My son recently attended the Urbana missions conference and he had not mentioned anything to me about Michelle Higgins’ presentation. A friend of mine sent me the links to your articles and I had a chance to talk to my son about what happened. This deserved the press coverage you provided as it was very controversial at the conference.
I think there are a few additional important points to what you presented.
First, the attendees were strongly encouraged earlier in the day Higgins gave her talk to avoid using the words “us” and “them” at Urbana when talking about any racial or ethnic groups. Ms. Higgins apparently “didn’t get the memo” on that stated expectation, which should have been enough for InterVarsity to quickly issue out a disclaimer in response to her criticism of White people as a racial group. Whether or not she was trying to present history, provide her interpretation of current events, or for any other reason, she was disrespectful to the conference and to the expectations which were laid out for everyone and the attendees deserved a response from InterVarsity.
Secondly, it is important to note that Higgins received twice as much time to speak to the general assembly as did the various individual speakers from the Middle East. Why her situation was considered more important to get more time than her counterparts in ministry around the “world” is disrespectful to the Church and the global community at large. Their stories are as important as anyone else’s stories and deserve equal time, especially in the light of the current situation with ISIS and the Muslin community. The reality is that radical Islam is way more dangerous than the Ferguson Police Department, and deserves more attention on what to do in response.
Thirdly, as my son stated it well, getting a traffic ticket due to the color of one’s skin has no comparison to losing your life for stating that you believe in God and not Allah. Also, if InterVarsity was encouraging attendees to mobilize and address social injustice in the name of Christ, they should mobilize people to respond mercifully and passionately to all situations and not just the one in Higgins’ community. Riling up the crowd as Higgins did was disrespectful and in stark contrast to those speakers from the Middle East who were asking attendees to pray and be merciful towards those who persecute the church.
Lastly, my son mentioned that he was criticized and insulted when he asked those around him in the assembly how Higgins’ presentation had any clear relevance to the conference. He explained that this was a global conference and that the political debates that are uniquely American are not appropriate to be debated on the Urbana stage. Why Urbana is promoting political debate that is American-centric is a great question that deserves an answer – is InterVarsity committed to being an organization focused on promoting liberal, cultural change to the world?
As for your points, I agree wholeheartedly with them. I thought it would be unimaginable to think that someone could condemn the work of missionaries in Native American tribes and groups, condemn people for working with pro-life groups, and condemn of people for the color of their skin at an Urbana conference. Not only has it happened, but what is more unimaginable is the sound of silence coming from InterVarsity in response. If any of my children choose to attend the next Urbana conference, it appears that I need to prepare them to defend their Christian worldview and to potentially be insulted for their beliefs.
What the reader’s letter points to are some difficult aspects about #BlackLivesMatter, contemporary race relations, and Christianity.
The Evangelical supporters of BLM believe that BLM should be understood as a general sentiment of love and sensitivity towards African Americans. They are not attempting to pair institutions or even official organizations. These defenses are clear that we should not assume that they agree with everything associated with BLM. But what none of these responses seem to have considered is whether or not BLM wants them to use the slogan if they are only prepared to endorse some of the program. According to BLM’s website, they emphatically do not want this kind of support.
Wedgeworth points out that the founders of BLM are emphatic about the movement being inseparable from sexual liberation — gay rights in particular. To the extent Evangelicals ignore that, they are disregarding the stated intentions of BLM founders.
Wedgeworth has a broader point about Evangelical engagement on racial reconciliation matters:
Beyond qualified language, however, I would think that Evangelicals would want to eventually call for an alternative discourse on race and justice, one which was not founded on identity politics or revolutionary ideology. In fact, the very notion of “liberty” needs to be distinguished from individual autonomy and license, and the love for the imago dei in our Black brothers and sisters must be united with the creational integrity that God intended them to have. Evangelicals can and should be sympathetic to Black critiques of power structures in contemporary America, but alongside such a critique, we must also promote a prudent understanding of the common good and an unambiguous definition of “justice.” In other words, a Christian theory of justice can be revolutionary, but in order to be so properly, it should be united with a Christian theory of creation, anthropology, and statecraft, or, in plainer words, of nature, people, and society. While Black lives really do matter, “Black Lives Matter” cannot create such a theory, and it will eventually emerge in contradiction to it.
Ok, let’s face facts and tell the truth.
Here’s a fact. There are racial disparities in education and the criminal justice system. And there is a case to be made, at least in education, that the disparities are partially the result of substandard education intentionally delivered to poor black and Hispanic children. Deliberately giving poor children less access to quality education is a partial predictor of future dependency, contributing to a growing underclass. Chicago, Detroit and New York are perfect examples. This cause should be taken up by Christians, but #BlackLivesMatter has nothing to do with it.
Further, if the goal is to reduce the racial disparities in education, people should not only advocate that poor children receive better quality education, they should also encourage the redemption and reconciliation of the black family. Not only would that contribute to the mitigation of academic disparities suffered by blacks, increasing the number of intact black families would also mitigate the racial disparities in the criminal justice system. Blacks aren’t locked up disproportionately simply and only because they’re black. Blacks are imprisoned disproportionately because of the disintegration of the family and the collapse of the Christian moral value system.
Speaking of criminals, here’s another fact: #BlackLivesMatter valorizes black criminality and sanctifies black criminals. The lives of everyday blacks don’t matter to this movement, including the lives of blacks tormented by black criminals. This is why #BlackLivesMatter is a misnomer. The only black lives that matter to these social agitators are the ones killed by (white) cops, largely the result of the actions of the criminals themselves. Defending and honoring the lives of black criminals over the lives of blacks that aren’t criminals, but in need of our attention, is despicable and unworthy of being called or legitimized by Christianity.
Read it all. It’s very strong stuff.
I don’t have time today to get too deeply into this — I will be spending much of the afternoon doing initial planning for the Walker Percy Weekend 2016 programming — but I want to continue the conversation with y’all in the comments section. These pieces I quote here articulate many of my concerns. The way the movement appears from the outside, the only opinions that matter are certain black ones, and the non-black ones that entirely assent. As an orthodox Christian, I don’t believe that we white Christians have the moral right to ignore racial injustice or to be indifferent to the legacy of racism, both in our churches and in our society. Having said that, any reconciliation must be honest, and, for Christians, authentically Christian. If we’re going to talk about Our Common Problem, then we have to talk openly and without judgment about the whole set of problems that are the legacy of slavery and segregation.