Do All Lives Truly Matter?

I want to talk about issues of RACE and RECONCILIATION in my next few blog posts… Not to attack anyone. Not to make anyone feel terrible. Not to harp on the issues getting so much play in the news media.

No, I want to talk about them because they are important to me. I am working through these issues in my own heart and life, and I am learning how deep these divides go in myself.

There is something inherently troubling about me doing this. I am a middle-class, highly educated, white male Protestant. I live a life of undeserved privilege, and I know that I am only barely scratching the surface of this discussion. That being said… I want to invite you to journey through this with me on these next few blog posts as I wrestle with questions of racism, race, class, privilege, reconciliation, and hope. And I’d love your thoughts via email, if you would like.


 

I grew up in Memphis, TN. For those who have never been to Memphis, it is a wonderful city. Lots of great barbeque, a beautiful setting along the Mississippi River, lots of great music and history and stories.

It is also a city that has intense racial division. This is something I didn’t really notice growing up. I went to an integrated school where the population was about 40% white, 40% black, and 20% other. I had friends who were Muslim, Jewish, atheist, Mormon, Jehovah’s Witness, and lots of Christian denominations. And I never felt like this was something odd.

Beale Street Memphis

But there is an undercurrent to my hometown, as well. As most of you know, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel on April 4, 1968. He was in town speaking and demonstrating on behalf of the Sanitation Workers’ Strike. And he chose that moment to talk about the struggle of humanity to overcome oppression, injustice, violence, racism, and classism.  (The video and transcript can be found here.)

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

There have been a lot of changes since that day, but there is still a LONG way to go. And I began to notice that when I moved BACK to Memphis in 2004. I had been away at school in Arkansas, and when I came back I began to notice the incipient racism that I had never seen before. I saw it in interactions in stores, in the airport security line, in the various schools around our city, in the way that people spoke about their neighborhoods and the changing demographics.

I heard it when I would enter Orange Mound, once the second-largest African-American neighborhood in the US. I would think about it as I drove through the gentrified downtown neighborhoods, once “projects” but now reworked communities that had driven the poor and the minorities out into other areas.

And I noticed it in the way that Hispanics were treated in my old neighborhoods. As I heard the statements made in ignorance and fear; new derogatory vocabulary that I heard in conversations where I worked and ate. I grew to hate the W word almost as much as I hate the N word. (And for those of you who don’t know what I am talking about, that is awesome! I am thankful you grew up without knowing either of those terms.)

I was struck by the racial insensitivity I saw in the world around me. I was even more struck as I left for places like Papua New Guinea, Central America, and Europe, and witnessed the way things were throughout the world (good, bad, and ugly.)

To be fair, it isn’t just Memphis. It isn’t just the US. I heard racist remarks in Europe and Argentina, too.

But today I am struck by the fact that it is forefront in our conversations again. Race is once again at the forefront of our nightly news.

  • Trump made a claim that all Mexicans were criminals and rapists, playing on the xenophobic fears that plague many. And then he took Jeb Bush to task for answering questions in Spanish, a language in which Bush is fluent, with others telling him that he needs to “speak American.”
  • Building two walls, one on the border with Mexico and the other with Canada, is now actually being discussed as a platform topic.
  • The Black Lives Matter movement has arisen in response to the deaths of various African-Americans, male and female, in the United States over the past two years. Others have responded in anger, stating that “All Lives Matter.” While true, it ignores the important statement being made by these individuals: in the course of US History, black lives have rarely been treated like they matter. Names like Emmett Till, Solomon Northrupp, Medgar Evers, Trayvon Martin, and thousands of others bring up stories, histories, emotions, and tensions on all sides of the equation.

I truly believe that ALL LIVES MATTER. African-American lives matter. Mexican lives matter. Women’s lives matter. Men’s lives matter. Children’s lives matter. Homeless lives matter. Police lives matter.

But I have to ask myself: Do I truly believe that all lives matter? Do I truly value all people? Do I have a consistent “right to life” ethic? Do I treat all people as if they are important? Do I treat any one race, language, gender, class, education or socio-economic level better or worse than I treat another?

I believe the Christian ethic demands that we ask this question. According to the early church, the Kingdom changes the way we think about questions of race, gender, power, language, class, education. Jesus praised Samaritans throughout his ministry, a race hated by his own Jewish brethren. Peter demonstrated that God called all kinds of people from all different backgrounds:

  • So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35).

Paul went out of his way to show racial harmony as part of Christian life and ethic:

  • “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave[a] nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).
  • “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave,[a] free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Col. 3:11).
  • Paul takes the believers to task in Corinth for the rich not waiting for the poor to fellowship and take the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11).

The early church modeled openness to all kinds of people: rich, poor; slave, free; Jew, Gentile; male, female.

  • “42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe[e] came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-27)

 

For Christians, ALL LIVES MATTER. Now, I need to examine my own life and make sure I am living out that exclamation in every aspect…

As MLK stated, “We will get to the Promised Land.” It starts with each of us examining our own hearts, minds, and actions in light of these areas. Do all lives matter to me? Only by answering that question in my own life can I help lead others towards the Promised Land.


 

Thanks for hanging on through all of these random comments. More soon…