The lives of widows and orphans mattered. In Exodus 22:22, God tells Israel that “you shall not abuse any widow or orphan.” God was so concerned for the widow and orphan that the law provided for their care. It was mandated that grain be left behind for them during the harvest and along the edges of the fields (Deuteronomy 24:19-21, Leviticus 19:9-10). Failing to provide such care provoked God’s wrath.
Why this penchant for the widow and orphan? Did God value them more than anyone else in society? No. The Bible says that God shows no partiality (Acts 10:34). Yet, God does show compassion and concern for those who are most vulnerable. God lifts up the plight of the last and the least because they are at the greatest risk. And given this concern, God requires that we take special care so that these vulnerable, tender members of society are not neglected and forgotten. To take them for granted, to forget or abuse them invites God’s anger that their plight might become ours.
If we were to cast this concern into today’s context, I believe that God would assert that Black Lives Matter in the same way that the lives of widows and orphans mattered. Black lives matter because blacks, suffering numerous disparities that serve to disadvantage, are most vulnerable in society.
Consider the deaths of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, John Crawford, and Eric Garner. Were these just random, isolated incidents? No, these deaths are evidence of the increased risks born by blacks. According to USA Today, a white police officer killed a black person nearly twice a week in the United States during a seven year period ending in 2012.
Then while blacks represent 12% of the U.S. population, they comprise 40% of the prison population. These numbers are increased by disparate policies in terms of policing and drug enforcement. Additionally, exposure to extreme racial disparities makes the public less, and not more, responsive to attempts to lessen the discrepancy in incarceration rates.
Consider also that blacks are more likely to die from preventable diseases such as heart disease, stroke, hypertension, and diabetes. Although the differences are recognized, the gap remains persistent due to discrimination, cultural barriers and lack of health-care access.
And blacks suffer disproportionate economic inequalities. The unemployment rate for whites in the United States is 4.8%, but soars to 10.4% for blacks. Furthermore, Black men earn $.75 to every dollar that white men earn, while black women earn only $.70. This issue becomes more problematic when we consider that nearly 1/3 of every black household is headed by a single woman.
So when we consider the disparities that exist in our society and the vulnerabilities that they create, God would undoubtedly declare that Black Lives Matter. Because of higher mortality and incarceration rates, poorer health outcomes, and economic disenfranchisement, black lives are made vulnerable because black lives are impacted. Therefore, as people of faith, we have a responsibility to speak out in the face of such injustices.
By declaring that Black Lives Matter, we exercise our moral obligation to care for the most vulnerable in our society.
By declaring that Black Lives Matter, we assert that those who were slain or who died from preventable diseases did not die in vain.
By affirming that Black Lives Matter, we honor God who gave us the mandate to protect those tender members of society for whom God extends compassion and concern. Truly black lives matter.
The Rev. Dr. Debora Jackson is the Executive Director of the Ministers Council, American Baptist Churches, USA, an autonomous, professional, multi-cultural organization of ordained, commissioned and lay Christian leaders serving American Baptist Churches. Dr. Jackson is also the author of the forthcoming Judson Press book, Spiritual Practices for Effective Leadership: 7 Rs of Sanctuary for Pastors.