As a boy growing up in Louisville, Kentucky, I always cared more about basketball than politics. I cared about football too, but as a UK fan – it only brought me pain. As an adult, I still prefer sports over politics. However, my reasons have changed. When I was in high school, I was about as shallow as you could imagine. I didn’t have many strong convictions and political issues didn’t interest me. I was completely indifferent. As an adult, I have deep rooted convictions about many political issues, and these convictions are kindled by my faith in Jesus and his vision for his creation. I’m no longer indifferent toward politics. I’m just overwhelmingly frustrated with what politics have become in the United States of America.
Don’t get me wrong. I understand that most political issues are more important than sports, which for fans like me, simply serve as a source of entertainment. However, I strongly believe that American politics has a lot to learn from American sports. Although, there are many different teams and ways to be divided in sports, there is still a general sense of unity. We can root for different teams, wear different colors, literally tackle each other to the ground, and at the end of the day still get along. Are there exceptions? Of course, there are. But overall, I believe sports unite us as Americans far more than they divide us. We have learned how to disagree with each other, be on different sides, yet still value each other as human beings. This is not the overall situation for American politics.
Yes, political issues are more serious than sports. There is more at stake, so people get more passionate and upset. I understand why we have such a problem of division in politics, but that doesn’t excuse it. No matter the issue or situation, we should be able to listen to other people, empathize with other people, avoid polarization, and disagree without being disrespectful.
As a high school Bible teacher, I try to instill these principles in my students as I encourage them to have discussions about religion and the deepest most important questions of life. First of all, I want them to treat other people as co-images of God. A major implication of God creating humans to be his images is that all humans are equally valuable. This should reflect in our discussions and debates with one another. We show that we value other people by genuinely listening to them and trying to see their point of view. If at the end of the day, we still disagree with them, then we should be able to do so respectfully. We should still be able to love those people and (with limited exceptions) maintain our relationships with them.
Second of all, in any discussion or debate, I want my students to discover the truth not feed their own pride. We should be asking; how can I find the truth? Not, how can I prove that I’m right? If truth is our motivation, then we will experience helpful discussions. If pride is our motivation, we are assuming that we already know the truth and our discussions become pointless at best and harmful at worst.
Do we wrestle with these issues in all arenas of American life? Yes, we do. However, the past several years, especially in the year of 2020, American politics have become unbearable. Whether it’s the “professional” politicians, the national media, people on social media, or even our very own families; it has become increasingly difficult to have helpful political discussions. It has become the norm to talk past each other and dehumanize each other, and unfortunately Christians (in general) have not been an exception. This year my heart has been heavy over how Christians engage in politics, and I’ve felt overwhelmingly discouraged. I’ve been tempted to give up on politics and just resort to sports, but I can’t do that. For one, politics have crossed over into the world of sports. But most importantly, there are too many political issues that really matter. As a Christian first and as an American second, it would irresponsible to give up.
I’m sure many American Christians have been tempted to give up on politics. They find themselves unable to fit in with one side or the other, and they grow weary of all the fighting and debating. However, there is hope. As Christians, we are called to be a source of that hope. In the dark world of politics, we are called to be a light. We don’t have to succumb to the political culture in place. For the glory of God, we can pave a better way forward. We can set a culture of political discourse, where we value one another and we genuinely seek what is true and good.
Pro Life: From Womb to the Tomb
In the modern era of American politics, by far the number one issue of Christian emphasis has been abortion and protecting the rights of the unborn. The Church has been unapologetically outspoken against abortion in all scenarios. Many Christians will not even consider voting for political candidates, who support abortion in any way.
Christian opposition to abortion is rooted in the equal value of all human life as images of God. The Church’s commitment to value all life often leads to defending the lives of the most vulnerable and oppressed. We certainly see Jesus set this example throughout the Gospels. You can’t find a life much more vulnerable than an unborn baby. Therefore, the Church has rightly felt the call to speak out against abortion policies that strip away the rights of the unborn and fight for policies that will protect them.
Unborn babies are the most oppressed group of people in America and it’s not even close. In 2016, the U.S. government reported 623,471 abortions and that number was described as a “historic low.” There have been over 61 million abortions in America since it became legal nationwide in 1973. Abortion is a tragic ongoing evil in our country. It is an assault against human life and equality.
However, without downplaying the terrible reality of abortion, Christians in America must recognize there are other issues of oppression that require our attention and our voice. Our pro-life zeal should not stop with the unborn. There are many opportunities to defend and help the vulnerable. From the orphan to the widow to the disabled to the immigrant, Christians should not discriminate in who we are willing to care and fight for. Our consistent commitment to the value of all human life should be reflected in our political involvement.
Right now, in America, the value of Black lives is on the table. There has been a lot of debate over if and how African Americans are being oppressed, as well as how this oppression should be dealt with. Race relations in America are tense and complex right now. But all of that aside, this is a matter of human life. It’s a topic of obvious importance. Although some of the conversations may be difficult and complicated, Christians, we are obligated to take a seat at the table and champion our pro-life convictions.
Black Lives Matter: My Personal Journey
As a White Millennial from the east end of Louisville, I’ve felt appropriately inadequate when it comes to discussions on race relations. Until recently, my knowledge of racial oppression in America was limited to a couple of high school history lessons (which I barely paid attention to) and a handful of Disney movies (i.e. Remember the Titans). For most of my life, I’ve viewed race as an optional discussion. It’s not something I’ve had to think about. My friends and family rarely brought it up.
At best, the issue of race has been in my peripheral vision. I took note of the few Black friends and relatives that I had. I joked with my friends about the low percentage of Black students at my private Christian high school. I knew and referenced racial stereotypes such as “White people can’t jump” and “Black people can’t swim.” But overall, race was never a big deal to me.
This is why in 2013, when the #BlackLivesMatter movement took off, I paid little to no attention. At the time, I was in college training to be a teacher and a pastor, and I only remember seeing a few posts on social media. Some people were saying, “Black lives matter!” While others were responding, “all lives matter!” I didn’t understand what the debate was, and I didn’t care enough to look into it. I just moved on with my life.
Looking back, I really regret my response. I could make excuses. “I was busy with school.” “I was trying to stay out of unhelpful political debates on Facebook.” These things were true, but they don’t justify the apathy I had toward racial oppression. Around that same time, I would not have hesitated to look into, read up on, develop thoughts, become passionate about, and have discussions concerning the rights of the unborn. Why wasn’t I willing to do these things for people of color? Why was I so focused on certain types of oppression, yet unwilling to even look into other ways people were oppressed in my own country? If I consistently applied my view that all people are made in God’s image and therefore equally valuable, then I would care about equality across the board.
I’m not insinuating that I should have blindly joined the “Black lives matter” movement or the “all lives matter” response. What I really regret is that I just didn’t care. Black people in general and Black Christians in particular were trying to have a conversation about racial oppression, and I didn’t think it was worth my time. “But they were going about it the wrong way! They didn’t have all of the facts straight!” Even if these statements are true, we still aren’t justified in our refusal to listen and empathize. I became convicted over my apathy, and from what I’ve seen over the past few months, it appears many other White Christians have too.
As a result, when I saw my Black friends and mentors start to corporately express their pain this year, I knew I couldn’t ignore them. I still didn’t know much about the “Black lives matter” movement and I didn’t have a political agenda. I simply felt compelled to acknowledge the pain of those around me by listening, learning and trying to empathize with them.
For me, it started with the story of Ahmaud Arbery. I heard the story and saw the video, and it broke my heart. I wasn’t thinking about systemic racism or anything like that. To me the murder of Ahmaud Arbery was an individual tragedy of reckless violence. However, I did notice that a tragedy like this struck the Black community and sparked a united outrage from them. Then there was the death of George Floyd. Another tragic story of violence, yet this time at the hands of the police. When George Floyd was murdered, I saw the Black community not only lament racial oppression but also call for police reform. At the same time, I saw many White Americans (and some Black Americans) quickly dismiss the extent of racial oppression and the need for police reform. The debate immediately became polarizing and unhelpful. I now began to understand “Black lives matter” versus “all lives matter.”
As I’ve seen this debate go on over the past several months, I believe it serves as a prime example of the problems with the current political landscape in America. First of all, we talk past each other. The two sides don’t seem to really listen to each other and understand where the opposing side is coming from. “Black lives matter” and “all lives matter” aren’t even opposing viewpoints. A person could certainly affirm both positions simultaneously. The majority of people arguing that “Black lives matter” are doing so because they believe that “all lives matter.” Their point is that all lives can’t matter in America if the lives of Black Americans don’t seem to matter. They clearly aren’t saying, “only Black lives matter.” Now you could disagree and say, “Black lives do matter in America right now.” You could try to argue that there isn’t good evidence to support the presence of widespread racial oppression. But the “all lives matter” response seems to demonstrate an inability to truly listen to the Black community and those who are supporting them right now.
On the flip side, I’ve seen “Black lives matter” advocates oversimplify police treatment of African Americans. It’s very difficult to prove that a particular act is racist. For example, we can all see that the Jim Crow laws of the 1960s were racist because Black people were explicitly treated as inferior because of their skin. We saw the signs that said, “no colored people allowed.” We remember the days of racially separated bathrooms, restaurants, schools and theaters. We remember people being forced to sit at the back of the bus because their skin was black or brown. In 2020, we can look back at these things and identify them as clear examples of racism. Can we do the same for a criminal arrest gone wrong? Every time a police officer kills a Black man in the line of duty, is it a racial act? Is racism the underlying issue that can explain why Black people are more likely to be incarcerated in America than White people? These are important questions to ask, but the answers are not as simple as many “Black lives matter” proponents want everyone to think. They can sometimes be too quick to accuse others of racism without being willing to have reasonable discussions and collaborations.
At this point, I also need to acknowledge that the “Black lives matter” position has developed into an official organization (from here on referred to as BLM). While I do think this organization is often ignorantly and unfairly criticized, its faults are apparent. Rather than simply standing for the value of Black lives or fighting against racism, BLM uses their platform to promote other (typically more liberal) political positions such as abortion rights, universal healthcare and LGBTQ+ support. This results in an even further polarization in the discussion on race. BLM can imply to people that in order to make a stand for the value of Black lives, they also need to align themselves with the other views mentioned above. Therefore, many conservatives have become suspicious of the “Black lives matter” position because they now associate it with the BLM organization.
Where am I going with all of this? Well, when we are faced with the deaths of black people like Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Trayvon Martin; we need to stop polarizing our reactions. Americans have fallen into an incredibly bad habit of forcing each other into extremes. The tragic deaths of these men and women should not immediately launch us into our political rants. As Christians, we should mourn the lost lives of God’s image bearers before we consider ourselves ready to debate the political issues surrounding them.
As I began to do this after the deaths of Arbery and Floyd, I began to see the pain of the black community as a whole. They were upset. They were mourning and voicing frustration together. I’m not just talking about BLM or politically liberal Black people. I’m talking about Black people from all different walks of life. Seeing this convicted me. I felt compelled to listen to the Black people around me and learn how to empathize with them. Up until that point, I had the option to basically ignore discussions on race, and I did for nearly 25 years. I couldn’t go on like this anymore. At the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ is the willingness to enter into the worlds of other people. Jesus quite literally came down into our world to not only understand our suffering but to join us and suffer on our behalf.
Throughout the New Testament we are called to follow Jesus in this way, to humble ourselves as he did, to sacrificially love others as he loved us and to mourn with others and join in their suffering. In 2020, I’ve felt convicted to enter the world of my Black brothers and sisters in this way, granted, I should have felt this conviction a long time ago. I decided to start by educating myself. I knew that I could never fully understand the deep-rooted pain and frustration of the Black community. However, I knew that the first way to show someone you really care about them is to be there and really listen. I wanted to hear from Black voices. I wanted to hear their stories and see their perspectives. As I started to do this (and I have much more to do), it began to break me. I started to see clearly what my narrow-minded experiences hid from me.
The Importance of Understanding Black History
To understand what it means to be Black in America today, you have to understand what Black people have been through historically. History is so important because it shapes us. It makes us who we are for better or for worse. Our experiences don’t exist in a vacuum. We pass them down, and they have a ripple effect from generation to generation. As I listened to Black people speak out on the deaths of Floyd, Arbery and others; it became understandably clear to me that to divorce these events in 2020 from the history of racial oppression in America would be irresponsible. If an adopted child had an issue with their adoptive parents, we would find it unthinkable to ignore that child’s history of parental abandonment in this situation. This same principle can be applied to groups of people as well. Race relations in modern America exist against the backdrop of centuries of oppression. It’s a dark part of our history, which we must be aptly aware of.
As I mentioned earlier, my knowledge of racial oppression was severely limited. On a surface level, I knew about the slave trade, the Civil War and 20th century segregation in America. However, this year as I started consuming books, articles, podcasts, music, films and videos from Black perspectives; I began to realize just how ignorant I was. I came to understand that general knowledge of racial oppression can produce some awareness at best and apathy at worst, while detailed knowledge and understanding can truly begin to produce empathy.
This is why it’s important to read about the details of the African slave trade, to understand how the concept of race was constructed to justify treating Black people as property based on their skin color, to feel the blatant hypocrisy of our founding fathers declaring our independence while many of them simultaneously bolstered the institution of slavery into America, to hear the stories of how some of our favorite preachers rigorously studied and passionately communicated the Bible while also owning slaves, to hear the stories of Black women being raped by their masters, to weep over the grotesque stories of White men lynching Black people on a regular basis years after slavery was outlawed, to know the story of Emmett Till and other Black men who were falsely accused and murdered for actions they did not commit, to be aware of how the federal government in the 20th century legislated racial segregation and restricted where people could live based on their race, and to realize that less than 30 years ago a conservative Christian university strictly forbade interracial dating. This small list of details, along with personal conversations I’ve had with my Black friends about their experiences of racial oppression in the 21st century, has broken my heart and started me down the path of empathy I should have joined a long time ago.
I don’t know exactly how our history of racial oppression has affected our current situation. I don’t have the answers for how to fix it. I do know that the answer is not the toxic culture of political polarization that is more concerned with pride and hate than humility and love. As a Christian, I’m deeply convinced that I have an obligation to listen to the cries of pain from those around me. And I know that I’m called to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with the Lord. May the Church carry out this calling as a light in the midst of a dark political culture.
Resources for Further Study
- The Color of Compromise – Jemar Tisby
- The Color of Law – Richard Rothstein
- Ending Overcriminalization and Mass Incarceration – Anthony Bradley
- Matt Jones Podcast – Interview with Police Chief Rick Sanders
- Mere Fidelity – Interview with Anthony Bradley
- Mere Fidelity – Interview with Jemar Tisby
- Theology in the Raw – Tyler Burns
- Theology in the Raw – Lisa Fields
 Both of these are obviously false. Shout out to Rex Chapman and Cullen Jones.
 Philippians 2:1-11; 1 John 4:7-21; Romans 12:15.
 See Micah 6:8 c.f. Isaiah 1:17.