Samaritan Lives Matter

Why don’t we say “All lives matter”? For the same reason Jesus’ parable isn’t called “The Good Person”.


The picture shows a Black Lives Matter banner put up by a Unitarian Universalist church in Reno. Someone has edited the sign in red paint, replacing black with white. In recent months it’s become a thing among liberal churches to put up BLM banners, and it’s become a thing among vandals to deface them.

Usually the unwanted edits aren’t as blatant as turning black to white. At my church in Bedford, Massachusetts, black was just painted out, leaving “Lives Matter”. No doubt the painter thought he had made an improvement, because “Lives Matter” is a true statement of broader applicability. Other banners are “improved” by changing black to all, yielding another true statement: “All Lives Matter”.

What’s wrong with that? As a matter of logic, “Lives Matter” and “All Lives Matter” each imply “Black Lives Matter”, so we should still be happy, shouldn’t we? And if our anonymous editors are now happy too, then we’ve had a dialog of a sort and reached a consensus. Win-win.

What’s wrong with that?

People who make that argument are coming from such a different place that it’s often hard to figure out how to bridge the gap. But if they consider themselves Christians, I can at least suggest a place to start: Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan.

Have you ever thought about why the hero of that story is a Samaritan? Samaria was the next province over from Judea, where Jesus was probably telling the story. The Samaritans were ethnically related to Judeans, and practiced a similar but not identical religion. But Judeans looked down on Samaritans. [In John 4, Jesus is passing through Samaria and asks a local woman for water. Verse 4 reads: “The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?’ (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)]

In Luke 10, Jesus is in a discussion with a lawyer, who makes the lawyerly suggestion that “Love thy neighbor as thyself” might be more complicated than it sounds. “But who is my neighbor?” he asks. To answer him, Jesus tells a story about a man (presumably a Judean) who is beaten and robbed on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. A priest and a Levite pass by without helping, and then a Samaritan helps him. “Who was a neighbor to him?” Jesus asks. And the lawyer responds, “The one who had mercy on him.” (Some theologians speculate that the lawyer phrases it this way because he can’t bring himself to say “The Samaritan was a neighbor to him.”)

My question is: Why did Jesus make it all so specific? The third man could have been anybody, and the point could have been “Anybody can be your neighbor.” (If he’d put it that way, the lawyer probably would have had no trouble saying it.) That’s a nice, broad principle, and even if it doesn’t specifically say that a Samaritan can be a Judean’s neighbor, the implication would still be there for those who want to draw it.

So why didn’t Jesus tell it that way? Would we be improving the parable if we crossed out Samaritan and wrote in person?

The point, I believe, of making the third man a Samaritan rather than a generic human, is precisely that saying “A Samaritan is my neighbor” would stick in a Judean’s throat, while “Anybody can be my neighbor” probably wouldn’t. “Anybody can be my neighbor” is an abstract feel-good idea a Judean could hold in his head without raising any of his specific prejudices.

The same thing is going on with “Black Lives Matter”. It isn’t meant to say “Black lives matter more than white lives” any more than Jesus was trying to say that Samaritans are better than Judeans. The point of saying “Black lives matter” is that it sticks in the throat of a lot of white Americans. By contrast, “Lives matter” and “All lives matter” are nice, feel-good abstractions. When we say them, we can think about generic people — who we probably picture as white.

Sometimes I fantasize about Jesus coming to speak to my mostly white congregation, and wonder what he’d want to tell us. I can easily imagine him wanting to impress on us that we ought to take the lives of other people more seriously. Maybe he’d tell us a parable to get that idea across. But would his main character, the one whose life we should take more seriously, be a generic human being? I doubt it. I think he might well tell us a story about a person of color, maybe even a big scary-looking one. Until we understood that his life mattered, we wouldn’t have gotten the point.

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Comments

  • weeklysift  On November 2, 2015 at 7:20 am

    I just saw this image on Facebook, from the First Unitarian Society of Denver.

  • Anonymous  On November 2, 2015 at 8:09 am

    and jeasus wept

  • Herb Feinzig  On November 2, 2015 at 8:18 am

    Black lives matter in that blacks are the victims of prejudicial violence. The same can be said of all minorities in this country just being Black makes you more obvious. And we have demonized people of color. Still fighting the Civil War. We do not learn by our mistakes, we simply repeat them.

  • Tom Amitai (@TomAmitaiUSA)  On November 2, 2015 at 9:17 am

    Here’s a link to a comic that I think does a good job of explaining this issue, although from a different angle: http://chainsawsuit.com/comic/2014/12/08/all-things-considered/

  • Brenda Johnson  On November 2, 2015 at 10:01 am

    Beautiful post.

  • Jeff Rosenberg  On November 2, 2015 at 11:31 am

    Perhaps Jesus was sensitive to our “animal nature” and thus challenges us to transcend our tribal biases. For example, while oxytocin may be the “love” hormone: “There is some evidence that oxytocin promotes ethnocentric behavior, incorporating the trust and empathy of in-groups with their suspicion and rejection of outsiders.[13]” (From: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxytocin) Can we recognize our union, that we are all, insiders and outsiders, one?

  • Lydia Spitzer  On November 2, 2015 at 1:34 pm

    THANK you, Doug! Right on. I’m getting a lot out of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book Between the World and Me, which is breathtaking in its specificity. It continually reminds me of how much of our reluctance to engage is just the fear of being uncomfortable, and how much that fear owes to ignorance, which owes a lot to fear, and so on and so on….

  • gbrown831  On November 2, 2015 at 3:01 pm

    A great illustration that most Christians should be able to recall. I am reminded of the saying (was it Peanuts?)—-I love mankind, it’s just [specific] people that I can’t stand. To get us out of our complacency and our comfort zones we have to get away from the abstract, i.e., mankind, all lives, etc.

  • Dan  On November 5, 2015 at 8:59 am

    What people don’t realize, or won’t except is that the idea that white lives matter is taken for granted, where the lives of blacks are not. It would be more accurate to use the phrase, “Black Lives Matter too.” But that doesn’t sound as good, I suppose.

  • boblite  On November 5, 2015 at 4:56 pm

    Thanks for a truly great article.

  • mysanal  On November 12, 2015 at 12:35 pm

    Reblogged this on Mysa.

  • ccyager  On December 7, 2015 at 1:11 pm

    Well said. I wonder if there may be a small? minority of people who genuinely think in terms of no ethnic, color or other barriers and think “All lives matter” is a valid, true, non-discriminatory statement. And they don’t realize that by not being specific they are feeding into those who would discriminate.

  • rebeccadalmas  On July 9, 2016 at 5:48 am

    “People who make that argument are coming from such a different place that it’s often hard to figure out how to bridge the gap.”

    I really like this article but would like to respond a bit to this part. I think, for example, of my son who with his atypical autism has taught me tremendously, who follows this logic. It pains him to hear and know of and witness suffering for any person.

    For people who really do live and feel this, they will automatically mourn and suffer when others suffer.

    To me it’s important to remember that others approaches can legitimately be empathy, too. That said, in my opinion, when something like these killings happen perhaps we should give more voice to the broken-hearted with proposals rather than just those with proposals.

  • Christopher J Ray  On July 9, 2016 at 10:47 am

    Reblogged this on The Patriot Principle and commented:
    A friend of mine from New Zealand posted this today on Facebook. It is a very interesting read, but I feel compelled to add my own thoughts:

    I understand what the writer is getting at, but I think it is a poor comparison. First of all, he writes that Jesus put a Samaritan in the story because “that saying ‘A Samaritan is my neighbor’ would stick in a Judean’s throat.” Then he writes that the saying “Black lives matter” has the same effect on “many white Americans.”

    This is a poor generalization of white Americans, as racist views are demonstrably less prevalent in white Americans than they were even fifty years ago, making his statement racist by definition.

    Additionally, he ignores the fact that Samaritans had just as much disdain for Jews as Jews had for Samaritans. Actually, here he may be closer than he realizes to the reality of race relations in and around the BLM movement.

    Finally, Jesus and the BLM movement are placed on one side of the discussion, while Jews and white Americans are placed on the other. This is odd since the heads of movements focused on reforming and repairing race relations in America have been largely white, and largely Christian.

  • Christopher J Ray  On July 9, 2016 at 10:57 am

    Reblogged – –

    I understand what the writer is getting at, but I think it is a poor comparison. First of all, he writes that Jesus put a Samaritan in the story because “that saying ‘A Samaritan is my neighbor’ would stick in a Judean’s throat.” Then he writes that the saying “Black lives matter” has the same effect on “many white Americans.”

    This is a poor generalization of white Americans, as racist views are demonstrably less prevalent in white Americans than they were even fifty years ago, making his statement racist by definition.

    Additionally, he ignores the fact that Samaritans had just as much disdain for Jews as Jews had for Samaritans. Actually, here he may be closer than he realizes to the reality of race relations in and around the BLM movement.

    Finally, Jesus and the BLM movement are placed on one side of the discussion, while Jews and white Americans are placed on the other. This is odd since the heads of movements focused on reforming and repairing race relations in America have been largely white, and largely Christian.

  • Andy  On July 10, 2016 at 3:15 pm

    Does it matter to anyone who isnt white that more whites are killed by cops….2 or 3 times more? See…….from a white persons view…..Black Lives Matter…..excludes everyone else. We all know if there was a movement that said white lives matter……it would be condemened as racist…..even though whites are being killed in much higher numbers. But I think most people who are really not down with the whole BLM…….are not because many of their leaders openly talk about killing whites….or cops….or both. I have heard and read their words for myself. The media only pays attention if white cops kill black men……and even when the cop is Mexican-American like the cop in Minnesota…..its still treated as if he were a white cop. How many of you knew the cop wasn’t white? Its only news if the victim is black. But what about whites? What about Latinos? It seems that the race who has the majority of death by cops would be the one to voice protest the loudest does it not? So why isn’t it? Friend…….please don’t get me wrong. I am not blind. I can see that there still inequalities in the justice system against people of color….but more importantly against poor people. I just dont think having a group of radicals who cause violonece at protests and disrupt political rallies etc etc are the way to make that better. I think these tactics only cause more hatred and prejeduce, more division and seperation amounst the races. If you want to protest the violence committed by a few cops….do so. Tell the police that all lives matter. Use the statistics truthfully.

    • weeklysift  On July 13, 2016 at 6:45 am

      If you look for specific examples of BLM leaders telling people to kill cops or whites, I don’t think you’ll find much. (There was that one bad chant that a few people did at one demonstration months ago. In hundreds of speeches since then, nothing AFAIK.) I am not aware of any BLM leader, for example, saying “Right on!” after the Dallas shooting.

      Black Lives Matter is best taken literally. It is a response to a society that appears not to value black lives. That’s why the race of the cop doesn’t matter, just as George Zimmerman’s Hispanic background didn’t matter. The Trayvon Martin protests were never about a white killing a black; they were about a black getting killed and the system not taking it seriously.

      One state that has a good law for responding to police killings is Wisconsin. It got that law because police killed the son of a white Air Force officer.

Trackbacks

  • By Losing to Idiots | The Weekly Sift on November 2, 2015 at 11:46 am

    […] This week’s featured article is my attempt to explain Black Lives Matter to conservative Christians. It’s called “Samaritan Lives Matter“. […]

  • By Race | Felicia Johler on November 2, 2015 at 11:34 pm

    […] I’ve actually been doing a lot of reflection about race lately. In science, you’re taught about “nature vs. nurture”. Obviously children are not born racist, but it is reasonable to say that we, as people, have a natural tendency to reject things, or other people, who are different from us. We all have natural prejudices, whether we choose to acknowledge them or not. That’s where nurture comes in. A child can either be taught to accept all people, or they can be taught the opposite. For me personally, I have been exposed to both sides. I was always taught by my mom to respect others, regardless of their ethnicity or race. I have always been around people who are different than I am, since my mom has a wide variety of friends. As a young, impressionable child who attended a very homogeneous Catholic grade school, I did not realize that people experienced discrimination. I admit I was very sheltered, and saw nothing wrong with being friends with people who looked different than me. In school, I was taught about the “melting pot” (which now is an incorrect representation but was a good lesson back then), and that we are called by Jesus to respect each other. Biblical parables were often used in my primary education to teach important lessons. I came across this article after it was shared by my voice teacher on Facebook. It relates “Black Lives Matter” to the parable of The Good Samaritan. Here’s the link: https://weeklysift.com/2015/11/02/samaritan-lives-matter/. […]

  • By Thanks. | on November 29, 2015 at 2:54 pm

    […] I’m thankful for folks who support the #blacklivesmatter movement. The civil rights movement did not end in the middle 20th century – it’s still happening and I encourage you to participate in the conversation. (Good read here). […]

  • By Themes of 2015: Black Lives Matter | The Weekly Sift on December 28, 2015 at 9:37 am

    […] finally, in “Samaritan Lives Matter“, I answered the “all lives matter” point, using a frame that Christian social […]

  • […] talking about this a lot this week weeklysift.com/2015/11/02/sam… […]

  • By The Call Remains | The Weekly Sift on July 18, 2016 at 1:41 pm

    […] Samaritan Lives Matter, where the example of Jesus’s most famous parable illustrates why “All lives matter” isn’t the right slogan. […]

  • […] example of the progressive’s mantra to care for others regardless of how you view them. Jesus specifically used someone who was among the most oppressed in his society to be the one who shows kindness, and […]

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