbed precisely because there are now more human laws, and it might actually save a life.
Laws will also set people up to live more whole lives. For example, if there was reform around unjust prosecution, then perhaps a person of colour unjustly convicted for a crime wouldn’t go to prison, and thus potentially lives are saved. Or if we implemented all the demands of the Uluru statement from the heart then we’ll have a voice in parliament that can gives us much needed additional perspectives. Not to mention that- if we didn’t have changed laws in the past- we wouldn’t even have Aboriginal people voting. Are we saying that we shouldn’t of changed that? I trust that we are not saying that, and as such I trust that we would want further change now.
All of this is to say, that seeking to “turn over the tables” in our society will take a systemic change. And because it will take systemic change, we need to engage these changes the very way Jesus engaged them: by actually doing concrete action that overturns the tables. Protests disturb and highlight how bad things really are like a Jesus turning over the tables. Uncomfortable conversations between family & friends overturn the tables in our thinking. Mass letting writing to MP’s turns over the tables by making it clear our demands. These are the ways we turn over the tables, and the movement that is happening around us is the communal momentum to do exactly this.
4. “Still though- I can’t help but think that Jesus didn’t talk about current affairs of his day. His concern was with getting people saved. Surely we are getting distracted by Jesus’ real mission and concern”
The underlying assumption here is that the good news of Jesus is about going somewhere else when you die. This almost needs a whole post of its own8, but let me just say this: the gospel is about the Kingdom of God coming on Earth as it is in heaven- and not just for a little while either so that way we get swooped up to go somewhere else later. Rather, the Kingdom of God is coming here, and will be here permanently. Our home isn’t going somewhere else, our home is this world one day being fully restored by Jesus. And if this is the endgame, if this is where all things are heading, then this changes how we are to engage in our world. If our endgame of the gospel is about “going to heaven” instead of “heaven coming to Earth” then- whilst it doesn’t automatically mean you don’t care about things happening in this world- it does have the theological infrastructure to cause exactly that, because “why would I care about what’s going on around me when my real mission of eternal importance is getting people saved to go to heaven?”. See what happens there? But if it’s all about heaven coming to Earth, then to be heavenly minded is to be of all Earthly good. This is why anything that doesn’t align with God’s future for this world is a gospel issue, because the gospel isn’t about going somewhere else but that somewhere else coming here.
So, when Jesus went around feeding people, he wasn’t just doing that to show that he could do fancy miracles, but to show the world what it looks like when his Kingdom reigns on Earth as it is in heaven. Why? Because this was precisely the world Jesus was, is, and will one day make. So, when people want to seek the rule & reign of God in a particular area, we have to ask, “what would it look like if Jesus was king here?”. Of course, it would include individuals’ lives being changed by God, but it will also include communities, structures, and systems needing to change to match Jesus’ will of what it would look like if he was in charge. And so, in light of black lives matter, we have to ask ourselves this question: what does it look like when Jesus is king of the area of how people with different skin colour and cultures treat each other? It might look like many things, but it certainly looks like black lives mattering.
Now, if this is the more holistic gospel, and the more hopeful future, then making disciples doesn’t mean making converts, but making people to be the type of people who seek Jesus’ kingdom in all manners of life- the personal, communal, social, political. And, in particular, it makes sense to ask, “How do we love our neighbours of colour?”.
And on the belief that Jesus didn’t engage issues of his day. Well once again, if Jesus is King, then his very presence is a direct affront to the issues of his day. Ultimately, it was a direct affront to both the Roman and religious leaders of his day, and that trickled down in many ways. I have already mentioned the turning over of tables in the temple- and that act was a direct confrontation with the very real social issue of religiously temple-controlled money lending. Jesus healing people was a dismantling of the social order, as it benefitted those in power to have people who were disempowered on the streets. Even Jesus’ calling of his disciples to “fish for people” was a discreet way of challenging the Roman state-controlled fishing industry9. Because Jesus is King, anything that challenges that will be challenged. And as it relates in the here & now to the plight of Indigenous peoples in Australia, if Creator God placed these people in these lands as the custodians of these lands, then to not honour that is a direct affront to the plans of the Creator10. So then, in the here and now, addressing the wider issue of racism, and the specific issue of australian Indigenous rights is part of the world of integral discipleship in the context of these lands now called australia.
5. “Well, that’s all good, but certainly the world won’t be fully healed until Jesus returns- so it all seems a bit much to even try to address these things”
To that I want to say that, yes, of course the world won’t be fully healed till Jesus returns, but Jesus coming into the world and saying, “The Kingdom of God is at hand” tells us that his Kingdom rule has started already right now. When the apostle Paul wrote his great letter to the church of Corinth, and in (what we label) the 15th chapter he gives a detailed account of God’s future healing for the world, and he ends that letter by saying what? Does he say, “Since God’s going to sort it all out, sit back, relax, and do nothing”? No, Paul says “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain”. It works like this: because God’s future of the world is a world fully healed, we therefore live into that future in the here & now by the power of the Holy Spirit, in anticipation for that future world becoming one day fully true. So, with caring about our black brothers & sisters, we seek God’s healing justice now because it will have the final say in the future. Just look at Martin Luther King Jr in how his vision of the future world actually empowered people to fight for that future in the here & now. The future doesn’t make us passive towards injustice, but passionate towards seeking Jesus-shaped justice.
6. “But I know people who aren’t black who have it tough too”
Love of neighbour demands a unique response to wherever neighbourly love is not being shown in its particular way for that particular person. This works on both an individual level and also a level of people groups. In my role as a counsellor, when I navigate the contours of how the person before me is not being loved, I want to listen in order to know what the unique contours of how that particular person might need be loved. Likewise, when we navigate the contours of how a people group before us are not being loved, we ought to listen to know what the unique contours of how a particular people group might need be loved. Now, within the whole, there will then be individuals as well within the whole where this collective group love also needs to be outworked uniquely for that particular person.
So, with that as the primer, when it comes to this question, I want to say that of course there are people who have it tough who aren’t a person of colour. They might be part of a group of people who- for whatever reasons- are themselves part of a whole who are having it tough due to other systemic realities. For example, people in poverty could be a whole group on their own (And there can be cross overs in groups). And of course, the individual doesn’t need to be lost- for example someone could be upper class, have a great life, and then go through a terrible personal tragedy (such as a family member dying) and will need love and compassion. And as a Christian- who is called to love their neighbours each particularly- I must seek the contours of love no matter who is before me. Jesus loved all, yet he loved all differently. Heck, Jesus even loved the Pharisees (but their particular need of love was that they needed tough love to shock jock them out of their own self-inflicted soul crushing hypocrisy that failed to prioritise their own Jewish peoples hurt and pain to their own demise (they are becoming less human as they treat others as less human) and others demise).
However, does the fact that some people who aren’t a person of colour having it tough negate those who are of colour having it tough? These are just other peoples to be loved- no need to put the sharing of love for different people groups against each other as if there is somehow a scarcity of love to go around.
But since we talking about Black Lives Matter, can I repeat something I have heard many others say? That whilst people can have it tough, I nonetheless, in my Australian context, have never had my white skin colour as a factor in my plight being harder. Now there are places in the world where my skin colour might be a factor- but not in these times and places I find myself in, and certainly not in the context of the colonised world that defaults to white populations of European. This is just another reason that, yes, anyone can have it tough- and the contours of love must be sought for that person- but skin colour is not a factor in this for those in European and colonised contexts.
7. “Even if all of this is true, I still can’t help but think that all lives matter. Don’t all lives matter? Why make these distinctions?”
The thing is, this is theological correct. Yes, all lives matter, being that God has made us means that we are sacred. So, the theology behind “All lives matter” is of course, in a sense, correct. However, the rhetoric is often employed to downplay the emphasis on black lives out of a misunderstanding on how we are to love our neighbours. The phrase itself emerged as a response to black lives matter, and the people spouting the rhetoric didn’t name injustice towards people of colour- rather it appeared as if it was rhetoric with intended purpose of downplaying the need to take racism in our modern context seriously.
Now, we often think of universal love for all means that we never name the particular. However, when Jesus says that he goes after the one lost sheep we have particularity of the one within the universal love of the 99. Now, of course the parable talks about people who have strayed and not colour precisely, but to miss the broader scriptural principal of our Lord’s willingness to be particular is all throughout scripture. Christian author and social activist Dave Andrews says it like this, that “God loves everyone equally, but he loves those who get left out especially“. Throughout the gospels, we see Jesus’ love for all, but such love doesn’t get so watered down that it doesn’t look different for others or emphasises particular groups who are especially affected in the society. In fact, that’s exactly how he does the loving. As Christians, I don’t think we can really take the dismissive “all lives matter” response seriously since Jesus made it so clear that when someone has been downtrodden, we need to step in and ensure their safety. Think of the woman about to be stoned- Jesus went in and stood up for her because her life mattered and was at stake at that moment. Yes, we need to be compassionate and value all lives, and the way we do that is by helping those lives that are being treated unjustly, which are- in this particular case- black lives.
A helpful analogy I read today was that if someone says “save the rainforest” we don’t respond by saying “actually, save all forests“, because, just because we need to save the rainforest doesn’t mean other forests have no value, but rather that it’s just one needs our focus right now because the situation has gotten out of hand. So likewise, when people say “all lives matter” the right response is to say that, of course all lives matter, however black lives are being treated as expendable by the police and the government which is why we need to amplify the plight of those whose lives are being treated as if they don’t matter by saying “black lives matter“. All lives will truly matter in practice when black lives matter in practice too. As such, “Black Lives matter” is also a theologically true statement.
8. “I think, theologically, I can’t help but think this movement pins oppressors on one side and the oppressed on the other? That sounds very Marxist to me. Surely, we are all sinners? Why make the distinctions that this movement is making?”
I get the theological reasoning. After all, “we have all fallen short from the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). But I think we need a more robust theology of sin that doesn’t take a single verse, blow it up as our see-through balloon, and then view everything through this blown out of proportion verse. Yes, universal sinfulness is true. But what does it exactly mean?
Sin is to “miss the mark”, and I am with scholars who say that it is to miss the mark of who we were created to be. According to Genesis 2, we are created “In God’s Image and likeness” and marked out with the calling of looking after this world. This world includes the creation, others, and myself, and of course all of this is done under the wise, loving and relationship centred rule of God. To sin then is to “miss the mark” of being the human beings we were created to be. Humanity turning away from God’s wise & loving rule is turning away from our calling, our vocation, of being the people God has made us to be- and precisely because we fail to live up to our calling, our vocation, that things start to unravel. Shalom, the wholeness, the interconnectedness of our relationship to God, each other, ourselves, and creation, begins to unravel like a tight tapestry’s thread being cut. Sin is the hot universal mess that we are all deeply in. It is in that sense that we have all fallen short “of the glory of God”. It’s not rule breaking, but the unravelling of the relationship God has made between all things11. It’s not purely in an individual way that we have fallen short, but rather we as a human race have collectively fallen short. That doesn’t mean we don’t all fall short individually as well (we most certainly do), but we have all fallen short individually within the collective mess of universal human sinfulness, of the unravelling.
Such failure to be the people we were created to be towards each other means that we don’t love each other. And what do you think happens when such failure to love multiples itself overtime? It evolves, and it evolves into messy systems that sinfully benefit & profits others against the other. And when that happens enough, it becomes the norm. In scripture, the Hebrew words for righteousness and justice emerge, and these words had a social dimension that was about peoples and groups of people who weren’t being treated equally; in fact, the very imagery baked into these words is like that of scales not being weighed equally12. And as for people who benefit from others not having enough, of not being loved, of not being cared for, what happens is you are going to have those who are under the boot of those who are not doing the giving, the caring, the loving. Does this mean we aren’t all in the hot mess of universal sin? Of course not. Does it mean that people who are under the boot don’t sin? Of course not. But it does mean that- within universal sinfulness- a spectrum of oppressed and oppressor does emerge. And that’s found all throughout scripture. Just think of the psalms who categorically speak of people as either seeking righteousness (justice) or unrighteousness (injustice). Or just think of the key Jewish story of Exodus- which is a story of liberation of oppressed people against the backdrop of being oppressed. Or Jesus himself who- though he loved all- had a particular focus of lifting up those who were brought down by society, and whose gospel proclamation in Luke 4 spoke directly about oppressed people groups. So, as you can see, a more robust theology of sin accounts for oppression. Once again, it doesn’t mean oppressed people can do no wrong (everyone sins)- but it does mean that oppression as a theological truth is as clear as day in scripture.
But whilst we are on the topic of sin, let us make a healthy distinction of what it means to be a Christian in the days of the BLM movement. Because whilst universal sinfulness has been flattened out in ways that ignore oppression, I will say that yes, I have seen personal sin flattened out to some extent as well by those who are allies in BLM. Let me explain what I mean by this by giving a parable Jesus gave. “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: `God, I thank you that I am not like other men–robbers, evildoers, adulterers–or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, `God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”. Sometimes those who are allies of the movement can almost look to those who haven’t come to a protest or said anything and go “God, I thank you that I am not like those people…” rather than have the humility to recognise the racism in their own eyes first. This is where I would be distinct and part ways of people who play moral (self)righteousness games of being more woke then the person next to them. But followers of Jesus should instead say “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner”, pray the Lord’s prayer as an act of confession and forgiveness, and see that they themselves are sinners in need of mercy and God’s healing love. Because it’s easy to be theological woke and say to others “How dare you discriminate” but it’s much harder to turn to my own heart and say, “God where do I discriminate“. This doesn’t mean a Christian can’t call out injustice, but we call out injustice in ways that don’t suppose a woke moral perfection.
Finally, when it comes to the categories of oppressor and oppressed in Christian faith, we need to understand that this isn’t social Marxism (as I have heard others say it) if the end goal isn’t annihilation of the oppressing group, but rather the dismantling of oppression as a reality in its own right. Yes, such oppression is manifested in humans, politics, and structures- but Jesus insists that the way we destroy these things isn’t by killing the people who are oppressing in these politics & structures, but rather setting them free from their oppressive work through dismantling the politics & structures and reconstructing better politics and structures in its wake. The insistence to love our enemy can’t mean killing our enemy, but it also doesn’t mean letting the enemy to continue do what they are doing, but rather freeing the enemy of their own oppressive work by dismantling the zeitgeist of racism & the on-going colonisation mindset that operates behind the enemies, and that work comes by the power of cross-shaped love. And of course, this include doing my inner work in myself as well (see above) whereby I love myself the same way God loves me, yet seek the liberation of the zeitgeist in my own life. Far be that this is a strict “us and them” mentality, but rather this the holistic work of casting out racism & the on-going colonisation mindset on a personal and social level.
So yes, let us confess and seek God’s healing in our life, and also see that there are people who- in the universal mess of sin in which we have all fallen short of God’s intensions- there are peoples who have it worse than others; where God’s liberating justice comes to set the oppressed free.
9. “But all of that just sounds a lot like identity politics to me”
It is true that identity politics can lack the nuance of peoples who might be hurting no matter what their skin colour, culture, or class is. But individualism also fails to see there is such thing as shared hurt that’s based around others responding in bad ways to something that a people group have in common. That said, this is where perhaps I want to be distinctly Christian and propose that the Kingdom of God does indeed offer us something better than either identity politics or individualism. I want to say that Jesus wants us to go higher then both identity politics and individualism. So, permit me to be bold and say what I think the gospel has to offer to the world when it comes to either identity politics or individualism.
I believe Christian ethics ought to see difference in people groups (e.g. colour, class etc.) but then not separate each group away from one another. Likewise, Christians ought to see how we are all equally made in God’s image, but then not take that belief and turn it into a shallow “we are all the same, so why talk about distinctions and the so-called problems in different groups?” individualism. Instead, we ought to hold Paul in one hand which says “There is neither jew or Greek, slave or free, for we are all one and the same in Jesus” and John’s revelation in the right which says “Then I saw a great multitudes- of many tribes, nations and tongues”- this will save us from either simplistic identity politics or shallow all-the-same-be-treated-the-same individualism. This will create a more rounded Christian ethic that sees and honour the differences we have in people groups, and yet then join hands together as one. In joining hands, you still see the different colour hands, and we want to know how to heal each other’s hurt hands, yet then hold the hands together nonetheless. This is much better than an identity politics that, rightly, sees difference in hands, but then doesn’t hold hands- turning distinction into division. But also, this is much better than an individualism that, rightly, wants to hold hands, but then don’t recognise the difference in those hands who might be hurt- emphasising core humanity but in ways that end up diminishing the humanity of others. We ought to unashamedly be distinct as different people’s (and as such talk about hurts people groups have experienced as well) yet do the hard work that leads to us being together as one in the ongoing equal ebb and flow of holding hands and noticing the needs of those hands we hold. A great example of a movement that had this Christian ethical distinct-yet-learning-to-be-together ethic was the Civil Rights Movement. The Civil Rights Movement rightly knew the distinction (the plight of African Americans), yet had a dream where “one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brother”. If we really value principles of not judging people by their race, gender, or sexuality, we must value them consistently- and consistency doesn’t mean sameness (i.e. being colour blind), as that will fail to see the particularities and wounds, though certainly it will mean we all made equally in God’s image. In doing so, we transcend both individualism, and also identity politics. We will find that, as Aboriginal activist Lilla Watson once said “if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” Neither unity without diversity (Which is uniformity) or diversity without unity (which is disunity)- but unity within diversity. And such diversity of peoples all being treated as each created in God’s Image and thus deserving of empowerment, and perhaps needing empowerment if empowerment is not there. This is a vision bigger than individualism or identity politics- this is the vision of the gospel.
And this is something that Christians can offer to the Black Lives Matter movement. Whereas some people will seek a type of identity politics in the movement, and others will just naïvely ignore the movement all together in the name of being “colour-blind”, the gift from the gospel can be that we are all bound together in distinct yet connected ways unto something bigger than ourselves- a vision of the world where we see each other differences, yet see the differences as “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 149).
10. “Okay, but I can’t help but think this is still a movement of the political left”
It is true that, as an observation, the left does seem to be more convinced that mass systemic racism is more present than we first thought, and thus wanting to see the dismantling of racial injustices is a priority for the political left. However, that doesn’t mean that my aim is to pull people politically to the left- my aim is still to draw people deeper in Jesus’ kingdom.
Part of what makes even naming racism for some Christians hard is what I believe to be this implicit belief that to do that is an attempt to try and change one’s politics. However, the fact that seeing, naming, and addressing racism is a political question just tells me how much we have given our allegiance more to the commonwealth of australia government than to the Kingdom of God. Can we finally just say “Jesus is Lord over all creation” and allow that to actually challenge our political allegiances? I mean, what did we think “King” meant? If Jesus is King, then that is saying that other rulers don’t match His rule & reign- that’s not trying to make people go to the left, but making people go to the politics of King Jesus. For people who know me personally, let me just be clear: when I critique our government, it’s because they aren’t acting humanely with the “least of these” in mind in their politics (Matthew 25) in line with Jesus’ public priorities- it’s not because they are on one side of politics. Any government not prioritising the need of the hurting and the forgotten I will call out. That doesn’t mean I have no political leanings (That’s a whole other post on how I form my political theology & engagement) but it does mean that this is a matter of right and wrong in Jesus’ name, and not merely political ideology.
11.“But surely all these problems point out the need for the first nations people to pull themselves out of their plight rather than blaming society?”
Martin Luther King Jr. once said “It’s all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps”. When a whole people group have gone through the traumas of their land being taken from them, from their people being killed, from their lands being treated as commodity, from not being seen as human beings, from not being able to vote, to being stolen from their family, from wages being taken, from sacred sites being destroyed, to their history being whitewashed from the history books, then of course generational trauma can & does affect peoples. Theologically, should this really surprise us? I mean, we often look at the story of Adam & Eve and see their rebellion as an undoing of our relationship with God, others, ourselves, and the land, and that this effect continues to break things down till this very day.
Now, let’s be clear though: this is very different from saying that people don’t have strength and resilience. Our First Nations people have incredible strength & resilience. With nearly 90% of their population wiped out in the first 100 years of colonisation yet these peoples still being here today is a sign of that resilience. Likewise, this doesn’t mean people are incapable of making different choices that seek their wellbeing and the wellbeing of community even in the midst of societal trauma. But when the very structures of society are bent against you, it makes it hard to swim against the tides of imbedded racism. This is very different from endorsing a victim narrative. Rather, the inherent power in the Indigenous people is that- against the backdrop of a society that has systematically tried over and over again to wipe out their culture- we have a peoples & a culture that are still alive precisely because they refused to give up. But it is precisely that this is classed as an ongoing struggle for our Indigenous brothers and sisters that it should tell us that there is a problem, because Indigenous peoples should be able to thrive in a society that affirms them at all levels- from the political, to the social, to the communal, to the individual- not just seek to just survive in a society that has continued to ignore the legacy & racism of colonisation that exists. Right now, it is like society is set up in a running race, but those who are non-Indigenous have gotten a head start, so when our Indigenous brothers and sister are told they can run- they run! That’s the resilience! But no head start should have happened in the first place. Therefore, of course Indigenous peoples are behind- but to no fault of their own, and to no downplaying of the resilience of our First Nations people.
A question I often ask people is this: Do you think Indigenous people are more evil? Shocking question I know, and people rightly answer “Of course not!”. I then ask them back “then why is the incarceration rates higher?”. That question, and then the pushback question, forces us to reckon with the realities of collective trauma. Because if we agree (and I hope you agree) that Indigenous people aren’t more evil, then you have to have another reason (other than some sort of mass coincidence that it just so happens that Indigenous people are in prison) for why things are the way they are. This is neither a victim narrative, by neither is this some sort of simplistic “boot strap” mentality. Rather, this is seeking Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders peoples flourishment by undoing the structures that make for more of the struggle that doesn’t need to be in place. Trauma is of course no excuse for anyone-individually or as a people group- for engaging in wrongful actions, but one can have a degree of compassion in that trauma can made wrong decisions more susceptible due to the pressures that trauma can put on people. Mercy, not judgement, should be our first point of call.
12.“But surely if this is of God, it would had come from the people of God? I am just hesitate to be part of movements that aren’t explicitly about Jesus…”
Okay, so real talk here: my theory is that we in the church world often have implicit shame when something outside the church world is just & good, yet we weren’t the ones who did it first as those who have the commands to love God and neighbour. We deep down think we should of done better, and instead of admitting this, we dig our heels in further and say “No!” to movements like this because to admit that movements like this are good & holy is to fess up to the failure of the church not actually being the church in the world. That’s my theory at least. And I could be completely wrong.
But my theory aside, let me say this: loving our neighbour is the most ancient thing we can do, and it is not too late to heed to the call to love our people of colour neighbours by dismantling the things in society that hold people back from being fully empowered to be the people God has made them to be. And not to mention, when we do this, we will actually be joining the legacy of the church being the church in the world in specifically this area of race- because whilst the church hasn’t always been great, there has also been movements that addressed racism in the past that did come from the body of Christ, such as The Civil Rights movement and the Abolitionist movement. And in today’s times, I can’t help but think the number of Christians in Australia who have been actively involved in dismantling racism for years. In Australia, movements such as Common Grace have been on the ground seeking to dismantle racism well and truly before #blacklivesmatter was trending. And even before then, the amount of Indigenous Christian leaders who have been fighting the good fight spans the decades. And in today’s movement, the amount of Christian indigenous leaders who are at the forefront of this movement is incredible.
But even with all of that, we got to challenge some of our theology here:
-Firstly, could not God’s spirit stir people up to justice even without explicit faith? That doesn’t mean that such movements would be exactly like Jesus in every single way, but it does mean that people can catch the sacred wind of the broader truths of Justice nonetheless and implement that which are good & holy.
-Secondly, if humans are made in God’s Image, then it shouldn’t surprise us that deep in people’s DNA is a sense of needing things to change in order to honour that deep sense that somehow we are to love each other? That doesn’t mean that we are perfectly a chip of the old block, but it does mean that we will sense something deep in our bones, something at the core of our God-made humanity, that wants things to change, and when we lean into that, we will discern things that which are good & holy.
-Thirdly, if it’s been 2000 years since Jesus has risen from the dead, then should it surprise us that Jesus’ underground mustard seed Kingdom has somewhat seeped into culture? That doesn’t mean all ethics & culture is now explicitly Christlike, but it does mean that things like human rights has emerged as part of the legacy/effect of the good news of Jesus slowly interweaving itself into the world; things like human rights, food banks, public hospitals, public schooling, the virtue of humility, can all be traced back to what the early church did- and so this Kingdom has advanced into popular culture. So really, people seeking human rights (even if they aren’t Christian) are leaning into something that’s a Christian invention.
-And finally, if we believe that God made all of creation, then we should be able to- like Paul describes in Romans 1- observe the rhythm of God’s good creation and discern what is good & true; that just as there is gentleness to this world that God made, so too are we taught to be gentle to one another. That doesn’t mean we know everything that there is to know about what is good & holy by observing the good & holy creation, however Christ is nonetheless soaked into creation in such ways that when people observe the holy order of things, people might not only tread gently in creation, but also tenderly be gentle to others.
All in all- with the Spirit on the move, with being made in God’s Image, with the legacy of the gospel having seeped into things like human rights, and with us observing that which is good in the Christ soaked creation, we shouldn’t be surprised when good & holy things emerge outside the church world. Once again, that doesn’t mean everything will be explicitly Christlike in a movement, but we can discern its goodness nonetheless.
And perhaps this is where people who do indeed seek to explicitly centre their lives on Jesus’ way can offer these movements their deepest longings for all things to be made right- that we can offer good news that there is a God who care about injustice, and will make all things right, where no love is ever lost in the world, and who wants to empower them as people to be Jesus unto the day when all things are made new. This can be Good News for people in the movement who might otherwise feel burnt out, or who feel the injustice will never end, or that there is not ultimate hope. People who love Jesus can enter into these movements and honour the peoples deep down good & holy instincts to seek good in the world and pastoral & prophetically speak into the burnout & hopelessness that sometimes can be present in movements who have been fighting for so long. In doing this bring Good News like Paul did in Acts 17 by saying “I see that you are very just people- let me introduce you to the God to whom is the justice you deep down hunger for, and let God give you the ultimate dream & hope for the world, and let God empower your deepest instincts in Jesus shaped ways”. And in the embrace of the Loving God of Justice comes into the lives of the weary, they too will be discipled into new ways of engaging the movement that challenge their previous methods and theories of social change and their previous end goals.
So, as it relates specifically to Black Lives Matter, how about in shying away from it, we be the people of God who can pivot it into Christlikeness by our involvement, rather than our removal or dismissal?
13. “What about those people of colour who themselves denounce Black Lives Matter?”
It’s worth noting that just because someone is a person of colour does not mean they won’t automatically be for Black Lives Matter or even see problems of racism in Australia. However, this where it’s worth noting that: whilst it is more likely that a person of colour will agree that racism is prevalent due to the prevalence of shared experiences by those of colour speaking about their experiences, it doesn’t mean that every single person of colour have an ongoing experience of racism, which means it is possible that even a person of colour will downplay racism. However, isolated lack of experiences with racism isn’t a reflection of the majority who document racism as alive and well.
14. “I know part of this movement says some things about cops, and I can’t help but think of the good cops who aren’t doing anything wrong though?”
I think this where we have to emphasis what exactly this movement is addressing in terms of the police. It isn’t about individual cops, but it is that- because of how the structure & rules of the policing is set up- that individuals who are more explicitly racist can get through the system and start to police. Yet even there, such cops are the symptom of the issue of the system itself- because it is set up in such a way that it harms certain people groups. Systemic racism doesn’t mean that there are lots of racists in the system, rather it means that- even if there were zero racists present- the system would still be set up in ways that harm. The focus is on the system, and the calling out of individuals is still important, and yet they are the symptom of something that’s structured to harm.
Now, because it is set up this way, it doesn’t surprise me that there are racists individuals who are police as well, yet remember what we are talking about here is the system itself. Now of course, a little boy or girl might want to grow up and be a cop of kind virtue, and then they eventually become a cop and maintain that kindness, and so in that way of course there can be good cops. I know a good cop who is so kind hearted- yet even he himself thinks there is a problem with the system itself, and he has even seen how this system makes it easy for racist cops to get in and police. Yet once again, the emphasis is on the system: even if there were zero racists present, the system would still be set up in ways that harm. That’s what needs to be addressed.
And of course, currently the policing system itself is also part of the much deeper symptom that I have been speaking about, and that is the legacy and ongoing harm of colonisation.
15. “What about forgiveness? What about unity? Everyone just seems angry”
Now, as it relates to peace. I like it when Martin Luther King Jr said “True peace is not the absent of tension but the presence of justice”. And remember what justice is: justice is things being set right the way God intends things to be right. And is it right that racism in our world exists? No. I am reminded that Jesus felt very comfortable calling out the pharisees who failed to prioritise the care and concern of the poor and outcast. I am reminded of a Jesus who feels very comfortable turning over tables as an act of dismantling the economics structures of the temple. And why does he do these things? Because when there is injustice, the very things that cause injustice need to be shaken up & dismantled. And guess what? Jesus doesn’t do this passively. This is the difference between peacekeeping and peacemaking– one keeps the status quo because things are cool & calm (yet underneath there is so much pain), whereas as the other does what needs to be done in order for the real peace, the real shalom, God’s healing justice to be made true. This is the same with Black Lives Matter. Progress doesn’t “just happen”- Jesus shows us that some tables got to be turned over, and only then, on the far side of just action, does a new world of true unity emerge.
Now, as it relates to forgiveness, I once asked Brooke Prentis about the whole concept of forgiveness, and her words were profound: “I’m a Christian, I understand the concept of forgiveness, and I have to forgive every single day- because every day I walk upon the land, this land that was stolen from my people, of my people who became dispossessed, and who died… We are kneeling at the cross and praying for all the people on these lands, and we are waiting for our non-Indigenous brothers and sisters to pray with us and walk together in friendship”. And that strikes the tone of the society we find ourselves in. Our Indigenous brothers and sisters are always forgiving, but it is non-Indigenous peoples of these lands that are the ones who need to catch up. From non-Indigenous peoples there is often silence over past pain caused, there is little effort to want to seriously dismantle racism, and there is the failure of us walking in friendship with our Indigenous brothers and sisters. Our Indigenous brothers and sisters have to constantly forgive, and yet somehow, we have the audacity to insist that they must “get over” pain caused? In our society, we constantly perpetuate the pain every single day by not dismantling the things from the past that are still in place. And yes, there will be sadness and anger from our First Nations people- and rightfully so. Prophetic anger & lament has a central role in faith. Jesus gets angry in the temple because of the injustice of the temple. The prophets get angry because of the pain that was caused upon the poorest of the poor when Israel failed to act justly. And the psalms are full of the lament and anger of peoples under oppression. Anger and sadness are the normal response to deep injustices. And yet, even in this space, the profound strength of the First Nations people is there is still the ongoing act of forgiveness, and an offer of friendship. That is a profound. So perhaps we must turn it around on us: where does repentance on our end come to into place? The point of repentance is there is actually concrete change. We non-Indigenous people weaponise the otherwise good truth of forgiveness, but then we non-Indigenous people also don’t repent & dismantle racism- and that’s just downright unfair. Our Indigenous brothers and sisters are always forgiving and inviting us to walk together in friendship, but we are going in the other direction. Rather, it is time that we non-Indigenous peoples turn around (repent) and walk together- such a walking together will mean things change in society.
16. “Surely protesting is going against Romans 13”
Whatever we make of Paul’s statement in Romans 13, it can’t itself contradict the life of Paul himself, not to mention the life of Jesus. So, with this as the primer, what do we see in the life of Paul? He numerous times goes against public officials to preach the gospel and to seek the ways of the Kingdom in each place he goes to- this is a direct afront to both Romans Law who said there was one Lord called Caesar, and also the Jewish religious councils who saw this Jewish sect threatening to the current Jewish status quo. Likewise, Jesus himself is executed by the state by stirring up trouble in such a way that it leads to both the religious elite and Rome agreeing to execute Jesus. So, if that’s what we are working with, then whatever Paul is going on about in Romans 13 it can’t be that you never stand against governments that are oppressive. In their book Romans Disarmed scholars Sylvia Keesmaat and Brian Walsh do a good job at showing that Paul- in saying that the government was under God’s authority- is actually Paul being cheeky towards Rome in that, if Rome is under God, then it means that Caesar is under Jesus rules (and not the other way around!). If this is the tone, then Paul isn’t saying “give blind obedience to government” but “Oh government? Yep, that government, with all it’s so called ‘power’ only exists because Jesus lets it exist! Ha! That said, it wields the sword, so act wisely and- because we want to be good neighbours- be good citizens when you can be”. So, in terms of government, whatever we can faithfully say seeks the common good of all and whenever laws keep a type of order that’s seeks to benefit all we can- as followers of Jesus- follow, and when followers of Jesus do that then we are being good witnesses to the Kingdom of God of keeping peace where it is appropriate to do so. However, as soon as something doesn’t seek the common good of all, and as soon as a law doesn’t seek to benefit all, then followers of Jesus have a higher duty to King Jesus over against Prime Ministers or Presidents.
In this case, invoking Romans 13 is null & void as it fails the test of Pauls very actions as he pens the letter. Jesus came to bring the Kingdom, and if black lives aren’t being loved, then we need to do what we can do to stand for those who are under the boot of empire, in Jesus name.
17. “What about violence, such as riots?”
I like how Martin Luther King Jr. put it when he said “It is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard”. The point he was making wasn’t that riots were a good means of change, but that he understands the instinct, the pain, that lead to such riots occurring. If we look at Jesus, we see that he never downplays the instinct of his first followers wanting social revolution- he just offers them a different way other than violence. He affirms their instinct of resistance- and offers them a way to do resistance without blood. The point here is that we ought not to judge revolution itself, but rather affirm the instinct to want change, and offer a new way. To say on the record: riots that are not the answer- after all, many people of colour in the USA (Where the rioting is happening) have pointed out that rioting in their neighbourhood has actually damaged some valuable social services and thus haven’t been ultimately unhelpful. However, it is not right to dismiss what the rioters are rioting about- for they are rightfully angry. Yet, there is another alternative to doing nothing. And the answer isn’t a type of pacifism that does nothing- it is rather Jesus offering us a full-blown resistance against evil… Just without us spilling blood. Now, this will be a stumbling block to both people with the Molotov cocktails and the people on the side lines.
But before I go on, I do want to say one thing: Jesus did turn tables over in the temple, which means he did do holy property damage. Now, the scholar Walter Wink seems to think that Jesus’ making a whip implies this was a deliberate and premeditated act- which mean that it wasn’t senseless property damage, but strategic property damage. Whilst most rioting does not fit this description, I do want to say that there is a place for prophetic and strategically planned property damage. I am reminded of the statue in Perth of that recently got vandalised; Captain James Stirling statue being vandalised (A statue of a man who was involved in an attack known variously as the Pinjarra massacre and Battle of Pinjarra, in which an unknown number of of Noongar people were killed by an armed group of 25 police, soldiers and settlers led by this governor) might meet the criteria of a prophetic act of property damage.
18. “I have heard people say “If you are not protesting then you are part of the problem”, what do you think of that?”
I think Martin Luther King Jr. was right when he said that “I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.”
I understand that for some people they might be on the learning journey of wanting to get sincerely involved but has questions about what it looks like to do that as a Christian. Like I said at the beginning of this written piece, it took me time to get educated. Yet, as I said before, in the meantime it is possible that our lack of engagement might be contributing to crucifying beliefs whilst Jesus says “Father forgive them”; he is forgiving us, yet such forgiveness should mobilise us to take the time to engage this movement seriously. So, there is a gentle yet nonetheless sense of priority when it comes to getting ourselves educated.
Now, to the specific question of protesting. The problem isn’t if we are not in a protest, but if absolutely nothing is being done. There might be valid reason to not be in a protest- such as being unwell, mobility difficulties, work & family commitments, mental health related reasons, and so on. Yet, if not in a protest what else? There are many ways to help. I envision a guy who works at a truck stop bar & who lives in a regional town, who may never go on social media, who works so far away from any protest- yet is having deep & meaningful conversations about race when he serves patrons, educating himself through reading books like Dark Emu, writing a letter to his local MP after work advocating for Indigenous rights, and supporting a local business in town that’s run by a family of colour. Is he at a protest? Sharing things on Facebook? No. But is he doing the work to dismantle racism? Yes. In that example, we see someone engaging on the personal level, on the level of social interaction, on a political level, and on an economic level. And by the way, I know many who went to the protests in Perth, who then went on and do nothing else. I know who I would rather do then change in the world- and it’s that hypothetical bar owner.
That said, protests can raise more and more awareness with greater number, and if you are able to get to one they are a conscious raising event. Yet, if you are that guy at a roadhouse, that is also good work. Once again, the more fundamental question is: are you doing something? And is that something only private, or does it have an onward effect (even if it’s letter writing to your MP)?
19. “How can I get more involved?”
Firstly, listen. Listen to people stories of hurt & resilience. James, the brother of our Lord Jesus, said that we are to be “slow to speak, quick to listen, and slow to become angry”. So listen. Listen to our First Nations people. Stories not only reveal, but heal, and the first act of healing is listening.
Secondly, question your resistance to the stories you hear. It is common that people who aren’t used to hearing stories that confront them to become defensive. I asked that you feel the resistance, but don’t react to the resistance with dismissal. Act yourself “why is what I am hearing so hard for me to hear? Why do I feel defensive?”. Rather than defend, feel it, and then choose to actively lean into the stories you are hearing, and then afterwards unpack your feelings through self-reflection. If you need to unpack this with someone, make sure the person you unpack this with is okay with you doing this. In such unpacking, don’t allow the resistance to have the final say, allow it to lead you to the next point, which is to get educated.
Thirdly, get educated. There are plenty of resources out there, and so here a starting place for people and resources to check out:
– Uncle Ray Minniecon: He is an internationally recognised Indigenous theologian and bible teacher, with a long history of working across Aboriginal justice issues in business and ministry. Check out this reflection he has done on the Easter story:
-Brooke Prentis: CEO of Common Grace and the Coordinator of the Grasstree Gathering and is a Wakka Wakka woman. She works ecumenically speaking on issues of Justice affecting Australia and sharing a message of Reconciliation as friendship. Check out her message she gave on her dream for the Australian church: https://www.surrender.org.au/blog/2016/8/22/my-dream-for-the-australian-church
-Safina Stewart: She is a Christian Indigenous artist who incorporates both the stories of faith with the richness of her people, and show us visually a different way: https://artbysafina.com.au/
For specific works, check out….
-Two books of Indigenous theology that I would recommend are “Shalom and the Community of God” by Randy Woodley and Aunty Denise’s book “Yarta Wandatha”
-A book I would recommend on the experience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people in Australia “Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia” that’s compiled by Anita Heiss
-A book I would also recommend is “Dark Emu” by Bruce Pascoe on exploring agricultural, economic, production in the pre-colonial society of the Aboriginal people
-The 7 part documentary “First Australians” is a must watch. The series chronicles the history of contemporary australia, from the perspective of Aboriginals.
-Engage in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander media by tuning into National Indigenous Television (NITV)
-Follow the work of The Grasstree Gathering, which is a national, inter-denominational and non-denominational event which brings together emerging and established Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christian leaders from across Australia and from across denominations and churches. https://www.grasstreegathering.org.au/
-Also, the work of Common Grace that they have been doing for years is also a great place to start to see what reconciliation can look like in these lands: https://www.commongrace.org.au/aboriginal_and_torres_strait_islander_justice
-Also, I encourage you to read up on NAIDOC week celebrations coming up
-And to learn more about reconciliation between us and our First Nations people, visit: https://www.reconciliation.org.au/
Fourthly, do something, yet always in ways that decentre it away from yourself. Write a letter to your MP, don’t let racist comments in the workplace slide, go to a protest. And as you do these things, don’t make it about you- because it isn’t about you. It’s about your neighbour.
Finally, do not think you have arrived. The temptation with going through deep changes is that we are now “not racist”. A robust theology of salvation tells me we are always in need of saving- not in some sort of disempowering way, but in a real way nonetheless that acknowledges that we must always keep ourselves in check. This is one of the reasons why we pray the Lord’s prayer regularly, because part of the Lords prayer is a daily need to confess our sins and intentionally turn around. We might be more transformed than the day before, but we have not yet arrived. Quite the contrary, Paul in his letter to the Philippians would rather that we continue to press towards the goal of becoming the newly resurrected human beings we have always created to be, not thinking in folly that we have somehow arrived (Philippians 3:12-14). As such, I know that, to this very day, I have that zeitgeist of colonisation, of racism, of a tendency to locate myself as the better human being, and so I must confess, remain humble, repent, and say “Lord have mercy on me, a sinner”.
“I can’t breath”
Before the shocking death of George Floyd- whose death reignited the black lives matter movement- we had David Dungay, an Dunghutti man from Kempsey, who died in custody in 2015 saying also “I can’t breath”.
I can’t help but see his death, as well as the many others, as the demonic opposite of force of the good God who instead gives us the breath of life. Now is the time that we must take off the boots and partner with the work of living in practice that black lives do indeed matter to God. The legacy of colonisation that has (and still does) strangled these lands and many other across the world- in what has been a global and ongoing colonising project- must stop in Jesus’ name. We worship the brown Jesus who is the messiah of all people, who himself was part of a people whose lands were colonised by an opposing force, and who died by the powers of the state that took his life breath from him as he hung from a cross. Jesus was lynched. Jesus was murdered under a crushing knee. And his life was taken from him. Yet in this crushing moment, we have the Christ who cries from the cross, and whose power as the victim unleashes a new force for change in the world: the life of the new creation. Defeating death through death, Jesus rises again from the dead, and with him unleashes God’s project of New Creation, the fresh breath of life, that moves out into the world, and moment by moment, people by people, changes the world unto the day where death with receive its final death blow. And in that moment of eternal redemption, where the last will finally become first, and the first finally become last, we shall see the like of George Floyd and David Dungay, whose lungs will one day be filled again with now the new resurrected life breath of God.
Yet, the audacity of the Christian hope, is that this new world that is a coming starts now. The Kingdom of God has arrived- so let us get off our knees, and live what we say when we now say- along with all those seeking God’s healing justice in the word- that indeed…Black Lives Matter.
- This doesn’t mean that I don’t think politics matter, but that rather we just aren’t to give ultimate allegiance to a side of politics. My political theology is extremely nuanced and as such is another post for another time.
- I can hear someone who might say “But Paul also said that he would determine the rise and fall of nations”. That is true, yet in scripture, often the rise and fall of nations happens when nations are in explicit rebellion against God. This wasn’t the case for our First Nations people- who there is a well documented phenomenon- of God moving in these lands before europeans came along (Or do we just believe that God couldn’t be here unless white people came? Hmmm?). If anything, colonisation is the act of rebellion that would bring down an ever expanding empire, just like it did Rome and the empires before it, and the empires after it (e.g. the Third Reich).
- For more on this, read my other post on this at https://nathanforster.com/2020/04/19/turning-over-tables-turning-over-the-world-temple-economics-and-covid19/
- This doesn’t mean that every single command of God or everything that we can faithfully discern as a Kingdom ethic must be legislated, but only those that Jesus has a public priority over with precedent in his peoples history, namely how societies treat the poor, the marginalised, the orphan, the widow (etc.). Case by case has to be given to how we approach each topic of ethics on the public sphere- but as a broad principle, legislation should use the prism of seeing how the “least of these” are treated in society.
- For more on this, listen to this interview with the worlds leading New Testament professor N.T Wright https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZC6tbgpsl4&t=822s
- For more of this read Ched Myers on what “fishing for people” meant in light of the Hebrew scripture and also the Jewish fishing industry: https://radicaldiscipleship.net/2015/01/22/lets-catch-some-big-fish-jesus-call-to-discipleship-in-a-world-of-injustice/
- I recommend reading “Shalom and the community of God” (by Randy Woodley to explore this further)
- For more on this, I recommend two books, Lisa Sharon Harpers book “The Very Good Gospel” and Randy Woodleys book “Shalom and the community of God”
- A great theological animation video that explains this well is The Bible Projects short animated video on justice https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A14THPoc4-4