An Exposition of Black Lives Matter: Conclusion Part 3
Part 1 in this series introduced BLM and framed the issue facing Christians regarding calls to endorse its cause (if not the organization). Part 2 takes a deep dive into the self-professed guiding principles and beliefs behind BLM. Part 3 will further assess the question of BLM facing Christians and evaluate how some evangelical leaders have approached said question.
‘It’s About Power!’
Having covered the guiding principles via BLM’s statement of belief it is now natural to briefly examine the guiding interests and general mood of the BLM network. Given what we know about what they believe, what do they aim to do? Helpfully, BLM does not force us to guess about their policy prescriptions, demands, and vision for society.
First, the BLM network is dedicated to a radical realignment or redistribution of power. As James Cone once said, “If you’re not talking about redistributing power then you’re just joking around!” Well, M4BL is not joking around. Their website reads:
“We believe in transformation and a radical realignment of power: The current systems we live inside of need to be radically transformed, which includes a realignment of global power. We are creating a proactive, movement-based vision instead of a reactionary one.”
Along the same lines:
“We demand independent Black political power and Black self-determination in all areas of society. We envision a remaking of the current U.S. political system in order to create a real democracy where Black people and all marginalized people can effectively exercise full political power.”
M4BL’s aspirations are global. White supremacy is a global problem, after all, as Charles Mills instructs. In The Racial Contract, Mills stated that white supremacy is single-handedly responsible for the formation of the modern world. Whatever is objectionable about modern society (i.e. Western society) is therefore attributable to white supremacy. Counterefforts must be global because the problem is global.
Richard Delgado, in his famous primer, Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, holds that “The predicament of social reforms … is that ‘everything must change at once.’ Otherwise, change is swallowed up by the remaining elements, so that we remain roughly as we were before. Culture replicates itself forever and ineluctably.” The focus of the BLM network must, therefore, also be comprehensive in its social reengineering of the world.
A booklet published by M4BL called “A Vision for Black Lives: Policy Demands for Black Power, Freedom, & Justice,” makes this global and comprehensive vision all the more explicit by espousing a sort of diasporic social justice:
“While this platform is focused on domestic policies, we know that patriarchy, exploitative capitalism, militarism, and white supremacy know no borders. We stand in solidarity with our international family against the ravages of global capitalism and anti-Black racism, human-made climate change, war, and exploitation. We also stand with descendants of African people all over the world in an ongoing call and struggle for reparations for the historic and continuing harms of colonialism and slavery.”
Specific policy proposals include the abolishment of capital punishment, money bail, fines, and court fees (especially in cases where defendants are made to pay). Black minors should also not be allowed to be arrested and neither should criminal history factored in to loan applications, education, housing, licenses, or any other “services and needs.” Public detention centers are also to be abolished (but so are private ones), a suggestion that King County in Washington State (i.e. Seattle) is apparently going to follow. M4BL further demands sweeping (and retroactive) decriminalization:
“The retroactive decriminalization, immediate release and record expungement of all drug-related offenses and prostitution and reparations for the devastating impact of the “war on drugs” and criminalization of prostitution, including a reinvestment of the resulting savings and revenue into restorative services, mental health services, job programs and other programs supporting those impacted by the sex and drug trade.”
CRT scholars have, among other radical proposals, floated (to put it mildly) the idea of race-based jury nullification. It would not be surprising to see similar ideas of race or disparity jurisprudence creep into the BLM/M4BL proposals at some point.
As most people know by now, defunding the police sits atop BLM’s priorities. Various alternatives to policing, like “rapid response social workers,” have made the rounds— another example of America’s elites filling in the policy gaps for BLM in attempt to provide theoretical legitimacy to its sweeping demands. Defunding the police may seem like a radical, fringe view— though admittedly one gaining steam— to most Americans, but that’s just because most Americans don’t read law reviews wherein legal “scholars” have been developing the idea for some time, often within the strangest (if imaginative) paradigms. Admittedly, defunding the police seems rather tame when it is realized that things like Derrick Bell’s “The Space Traders” is considered legal scholarship, but I digress.
Getting back on track, it is also unsurprising that M4BL wants
“Reparations for the systemic denial of access to high quality educational opportunities in the form of full and free access for all black people (including undocumented and currently and formerly incarcerated people) to lifetime education including: free access and open admissions to public community colleges and universities, technical education, . . . educational support programs, retroactive forgiveness of student loans, and support for lifetime learning programs.”
Reparations, the statement says, should also be dished out to account for “extracted” wealth, “environmental racism,” and “food apartheid”— it is surprising that they did not include “medical apartheid” here. Under the “Economic Justice” section of the booklet, M4BL claims
“A right to restored land, clean air, clean water and housing and an end to the exploitative privatization of natural resources—including land and water. Democratic control over how resources are preserved, used and distributed and do so while honoring and respecting the rights of our Indigenous family.”
BLM’s disdain of capitalism— which Tehama Bunyasi and Candis Smith designate a “tool of oppression,” a definite source of inequality, in Stay Woke: A People’s Guide to Making All Black Lives Matter— is no secret. And as Al Mohler has rightly inferred, this demand, in conjunction with others mentioned, implies the abolition of private property:
“In this scenario, who would determine what land and water use constitute exploitation? And who would have the authority to seize property from owners who are deemed exploitative? Although this aspect of its message is emphasized less than its anti-racism, the group’s literature demonstrates that the Movement for Black Lives seeks an end to capitalism and free markets.”
Obviously, the list of BLM/M4BL demands is extensive. Some of said demands are not unique to the BLM network, nor particularly outlandish. The use of surveillance technologies in policing and the privatization of prisons, for instance, raise genuine civil liberties questions, are cause for genuine concern and should be subject to careful (re)consideration by policy makers. Inordinate reliance on solitary confinement in corrections facilities is also a long-recognized problem by scholars and activists on both sides of the aisle. Very few people would object to outlawing the shackling of incarcerated pregnant women— M4BL insists on saying “pregnant people” in order to be maximally inclusive.
But what is unique about BLM and co. is the sheer, rather erratic scope of its demands and the race-centric spin on every single one of them. It is black people who are to be compensated for what BLM deems overcriminalization of drug use; poor, Appalachian whites who are presently being ravaged by the opioid epidemic, for example, are not considered. But expecting anything else from a policy platform built upon the logic of CRT would be foolish. “Fairness” and race-neutral policymaking are white ideas after all.
A Blessing in Disguise
In the end, that the SBC is not meeting this summer may be a special blessing of providence. As I have noted before, those messengers in attendance at the 2019 convention and voted on Resolution 9 were largely uninformed about its contents, i.e. Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality (CRT/I). Founders Ministries has been dedicated, like no other evangelical organization, in the time since to educating Southern Baptists and Christians of every stripe about CRT/I.
By next summer, however, I wager no one in attendance at the convention will be unacquainted with these ideologies. If it was not the case already, in just a few short weeks terms belonging to critical theories have become common vernacular.
In a year’s time, Southern Baptists will have not only heard the invocation of “antiracism” and “white privilege,” on a seemingly hourly basis, but also seen firsthand the logical conclusions, the implications, the full working out of CRT/I, Evergreen State College writ large, if you will.
That being said, preparation by SBC messengers for next year’s convention should include coming to terms with “Black Lives Matter,” the slogan, hashtag, and network. This entails exactly what Al Mohler has suggested:
“An honest assessment of the movement demands that we take them at their word. When we read their comments and official documents, when we survey the policies they propose and the worldview that guides their moral claims, it is clear that the Movement for Black Lives promotes a revolutionary and destructive agenda that is completely antithetical to a biblical worldview.”
‘Let Them Eat Cake!’
Another facet of said preparation involves answering the question posed in Part 1 of this series, viz., is the present position of J.D. Greear, and others who share his opinion, tenable? Can they have their cake and eat it too? Given what has been covered in this series the answer must be a resounding “no.”
Unfortunately, neither Greear nor the rest of us are in control of the content of BLM’s slogan or website. The creators/founders themselves, like it or not, dictate such. The attempt to personalize the meaning by whatever intellectual and semantic gymnastics one employs is, therefore, futile. The words “Black Lives Matter” have preexisting content developed in a particular context and unto particular ends. Discarding the context and authorial intentions of the founders of BLM renders the network amorphous and the slogan meaningless. The tortured qualification Greear has attempted— and he is by no means the only one to do it— is, therefore, impossible.
As confessional Christians this much should be evident and familiar. Recent controversies in Reformed circles regarding the doctrine of God have illustrated this. The language of “body,” “parts,” and “passions,” for example, featured in the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646), the Second London Baptist Confession (1689), and the Savoy Declaration of Faith (1653) possess historical, predetermined meaning. To subscribe to those confessions, to employ their language, then, is to adopt said content along with it, to affirm the meaning intended by the original authors. Any other conception of confessional language is intellectually lazy at best, deceptive at worst, and in either case produces an unstable basis for doctrinal unity. The first move of so-called theistic personalists (and theistic mutualists) is usually to personalize historic confessional language, a decidedly postmodern maneuver in the reader-response vein that frustrates notions of objective truth and the stability of texts.
The same is true of how Christians treat other contemporary organizations, their statements of belief, and their accompanying slogans, which always serve as a sort of shorthand. Doubtless Greear would reject the beliefs and mission of Planned Parenthood. Any pro-life Christian would. Presumably, then, Greear would reject a fellow Christian’s attempt to redeem the invocation of the Planned Parenthood name (even if the organization has disavowed Margaret Sanger) or the slogan of “women’s reproductive rights” associated with pro-choice activism and policy.
On its face, the phrase “women’s reproductive rights” could, in another world, be easily affirmed by Christians. Of course, women have rights over their reproductive capabilities. The entire basis for the legalization of abortion was the respect of women’s privacy, their agency over their bodies. Hence, the common affirmation of abortion rights by hard-core libertarians. And the requisite precedent for Roe v. Wade involved, basically, marital privacy (i.e. Griswold v. Connecticut). And to some extent, Christians appreciate privacy rights and freedom from inordinate government intrusion or “undue burdens” on the exercise of legitimate, God-given rights and freedoms like marriage and child rearing.
And yet, Greear and (at least, officially) all Southern Baptists would welcome the abolition of Roe v. Wade and its progeny. In a context conditioned by the legacy of Roe and the neo-eugenics of Planned Parenthood, conservative evangelicals typically do not invoke the language of “women’s reproductive rights,” “my body, my choice,” and the like. But this is, obviously, not to say that they hope for some kind of hypothetical forced pregnancy policy (whatever the latest fever dream of Margaret Atwood might suggest). It is rather that they understand the historical and contextual meaning of the phrases or slogans associated with Planned Parenthood and pro-choice advocacy. To chant the phrase, to hashtag it in their tweets, is to signal allegiance with the organization and movement they detest for reason related to their commitments to Biblical morality.
Less tenable still would be the hypothetical evangelical who peppers their social media with #PlannedParenthood and justifies this digital show of support by pointing to the organization’s philanthropy, backfilling the defense with claims that the organization’s purpose and goals have been commandeered by bad actors with ulterior motives. Planned Parenthood, like any legitimate organization, and the movement it plays an intricate role in, speaks for itself, openly and publicly. For these reasons, from the conservative evangelical perspective, it is essentially irredeemable. To chant the phrase, to voice support for the organization, however qualified, is to signal acquiescence at some level to its mission, goals, and more importantly, its worldview.
Until yesterday, it sometimes seems, we all accepted that some phrases, some slogans are simply irredeemable, and that political organizations are not subject to individual personalization. To claim otherwise is to devolve into linguistic indeterminacy and relativism, making communication impossible; and even if it were possible it would be undesirable to anyone desirous of healthy public discourse, conceptual consensus, and unity.
In the end, attributing BLM and its official policy positions and beliefs to a “hijacking” is similar to the initial move from the authors of Resolution 9 who argued that CRT/I were merely neutral analytical tools that happened to have been, on occasion, “appropriated” by bad actors with unchristian worldviews. Again, not to disparage the reputation of Greear or any other SBC leader, but 2021 SBC messengers should be on the look out for these kinds of fanciful, “bad actor hijacking” narratives at the convention. Those who espouse such may be genuine and well-meaning, but they are terribly misguided.
As shown above, imbedded in the BLM network (including M4BL), organization, and movement are epistemic and moral claims drawn from an ideology (critical race theory, critical race feminism, queer theory, and etc.) which, as I have argued before, is fundamentally antithetical to the Christian worldview. This is by design and in accordance with the intent and worldview of the authors. Christians should hesitate, to say the least, before endorsing BLM on any level— remember, Twitter is forever— and should question anyone who tells them otherwise.