On Sunday I joined more than 2,000 of my brothers and sisters in a march and rally for #BlackLivesMatter in Oklahoma City. I went in solidarity with my sisters and brothers who experience systemic racism, discrimination, and oppression because they are black. This experience is completely foreign to mine, and is never something that I can "understand." It is merely a reality that I oppose in the name of the Triune God on behalf of my black fellow-bearers of the Image of God.
The gathering was large, hot, incredibly organized, peaceful, and perhaps most importantly, unapologetic in its demands for justice and the cessation of violence.
As a straight, white, married, middle-class man, this would seem to be the place where I would feel out of place. And at a different time in my life I wouldn't have been antagonistic to such a gathering, but I would have been uneasy. But in this movement, if you are human, you are family. I saw an incredible level of care, mutual concern, and respect for others. When counter-protestors showed up the rally was stopped. The leaders assumed the microphone and reminded everyone that they had a right to be present, that we were here for our cause, and that the OKCPD and others who were there to serve and protect would resolve the situation. Level-headed, respectful, and even acknowledging our differences. Just one of the many moments where the fruits of the Spirit were on full display. There was intimate care and concern to accommodate anyone who wanted to be present. Water was donated and chilled in advance, a medical staff was on hand for heat exhaustion, chairs were brought for the elderly, disabled, and pregnant women. Each time someone would succumb to the heat the entire gathering came to an immediate halt until the medical team was able to arrive. We sat in silence and solidarity with our brothers and sisters who were with us no matter the toll on their bodies.
Some have commented to me through social media (though interestingly not in person!) that their opinion of #BlackLivesMatter was that it was divisive and potentially explosive (and a couple even suggested it was racist!). While there were a couple of moments early on where some individual tempers flared (and rightly so at such hatred and injustice!!) they were quickly reminded by their fellow participants that such behavior was contrary to our mutual commitment to solidarity, peace, and lasting, life-changing transformation of our community, city, state, and nation.
The proof of the effectiveness of our gathering can be seen in a post in the #BlackLivesMatter Facebook event page by one of the counter-protestors who made his presence very well known early in the rally...
As someone who was standing in solidarity with my black sisters and brothers, and who witnessed firsthand this gathering of compassionate, articulate, and unapologetically peaceful and honest people, I offer three observations about my personal experience and my perception of the #BlackLivesMatter movement as a whole.
Sunday's #BlackLivesMatter rally was peaceable, compassionate, and unapologetic about calling for and proposing tangible, practical actions and policies to address systemic racism.
To suggest that this movement is divisive, racist, or condones/welcomes/encourages violence against police or anyone is else is either allowing a third-party to define their narrative or has other more problematic commitments.
The power of #BlackLivesMatter is that it is not a movement of (only) black persons.
I was joined Sunday by people of every race, straight and LGBTQ, Muslims, Christians, Jews, and people of no faith. Young and old, rich and poor. State legislators, pastors, activists, rabbis, imams, moms and dads and little children.
As a theologian, I saw absolutely NOTHING yesterday that was contrary to the fundamental commitments of the Christian faith. (With the exception of the hateful counter-protestors, who all unfortunately, identified themselves as Christians!)
I heard prayers offered for the cessation of violence and hostility, uncompromising calls for justice, affirmation of those in law enforcement (and countless hugs, handshakes, and cold water given to officers), and a level of kindness, compassion, and concern for those around them that I have only witnessed in the immediate aftermath of tragedies. The exception here is that these are the normal actions of #BlackLivesMatter, not the exception.
For those who still wish to malign the movement, or to call into question my unapologetic participation in it I have one important question for you: What are you are doing to make the world less violent, less racist, less unequal, less prejudiced, and more just, more safe, and more beautiful?
If you are actively involved in doing something to these ends then I imagine that we have a great foundation from which to have these very complex, life and death conversations. Our Christian witness demands it.