Whether it’s affected you directly or just something you’ve witnessed from a distance, you’ve likely gathered that we’re in the middle of a massive social justice movement in out country. Every week, there are countless marches, demonstrations and prayer vigils held in Chicago and many other cities in honor of those who have fallen victim to gun violence, police brutality and a growing list of injustices committed against people of color. While many can’t help but point out comparisons to social justice movements of the past, this time around, the presence of the church isn’t quite as prominent as it once was.
Many of us are aware of the longstanding history the church has of working alongside those fighting for change in our world. Some may have even played a direct role in foster that relationship. A prime example would be the Civil Rights Movement, which saw church leaders not only participate in the fight for freedom, but often organize to lead it. But we’re living in a very different time now and the social justice movement isn’t the same one of old. It’s taken on a very new form.
For starters, the Black Lives Matter movement isn’t known for having what one would consider a leader. Sure, there’s a fair share of recognizable faces that update the public on the organization’s movements on occasion. But there’s no single individual who can be identified as a de facto leader. And that’s on purpose. If you can recall what happened to the Civil Rights Movement when its leaders were stricken down, this decision makes sense. However, this also makes it more difficult for the public to have a symbolic hero to turn to.
A second major reason that the church’s presence isn’t felt in the Black Lives Matter movement is because the church’s role in social justice has shrunken overall in recent years. Especially in comparison to the past.
Activists have spoken on this gap and suggest it’s a result of two major reasons. The first being that many of today’ activists identify as members of the same groups that have felt dismissed by the church, such as the LGBTQ community. Another key factor is that activists feel that the religious leaders they’ve talked to in the past were more interested in growing their own exposure than genuinely helping the cause.
So, how do we begin to fix this? Well, there needs to be work done on both sides. But, on the side of the church, there needs to be an acknowledgement that many members of the activist community aren’t going to be found sitting in services every week. So, we must continue to or efforts to reach out to them, even on their terms, and show that we’re willing to help reach a common goal.