By Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom
What does it mean to endorse a social movement? Political network researchers Florence Passy and Gian-Andrea Monsch describe social movements as relational processes in which groups act collectively, share resources, and challenge boundaries through narratives and identity building (Social Networks and Social Movements: Contentious Connections, 24). Collective action, relationship making, resource sharing, and identity building are things that the Evangelical Covenant cares about, and it is not surprising that we have allied with social movements throughout our history.
Take the Civil Rights Movement. As early as 1950, the Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Covenant Church passed a resolution expressing its deep appreciation for Civil Rights legislation. It noted racism as the most agonizing issue confronting America, and it resolved to send a copy of the resolution to congress so that it would be introduced into the Congressional Record. It ended with a commitment to work toward reconciliation in the church, community, nation and world.
Such resolutions around racial justice and taking direct action to combat it were signs of solidarity with the Civil Rights Movement. Ten years later, an explicit endorsement of Rev. Dr. King passed overwhelmingly on the floor, demonstrating a unique kind of evangelicalism—one that is not afraid of progressive social movements seeking to preserve justice and dignity for all of God’s children.
What does it mean to endorse a social movement? Does it mean that you endorse its origins? Its direction? The people in it? The ideas? If social movements are inherently about collective action, making relationships, sharing resources and identity building, then it includes a bit of all of the above. Moreover, it seems critical that those who get on board with movements have a deep understanding of the movement and the people for whom the movement advocates. Otherwise, it become all too easy to align with a movement without authenticity and sincere ally-ship. Endorsing a social movement isn’t picking and choosing whatever parts we agree with and ignoring the stuff we don’t like—especially when that stuff is central to the movement.
Given that many in my evangelical world endorse the Black Lives Matter movement, how can we seek to maintain sincerity and authenticity? One way is by understanding the complexity of the movement and the various black lives it represents.
On its website, Black Lives Matter posted an article last fall titled “11 Misconceptions about Black Lives Matter.” The entire piece is worth reading, but the misconception that assumes the movement is singularly focused is particularly worth discussion toward better understand the founding values and the direction of the movement. While police brutality is not only central but a founding issue of the movement, Black Lives Matter cares about many other brutalities facing the black community.
These include (but are not limited to): public education, the school to prison pipeline, prison abolition (for black AND Latinx bodies), safe and affordable housing, food security, and reproductive justice. Moreover, Black Lives Matter cares deeply about queer and trans lives. Writers of the misconceptions article note the violence, marginalization and even murder of trans women of color.
The most surprising claim the writers make is, “….there is a fundamental belief that when we say Black Lives Matter, we mean all lives matter.” They explicitly name the lives of police officers and white people!! Not what you expect from a movement started by those on the edges of the margins. Three women of color, one who is transgender and another who is queer and has a transgender partner, are so radically inclusive that they can’t even exclude people they are rightfully afraid of.
When those on the edges decide to include everyone, I don’t see politics. I see gospel. If the church wants to get on board with Black Lives Matter, I could not be happier. But if we’re going to do it, we need to know exactly what we are getting into—loving and including all people, even those we are afraid of.
(Thanks to Karl Clifton-Soderstrom and Marcus Simmons for thinking through this with me!)