It’s important to remember the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., undoubtedly one of the most influential figures of the Civil Rights Movement. Dr. King’s voice gave inspiration and direction to many people seeking ways to respond to painful incidents of discrimination and injustice, igniting a movement that forever changed our society.
When situations of injustice occur in our nation and world, it causes an offense to those whose communities and lives are most impacted, and to anyone who truly values righteousness and justice. Such an offense will often cause people to respond in speech and action, such as the #Blacklivesmatter and #BlackOutFriday movements.
A complaint often registered, however, is that there is little sustained momentum that follows these movements, and they become seen by some as “knee-jerk reactions” that don’t bring real change. Those who make this argument will also say that we don’t need another civil rights movement, and that sit-ins, protests, marches, and speeches are all outdated, irrelevant, and unnecessary practices in our day. They commonly believe either that we have made too much progress for that, or that such movements create division and “take us backward, not forward.” For this reason, many people reject the notion that we need a #Blacklivesmatter movement, or any kind of movement.
There are a couple of things I would point out to challenge this idea:
1. Movements Change our Hearts. The argument “what is all of this protesting going to do anyway?” is made by people who take little or no action (it’s easy to be a sideline critic). This habit of disengaging and criticizing exposes a serious problem in our world: there is a serious global epidemic killing our young people of color, but it is not Ebola, or HIV/AIDS…it is apathy. The more we choose to find reasons to justify being removed from the realities happening around us, the more they will continue to happen. And these movements, if they do nothing else, provide an antidote for the incredible apathy of a people desensitized to violence and injustice. We must recognize that when someone is killed, whether by a criminal with no justification or by someone in power with questionable justification, and we focus more on affirming the convictions that allow us to remain comfortable with our disengagement, something is wrong with our hearts; we must examine that.
Movements force us to ask ourselves tough questions: if all lives really matter, why doesn’t it bother me when I see so many lives taken with no accountability? What does that say about how I really feel about the people who are most impacted by this? Am I a part of the problem? Am I guilty by inaction?
2. Movements Change our World. When there is a clear focus and a simplified strategy that can rally the passion and fire of people who are ready to engage an issue, movements can powerfully change reality. For example, several Covenant leaders joined me in organizing one of the many expressions of the #BlackoutBlackFriday movement. Because of many carefully coordinated efforts and expressions under this banner, and despite three years of progressive increases in Black Friday sales and analyst predictions that Black Friday 2014 would be the best shopping day yet, Black Friday sales fell more than 11% below expectations. That represents a seven billion dollar change.
We believe that this movement was effective in sending a message to the nation that we are ready to leverage our economic power in the direction of change and not comfort and complacency. Whether you agreed with this or not, or felt that it was the best solution or not, the reality is that it made a difference. And sometimes, we disengage from challenging injustice because we have been conditioned to believe that our efforts will not matter; we don’t believe that we can make any real difference. Movements prove otherwise; they bring people, passion and power together across divides to remind us that if we unify and organize, we can actually change things.
3. Movement Is What the Lord Requires. It is amazing to me how quickly we forget that the scriptures are very clear concerning this. “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8). Notice the words “do,” “love,” and “walk”…these are all action verbs. We understand then that on a very basic level, God requires action from us, and these actions are all about movement. For believers to sit on the sidelines and complain, criticize, evaluate, or even be cheerleaders is not an option. God requires us, his people, to be the movement, humbly and faithfully carrying his mercy, his justice, and his transforming presence in our world.
I am grateful to be part of a movement of believers who have committed themselves to doing what the Lord requires. The Evangelical Covenant Church, my denomination, has a department whose focus is to challenge, equip and invite people into doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God as we move to respond to the pain, hurt and corruption we see in the world because of sin.
Long before the terribly sad circumstances of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and others, our movement decided that #Blacklivesmatter, and committed its time, energy and dollars to making sure that it was doing what the Lord requires in the lives of women and people of color. And today, the leadership of our denomination is intentionally seeking ways to foster dialogue and meaningful, faithful responses to the troubles we are facing. I look forward to engaging this conversation with my Covenant brothers and sisters as we discern the best ways to keep moving forward in mercy and justice.