As you’ve noticed I’m sure, there’s a movement to advocate for the mattering of lives. #BlackLivesMatter. #BlueLivesMatter. #PoliceLivesMatter. #MilitaryLivesMatter. #GayLivesMatter. #AllLivesMatter. I think this is causing a vital and important conversation about the worth and dignity of human life, about inequality and injustice in our culture. Have you noticed the irony, though, that there seems to be a lot of hatred and hostility associated with these conversations? In talking about the worth of lives, there are many who, in making their point, are doing so in a way that’s denigrating the worth of other lives. A question I’m struggling to answer is how do you respond in a positive and affirming way when a topic feels so potentially explosive?
For the past several months, we’ve seen story after story after story after story of the results of the bitter division and hatred that continues to be exploited and expressed in our culture between different groups of people. Just in the last couple weeks: An extremist shooting unarmed military personnel in Chattanooga. Dueling rallies between the KKK and New Black Panther Party in South Carolina. People flying confederate flags and people attacking people who fly confederate flags. People from Westboro Baptist Church threatening to picket funerals in Chattanooga. Continual threats against Muslim people who had nothing to do with what happened in Chattanooga. Videos of police using force in ways that seem unjustifiable. A police officer shot and killed without warning while approaching a car at a traffic stop. Just last night the tragic news of yet another shooting in a movie theatre. All of these things examples of the devaluing of human life.
Unchecked and unchallenged, hatred has led to violence. Violence to more hatred. More hatred to more violence. It’s an unrelenting downward spiral. No group of people has been immune to this or faultless in it. Ferguson. Charleston. Chattanooga. The list continues, and my heart breaks at every picture, every video, every story.
You see, as a person of faith, I believe to the core of my being that every life matters. If any lives matter, it’s because every life matters. I believe that you matter to God. Every life matters to God. That’s the foundation, the starting point. However, what you choose to do with this belief, how you choose to live it out, is every bit as important as the belief itself. A foundational belief in the value of every life is what allows me to advocate for the value of other lives. Believing that every life matters is what allows me to stand up for the worth of other lives.
If you believe every life matters and you shout people down with “All lives matter!” in an angry or disgusted response to what they’ve said, you might be missing the point. If you are making a proclamation about which lives matter while doing or saying something harmful to the life of another, you’re probably not helping yourself in making your point.
What I’m seeing across the spectrum is that in our zeal in advocating for any one particular viewpoint, we can lose sight of the reality of God’s big picture. Police lives do matter. Military lives do matter. Gay lives do matter. Black lives do matter. But none of them matter to the exclusion of other lives.
I don’t say this to be dismissive of the struggle of any particular group of people. Instead, I think this is important to say because when the worth of one is detached from the worth of all, people can lose sight of the worth of all for the sake of the worth of one. I think we’re seeing acts of violence done in the name of some lives over and against the lives of others, because we’ve unintentionally removed the worth of some from the foundation of the worth of all. This is the danger of #hashtag movements and Twitter arguments: they can never really sum up the fullness of our reality or our experience. Sitting down with someone for a full conversation is so much more effective than shouting in 140 character segments on twitter.
Some of the defining characteristics of people who follow Jesus should be our unity in love and our affirmation of the sacred worth and value of all people. These themes are woven from beginning to end in the Bible. In the very beginning of the Bible in the book of Genesis, the story goes that God made all of humanity in the image of God and said that it was good. In the end of the Bible in the book of Revelation, a group of people too large to count from every nation, tribe, people, and language gather together in unity before God.
The worth of our lives as found in Jesus shouldn’t give us entitlement, but responsibility. If you have a foundational belief that every life matters, when someone says “______ Lives Matter,” you can wholeheartedly affirm them, stand in solidarity with them, seek to understand them, and advocate for them. It’s not either/or. It’s not us vs. them. Jesus modeled loving those who were different. Jesus prayed for the unity of all people. Jesus taught his disciples to show that they were his disciples through their unrelenting love, not their #hashtag battles.
Followers of Jesus, then, have a responsibility to be people known for their deep and unyielding love of our neighbors, regardless of how different they are from us. Encouraging Christians to take on the humility and selflessness of Jesus, the book of Philippians says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Where our culture often teaches us not to value anyone above ourselves, the way of Jesus says lay your own life down in order to stand for the value and interests of others. In fact, followers of Jesus are those who say to other people in word and in action, “your life matters more than my life matters.”
As the pastor of a brand new church, I feel a great deal of responsibility for building a culture that will last well beyond my time as the pastor. One of my greatest hopes is that we will be a church that’s known for our deep and unyielding love of the community in which we’re situated. That when people think of The Village, they will think of a community of people who is for them and with them. That we will be the kind of church that puts on display in real and tangible ways our belief that every life matters. Every single one.
If you turn on the news, you see that our world desperately needs people who live for the value of every life, particularly every life that’s undervalued. So, today, as you go through each step of your day, make every life matter to you, because every life matters to God.