It is a joy to have David Nixon as a guest post today. David is the Associate Pastor of Carrubbers Christian Centre in Edinburgh, a lovely Christian man and a very competent and engaging apologist. I’ve wanted to do a post on the Black Lives Matter from an apologetics perspective for a wee while now, but Nixon has done a far better job than I ever could…
Black Lives Matter by David Nixon
8 minutes and 46 seconds. That’s how long a police officer knelt on the neck of George Floyd, ignoring his pleas “I can’t breathe,” until he died. Sadly this was not an isolated incident – it was only the latest exposure of the dark underbelly of America’s struggles with racism and the lingering shadow of slavery.
Whatever your opinions on the ensuing riots, I’m sure we all can agree that we believe everyone has the right to treated fairly, equally and decently in our society. But where did those ideas come from? Certainly we didn’t get them from the Greeks and Romans – the majority of their populations were slaves. Their leading philosopher Aristotle observed that since people had differing natural abilities: some people were ‘born to be tools’ and others ‘born to be kings’ (“Politics”) – the idea that all men and women and all races were equal was ludicrous to them. So what changed? It’s because we live in a society that was revolutionised by Christianity. That’s why sociologist Rodney Stark has written:
“Of all the world’s religions, including the three great monotheisms, only in Christianity did the idea develop that slavery was sinful and must be abolished… Slavery was once nearly universal to all societies able to afford it… only in the West did significant moral opposition ever arise and lead to abolition” (For The Glory of God)
It’s really important we recognise that the Bible has helped us come this this far and the biblical worldview has the resources to help us tackle lingering racial injustice. That’s what the celebrated civil rights activist Rev Dr Martin Luther King famously believed: “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice – I believe the Bible”. However, as our Secular society moves further away from the Biblical worldview I fear that we are not moving towards justice but towards the abyss.
SECULAR WORLDVIEW: NO LIVES MATTER (OR SOME MATTER MORE THAN OTHERS!)
There is a significant problem for the secular worldview because it reduces human beings to being cosmically insignificant blobs of carbon floating from one meaningless existence to another. Ultimately “No Lives Matter”! Or at best “Only Some Lives Matter”. That’s why the secular journalist Douglas Murray wrote an article entitled “Would human life be sacred in an atheist world?” and concluded the answer was no (especially at the extremities of life: the unborn and the elderly). The secular humanistic worldview does not possess the resources to support our convictions about the dignity and equality of all humans.
Instead, the secular historian Tom Holland has recognised (much to his own surprise and shock) that these values were in fact borrowed from Christianity. He writes: “That human beings have rights; that they are born equal; that they are owed sustenance, and shelter, and refuge from persecution: these were never self-evident truths.” He continues: “The wellspring of humanist values lay not in reason, not in evidence based thinking, but in history… the revolution preached by St Paul… Had it been otherwise, then no one would ever have got woke” (“Dominion”).
The dilemma for our society is can the fruit survive being transplanted into a different soil that is acidly opposed to the biblical worldview? That soil is called Critical Theory and it is the guiding philosophy for the Black Lives Matter organisation.
Critical theory views the world through the lens of POWER (cf. Douglas Murray: “Madness of the Crowds”). It divides society into two groups: the oppressors (privileged groups) and the oppressed (disadvantaged groups). Critical Theory believes in liberation through the reversal of power and redistribution of resources away from the dominant group and a restructuring of society for the benefit of minority groups.
Rather than fulfilling Martin Luther King’s vision of his children being judged “not by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character”, instead in critical theory people are defined and judged by the group they identify with. For example, one critical race theorist Robin DiAngelo wrote in her best-selling book “White Fragility”:
“No individual member of the dominant group has to do anything specific to oppress a member of the minority group… we must challenge the dominant conceptualization of racism as individual acts that only some bad individuals do, rather than as a system in which we are all implicated”.
While Critical Theory makes many valid observations, I believe that its interpretation and proposed solution has at least two significant problems.
The first problem: it’s dangerous to divide the world into good people and evil people (cf. Jonathan Haidt “Coddling of the American Mind”) – especially when you assign guilt to groups (i.e. all white people are racist).
It may be comforting to think that all the goodness in the world is in you and all the badness is in your enemies. But when you divide society into groups competing for power against a common enemy you don’t get reconciliation, you just perpetuate resentment. That’s why Martin Luther King believed that racial reconciliation was only possible when we recognise our common humanity – that we are “all God’s children”.
The second problem: Critical Theory fails to recognise that the oppressed can also be oppressors. I’ve appreciated how that truth is depicted in the popular novel and recent BBC drama “Noughts and Crosses”. In it Malorie Blackman’s imagines that Europe was colonised by Africa and its white population were enslaved. In this alternative 21st century, the Noughts (with lighter skin tone) are segregated and oppressed by the Crosses (with darker skin tone). It’s a fascinating portrayal of the fact that all of us possess the capacity to oppress other people. This is evidence of something wrong in the human condition – the Bible calls it sin. Critical Theory cannot change the human heart! But Jesus can!
BIBLICAL WORLDVIEW: BLACK LIVES MATTER (BECAUSE ALL LIVES MATTER TO GOD!)
In the biblical worldview there are three truths that bridge the many divisions between people in our world.
On the first page of the Bible, God tells us that human beings are not cosmic accidents, rather everyone one of us has a Maker, who has lovingly made us “in His image”. Although we talk about different races – in reality there is only one race: the human race and it is full of diversity. The Bible enables us to declare “Black Lives Matter” because all lives matter to God – from the womb to the tomb! We are obligated to love, respect and value all who bear that image too.
Unfortunately the human race has spurned the love of God. Not content to be live as the image of God, we have attempted to become our own gods ruling over little kingdoms of self. The root of racism is a sinful pride and selfish love for ourselves, which leads us to harbour prejudice, mistrust or hatred against those who are different. Sinful individuals can create sinful structures that oppress other people. When someone is treated differently or unfairly because of an innate characteristic like ethnicity or gender those unjust structures should be reformed. However, the ultimate solution to racial injustice requires going deeper to address sin in the human heart. It also requires going higher: Sin is not just an offence against the person but also an offence against the God in whose image that person is made– and God in His justice is committed to destroy that form of evil!
The Bible introduces us to the God who once rescued his oppressed people from slavery and later came in Jesus to rescue the human race from its greatest oppressors: sin and death. That’s why the word “redemption” is drawn from the slave market as the price paid to set a slave free!
The gospel of Jesus Christ turns Critical Theory on its head: the God who possessed supreme POWER emptied himself in LOVE to liberate the human race from its captivity to sin. Jesus through His death on the Cross has paid the redemption price to set us free by suffering the penalty that our sins deserve. Jesus in His resurrection has demonstrated that He is the source of new life and a new heart. He can cleanse you from the worst stains of sin – including prejudice, partiality, racism and sectarianism.
Let me finish by telling you about the autobiography of Tom Tarrants: “Consumed by Hate; Redeemed by Love”. In the 1960s he was a terrorist belonging to one of the most violent branches of the Ku Klux Klan. He was seriously wounded in a police shoot out after attempting to bomb a civil rights activist and critic of the Klan. But in prison his heart and mind was transformed when he experienced the love and power of Jesus. Since then he has worked tirelessly against racism and prejudice in America. He makes three closing suggestions of ways you can respond to this issue:
- Pray for God to give you insight into sinful attitudes, prejudices or partiality in your heart against those who are different
- Read for truth/perspective about the history of race in our country and the experiences of ethnic minorities
- Reach out to someone of a different culture or ethnicity to build a meaningful friendship