NOTE: The section on Black Lives Matter has been updated to clarify the difference between the movement and the foundation by the same name.
While churches try to answer how and when they can return safely to in-person worship and small groups, they also need to give attention to other questions in the minds of some of their members.
• What should I think about Black Lives Matter?
• What if I identify with (some of) the description of a Christian nationalist?
• What if QAnon is right?
And why should we care about any of these in the first place?
Three reasons to care
One reason churches should care about Black Lives Matter, Christian nationalism and QAnon is that all three make truth claims in competition with truth claims churches uphold.
A second reason churches should care about all three is they each have political and structural aims that will affect churches if realized.
A third reason to care is that all three are affecting “the unity of the Spirit” (Ephesians 4) in many churches—maybe yours. Sunday school classes, friends and even families are moving apart over questions connected to one or all three.
Church leaders need to give some attention to these, because church members are.
Black Lives Matter
By this point, the Black Lives Matter movement may be well understood by many readers. Like me, however, readers may not be entirely clear about the difference between the movement and the foundation by the same name. For those who do not know the 15 commitments of the Black Lives Matter Foundation, they can be read on the foundation’s website under What We Believe.
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Most Christians can agree with certain aspirations of the foundation, such as “intentionally build[ing] and nurtur[ing] a beloved community that is bonded together through a beautiful struggle that is restorative, not depleting” and “embody[ing] and practice[ing] justice, liberation, and peace in our engagements with one another.”
On the other hand, many Christians will strongly oppose commitments like “foster[ing] a queer affirming network” and will react strongly to goals like “disrupt[ing] the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement.” Such goals make some Christians suspicious of the Black Lives Matter movement because of some aims espoused by the BLM Foundation.
The BLM Foundation’s all-or-nothing posture suggests a person cannot believe Black lives matter without also fully affirming all the foundation’s aims.
Churches can and should engage in constructive conversations about what it means for Black lives to matter among them. They can address how Black lives matter without the BLM Foundation setting the rules for how churches show Black lives matter.
The website of the Christian Nationalist Alliance, which has not been updated since 2017, defines a Christian nationalist as someone who “adheres to a political platform that advocates for Christian principles in government and law. … Christian nationalism is a means by which we, as Christians, reassert our rights to live in a society which accurately reflects the will of God.”
The definition continues: “We advocate for representative democracy, limited government, States Rights, Christian charity, the Three C’s[—Christianity, culture and capitalism—]and the Holy Bible as a blueprint for a lawful society.”
Additionally, the Christian Nationalist Alliance opposes communism, Islam and same-sex marriage and promotes the right to bear arms and strong national borders.
Like the Black Lives Matter Foundation—a polar opposite of the Christian Nationalist Alliance—self-identified Christian nationalists present an all-or-none posture. Viewing their “ideology” as the only way America can be “made great again,” they imply that to be a Christian—and an American—requires one to oppose all the things Christian nationalists oppose and promote all the things they promote.
Churches know what it means to follow Jesus—to be a Christian—without a political ideology defining that for them. Church members can and should search Scripture together and seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance together to discern how they can live as citizens of a heavenly kingdom within earthly societies of any kind.
The Wall Street Journal, Religion News Service and others have reported on QAnon recently, pointing to its origin on the far right. They describe it as a “community of believers” that embraces and promotes conspiracy theories about a “deep state” network of elitists working secretly to defeat Donald Trump.
Such theories feed on a lack of knowledge average Americans have about the inner workings of government and conversations among so-called elites. Theorists then fill in those gaps in knowledge with enough plausibility to manipulate truth entirely. In response to such conspiracy theories, we must ask: “To what end? Who benefits from spreading these theories?”
The popularity of QAnon and its conspiracy theories undermines efforts at truth-telling, including efforts by the church.
Churches can be confident in the face of QAnon, however, not because churches are smarter or know more than Q, but because the church is not limited by what we know and don’t know. Instead, the church lives by faith in Jesus, whose life, death, resurrection and teachings have centuries of verification.
Church, we face a lot of questions. COVID-19, Black Lives Matter, Christian nationalism and QAnon are just some of them. We need to engage the questions as followers of the life-giving Lord, knowing we don’t have all the answers, and the answer we do have stands up to all the questions.
Eric Black is the executive director, publisher and editor of the Baptist Standard. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @EricBlackBSP. The views expressed are those solely of the author.