“Black Lives Matter” (BLM) has become a battleground term in American society for several years now, but increasingly so over the past few weeks, beginning with the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN on May 25, 2020. A proverbial line in the sand has been drawn with BLM being the determination as to which “side” you are on. Christians are being particularly called out and pressured to make their declaration in favor of BLM.
The problem we face as followers of Christ is that support of BLM is not as self-evident as some in the Church are making it out to be. The situation, as with most situations in life, is more nuanced than is being let on. This post seeks to examine those nuances and discern what Catholics can and cannot support as regards BLM.
There are three different considerations of BLM that will be examined in this post each with their own evaluation as to their appropriateness for support. There is “the statement,” “the current movement,” and “the organization,” which in my opinion are considered to be appropriate, unclear and inappropriate for Catholics to support.
The statement “Black Lives Matter” is uncontroversial for Catholics if taken at face value. From its inception the Church has considered itself as destined for every one of God’s children. Every human being is created in God’s image and likeness (Gen 1:26). St. Paul famously wrote that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28) and St. Peter added that the Lord does not will “that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Pet. 3:9) Simply put, there is no room for unjust discrimination or hatred based on race in the Church. Black lives are loved infinitely by God and should matter to any follower of Jesus Christ. When taken at face value the response to BLM by almost everyone is “of course black lives matter, all lives matter.”
A negative reaction to the response of “all lives matter” indicates that there is another meaning of BLM that is championed by the current movement that has recently gained prominence. This movement could be described by reformulating BLM to say, “black lives are particularly under threat at the moment and are in need of specific attention and affirmation”. When looked at in the light of Catholic principles there is validity to this reformulated statement. A popular meme explains BLM in the light of the parable of the lost sheep (Matt. 18:12-14; Luke 15:3-7). While all sheep are of equal importance, the lost sheep demands the attention of the shepherd. While the Church has always had a special solicitude for the poor, vulnerable and marginalized of society, the 20th century saw an elucidation of the Church’s preferential option for the poor. (CCC 2444, 2448)
There are other considerations that make the current movement objectionable to some Catholics based on consideration of Catholic moral theology. While not an exhaustive list, some common objections include:
- Some do not want to support the movement based on the recent actions of its protestors including vandalism, theft, violence, physical harm and even the death of innocent people. Catholics should denounce these things as unacceptable and immoral.
- Some are concerned with ideological concepts being adopted by the current movement such as “systemic racism,” “white privilege,” and “collective guilt” to name a few. These concepts impute moral failing to an entire group of people based on their common skin color. While it can be a fruitful thing to recognize past injustices and seek reconciliation between identifiable groups, no individual’s personal moral character can be judged based on the actions of others. Imputing guilt on people simply because they share the same skin color is itself morally objectionable and quite possibly a form of racism.
- Some believe that the strong reaction is being provoked by entities that are actively working for disunity along race lines. This objection states that, while there are racist people, they are not many in number and the representation of the state of racial affairs in the country is exaggerated by the media, politicians and academia born of ideology rather than an objective analysis. While the Church cannot say much about the degree to which racism is prevalent in any particular area, she certainly promotes harmony as opposed to enmity among people of different races. Anyone working actively to provoke racial tensions is not acting with the Spirit of God.
- Recently the movement has adopted defunding the police as a chief goal of reform. It is easy to argue that defunding and dismantling police forces would be catastrophic for society, and would adversely affect the very population the movement is trying to defend.
Finally, there is the organization called “Black Lives Matter”. The organization had its origins in the protests of the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and especially Michael Brown and the protests in Ferguson, MO in 2013-14. It now has official chapters spread throughout the country. This concept of BLM is problematic for Catholics in several ways.
Concerning their approach to black lives and the issue of racism, the organization has a notably divisive approach. It is steeped in the identity ideology that is widespread in academia and increasingly present in virtually every area of life. This ideology uses a Marxist-style class struggle approach to identity groups. It divides up people based on specific indentifiers such as race, culture, language, national origin, sex, sexuality, etc. and pits them against each other in an oppressor-oppressed conflict narrative. The ultimate struggle is for power in this worldview. This is not the lens through which Catholics view race relations or issues of justice for that matter. It is one that breeds division and suspicion of one another instead of unity and understanding. It has a false notion of sin which imputes guilt on whole groups of people based on their common identifier. The notion of the Mystical Body of Christ is one in which all are called to be one in Christ Jesus and that we do not struggle against each other but struggle together against sin, the true enemy of humanity.
Besides their problematic concept of racism and race relations, their declaration of “what we believe” includes elements directly opposed to Catholic teaching including:
- They claim to “do the work required to dismantle cisgender privilege” and promote erroneous notions of “sexual identity,” “gender identity,” and “gender expression.” They state: “We foster a queer‐affirming network. When we gather, we do so with the intention of freeing ourselves from the tight grip of heteronormative thinking, or rather, the belief that all in the world are heterosexual (unless s/he or they disclose otherwise).”
- They claim to “disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure.” It is difficult to express how out of step this is with Catholic belief. The origin of the family is God himself, not an oppression brought about by Western Civilization. The family, consisting of man, woman and children is not only written into nature, but blessed and affirmed by God himself by his choosing to live as a member of the Holy Family in Nazareth.
Saying “Black Lives Matter” is complicated… it has many meanings and nuances that should be of concern for Catholics. What is not complicated is the belief that all men are of equal dignity in God’s eyes and should be treated as such. It is also not complicated that as followers of Christ we should have a special concern for those in situations of oppression and injustice. But, due to our wounded human nature, something as simple and straightforward as the condemnation of racism is mixed in with concepts and attitudes that are troublesome in the least and downright unacceptable in some circumstances. St. Paul reminds us that “the spiritual person judges all things” (1 Cor. 2:15) and to “test everything and hold fast to what is good.” (1 Thess. 5:21) Let us be discerning in our approach to what is going on in the world and be inspired by God’s own love for his beloved children and aided by the insight of the Holy Spirit who guides us into all truth. (Jn. 16:13)