Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?
Most of us are familiar with Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep, how Christ is the great shepherd and will leave the 99 in order to find the one sheep who is lost. This does not mean that Christ does not care for the other 99—Christ cares for all of the sheep. But it does mean that sometimes it is necessary to give special care and attention to the one sheep who has been lost.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, when we hear the phrase “black lives matter,” this does not deny that all lives matter. Rather, it means it is necessary to give special care and attention to the injustices that black people face in this country. To counter the phrase “black lives matter” with the phrase “all lives matter” is to deny that one of the sheep is not fully part of the fold—to deny the need for reconciliation and full inclusion and equality of black people in this country.
Too often I believe we deny our realities and forget our history so that we can avoid the pain of facing a difficult truth—that as much as we would like to believe that we live in a just and equal society, we do not. It feels much safer to believe that, despite the fact that just 200 years ago, black people were considered property in our country; that just over 100 years ago, mobs of white people could lynch a black person with impunity; that just over 50 years ago, black people were not permitted to go to the same schools, eat in the same restaurants, or drink from the same fountains as white people; that our society at-large has miraculously evolved so that everyone is viewed and treated as equal without ever having done the hard work of confronting how black people are systemically discriminated against in our country, how our criminal justice system more often and more harshly punishes black people, and how our implicit biases affect how we view and treat black people (even subconsciously).
Instead, to spare our own feelings, to avoid uncomfortable situations and conversations, and to spare ourselves the work involved in confronting the hard truth that we have never done what is necessary in order to achieve true justice and equality for all, we pretend that because we have had a black president, the societal discrimination against black people has suddenly disappeared. Despite the fact that many of us white people in this country are old enough to remember (and have supported) Jim Crow, that some of us have grandparents old enough to remember (and take part in) lynchings, that some of us have ancestors who witnessed (and owned, abused, and killed) slaves, we want to believe that white people don’t view black people any differently, and that the systems that were put in place to continue to put black people at a disadvantage miraculously disappeared when President Obama was elected.
As lovingly as I can, I want to advise anyone who believes that black people and white people are treated equally in this country that they are sadly mistaken—and that to continue to operate under this erroneous assumption is preventing our country from doing to hard work of figuring out how to achieve true equality for all people.
Next time we hear the phrase “black lives matter,” let us remember the history of our country; let us remember that the attitudes and biases our history exhibits do not disappear without hard work and honest conversations; let us remember that we all have implicit biases we must confront if we want to truly love our neighbor; let us remember that our black brothers and sisters in this country are hurting and we need to hear them, support them, and love them; and let us remember that the body of Christ is not complete until the lost sheep is brought into the fold.
If you would like to have a conversation about this, let me know via email. I look forward to having some parish-wide conversations in the future.