Black Lives Matter and the Problem with Slogans

Slogans are often used as shorthand for a conjunctive set of ideological tenets. Affirmation of the slogan implies the affirmation of these tenets.[1] For example, let us suppose that Slogan S entails Tenet X and Tenet Y. Insofar as one rejects one of these tenets, one must also reject the slogan that represents them. More formally, this can be represented simply as:

  1. S if and only if X & Y
  2. Not-X
  3. Therefore, not-S.

While admitting that amorphous entities, such as movements or causes, are often fluid with respect to the tenets comprising them, this will suffice as a general characterization; for a slogan with no clear set of agreed-upon tenets cannot usefully represent a movement.

As with any movement, Black Lives Matter, too, has been built around a set of official tenets. Whether one finds these tenets uncontroversial, objectionable, or some combination of the two will be governed by one’s worldview. Given the desire to “disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure” and “foster a queer-affirming network,” and the deliberate use of terms with Marxist undertones, such as “comrades,” “power, ” and “liberation,” there is much to regard as objectionable from a Christian point-of-view. Therefore, though Christians believe that black lives matter, they are–and should be–reticent to endorse BLM (as a movement). To formalize this, for example, we could say that:

  1. BLM (as a movement) implies the beliefs that, among other things, black lives matter and the “Western-prescribed nuclear family structure” should be disrupted
  2. One should reject the belief that the “Western-prescribed nuclear family structure” should be disrupted.
  3. Therefore, BLM (as a movement) ought to be rejected.

The sort of reasoning that should compel us to distance ourselves from BLM is the same reasoning used when a member of Congress votes against a bill containing pork-barrel projects. If a bill called the “Roads Improvement Act” contains spending devoted to studies of mice, the bill ought to be rejected in principle.

Socially and publicly, this is not easy to do. In the case of BLM, the choice to make the movement’s slogan identical to a single, utterly uncontroversial tenet–namely, that black lives matter–is a powerful rhetorical device. This is the same kind of move adopted by numerous other movements, such as marketing abortion-on-demand as the uncontroversial “right to choose” or construing opposition to legalizing homosexual marriages as being in favor of “traditional family values.” This makes detractors from the movement as a whole easy to vilify, since anyone not willing to swallow the entire, jagged pill on account of controversial tenets is simply painted as a detractor from the uncontroversial tenets.

Most people repeating the phrase “black lives matter” probably do not mean to endorse BLM as a movement, but only to express their solidarity with the belief that black lives matter. Those falling into this camp might be tempted to think that the argument I am making here is an exercise in philosophical hair-splitting. If ideas do not have consequences, then it is indeed. But ideas do have consequences, and bad ideas have bad consequences. I submit that the pork-barrel ideology unhelpfully being subtly tethered to the idea that black lives matter is worse than “bad;” it is dangerous. If we are to “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves,”[2] we ought not be dismissive of our responsibility to think critically. We must separate the ethical wheat from the political chaff.

Ironically, it is because black lives matter that Christians ought not to align themselves with Black Lives Matter. As the human race has learned all too well,[3] a truth mixed with a falsehood is far more dangerous than a falsehood alone. Given that one of the real national crises of many black communities is that of fatherlessness,[4] one can only be appalled that the Black Lives Matter movement has as one of its stated aims the disruption of the “Western-prescribed nuclear family.” There are certainly many well-meaning Christians who wish to do good, to exercise compassion, solidarity, and kindness, who believe that all men are created equal, and yet have unwittingly aligned themselves with an organization they think has but a single tenet: that black lives matter. Yet, those of us who are fervently anti-racist, who want to empathize with those who are hurting, must nevertheless remind ourselves that, though we should respond with grace, it must not be at truth’s expense.


[1] This is true even if a person repeats a slogan without intending to endorse a broader set of tenets. One can only imagine how many German citizens, endorsing the Nazi party in 1920 because they agreed with the demand for “equality of rights for the German people in respect to the other nations,” came to later regret their vote on account of the outworking of another of the party’s tenets: “Only a member of the race can be a citizen. A member of the race can only be one who is of German blood, without consideration of creed. Consequently no Jew can be a member of the race.” See https://time.com/4282048/1920-hitler-political-platform/.

[2] Matt. 10:16

[3] Gen. 3:1

[4] See “About One-Third of U.S. Children Are Living with an Unmarried Parent,” https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/04/27/about-one-third-of-u-s-children-are-living-with-an-unmarried-parent/

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