Coronavirus Updates & Resources >

Black Lives Matter: Taking Our Cue from The Global Church

DR. GINA A. ZURLO

CO-DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR THE STUDY OF GLOBAL CHRISTIANITY


In supporting the concern for black lives that I wrote about last week, we at the Center for the Study of Global Christianity think it’s important to listen to the global church. We advocate for the rights of black people and affirm highlighting the heightened threat from law enforcement and the preciousness of black lives. In the same way we support black Christians in Africa to advocate for their own kinds of Christianity, we support black Christians in America to advocate for their own lives.

We can say without reservation that black lives matter from a theological perspective and from our engagement with the wider global Christian family, including Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox, and Independents. What is happening in white American Evangelicalism is often at odds with our Evangelical family around the world. In particular, global Evangelicals embrace important biblical truths related to racial equality while the majority of white American Evangelicals have downplayed them. For example, the insistence that “All Lives Matter” as a counter claim to “Black Lives Matter” is evidence of white tone deafness to cries against grave social injustice since black lives are at much greater risk than others. This is one reason why we listen to the global church for wisdom on one of America’s most pressing issues. The list of resources at the end of this blog show strong support for justice for people of color from the global church as well as from biblically alert Christians in the USA. I’d like to share three examples from our global Christian family.

Protestant

BMS World Mission, the organization founded by William Carey in 1792 and currently headed by Kang San Tan, released a strong statement in support of Black Lives Matter. Like BMS, I realize that the Center for the Study of Global Christianity’s support of Black Lives Matter may cost us something. I especially appreciate their call to listen:

“Please listen to your black sisters and brothers. Please open your ears to what the Spirit is saying. Please do not miss out on what God is doing. We hope that even as you disagree you would still support and pray for the work we do in the name of Jesus around the world – but if you don’t, we believe that is a price worth paying. And we believe that God will honour our commitment to truth and justice with provision.”

Catholic

Pope Francis, the head of 1.2 billion Catholics around the world (73% of whom live in the Global South), offered support for an American bishop who knelt in prayer during a Black Lives Matter protest. His comments urged American Catholics to see racism as just as important as abortion. The Pope denounced the “sin of racism” and further stated, “We cannot close our eyes to any form of racism or exclusion, while pretending the defend the sacredness of every human life.”

Orthodox

Orthodox scholars George Demacopoulos and Aristotle Papanikolaou of Fordham University have weighed in from the perspective of Orthodox reactions to the 1960s civil rights movement. Many Greek Americans at the time were upset that some of their church leaders would “fraternize with civil rights agitators”. Demacopoulos and Papanikolaou directly address the critique that I have received as well, that associating with Black Lives Matter undermines Christian teachings. However, they counter that,

“…the most meaningful takeaway from BLM is that is it forces a reconfiguration of racial imagination, where whites of all ethnicities are challenged to imagine what it is like to live in a black body, what it feels like in that body to live in a country with our slave history, to live in a body that is more likely to be profiled, to live in a body that is less likely to get a job, to live in a body that has limited or no access to healthcare, to live in a body that needs affordable housing, to live in a body that fears being killed innocently by the police, to live in a body that has to walk in the middle of the street as a necessary strategy for surviving a drive-by shooting. That kind of imagination is our Christian calling; as Orthodox Christians, it is our spiritual challenge…”

Following the lead of the global church, supporting black initiatives is an opportunity to be on the right side of history. To read additional Christian perspectives on this, please see the links below.

Support from the global church:

Support from the US: