Social Media, #BlackLivesMatter and being consistent

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy.

Proverbs 31:8-9

One of the things I am fascinated by – as I mentioned again recently – is social media and the way it has changed the world in ways we have only just begun to understand. I think the recent killing of George Floyd and the subsequent #BlackLivesMatter response is a good case in point.

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The facts are fairly well known: George Floyd, a black man, was held by a police officer until he was asphyxiated. This has provoked a backlash of responses against police brutality and racism – even in the UK (e.g. the BBC reported that thousands turned out for anti-racist protests in the UK).

There has been a Christian response too, and I’ve seen a range of videos and blogs about it from a Christian perspective – e.g. this video from Speak Life, which I thought was very helpful. Many of my friends on social media a couple of days ago posted up black images with the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag. I’ve even seen today (Sunday) that a number of clergy in groups I belong to have been preaching about racism.

I’m not going to talk here about Black Lives Matter, or about the responses to it – I think racism is wrong and it’s right to speak up against it publicly. But I really want to focus on one thing which has intrigued me, and that is consistency.

To my mind, this issue has brought out issues of consistency like no other in recent times. What I mean by that is, speaking up on this particular issue and not speaking up on other issues. You see, the Christians who have been joining in with #BlackLivesMatter have been communicating a message – that racism is wrong. I get that. And, although I disagree with aspects of the protests (rioting, of course, as well as breaking of social distancing rules during a pandemic) – I think it is right to communicate the message that racism is wrong.

I just want to flag up at the outside, lest anyone should be mistaken, that I am in now way agreeing with racism or trying to silence the protests!

However. What intrigues me is why people – and especially Christians – are joining in loudly with the protests now, and preaching against racism etc – when other things seem to pass without comment. Let me give a few examples.

#1: Grooming Gangs

At the end of last year the Independent published an article which said: “More than 18,700 suspected victims of child sexual exploitation were identified by local authorities in 2018-19, up from 3,300 five years before.” And it’s the same old, same old – apparently “lessons have been learned” but nothing seems to change.

Where are the hashtags #WhiteWorkingClassGirlsMatter? Where are the protests against the police and the government, who have largely brushed the issue under the carpet? Where is the Archbishop of Canterbury to stand in support of those who have been abused?

I can’t think of a church leader who made a public statement about this – possibly because there wasn’t a big outcry at the time. It all seemed to fly below the radar. How something like this can happen without being a national scandal, I don’t know – especially when the media can spend a full week venting fury at Dominic Cummings for possibly breaking lockdown rules.

#2: French police and Gilets Jaunes

Have you heard anything about the police brutality that’s been happening in France? Here’s an excerpt from an article on Spiked:

The scale of police violence was astonishing and stomach-churning. Between November 2018 and June 2019, according to figures compiled by Médiapart, 860 protesters were injured by the police – 315 suffered head injuries; 24 lost the use of an eye; and five had hands torn off. In December 2018, an elderly woman who had no involvement in the protests was killed when police threw a grenade into her flat.

Among these victims are not only protesters but also journalists and medics. Police have been filmed beating elderly and disabled people, as well as using tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets against peaceful protesters. The main source of injuries was ‘Flashball’ rubber bullets – a non-lethal weapon that has been banned in every EU country except France. More than 13,000 of these bullets were fired in the first three months of the protests. Another extreme weapon used by police was the GLI-F4 – a teargas grenade which contains explosives that maimed numerous protesters. The grenade was eventually banned by the French government in early 2020.

Things got so bad that the UN called for a ‘full investigation’ into the police’s ‘excessive use of force’. Similarly, the Council of Europe’s human-rights commissioner called for an end to the use of Flashballs against protesters. Amnesty International denounced the ‘extremely heavy-handed’ policing deployed against peaceful protesters. Eventually, even the French government acknowledged it had a problem with police violence.

Where are the #FrenchLivesMatter hashtags? Where are the instagram pictures in solidarity? Where are the church leaders standing up for those oppressed by the police in France?

#3: Working Class Discrimination

The church in the UK has a problem with class, as I talked about before. The other day I was watching a video by Duncan Forbes, “Are lower classes welcome at churches?” In that video he starts by telling a few stories about how he has been made to feel like an outsider and discriminated against because of being working class.

Now I do feel like the church is slowly beginning to wake up to class problems in the church – but it’s something that not many Christian leaders have actually spoken up about.

In fact, I think one of the most ironic things is that many of the people at the Black Lives Matter protests will are from the more affluent middle classes who have just spent the last four years telling Brexiteers how ignorant and racist they are. Black lives matter – the white working class can safely be sidelined and ignored.

Being consistent

All in all, what we choose not to stand up and protest about speaks as much as what we do protest. If we protest, loudly, one particular thing – and yet fail to speak out on another issue – what message are we sending about what, or who, we value?

I started this post by quoting Proverbs 31, which I will quote again because I think it’s so helpful:

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy.

Who, in our current culture, cannot speak for themselves, who are destitute? I’d suggest the working class, especially the white working class, have as good a case as any. The police have been hopeless when it comes to actually stopping some of these grooming gangs from abusing working class young women. Many have spoken about how the school system seems to be failing working class boys. The church is dominated by middle-class culture.

If we speak when it’s easy to speak out – it’s not exactly controversial to join the Black Lives Matter protests at the moment – and yet fail to speak out on issues which society does not speak out on, aren’t we failing the Proverbs 31 test? If we only speak out on issues that are approved by the Guardian, or by social media, we’re going to say a lot about a small number of things but miss a lot of things which Christians really should speak up about.

Let me finish by, again, clarifying what I am and am not saying – just because this is an issue which it’s so difficult to speak about.

I am not saying it’s wrong to protest. However, I am saying we should be careful about what we protest and what we don’t protest. Especially in a world of social media where perspective can be be so distorted (what’s important on social media is not what’s important to the country, let alone to God!)

I am not saying racism is unimportant. However, I am saying that society is saying a lot about racism at the moment but very little about the other issues I’ve mentioned. I think Christians have a duty to speak out on issues where society is not speaking (the issue of abortion comes to mind, but there are many other examples).

I am not saying we have to stop talking about racism, or pretend the church has a flawless record in this area. We should be realistic about everything. But I do feel we could have a more level-headed approach which is less directed by the social media mob.

I’m going to finish with some words from Psalm 12, which really jumped out at me recently as I read it:

“Because the poor are plundered and the needy groan,
I will now arise,” says the Lord.
“I will protect them from those who malign them.”
And the words of the Lord are flawless,
like silver purified in a crucible,
like gold refined seven times.

You, Lord, will keep the needy safe
and will protect us forever from the wicked,
who freely strut about
when what is vile is honored by the human race.

Psalm 12:5-8

The Lord shows no partiality – he is fair, and he is just, and ultimately he is the one who will ensure those who are needy will be protected and kept safe. I pray that we will learn to be like him.

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