January 14, 2016

Black people are sacred to God, says #BlackLivesMatter activist

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Michelle Higgins has been making waves lately. A leader in the #BlackLivesMatter movement, she recently addressed a gathering of 16,000 evangelical students at an InterVarsity conference in St. Louis, during which she urged them to back the movement. Photo courtesy of Urbana

Michelle Higgins has been making waves lately. A leader in the #BlackLivesMatter movement, she recently addressed a gathering of 16,000 evangelical students at an InterVarsity conference in St. Louis, during which she urged them to back the movement. Photo courtesy of Urbana

(RNS) Michelle Higgins has been making waves. A leader in the #BlackLivesMatter movement, she recently addressed a gathering of 16,000 evangelical students at an InterVarsity conference in St. Louis, during which she urged them to support the movement.

Higgins is director of worship and outreach at South City Church in St. Louis and director of the Christian advocacy group Faith for Justice.


RELATED STORY: InterVarsity’s unabashed support for #BlackLivesMatter may be its boldest move yet 


Her activism has drawn criticism, with some labeling her “Michelle the Marxist,” and others criticizing her for questioning the assumptions of the anti-abortion movement.

She spoke with RNS recently about her activism. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: How do you define Black Lives Matter?

A: First and probably most publicly at this point, it is a political ideology. Blacklivesmatter.com is the official recognized political ideology founded by three women of color who are uplifting and affirming that multiple black lives have been ignored and abhorred by our system, and these different types of black lives must be affirmed in whole, holistically, in order for our country to move forward and to be truly a place where freedom rings.

Black Lives Matter is also a decentralized movement, and this is the definition under which you will hear most Christians esteem and support Black Lives Matter. The decentralized movement of Black Lives Matter allows local pastors or local groups to use the phrase to mean all black people are despised systemically in such a way that our country does not hesitate to refuse them proper health care, quality education or fairness in the face of potential arrest. Black Lives Matter as a decentralized movement is overwhelmingly the definition that we are using as people of faith when we say “we support Black Lives Matter.”

Q: Why did you deliver a “black lives matter” message at InterVarsity’s Urbana conference?

A: I believe we are currently in a civil rights era. I do not believe the work of Dr. King is done. And I truly believe that we have gone from holding legislation as the factor that’s going to make everything change, to realizing that politics and legislation cannot be the only tactics that we use. Heart transformation is where it’s at. And because the civil rights movement of the ’60s was peopled overwhelmingly by young high school and college-aged students, I fully believe that the message I brought at Urbana was intended to inspire young people to begin to participate in social justice movements on the shores of North America so that they would be prepared, equipped and sensitive to the overwhelming need for participation in social justice movements around the world.

Q: InterVarsity Christian Fellowship objected to some of your comments on the anti-abortion movement, reiterating that it believes “all lives are sacred — born and unborn.” Can you explain your criticism of the evangelical sanctity-of-life position?

A: If you are black, you wear your pants down on your hips or lower, if you say one curse word or consider for a split second that you might be gay, then you are not worthy of being marked as sacred to God. … This is how many people in the evangelical church view victims.

“If VonDerrit Myers (a black man shot and killed by a St. Louis police officer in October) was wearing an ankle bracelet at the time that he was killed, then he deserved to die.” I’ve heard those words before, from the same people who would protest and get sick to their stomach at the idea that young babies are perishing at the hands of people who are sinful as well. But we are unwilling to give over our framework about the sanctity of life to God. We are unwilling to give over our framework about the worth and the value of nonheterosexuals. We are unwilling to say, “God, you are the judge of who should live and who will die. That belongs to you, and not us.”

(Nicola A. Menzie is a contributor to RNS) 

  • William Bockstael

    Like everybody else, whites, browns, greens, yellows, pinks etc…the problem begins when people start to believe somehow they are God’s favorite

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  • David

    While we enjoy freedom of expression in the United States, BLM does not at core share those values. And while I agree that MLK’s work is not done, it is clear that BLM will not be the ones to finish it since the core values of Dr. King are in antithesis to those of BLM. Oh, ‘antithesis’, one of those outmoded trigger words in a culture where philosophical discourse has been transformed into nothing more than muddy soup, just saying.

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  • Jack

    There is plenty of unfinished business to achieve on the road to racial justice, equality, & reconciliation. If Dr. King were alive today, he’d stress both the undeniable progress attained, and the serious gaps which remain.

    The problem with Black Lives Matter is that it’s old-school. It moves the ball backward, not forward. In place of King’s ultimate vision of a color-blind, character-centered society, it drags us back to the old, race-driven ideologies of the late 1960s and 1970s, which were thinly disguised attempts to apply the Marxist concept of class struggle to race. It is hard to think of a single good thing that came out of that reactionary retreat from King’s dream.

    The last great unaddressed civil rights issue is equal educational opportunity. Millions of black Americans remain locked in low-performing schools, with no other choices. This is not a sexy issue lending itself to splashy marches & protests and calling people racists.

  • Jack

    I think this is more a function of the influence of the so-called self-esteem movement which has made its way through American culture. While it sounds nice, it amounts to a rejection of actual merit and achievement as sources for a positive attitude toward self. The Atlantic magazine had a great article a few years back on the failure of this movement, and how it’s producing kids who paradoxically feel less certain, not more certain, about their own worth and abilities.

  • Harry Martin

    The fervor for self-segregation as shared by this article denigrates the worth and dignity of ALL lives. Why must there be this obsession with the skin..the surface? Why can’t individuals, communities respect and honor the truth they are more skin color.

  • GOD IS BALONEY

    If Gods do not exist nobody is especially sacred. And there is no reason to think gods exist.
    End of story.

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  • Doc Anthony

    Nothing’s wrong with InterVarsity **allowing** BlackLivesMatter to explain their perspective at the IV conference.

    Everything’s wrong with InterVarsity **endorsing** BlackLivesMatter at a time when BLM clearly has its own public mess and myopia to clean up.

    InterVarsity simply damaged its own Christian witness by endorsing BLM. A seriously bad decision on the part of IV’s leaders.

    (By the way, COPS’ lives matter too, by the way. Somebody please e-mail the memo to BLM and InterVarsity.)

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  • Jack

    Well put, Harry.

  • Jack

    No, not “end of story,” unless we all decide to shut our brains off and march in lockstep with you. If it were that simple, then all the stupid people would be theists and all the smart people atheists. In reality, both smart and stupid are pretty evenly distributed in both camps.

  • Jack

    Yes, it was a great article indeed. And good observation about dishonesty.

  • Jack

    Great points, Doc.

  • Illogic B

    Police kill about 400 people a year (mostly criminals & some innocents).
    Of those about 25% (~100) are black. Most of the rest (~300) are whites
    & hispanics. NOW in contrast, about 8,000 (EIGHT THOUSAND) blacks are
    killed by OTHER blacks every year.

    In other words, for every 1 (one) black killed by a white cop each year
    (many of whom were committing a crime while killed) 71 (seventy one)
    blacks were murdered by other BLACKS. In the past 35 years about 323,000
    (yes that’s THOUSANDS) blacks have been murdered by other blacks. Over
    9,000 per year on average.

    The logical & factual conclusion (rather than insane, hysterical,
    emotional ranting) is that as a black person, you are FAR safer in the
    company of a white cop than you are in the company of another black person.

    Therefore, if you are going to mobilize MILLIONS of people against the
    LEO killings and NOT the black on black killings (as the BLM group is
    doing) at MOST you will save about 50 black lives a year…

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  • Diogenes

    As usual, Doc Anthony puts it bluntly and better than most. For my own part, it should be evident to all that EVERY LIFE MATTERS to GOD. No life is more or less precious to God. That said, it will not obviate His stated promise to make the final judgement on our lives, based solely on our responsiveness to the invitation of His Son, Jesus Christ, to be Lord and Savior of our lives.