11.11.16

A Theology for the Black Lives Matter Generation: Man

In our last post, we considered The Ferguson Declaration’s paragraphs on the doctrine of God. Today we turn our attention to the doctrine of man.

We find those statements in three paragraphs:

1.4    We believe Black Lives Matter. Scripture speaks of the infinite worth of ALL of humanity (; ), and the Triune God distinctly created us with intentionality and purpose. God loves us in our DIFFERENCES and reveals that the Body will only find true unity in this midst of seeking the purpose of our divinely composed diversity (; ). The holy writ portrays a sovereign God as caught up in the scandal of particularity moving through the lives of the powerless from the election of Abraham, Moses, and the Hebrews out of Egypt to their Gentile neighbors in ancient Syria, Ethiopia, Persia, Egypt, and Palestine (). In each of these circumstances we are able to testify to God affirming our differences and addressing unique plights throughout human history. In the Gospels, we see that Jesus heard the cry of the Syrophoenician woman and healed her daughter (). By sitting and listening to someone who was a cultural minority and recognizing her unique plight, Christ worked to set her and her daughter free from their captivity. The authors and signatories of The Ferguson Declaration: A Black Lives Matter Creed, express solidarity in word and deed with the movement begotten by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Collors, and Opal Tometi. This solidarity also includes but is not limited to, all other resistance movements such as #SayHerName, #AMillionHoodies, and #JusticeForFlint committed to nonviolent resistance as opposition to racism for the sake of the Common Good.

1.5    We believe the Scriptures reflect God’s Preferential Option of the Poor from Genesis to Revelation (, , , ). The Prophets of old taught that God loved and provided for all people, and yet widows, orphans, and migrants found favor with God. God requires justice for the poor and judges each government accordingly (, ). Jesus Christ the Son taught Divine Providence, and before he sent out his disciples, he assured them that God’s loving-kindness reached even the smallest of birds, the sparrow (: 26-31). God’s will is for the lowly of society to receive justice so that all persons in the human community can be made whole.  

1.6    We believe in the Sanctity of all of life and that the Church should work with society to look after the general welfare of all persons from womb to tomb (). We affirm that humanity was meant to live in liberty rather than chains, and that God has bestowed upon women and men the capacity to choose goodness and love.  Worship of the Resurrected Savior should lead us to stride towards freedom and a Culture of Life ().

Given this commitment to life and humanity’s sacred worth, we are troubled throughout this planet, as our brothers and sisters of African descent continue to live under the weight of oppression. 

Paragraph 1.4 might be summarized with five key terms: worth, difference, unity, liberation and solidarity. The authors see in the imago Dei creation of all humanity a declaration of “infinite worth.” Nevertheless, that common creation and shared worth do not preclude meaningful differences. “With intentionality and purpose” God not only created man in His image and likeness but also created man in a “divinely composed diversity.” This diversity moves toward eschatological unity in and 14:6. God also expresses concern for the particular circumstances of individuals and peoples. Specifically, God works in the world to free or liberate the captives, exemplified in this paragraph by the Syro-Phoenician woman and her daughter. As a consequence the authors express their solidarity with what they call “resistance movements” and “opposition to racism for the sake of the Common Good.”

Paragraphs 1.5 and 1.6 present us with ethical positions in keeping with this view of man. “God’s preferential option for the poor” and His love for all people lead God to “require justice for the poor and judge each government accordingly.” The authors maintain, “God’s will is for the lowly of society to receive justice so that all persons in the human community can be whole.” Consequently, paragraph 1.6 declares a “womb to tomb” view of “the Sanctity of all life.” That paragraph calls Church and society to seek the welfare of all persons. Such a pursuit lies within humanity’s ability to choose. Invoking Dr. King and Pope John Paul II.

If 1.5 reflects language and phraseology typical of progressive and liberal Christians, paragraph 1.6 channels the language and idioms of evangelical and conservative Catholic believers. In this way, the document attempts to tie together social and political views often at odds with one another and rarely willing to admit any common ground. That’s a good move.

However, the effort likely falls short for both theological and political reasons. Theologically, these paragraphs give little attention to man’s sin. Where most mainstream systematic theologies pay scant (if any) attention to human dignity and worth as a consequence of man’s imago Dei creation, focusing instead on man’s fall into sin, this document commits the opposite error. There’s a welcome and necessary correction in emphasizing dignity and worth in difference and unity, but there’s a glaring absence of any meditation on human sin. As a consequence the document fails to deal with man’s most fundamental problem (sin). A deeper reflection on sin, biblically defined, would have sharpened and heightened the document’s concern with injustice. For what are injustice, racial oppression, and indifference to poverty but flowering shoots from sin’s root?

Politically, the document needs more reflection on alliances, cooperation and co-belligerence. Especially if the authors want to somehow call together varying church traditions and streams, they will need to offer more principled argument about when and how such coalitions and endorsements ought to form. Simply referring to founds of #BLM and other movements will not suffice.

The upshot? The Ferguson Declaration gives healthy attention to human dignity and sanctity of life. That’s so needed in our time. But it needs more extensive statements about sin and how sin distorts the very dignity the document hopes to protect. Without the bad news of sin there’s no genuine good news. Our sin makes the good news of Jesus Christ so very good. Being clear about the bad and the good news would help keep Christian engagement in these matters distinctively Christian.

26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. (ESV)

“Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed,
for God made man in his own image. (ESV)

And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation, (ESV)

Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. (ESV)

“Are you not like the Cushites to me,
O people of Israel?” declares the Lord.
“Did I not bring up Israel from the land of Egypt,
and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Syrians from Kir? (ESV)

25 But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 And he said to her, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” 30 And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone. (ESV)

27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (ESV)

Father of the fatherless and protector of widows
is God in his holy habitation. (ESV)

21 “You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. (ESV)

Whoever mocks the poor insults his Maker;
he who is glad at calamity will not go unpunished. (ESV)

He shall judge between many peoples,
and shall decide for strong nations far away;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore;
but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree,
and no one shall make them afraid,
for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken. (ESV)

25 that you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. You shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and you shall be wet with the dew of heaven, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, till you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will. 26 And as it was commanded to leave the stump of the roots of the tree, your kingdom shall be confirmed for you from the time that you know that Heaven rules. (ESV)

10:1 And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. Acquire no gold nor silver nor copper for your belts, 10 no bag for your journey, nor two tunics nor sandals nor a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. 11 And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. 12 As you enter the house, greet it. 13 And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14 And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. 15 Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.

16 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. 19 When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. 20 For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23 When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.

26 “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. 28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.

34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

40 “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. 41 The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42 And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.” (ESV)

10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (ESV)

17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. (ESV)

And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation, (ESV)

Thabiti Anyabwile
Thabiti Anyabwile serves as a pastor of Anacostia River Church (Washington DC). He is the happy husband of Kristie and the adoring father of two daughters and one son. Holler at him on Twitter: @ThabitiAnyabwil

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