Racial discourse is again part of the national and global conversation due to the recent killings of black people. White Christians especially find themselves trying to wrestle with how to understand, respond to, and engage what many black Christians see as clear examples of racial injustice.
Some Christians are asking whether they should affirm the dignity of black lives with the words “black lives matter” since this phrase is associated with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) organization and the BLM organization affirms things that are clearly contrary to Scripture.
As a black Christian man who believes the Bible gives us everything we need for eternal life and godliness, I think Christians must begin our opposition to racism with a biblical and theological analysis of the problem and with a biblical and theological presentation of the solution to the problem. Christians must also be rigorous exegetes of both the Bible and of our own social locations, as we use common-grace resources and common sense under the authority of Scripture to eradicate the evil of racism in the power of the Spirit.
We must carefully and critically evaluate every idea in any organization in light of Scripture and under the authority of Scripture. We must reject teachings in any organization that are contrary to Scripture. My own theological tradition has an article in our confession of faith stating this very fact (Article XV, Baptist Faith and Message).
However, the recent criticisms against Christians who affirm the scriptural truth of black dignity using the words “black lives matter” seem odd to me as a black Christian man in America. After all, the Bible affirms black lives are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26–27), and our country has a history of dehumanizing black people. The words “black lives matter” affirm a scriptural truth about black people.
God created humans in his image. From Genesis (3:15) to Matthew’s gospel (28:16–20) to Revelation (5:9), the Bible speaks clearly about God’s vision to restore everything Adam and Eve lost in the Garden of Eden and his vision to redeem ethnically diverse individuals from different tongues, tribes, peoples, and nations.
Through Christ’s death and resurrection, God makes sinners right with himself (Rom. 5:6–10), reconciles sinners to each other (Eph. 2:11–22), and restores and reconciles the entire universe (Col. 1:19–20). Paul calls this cosmic redemption the disarming of earthly and demonic powers (Col. 2:14–15) and the unification of all things and all people in Christ.
Racism is opposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ and against God’s vision to redeem and unify creation through Christ. God recreates through Christ a diversity of different tongues, tribes, peoples, and nations into one new (but diverse) people. God commands us to live in pursuit of reconciled community with one another and with our neighbors in anticipation of the age to come (Is. 65:17–25; Rom. 8:19–22). God’s kingdom is an already-and-not-yet kingdom, whose king is a brown-skinned Jewish Messiah. The kingdom is filled with diverse people and diverse stories of beautiful image-bearers who’ve tasted the salvation of the one God, the one Lord, and the one Spirit by faith in Christ (Eph. 4:4–6).
As Christians, we must intentionally oppose racism because God through Christ both empowers us and commands us to walk in love with the power of the Spirit. One way Christians walk in the Spirit is when we love our neighbors as ourselves (Gal. 5:13–14). We should not use our freedom in Christ to pursue our sinful passions in accordance with the flesh. Those who live to gratify their flesh will not inherit eternal life (vv. 16–21). One’s complicity in racism may prove one is enslaved to the flesh and to its seductive powers of evil. We must oppose racism whenever and wherever it appears because we are new creatures in Christ (2 Cor 5:17-21).
As a black Christian pastor of Asian, black, brown, and white people, I thank God that Genesis 1:26–27 clearly states God created all humans in his image and bestows upon us God-given dignity, and that he promises to redeem us, to reconcile us, and to restore the entire creation through Christ. When black lives are dehumanized and treated as though they don’t matter simply because they’re black, Christians everywhere should be able to stand up and assert without hesitation and with their Bibles open that black lives certainly matter, have dignity, worth, and value, just as non-black lives certainly matter, have worth, dignity, and value.
God created black people in his image. God redeems black lives in Christ. Black lives matter to God because the Bible teaches they matter.
Jarvis J. Williams is an associate professor of New Testament interpretation at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville. This article is based on his chapter in For God So Loved the World: A Blueprint for Kingdom Diversity (B&H, 2020), as well as a lecture he gave at the 2019 Just Gospel Conference in Atlanta.