This past Wednesday, I found myself in my office with a giant magic marker carefully spelling out a theological truth onto large sheets of paper. These giant block letters soon brought this truth into view: “Jesus was a person of color. We stand on the side of love. This means: Black Lives Matter.”
I didn’t think long about what to write. I wrote what I knew to be true and what I believe reflects the heart of God.
As I wrestled with masking tape in the wind attempting to fasten the sheets of paper to my church sign, a woman eating on the patio of the restaurant across the street called out to me saying, “Don’t ALL lives matter?” I hollered back, that yes they do but right now it is our black brothers and sisters who need to be heard.” She snorted, “Yeah, no they don’t” and resumed eating her dinner. My signs were clearly a trigger to something inside of her.
After learning I was the minister of the church from the restaurant staff, she soon got up and came across the street to apologize to me, telling me to carry on with what I was doing and that the pandemic stress had caused her to act out. I heard her apology and appreciated her gesture. However, it illustrated for me just how much work we have to do.
I hear many well-meaning people tout “all lives matter.” This is not helpful or appropriate as it perpetuates the systemic injustice that our society is attempting to correct. Yes, of course all lives matter. This is true. But no one is questioning the value of white lives. White lives have constructed this society and have set its rules.
White mothers don’t need to be worried that their children won’t come home to them. My fair-skinned brothers and sisters don’t need to worry that others will assume they are trespassing, if they are lost in a neighborhood full of people who don’t look like them. White mothers don’t need to pray that their children only encounter good law enforcement officers.
Yet, for people of color in our country, every move needs to be calculated, every risk weighed, and every possible outcome considered.
When we proclaim that black lives matter, we are not saying that other lives don’t matter. We are not standing against, or neglecting to recognize, the good work of the majority of our law enforcement community. We know that the vast majority of those who pursue careers in law enforcement do it because they feel called to heal and serve their communities.
When I proclaim that black lives matter, I am recognizing that I am a minister in La Jolla, in part because I look like the community I serve. I am recognizing that I attended Harvard, in part, because I didn’t get shot when playing with my friends, while running through strangers’ backyards on my street as an adolescent. I am recognizing that I graduated from high school because my home was located in a community that allocated money toward quality education. I was able to access the halls of power because I was never hindered by the bias of others. You see, of course I worked hard to get where I am. But I was able to do that without worry.
This is privilege.
It is time for us to acknowledge the many privileges we have. It is time for us to participate in reconstructing our society into one that allows everyone the opportunity to shine forth their light.
Black Lives Matter. Period.
Rev. Tim Seery is Pastor of the Congregational Church of La Jolla.