There are several words and phrases in our language that need to be retired. Some are overused. Some are misleading. Some are ignorant. And a few are all of those things wrapped up in one.
Take for example the phrase All Lives Matter.
All lives really do matter. From the womb to the deathbed, every life matters because every life carries the image of God. But when we splash the All Lives Matter phrase all over the Internet, we do more harm than good. It’s best to deal in specifics.
Here’s a good example.
Philando Castile’s life matters. Well, it mattered that is, until he was gunned down by police Wednesday during a traffic stop in St. Paul, Minnesota. According to Castile’s girlfriend, who live streamed the moments immediately following the shooting, Castile informed officers that he was carrying a licensed, concealed weapon. He was shot for obeying an officer’s command to produce his license.
The response of social media users has and will be predictable as this case plays out. Some news organization or website will produce a picture of Castile from a few years back where he’s wearing a hoodie or a bandana or something else not deemed socially acceptable in order to prove that he was a thug who had it coming. Others, under the banner of All Lives Matter, will pledge their undying support for all law enforcement, Philando Castile be damned.
If you are a Christian who cares about loving God and your neighbor, it is very important that you do not fall into these traps. We would do well to take a deep breath and evaluate ourselves for our hypocrisy.
Christian churches, at least the ones that have not yet sold themselves out in order to fit in with the culture, do a lot of work to stop abortion in this country. And that’s a good thing. But if we do not care just as much for the 30-year-old black man as we do for the black baby in the first trimester, we’re only kidding ourselves. Sure, all lives matter but I’m afraid that some of us like to use the word all just to keep us from dealing with the individual. Philando Castile’s life mattered. We can get away with simply talking about the baby but we have to figure out a way to actually live with and love the adult.
There is a big debate going on in our country right now over gun rights. Some want every gun confiscated. Others, like myself, strongly support the second amendment. But unless we come to grips with he fact that the second amendment applies just as much to my right to target practice with an AR-15 as it does to Philando Castile’s right to carry while in his car without the threat of losing his life at the hands of law enforcement, again, we kid ourselves. Philando Castile’s second amendment right mattered because Philando Castile’s life mattered.
I’m blessed to live where I do. The law enforcement in my community is very good. I do not know every officer but every officer I know in my community sincerely cares about life and justice. Sadly, that’s not the case in every community. So when we speak as though no police officer could ever be in the wrong, we spit in the faces of those who suffer under corrupt leaders.
Earlier this week, when the FBI announced that it would not be going after Hillary Clinton, even after announcing all of the things that she did wrong, many of us were outraged. We cried for justice. But if we cry for justice in D.C. and ignore injustice in St. Paul, yet again, we kid ourselves. In order for justice to be legitimate, it must be total.
I am a pastor but you’ll never hear me say that we need to support all pastors because, after all, “they have a tough job.” No. Some pastors need to be loved and appreciated and listened to and others need to be in jail. Police officers are no different. Blind support and all out rage are never the answers. If we really are a people of love and justice, we will be a people who care to look at issues on an individual basis.
But we must remember that two people can look at the same thing and reach a different conclusion. Like it or not, there are two Americas. There is the black America and the white America. When I was a kid, running around town doing pranks, I got pulled over by the police. I knew I was caught. I could already picture me and all my friends calling our parents from jail. But the officer let us off. “Y’all get on home and drive safe. We’re looking for a bunch of black kids.” White privilege is another phrase that gets overused and misused but it was alive and kicking that night in my friend’s Honda.
Meanwhile there are black fathers who have to have conversations with their kids that I likely never will. “Son, keep your concealed carry license and ID wrapped around your neck. Don’t ever put them in your console. Don’t ever go reaching for something when you get pulled over.”
There are two Americas and I don’t have all of the answers for how that can be fixed. But I do know that there are not two gospels. There are not two bodies of Christ. That means that those of us who feel a million miles away from the pain that Philando Castile’s girlfriend experienced on Wednesday need to do better than Facebook rants and tired, worn out phrases.
If all lives really do matter, then Philando Castile’s life mattered.
And the fact that Philando Castile’s life didn’t mater enough during a traffic stop in St. Paul, Minnesota on Wednesday should really bother us.
If all lives really do matter, then the burden of Philando Castile’s family and friends must be our burden too.