In the middle of a night, someone threw a brick through the window of an 82-year-old Laramie man. Pete Gardner is well-known for the political messages displayed in his yard. On his front door is a tribute to Caesar Chavez, the iconic advocate for immigrant farm workers. Mr. Gardner also posted a sign reading, “Non-violence prevails when warfare fails.”
The local newspaper, the Laramie Boomerang, described Gardner as “a vegan with past ties to the American Civil Liberties Union.” He once displayed a sign calling former Vice President Dick Cheney “a war criminal.”
However, it was his sign reading “All Lives Matter” that likely drew the attention of the brick thrower. The incident is a parable for the inability of people to hear one another in these divisive days.
The term “All Lives Matter” was coined as a conservative response to the use of the slogan “Black Lives Matter.” President Trump called the latter a racist slogan. To the contrary, former President Barrack Obama explained “Black Lives Matter” in this way: “I think that the reason that the organizers used the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’ was not because they were suggesting that no one else’s lives matter. Rather, what they were suggesting was there is a specific problem that is happening in the African-American community that’s not happening in other communities.”
My guess is that both Mr. Gardner and the person who threw a brick through his window would agree more with Obama than Trump. If the two of them could have a conversation before the sign was posted and before the brick was thrown, they might well have agreed that when someone says “All Lives Matter,” they are diminishing the righteous cause of people of color.
Likely, most conservatives have quit reading this column by now. If they believe black lives are not under a unique threat, we probably won’t be able to have much of a dialogue. However, I want to take a shot at persuading them that when we say “Black Lives Matter,” we’re not saying that other lives are not important.
I am borrowing a useful explanation from a clergy colleague. “What if a member of your congregation came to ask for prayer?” Her adult daughter and the mother of her grandchildren was diagnosed with breast cancer. She asks you to pray for her daughter and her family Sunday morning during the worship service. “Of course, I will,” you respond.Sunday morning arrives. It’s prayer time. You say, “This morning, let us pray for all people suffering from cancer.”
As the grandmother leaves church, she expresses her deep unhappiness with you. “Why?” you ask. “I asked the congregation to pray for everyone with cancer. Your daughter was included in the words ‘all people.’” The mother would have reason to be unhappy, and you should reflect on your transgression.
That mother came to you with very specific needs. Her daughter’s life is threatened. Your prayer for “everyone” diminished her personal concerns. A specific prayer for her daughter would not mean other lives don’t matter.
To say “Black Lives Matter” doesn’t mean other lives do not. It recognizes the unique threat and hardships experienced today by people of color. This is Jesus leaving behind the 99 sheep to go find that one lost lamb. Lost sheep mattered.
Jesus wasn’t an “All Lives Matter” sort of guy. He was specific. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” he said in his first sermon, “because God has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.” Jesus recognized whose lives were threatened, whose needs unmet, who stood in need of an advocate and an ally.
What is it about God’s children that the simple act of assuring people of color that we all value their lives when they are under threat becomes one more reason to throw bricks, both real and metaphorical?
Rodger McDaniel lives in Laramie and is the pastor at Highlands Presbyterian Church in Cheyenne. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.