‘All Lives Matter’?

A popular response to the recent anti-racism slogan, ‘Black Lives Matter,’ is that ‘All Lives Matter.’ Well, of course they do. But that misses the point entirely and it causes further harm. ‘Black Lives Matter’ because all lives matter. And when people of different backgrounds to myself feel that they aren’t treated equitably, my response needs to be one of compassion, one that listens, one that is quick to empathise.

Why should I be particularly concerned here? Let me give you three reasons.

1. All deaths matter, but systemic problems remain.

Some have looked on the ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests with bemusement, as if to believe that George Floyd, the African-American whose death sparked the recent outcry, has somehow become a martyr. George Floyd’s passing was itself outrageous, but this death has become symbolic of the need to address systemic racial inequities. It does not, of course, invalidate or outrank the significance of any other death. All life is equally precious, but some deaths are representative.

Much has been made of the 432-plus Aboriginal deaths in custody since the 1991 referendum on this matter. Whilst there are fewer deaths in custody than for white people, black deaths in custody are statistically over-represented. If indigenous people make up around three per cent of the population but around twenty per cent of deaths in custody, then there is surely a problem. And if every incarceration, black or white, was found to be completely justified, then there is still a problem, one which we are not addressing adequately.

2. All Australians matter, but we aren’t all as immune from bias as we think we are.

The Guardian recently reported on a study of 11,000 Australians by an Australian National University researcher who found that three quarters of us have an implicit bias toward Indigenous people. Three quarters!

The conclusion was not that this number are racist, but that the potential for racism exists. None of us (hopefully) intend to be prejudicial, but we inadvertently perpetuate systemic problems.

The study explains why many Indigenous people feel discriminated against, notwithstanding the possibility that specific discriminatory actions are sometimes hard to quantify.

3. All opinions matter, but some people’s responses are just not helpful.

One of the great qualities of life in this nation is that we have freedom to express a view. Sadly, in our outrage-ready culture, some people experience such intense opposition to their views that we might sometimes think it is only certain views that are permissible. To different degrees, this phenomenon becomes problematic on a range of issues that might help us understand this particular one.

Just as I have experienced intolerance when in the minority, just as I experience prejudice as a kid due to my ethnicity, just as I hated going to school for a time due to being bullied, others around me today still feel the burden of bias and that ought to evoke empathy.  But I don’t want to pretend to know what they experience. I don’t know. I may have some solutions and I may be a source of hope or healing, but I simply cannot presume to know another’s story or the reasons for what it is that they feel.

Armchair critics often remain safely detached from engagement with affected people. When we are in the trenches with those who are suffering, we generally speak differently. We treat people more kindly. We realise that, behind any hasty assessments we might be inclined to make are sometimes the harrowing accounts of generational hurts, past pain or present distress.

And when race adds a dimension of disadvantage to attempts to seek help, those problems are perpetuated. They compound. They intensify. And those on the receiving end need to be heard. Let us not trivialise or minimise what they feel with dismissive statements from our position of privilege. Let us not presume that our own stories, even our own misfortunes, could in any way invalidate those of others.

If, as a Christian, I believe that sin has corrupted humanity, then I also naturally believe everyone is in need of redemption. Jesus is the answer to all of humanity’s problems, including those which are societal. As we surrender to Him, we become better than we were, ‘better off’ but not better than others. In humility, Christians recognise that their own growth makes them better at loving people, better at showing compassion, better at serving beyond their immediate world. That means I surely have a special duty of care to engage in understanding and in making a genuine difference.

The missionary burden of the Christian carries a message of faith backed with transformative action. The two go hand in hand. Christians also carry the source of the very unconditional love that others need in both those dimensions of influence, in order to truly be free, and not because it is in any way earned or deserved, but because it was paid for on a Roman Cross two thousand years ago.

8 thoughts on “‘All Lives Matter’?

  1. Hi Rob, I am a CRC pastor in Western Sybdey so I know and respect you, my in-laws attend your previous church at South Eastern.

    I have come to realize that many people who take up the Mantra of Black Lives Matter do become offended when someone counters with All Lives Matter so I’ve stopped using that term.

    I do however have serious problems with the BLM movement and therefore with those that support it so I will continue to call it out and challenge people to look closely at their beliefs language and actions. It seems to me that they are fundamentally humanist and in many ways Marxist.
    I don’t believe that most people who respond empathetically to the plight of Black Americans and Indigenous Australians are necessarily humanist or Marxist themselves, the trouble is they are potentially yolking themselves unequally with an organisation that seem to me to be diametrically opposed to Godly principals and in reality is actually anti-Christ, check out their Statement of Belief.
    Have you seen any of Jacinta Price’s material?
    She strongly opposes the notion that Australia is guilty of systemic racism and many of the other points you make in this and other aricles, yet she is an Indigenous Woman living in the NT, I strongly recommend you check her out.

    • Hi Shane, I’ve heard some of Jacinta’s comments. While the stories of inter-Indigenous violence are awful, they only serve to highlight that there are unique problems experienced by Indigenous people that need to be understood and addressed, but certainly not minimised. Of course, racism and inequity are well-substantiated problems that have moved protesters who feel the need to speak up, despite the fact that, yes, the problems are also multi-layered and complex. That Marxists might gatecrash a protest is hardly surprising given past form, but the people participating have included a great many from all walks of life, genuinely responding to some troubling concerns. I think we do need to connect with people who don’t share our values, whether for evangelism, for our jobs, in transacting business, or for any other legitimate reason, and I would support the need for compassionate and careful responses to maximise the Christian witness. ‘Yoking’ an be an emotive label in some cases, since mature Christian people are not typically shackled to those they purposefully and positively interact with in everyday life. It might be a question of which way the influence actually does (or should) flow. Dr. Anita Phillips and Christine Caine discuss the related issues quite helpfully (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W1P6AXjXnXc).

      • Hi Rob, came across this interesting explanation of the 3/5 rul that the black Christian lady was referring to. Puts into a somewhat different context and to my mind somewhat waters down the systemic racism argument she is postulating.

  2. Thanks Rob,
    respect to your comment, “racism and inequity are well-substantiated problems” I have no issue with this as a general comment. I do have a problem if you’re claiming that these are systemic issues. It’s true that Indigenous people are over represented in our prisons but surely that is because they are committing more crimes so that’s where we should be focusing our attention if we are truly interested in improving outcomes.
    As I’ve said about the BLM movement, they don’t seem interested in improving outcomes, they only seen interested in claiming that Blacks as a group are opressed and that whites as a group are the oppressors. This is classic Marxist identity politics and only serves to create conflict between these groups. I’m sorry but I just can’t see how supporting a BLM organised event is not going to be seen by any observer as endorsement of BLM and will be seen by BLM as support for their movement. Surely there are better ways for Christians to support the victims of racism and poverty instead of legitimising a movement that is so opposed to Biblical principals.

    • Thanks Shane. I agree that there needs to be a focus on improving outcomes for Indigenous people and addressing why so many are in custody and we certainly don’t want to minimise crimes that have been committed. I agree, too, that we need to be careful when associating with groups whose overall values are concerning. Pleased to see your passion for this issue and I hope plenty of good comes from highlighting any of the more concrete problems as we live out our faith.

  3. Rob, here in America Racism exists and we should deal with it in a fact based way.
    It is an issue that affects us all, but frequently gets lip service or emotional knee-jerk reactions that end up polarizing those who don’t see the full picture.
    If we don’t get to the root of the issues with facts, we will never have sustainable solutions.
    Took a stab recently at understanding the state of the challenge. This is what I wrote:
    https://shivamber.com/we-must-have-a-conversation-about-policing-and-racism-in-america/

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