The internet erupted after Monday’s decision not to indict the white rookie police officer who killed Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old Cleveland boy who had been carrying a pellet gun when he was shot outside of a city recreation center.
Today has been incredibly numbing. My heart has consistently been broken watching a beautiful family b tormented over & over again #Tamir— Elle Hearns (@SoulFreeDreams) December 29, 2015
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (InterVarsity), an evangelical college ministry, is the co-sponsor of Urbana, a student missions conference held every three years. This year's Urbana conference (Urbana 15), held in St. Louis, Missouri, runs December 27-31.
InterVarsity, an organization that does not shy away from social justice movements, devoted Urbana’s Monday evening session to #BlackLivesMatter. To kick off the night, the worship team took the stage donning Black Lives Matter t-shirts.
The keynote speaker was Michelle Higgins, director of Faith for Justice, a Christian advocacy group in St. Louis. Higgins, who is active in the #BlackLivesMatter movement in the St. Louis area, just miles from Ferguson, Missouri, challenged attendees to listen to stories of those who have experienced discrimination and to get involved.
In her address, Higgins said Christians have been willing to actively oppose issues like abortion, but not issues like racism and inequality that are more uncomfortable to address.
“Black Lives Matter is not a mission of hate. It is a not a mission to bring about incredible anti-Christian values and reforms to the world,” Higgins said. “Black Lives Matter is a movement on mission in the truth of God.”
This was the most outward statement from InterVarsity on the Black Lives Matter movement, but the organization has voiced its support in the past.
Back in October, Joe Ho, director of InterVarsity’s Asian American ministries, wrote about why evangelical Christians should support #BlackLivesMatter despite a widespread resistance to support political causes, particularly those attributed to liberal politics:
I know that our tradition is suspicious of ‘liberal’ political organizations. I also know that #blacklivesmatter is a political organization as well as a hashtag. I can’t name all their various constituents, activities, and positions. I’m sure I’d feel compatible with some and not others. But our theological tradition failed to support the civil rights movement for that very reason. I don’t believe our neutrality in those years honored God, and it continues to impede our ability to bring the gospel to large swaths of our nation. I don’t want that to happen again.
InterVarsity’s decision to feature #BlackLivesMatter at Urbana 15 is one of the boldest moves made by an evangelical ministry to invoke social justice politics for the purpose of evangelism.
During the 2014-2015 school year, over 41,000 students and faculty participated in InterVarsity chapters across the country. Since 1946, five years after InterVarsity was established in the U.S., Urbana has joined thousands for four days of worship, seminar’s and discussion groups. This year’s conference hosted 16,000 students.