It is interesting when Jesus likened the first command to love God with all we got and have, he, then, didn't say, “and love everyone because all lives matter.” No. He was actually very specific, “Love your neighbor.” Of course, we know he didn't just mean the one living next door. Yet saying “neighbor” gave the command a specific definition, even a demographic, and yes, an assumed religious view, which, then, forced everyone to focus on "who is my neighbor?” See—upon hearing the command, it became even more specific.
I believe we, that is Christians, need to reconsider why the hashtag “Black Lives Matter” actually matters and that we, particularly as Christians, should embrace it. Herein is the issue—for the Christian. You see, the seemingly all-inclusive phrase “All Lives” is not necessarily, well, all inclusive. “All Lives” is predicated on what one means by “Lives” and who fits within its perimeters.
In early America, if the framers were to have used “All Lives Matter” instead of “all men,” you can (or should be able to) see why this matters.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that All Lives Matter and are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Nonetheless, at that time, hearing what our framers had written, the hearers would, without any moral compass adjustment or contemplation, understood what was meant by “men” (i.e., “Lives”). Of course, we now affirm that “all men are created equal.” However, not “all men” (i.e., “All Lives”) were actually created equal—at that time. Between the “savages” (i.e., the Indians) referenced later in the Declaration of Independence and, even still later, in our US Constitution and Bill of Rights, that “slaves” were only partially counted (for they were property, not lives), we know that “men” actually did not mean all living and breathing homo sapiens. (Which negates the “all” as an inclusive adjective.) In fact, most of the references to “men” (and do notice is does say “men” and not human beings—and don't go generalizing that to them “men” meant “men and women” for it did not as a legal term nor as a socially accepted definition for a person) and the use of the word “rights” had “land-owners” in mind. It would take time for our own US Constitution and Bill of Rights to move past application to simply “land-owners” to women and children and, then, to the general population of US Citizens, and even more time to include “slaves” (i.e., free and bond black and other non-european-whites). It would take time for the idea that “men” (i.e., “Lives”) being property was understood personally and legally as immoral. So, you see, not all “Lives” (i.e., not “all men”) are, necessarily, considered “Lives.” This is why a narrow, more specific, clarifying, preceding word should be embraced.
When Jesus had reclined at Levi's house as the honoree of a banquet-meal, he reenforced specifically why he had come into this world. We read in Luke 5:
And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (vv. 29–32).
There have been and still are times and places where the poor, the foreigner or immigrant, the slave (bond and free), a person of another ethnic origin or skin color, women, and even children were considered less than “a life” (that is, less than human), and, thus, not included in “All Lives.” Most certainly the presence of Christianity in the world has affected how society understands “All Lives,” we still, nonetheless, have not arrived at a place where we can honestly say that All Human Lives Matter. Attaching “All” to the phrase doesn’t guarantee that all human lives matter, for some seem to matter far more than others, if at all—and we all have underlying values, politics, and world-views (O heck, religious views) that (pre)determine who, indeed, is included in the “Lives.”
*See previous blog post, The church is God's space to make change: #Wives/WomenLivesMatter, #ChildrenLivesMatter, and #SlavesLivesMatter.
Please consider purchasing a copy of my Wasted Evangelism: Social Action and the Church's Task of Evangelism, a deep, exegetical read into the Gospel of Mark. All royalties go to support our church planting in the Hill community of New Haven, CT. The book and its e-formats can be found on Amazon, Barns'n Noble, (and most other online book distributors) or directly through the publisher, Wipf & Stock directly.