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InterVarsity backs #BlackLivesMatters at Urbana 15

Screenshot of Intervarsity Urbana 15 December 28, 2015.

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (InterVarsity) is an evangelical college ministry that is no stranger to social justice movements. Still, it was surprising for InterVarsity to devote an evening at its Urbana missions conference to #BlackLivesMatter. InterVarsity unabashedly called on 16,000 students to support the movement.

What InterVarsity did last night was more than a nod to current events or the need to oppose racism. It was a full-throated, unapologetic call to support #BlackLivesMatter.

In the U.S., there are just over 41,000 college students involved in InterVarsity chapters. Since the 1940s, InterVarsity’s Urbana missions conference has brought together thousands of its students for four days of seminars, worship services, and meetings.

Five ways you can back InterVarsity after #BlackLivesMatter stance

While the name of the conference still references its long-time location at the University of Illinois, the conference is now located in St. Louis, Missouri.

The location is just miles from Ferguson, Missouri. Given the location, InterVarsity’s commitment to both social justice, and the diversity of its students (over a third of its students are ethnic or racial minorities), it was not surprising that there was some mention of racial inequality. But InterVarsity went far beyond acknowledging racism.

The first sign that the evening was going to be different was the worship team. The music featured gospel songs, and the worship team leading the music wore Black Lives Matter T-shirts.

Michelle Higgins was the main speaker for the evening. Higgins is the director of Faith for Justice, a Christian advocacy group in St. Louis (she also serves as worship director at South City Church). Higgins is active in the #BlackLivesMatter movement in the St. Louis area, and she challenged the students to listen to the stories of the movement and to be involved.

She noted that Christians have been willing to be political and activist on issues like abortion, but not on issues like racism and inequality that are more uncomfortable to address.

Higgins did more than promote a message that racism is sinful. She placed support of #BlackLivesMatter squarely in the mission of God.

“Black Lives Matter is not a mission of hate. It is a not a mission to bring about incredible anti-Christian values and reforms to the world,” Higgins said. “Black Lives Matter is a movement on mission in the truth of God.”

Higgins concluded by leading the students with the #BlackLivesMatter chant, “I believe that we will win!” She used the chant as call and response showing their faith in a God whose mission will win in the end.

This was the boldest statement from InterVarsity on the Black Lives Matter movement, but it not the first time it has made a public statement of support.

Joe Ho, director of InterVarsity’s Asian American ministries wrote in October that Christians should support #BlackLivesMatter despite evangelicals’ resistance to support political causes, particularly those with liberal politics. InterVarsity tweeted a portion of Ho’s statement after the session last night:

InterVarsity is an evangelical ministry that has long championed both evangelism and social justice. It’s session last night at Urbana 15 may be its boldest move to link the two together into one mission. The result could be a watershed moment in American evangelicalism.

Update: One sign of the impact of the session last night is that InterVarsity’s Black Lives Matter T-shirts (worn by the worship team) are reportedly sold out at the conference.

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About the author

Tobin Grant

@TobinGrant blogs for Religion News Service at Corner of Church and State, a data-driven conversation on religion and politics. He is a political science professor at Southern Illinois University and associate editor of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.


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  • I’m glad to see this. We in the Protestant tradition have failed to see the world around us as something God is interested in, and have let terrible things happen because to be involved might mean the wrong people would be helped.

    It is a risky thing, to get down into the world as it is and attempt to bring salt and light. We who have the Gospel, however, have the best reason in the world to do so–we are walking where Jesus himself would be walking.

  • Racial reconciliation and justice, as well as economic justice have been areas InterVarsity has been leveling up on for several years now. I attended Urbana in 2000, 2003, and 2006 and the emphasis on justice definitely increased quite a bit each time. When I was considering going on staff with them about a decade ago that burgeoning emphasis was a significant draw for me.

    I’m glad to see they’re still moving that way.

  • Well, nothing wrong with InterVarsity adopting a public and vocal stance against racism, and it’s good to stand up for justice, but they have surely messed up by endorsing BlackLivesMatter. (And no, I’m not white, I’m black.)

    InterVarsity’s unfortunate choice to endorse the BLM is every bit as wrong and confused, as if it had endorsed the KKK.

    Is the leadership of I-V totally UNAWARE of how BLM protesters followed police officers at the Minnesota State Fair recently, openly taunting them with slogans like “Pigs In a Blanket, Fry ‘Em Like Chicken”? Does I-V really want to be associated with BLM’s kill-the-cops rhetoric?

    And does InterVarsity really want to be associated with a group that recently boasted (via re-tweeting), “We just shut down America’s biggest mall, a light rail, the highway and an International airport”? Is that how Christians do evangelism these days?

    This is an extremely bad decision by InterVarsity. Look for problems to arise.

  • Couldn’t agree more, Doc. The BLM movement is not only misleading now, but it’s foundation is built upon lies such as, “hands up. don’t shoot.”

    When social justice ignores true justice, then is it really justice at all? If you have to harm one person to help another that is not Christ-like. IV needs to seriously reconsider and pray hard into how they affect change that honors Christ.

  • I’m glad that the grammatical typos and *some* of the factual errors contained in the first edition of this hurriedly-written article have been edited. If only content in light of context had been paid attention to as much.

    “The first sign that the evening was going to be different was the worship team. FACT CHECK: Urbana and campus-specific InterVarsity chapters have long featured music from the Black church. This was no anomaly.

    “One sign of the impact of the session last night is that InterVarsity’s Black Lives Matter T-shirts (worn by the worship team) are reportedly sold out at the conference.” FACT CHECK: No BLM shirts were sold at this conference.

    Watching the talk and following the Urbana Live Stream might help this author and his readers learn more context and facts before reporting or concluding.

    An Urbana Attender

  • Did they really officially support Black Lives Matter?

    If so, that’s surprising and unfortunate. It’s not a religious group, it’s divisive, it’s violent, and at this point it’s just trolling people. Witness the recent event where they shut down the Minneapolis airport and assaulted two mayoral aides in Chicago.

  • We should not view this as an “either/or” situation but a “both/and.” In the audio below, Dr. Carl Ellis both criticizes the inconsistencies of BLM, but also speaks of people he knows in St. Louis involved in “cultural discipleship” and impacting BLM “to help them understand in a wiser way what the real issue is.” The St. Louis folk he references include (though Ellis doesn’t name them in the audio) Michelle Higgins and her father Rev. Dr. Col. Mike Higgins, both who spoke at Urbana about these issues. You don’t like the BLM movement? Then infiltrate it with gospel truth! As Michelle says in the video that introduced her to speak at Urbana, “The most exciting part [of activism] is sitting people down and telling them ‘You think you’re enemies, but the goal is friendship.’ The goal of activism is not to defeat the person who is your enemy but to defeat the force that is making you hate each other.” Ellis: http://www.jude3project

  • In a state with open carry laws for firearms, black children get shot to death for carrying anything even remotely resembling a toy firearm. Oh right, the 2nd Amendment only counts, if you are white.

    In Ferguson you had an entire police force and local court system designed to shake down poor and working class black people as a form of forced taxation. Cops have never been safer. Black people increasingly seem to have targets painted on their back. Being young dumb and white usually gets a teenager a minor slap on the wrist from cops. Being young dumb and black usually gets a funeral from the cops.

    BLM is absolutely necessary in this day and age. In a democratic society, police do get a free pass for institutional racism, predatory actions, violent/lethal incompetence, and gross violations of the 4th Amendment. If we do not “watch the watchmen”, who will?

  • This would have been so much more beautiful and effective if we saw a racially mixed band with shirts saying ALL lives matter. That is the gospel. That is real love.
    We matter to Him.
    Let’s all matter to each other.

  • You cannot say “All Lives Matter” unless you say “Black Lives Matter”. That’s what ALL means.

  • I thought Intervarsity was a sound Christian college mission organization? Why would you coop a leftist, non-christian, socialist, race-baiting, liberal political organization like BLM into your convention?? BLM does not support the Sanctity of Life & Marriage. The basis for all Biblical understanding is Life & Marriage, and these are fully exemplified in Gen 1-3 and Rev 20-22.

  • This is not the InterVarsity I was a part of in college.

    Michelle Higgins goes on about how the evangelical church propitiates white is right. She brings up police brutality & mass incarceration as topics the church is afraid of. She demeans & mocks those who support the right to life movement. (14:01) She states the church could end foster care. What’s her plan – Activism.

    Gods first command? Be fruitful and multiply Gen 1:28
    How? For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, & be joined to his wife; & they shall become one flesh. Gen 2:24

    Liberals replaced the black father with welfare decades ago. You want to talk about mass incarcerations, 85% of men in prison grow up without a father. This is now not just a black problem. Liberals took prayer out of the public square years ago. Where is Michelles calling out returning to a Biblical Worldview in all areas. You want the church to end foster care – teach that you remain chaste until…

  • Amen! I helped raise scholarships for a number of international students to attend this year. And have attended the last 3 Urbanas…..after false prophet Higgins’ talk, I wrote to my main contact at IV, and said: “Wow, tonight was quite embarrassing and shameful. This is not what I had prayed for international students to learn….hate and racial insensitivity, if they related to any of this. I am sorry I encouraged people to attend Urbana, but I do try to learn from our mistakes. . . . Perhaps you can try to raise funds in Ferguson next time? I am just glad that I am not evangelical…..people who are obvious haters and vile racists living off of their white privilege. Have a great night!

  • The thing about saying All Lives Matter is that nobody disputes whether white lives matter. In a world where racial injustice is still very much an issue, when our brothers and sisters of other races share the difficulties they are facing with us our response should not be, “But everyone matters”, it should be “You say that Black Lives Matter? Of course they do.” This is not a movement that argues that ONLY black lives matter, but in the face of a society where black people experience substantial discrimination and white people do not, white people need to be coming alongside black people in solidarity. We cannot do that if we’re so caught up in arguing an unneeded and societally undisputed point.

  • Jesus continually supports and loves people and communities who aren’t religious throughout the gospel. A great quote from one of the seminars I attended: “Jesus criticized the church much more than He criticized the streets”.

    If we want the world to know the love of Jesus Christ, our support must extend outside of the church. Further, we must exist for the world outside of the church

  • Racial reconciliation is smoothing very important to pursue. Aligning yourself with Black Lives Matter was not a good move. There is just too much negative surrounding this movement. IV, you can do better than that.

  • Deborah, did you see the band?
    I was at Urbana, and while keeping my opinion of the speech to myself, I can definitely comment on the band. Here’s how the band was made up:

    2 African American people
    1 African
    3 white people
    1 Korean
    2 Other east Asian (not sure where from)
    1 Latino
    1 Korean/white mix
    1 Guatemala/white mix

    There were a few more, but that’s what I remember clearly off the top of my head. When was the last time you saw a band that racially mixed?

    Over the course of the week, we sang contemporary worship, gospel, arabic, spanish, french, hindi, and even Hawaiian styles of worshiping God. It can’t get more diverse than that.

    Did Michelle Higgins open a huge can of worms? Potentially. But don’t criticize that band. They were sincere, passionate, and unabashedly committed to worshiping God in as many different cultures as could be fit into a week.

  • A perfect example of the racial double standard in action. Unarmed black protesters use inflammatory language that annoys whitey and they are called “domestic terrorists”. If one of them so much as carries anything remotely resembling a firearm in public (despite open carry laws), they can expect to be killed on sight by cops.
    A bunch of ARMED white people storm a government building in Oregon, threaten violence if their demands are not met and are called “peaceful protesters” by local media.

  • WWJD? I can’t imagine Him joining in any sort of mass protest movement. Neither can I imagine Him being indifferent toward the plight of the suffering. I can imagine Him seeking out African-American people and listening attentively to what they have to say. I can also imagine that He who pronounced the seven woes on the Pharisees and Scribes might have some very sharp and scathing criticisms to pronounce upon White Americans, even – unfortunately – more than a few Evangelical White Americans.