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Black Lives Matter: Hot Button Issue #3

November 12, 2015

Full Disclaimer:

     I’m a white male, I have an advanced degree, and I’m a clergyperson. I have been the beneficiary of white privilege[1] throughout my entire life (in addition to gender and economic privilege). In my limited dealings with police officers (for traffic violations) it has always been a respectful and courteous interaction.

     I provide this brief disclaimer because it is important for you to know that I am not claiming to “understand” the experiences and feelings that led to the formation of the “Black Lives Matter” movement. That has not been my life experience.

     So why even blog about it? Because racism is systemic to our culture, and in order to address it white people need to learn about it, struggle through it, and join in movements that are working to overcome it.  Let’s be clear, I am in the process of continually learning about the negative impact of systemic racism and white privilege. I’m working to listen as I acknowledge my own privileged position in this culture.

     I do believe that the first step in learning about BLM is for white people to accept the reality of white privilege. That is a hard and challenging step because white privilege is so ingrained in our culture that we often don’t even see it or recognize it, but minorities see it, experience it and struggle to live in a culture dominated by it.  

     Because I am in a process of learning, I will apologize in advance for writing anything that may be offensive to blacks or whites, as it is not my intent to do so. My intent in writing this blog is to lay out some information that will provide a backdrop for a conversation about “Black Lives Matters” we will be having at Crossroads UMC this coming Sunday (11/15/15). 

 

Black Lives Matter

 

From Wikipedia: “Black Lives Matter (BLM) is an international activist movement, originating in the African American community, that campaigns against violence toward black people. BLM regularly organizes protests around the deaths of black people in killings by law enforcement officers, and broader issues of racial profiling, police brutality, and racial inequality in the United States criminal justice system. The movement began with the use of the hashtag, #BlackLivesMatter, on social media after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of African-American teen Trayvon Martin (2013). Black Lives Matter received fresh impetus from the 2014 deaths of two African Americans: Michael Brown—that resulted in protests and unrest in Ferguson—and Eric Garner in New York City.”

 

     We’ve seen the signs, the t-shirts, and the protestors that proclaim “Black Lives Matter”! The typical response of White America has been to say that “All Lives Matter!” or we have heard police officers saying “Cops Lives Matter!” I might as well join the parade and say, “Clergy Lives Matter!” From what I have been learning it is critical to establish that the statement “Black Lives Matter” is not exclusive. I have read that BLM has an implied “too” at the end, so we can read “Black Lives Matter…too.”

     There is nothing I’ve read or heard about the BLM movement that says, or even indicates, that any other life does not matter. BLM does NOT indicate that your life (regardless who you are) does not matter! What is being said is that in our culture black lives don’t matter as much as white lives, and historically this is accurate.  

     It’s sort of like if I have a passion for advocating increased funding for prostate cancer research it doesn’t mean I don’t care about those with brain cancer. I don’t hear BLM saying they don’t care about other lives, but what I do hear them saying is that we need to focus on caring for lives that our culture hasn’t cared for historically.

     This understanding is critical to the discussion because if white people take BLM personally it misses the total point. BLM is an effort to draw attention to the ways in which systemic racism negatively impacts the progress of black people economically, educationally, and through the criminal justice system.

      BLM draws attention to how law enforcement seems to handle black people differently than white people. The statistics would suggest there is something to their claims. Here are statistics to consider below[2]…

 

Incarceration Trends in America

  • From 1980 to 2008, the number of people incarcerated in America quadrupled-from roughly 500,000 to 2.3 million people

  • Today, the US is 5% of the World population and has 25% of world prisoners.

  • Combining the number of people in prison and jail with those under parole or probation supervision, 1 in every 31 adults, or 3.2 percent of the population is under some form of correctional control

 

Racial Disparities in Incarceration

  • African Americans now constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated population

  • African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites

  • Together, African American and Hispanics comprised 58% of all prisoners in 2008, even though African Americans and Hispanics make up approximately one quarter of the US population

  • According to Unlocking America, if African American and Hispanics were incarcerated at the same rates of whites, today's prison and jail populations would decline by approximately 50%

  • One in six black men had been incarcerated as of 2001. If current trends continue, one in three black males born today can expect to spend time in prison during his lifetime

  • 1 in 100 African American women are in prison

  • Nationwide, African-Americans represent 26% of juvenile arrests, 44% of youth who are detained, 46% of the youth who are judicially waived to criminal court, and 58% of the youth admitted to state prisons (Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice).

 

Drug Sentencing Disparities

  • About 14 million Whites and 2.6 million African Americans report using an illicit drug

  • 5 times as many Whites are using drugs as African Americans, yet African Americans are sent to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of Whites

  • African Americans represent 12% of the total population of drug users, but 38% of those arrested for drug offenses, and 59% of those in state prison for a drug offense.

  • African Americans serve virtually as much time in prison for a drug offense (58.7 months) as whites do for a violent offense (61.7 months). (Sentencing Project)

 

Contributing Factors

  • Inner city crime prompted by social and economic isolation

  • Crime/drug arrest rates: African Americans represent 12% of monthly drug users, but comprise 32% of persons arrested for drug possession

  • "Get tough on crime" and "war on drugs" policies

  • Mandatory minimum sentencing, especially disparities in sentencing for crack and powder cocaine possession

  • In 2002, blacks constituted more than 80% of the people sentenced under the federal crack cocaine laws and served substantially more time in prison for drug offenses than did whites, despite that fact that more than 2/3 of crack cocaine users in the U.S. are white or Hispanic

  • "Three Strikes"/habitual offender policies

  • Zero Tolerance policies as a result of perceived problems of school violence; adverse affect on black children.

  • 35% of black children grades 7-12 have been suspended or expelled at some point in their school careers compared to 20% of Hispanics and 15% of whites

 

     These statistics paint a picture that is simply unacceptable. We can work for a better way. Much is often said about the need for the black community to deal with black on black crime. Seriously? Like they don’t? Of course they do and are working to address it in meaningful ways!

     White people often say that black people need to deal with black on black crime in their communities, but what do white people have to say about the problem of white on white crime in their own back yard? Typically nothing, but from 2012 to 2013 white on white crime represented 54% of total white violent crimes, while during the same period black on black crime represented 40% of total black violent crimes.[3]

     It’s a case of taking out the “log in our own eye” before trying to take out the “splinter in our neighbor’s eye” (Matthew 7:5).

     Ok, so what then are we white folk supposed to do? What response should the white church have to the BLM movement? That’s exactly what we are going to try and discover on Sunday when we discuss this issue together.

     Our Biblical model for a church where all lives matter is found in the Book of Acts chapter 11:19-30. This is the story of the church of Antioch where followers of Jesus were first called Christians. It is here that people of different races and cultures began to work together, to understand one another and to realize that in the eyes of God ALL are equal. The Apostle Paul’s experience there caused him to see that, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28 (NRSV). They were able to get to this place because they lived and worked as if all lives mattered, BUT they still lived and worked in a culture where all lives certainly did not matter.

     These early Christians give us hope that not only can we work toward a multi-cultural and multi-racial church experience (before we get to heaven), but they also challenge us. They challenge us to take the next step of faith to go outside of our buildings to actively work to transform a culture where all lives still do not matter.    

   In Christ we can discover, in new and practical ways, how to support the effort to help the world see that Black Lives DO indeed matter! See you Sunday!

  

 

[1] A helpful article explaining “White Privilege" can be found at http://ted.coe.wayne.edu/ele3600/mcintosh.html

 

[2] http://www.naacp.org/pages/criminal-justice-fact-sheet

 

[3] http://www.amren.com/news/2015/07/new-doj-statistics-on-race-and-violent-crime/

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