Which Black Lives Matter to the Black Church?

black_lives_matter sunday

By Olivia Smarr

When I came home from college for winter break I noticed a flyer on my church’s Facebook page that said December 14th was designated as “Black Lives Matter” Sunday. It was a couple weeks after the Grand Jury decision to not indict the killer of Eric Garner was made public and tensions surrounding the constant attacks on Black lives were very high. I was excited that my church was apart of a coalition of Black churches that were taking a stand for justice on that Sunday. However, when I scrolled down on the flyer I saw a line in fine print that disappointed me: “The black church refuses to be silent with injustice facing our black males.” I was confused. Since when was the Black Lives Matter movement only about Black men? Why is the church only proclaiming to be committed to fighting injustice facing them?

I grew up going to church *almost* every Sunday. I was in the dance ministry and the youth choir, and consequently my church became more than just a place I visited once a week. I was there Sunday, Monday, Friday, Saturday, and sometimes other days as well. I’m still friends with some of the kids who were in the ministry with me. My pastors have watched me and my sisters grow up since we were very little. For myself and so many others, the Black Church is more than just a place—it is a family. Going to church and being apart of it is more than just a spiritual experience, it is a cultural and social one as well. There is so much about the Black Church that is unique: the rhythm and the passion with which we worship, the incorporation of Black history into every sermon, and, of course, the commitment to social justice for our people.

It was in the church that I first discovered my passion for justice, and my involvement in the Black Lives Matter movement today is rooted in the liberation theology I learned in my church’s sermons. There are others like me within this movement, who grew up in the church and then went away to college and further developed our activism. There are some who stayed local and began work in grassroots organizing in their community. Others are new to the church and are attracted to it because of its commitment to fighting for the rights of our people. Regardless of our specific history with the church, we are united in our love for God’s people and for justice.

I admire the intent of “Black Lives Matter” Sunday and other examples of the Black Church’s desire to be involved in this work. However, it is important to know that although the Black Lives Matter movement spans generations it is undeniable that young people are a driving force within it. And in order to really become apart of it the church must listen to us. Because had you asked us, you would have realized that we aren’t just marching for Eric Garner. We’re marching for Aiyana Stanley-Jones. For Rekia Boyd. For Renisha McBride. For Tanesha Anderson. We march for our trans sisters, too. Already in 2015 three Black trans women have been murdered. We speak their names: Ty Underwood, Lamia Beard, Yazmin Payne. We march in solidarity with Marissa Alexander and other victims of domestic violence. This movement is about all of us. There is no “watered down” version of the movement for Black liberation. You cannot fight for justice for only the people that you know, or the people that you like, or the people who’s lives don’t challenge your own privilege. You cannot commit to fighting for justice for some and not for others. After all, the Black Lives Matter ideology was created by three Black queer women: Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi. How could you use the term they coined on your flyer without asserting that their lives matter too?

For those of us who are young people of faith knee-deep in the movement, who have been protesting, marching, tweeting, organizing, participating in die-ins and Black Brunches, this is an opportunity for us to speak up and take leadership in the church. We have to demand that our voices be heard. We have to demand that our faith leaders commit to fighting for justice for ALL Black lives. And we have to become leaders ourselves. We are the church—the living, breathing body of Christ. Our longing for justice stems from our love for Christ. We understand that Christ’s love knows no bounds, so if we are to really believe that Black lives matter than we cannot only commit to fighting for justice for cis hetero Black men’s lives. Black women’s lives matter too. Black queer people’s lives matter too.

The Black Church has a long legacy of being committed to justice. I pledge to hold my faith leaders accountable to the integrity of this movement, and I hope that others within my generation will do the same.





A Hole in My Head: A Life Revealed—The Story of Vertus Hardiman

Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.


I beseech you, before reading my blog post please watch the video above for it tells the story of Vertus Hardiman a black man whose  name means “virtue.” I know many of you are wondering, “Who is this Vertus Hardiman that he would have a documentary about his life.” And, I say to you that he is a black man of great spiritual strength who for 80 years of his life kept a painful secret about the dangers of radiation and racism. You see, when Vertus was five-years old, he and several other black children from Lyles Station Elementary in Indiana were deceived by the local county hospital to take part in radiation experiments. Vertus’ parents as well as the other black parents were told that their children were going to be part of study that helped to cure wing worm scalp infections. However, what they ended up being a part of is the testing of radiation on the human body and mind.

Nuance: Are “Liberals/Radicals/Progressives” to blame for Eddie Long’s Misuse of Power?

It’s six in the morning and I am asking myself the question, “How do you have a more nuanced conversation about Eddie Long’s sexual indiscretions and misuse of power without demonizing the Black Church or silencing the three young men’s stories by wholeheartedly denying the acts ever happened?” Honestly, it appears as if the conversation is either two extremes.

The first being: “[Most scholarly tone] See, Eddie Long is why I left the church . . . I told you the Black Church was homophobic . . . I don’t do organized religion,” and the second conversation being: “[the voice of my grandmother] We all have our Crosses to bare and just like Brother Paul thorns in our flesh . . . we will pray for Eddie Long.” On a whole, I am trying to figure out what is gained by such a conversation besides hurt feelings and thrown liberal and fundamentalist daggers of self-righteousness.

How do we have a more nuanced conversation

The Sky Ain’t Falling: Black Youth, Gen-Yers, “Ain’t Leaving the Black Church”

Some of my closest friends are gay, but the pastor is telling me that “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” AIDS is the leading cause of death for African-American women between the ages of 25 and 34, but the pastor tells me that using condoms is a sin because it’s a form of birth control. I live in a world where women are the CEOs of successful businesses and hold high positions in the government, but within the walls of the church, female leadership is often absent. Only 10 percent of churches in the United States employ women as senior pastors. These sexist, homophobic and conservative attitudes of the church are what is causing young people to question their faith, causing Gen-Yers to abandon the church in increasing numbers. Taken from Brandee Sanders’ article on the Root

So, like a “doubting Thomas,” I read Brandee Sanders’ Are Millennial Losing Faith with a somewhat skeptical eye staunchly believing that Black youth do attend church and that they do believe unerringly in the Bible. The saying goes, “You can talk about my Mama . . . you can even talk about my Tyler Perry, but nooooo-body better talk badly about my Jesus.” Of course, in all fairness to Sanders, she does not specifically say she is talking about black youth, but about all Gen-Yers irrespective of race. However, because the article is featured on the Root which is dedicated to telling the stories of African Americans, I think many of my friends and I assumed she was writing about Black youth which prompted me to check her sources—The Pew Study.

A Misguided Attempt to Empower: Deborrah Cooper’s Lonely Black Church Woman Blames Black Women for their Singleness


I am single black church woman. I go to church on Sunday morning because I need to hear a word from God. I need to know that there is hope in the world. I need to know that when “my body is ailing” as the old folks say and my childhood traumas—daddy beating momma—keep me awake at night that there is a contemplative word of peace, healing, stillness, redemption, and salvation is spoken to let me know that I can make it through, yet, another week. I go to church because on its most good day holding constant its homophobia, materialism, and patriarchy teaches people to be a more loving, caring, and community focused people. And of course, some churches do it better than others, but the point remains that there is an attempt to provide a collective healing space for both black men and black women.

So, when I read Deborrah Cooper’s article, The Black Church: How Black Churches Keep African American Women Single and Lonely, I was left in some ways flabbergasted by her blatant generalizations about single black church women and then equally disturbed by her many negative hackneyed expressions about the Black church which prompted me to say, “What is nuanced about her article that differentiates it from the numerous Nightline’s, CNN’s, and ABC’s news stories about the doom and gloom of being a single black woman?” What makes it stand apart from the many decades of telling single black women and unwed black mothers that they are responsible for their singleness?

And, all that I can surmise is nothing. There is nothing unique or empowering about this essay.