When #BlackLivesMatter Went to a Missions Conference
“The evangelical church in North America is perpetuating ‘white is right,’ and that is a burden that none of us can bear, especially my white brothers and sisters.” ~ Michelle Higgins, Urbana 15
I’ve attended my fair share of Christian events over the years: theological and Bible conferences, retreats, think tanks — even the Urbana student missions conference, organized by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, back when I was in college.
I went to Urbana as a young girl who wanted to go on the mission field, share the gospel and change the world for Christ. And to this day, I have a lot of good memories about Urbana. We focused on the Book of Jonah that year, with an emphasis on our missionary God. I learned a great deal about missions and evangelism, which laid the foundation for me to go on to serve several stints as a short-term missionary.
That’s why I was utterly shocked this week as I read about, and then watched, one particular session from this year’s Urbana 15, which took place at the end of December.
The speaker was a woman named Michelle Higgins, who is director of worship and outreach at South City Church in St. Louis. Her bio further describes her as ‘actively engaged in the #BlackLivesMatter movement’ and “a proud supporter of local activism groups MCU (Metropolitan Congregations United,” MORE (Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment) and OBS (the Organization for Black Struggle).”
I’d read about Higgins online because of a comment she’d made in her speech about the pro-life movement. Here was the quote that first drew press attention:
In the United States, there are 100,000 children in foster homes. In the United States there are 300,000 churches who identify as Protestant … we can wipe out the adoption crisis tomorrow. We could wipe it out this week. But we’re too busy arguing to have abortion banned. We’re too busy arguing to defund Planned Parenthood. We are too busy withholding mercy from the living so that we might display a big spectacle of how much we want mercy to be shown to the unborn.
Many pro-life observers rightly took the remarks to task, noting that social justice of the highest order is at work in the pro-life movement – especially when the high abortion rates within the African-American community are destroying so many black lives that certainly do matter.
Higgins’ remarks about the pro-life movement were what caught my attention about her Urbana appearance. But once I listened to the entire session, I became much more concerned – in fact, downright appalled — by the rest of her content. In fact, even as several pieces at Christianity Today did their best to downplay the controversy and talk up our need to “assume the best,” I wondered if the writers had even listened to Higgins in full.
So what else was in the speech? Here were a few more troubling sections:
- Higgins quoted one Bible passage with citation in the nearly 30-minute session, and one without citation. She took both passages out of context.
- Higgins took the Lord’s name in vain.
- Higgins repeatedly took the evangelical church in America to task for its alleged “adultery with white supremacy” and “Eurocentrism:” She said: “Don’t lie. If you don’t know your history, you’re going to end up repeating it with a crazy-A president who don’t know what he’s doing. Open the story. Read it, and then repeat it to one another … Do you see that racism is the age-old idol in our closet that we can’t manage to tear down? Do you see it in our houses of worship, my brothers and sisters, right beside the little sexism idol and the classism idol and the cool-car idol and the good-job idol and the college-degree idol? Do you see it? Tear it down and admit, with torn shirt, ash in our hair, on our hands and knees, ‘Oh, God, we have committed adultery with white supremacy! The evangelical church has taken the dominance and power of Eurocentrism and made it its sidepiece, or part-time lover.’”
- Higgins took early North American Christians to task with a weird and completely undocumented twist on church history, accusing white Christians of deliberately refusing to translate the Bible and intentionally sharing only their personal interpretations of the Bible with indigenous peoples. She said: “Churches in North America, we already know this part, were founded by mostly white men … churches in North America — and I mean Canada, I mean the United States, I mean Mexico — brothers rolled up into this continent and saw indigenous peoples and said, ‘You know what? They look different. I think God has called me to both civilize and proselytize these people into a religion that I will interpret for them. I will NOT translate my Bible into their language. I will teach them what my Bible says according to me and have them learn what I believe Christianity to be.’ This is the inheritance of the evangelical church. This is that dirty, wretched affair that we’ve been hiding and we can’t let go of. This is our time to craft our narrative into one of repentance, to say, ‘God, I don’t want to bear this burden of being in control.’”
- Higgins called upon the audience to “eliminate racial and class-based injustice” and cast off our comfortable refusal to do things like pay for others’ dental care (?): She said: “Maybe we haven’t been convinced that white supremacy is our idol, is our little god, but we do know that we have all of the techniques, all of the people that we need to eliminate both racial and class-based injustice on this continent. We have all we need except the will to do it, and that may be because we’re so comfortable that we don’t want to change. That may be that I’m so comfortable with my wonderful, high-class dentist, I don’t want to pay for somebody to get some good teeth!”
- Higgins actively tried to recruit the audience into not just conversations on race, but BlackLivesMatter activism. She said: “We must rehearse the justice of equality right here, on this shore, before we export racism, before we export a classism that is not easily repaired! … The evangelical church must commit tonight to give control of our stories back to the God that wrote them.”
- She repeatedly noted the “indifference” of white evangelicals to activism, noting that indifference is “not love” and making vague references to civil injustice that would be rectified if we “redefine justice.” She said: “BlackLivesMatter is not a mission of hate. It is not a mission to bring about incredible anti-Christian values and reforms to the world. BlackLivesMatter is a movement on mission in the truth of God … it is, at its core, a global prophetic appeal. It demands that I know myself and that I see you. It demands that those who have been imprisoned, incarcerated, executed at astonishing rates because of their skin color, people devalued because of the color of their skin, it demands that we see them and that we free them. … redefine justice the way that God defines justice.”
- She said she stands on the shoulders of communists Angela Davis and Grace Lee Boggs and made the typical liberal “Palestine” reference. She said: “Black Lives Matter is a foretaste of victory. Faith is the substance of things hoped for. We hope that justice will come, not just to our shores, but on the shores of Israel and Palestine, where brown people just throw rocks and bombs and spit at each other …we hope for Syria, for peace there, for provision for refugees … I stand on the shoulders of those whose stories have gone before me. Fannie Lou Hamer hopes. Angela Davis is still out there, hoping with her hot afro! She is hoping! Grace Lee Boggs hoped!”
For those too young to even recognize those names, let me fill you in. Angela Davis is a communist professor who twice ran for U.S. vice president on the Communist Party ticket in the 1980s. She received the Lenin “Peace Prize” from East Germany. Her doctoral adviser was Marxist philosopher Herbert Marcuse. And she once said, “The only path of liberation for black people is that which leads toward complete and radical overthrow of the capitalist class.” The recently deceased Grace Lee Boggs was described by the Los Angeles Times as “a committed Marxist who studied the theoretical underpinnings of Communism.”
Higgins said she stands on their shoulders. So what exactly did she mean when she said she stands on the shoulders of communists? She didn’t say.
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