In Speech at Biola University, Christena Cleveland Urges Evangelical Students to Accept “Black Lives Matter”

Black Lives Matter die-in protest against Saint Paul Police Department (Wikipedia Commons: Fibonacci Blue)
Black Lives Matter die-in protest against Saint Paul Police Department (Wikipedia Commons: Fibonacci Blue)

A speaker at an evangelical Christian college urged students to accept the views of Black Lives Matter and consider themselves as having benefited from white privilege while looking to the Palestinians for inspiration in how to get along with one’s adversaries.

The Rev. Christena Cleveland, a social psychologist who teaches at Duke University School of Divinity and authored the book “Disunity in Christ,” brought a message of reconciliation and “love without exception” to Biola University in Los Angeles last week.

At a conference titled “Love No Matter What: Politics, Sex, Race and the Way of the Cross,” Cleveland touted the contributions of Black Lives Matter and said Christians should be more loving and accepting of the LGBTQ community, Muslims and others who don’t share their particular vision of biblical truth.

Biola broadcast the conference to thousands over the Internet on March 24. The goal of the conference was to get Christians to “stretch your capacity to see different perspectives and different issues in a unique way,” said Tim Muehlhoff, a professor in Biola’s communications department who also serves on Biola’s Center for Marriage and Relationships.

One of the more controversial conference speakers was Cleveland, a 35-year-old professor whose most recent blog on her website is titled “Trump, the White Man’s Last Gasp, and the Resurrection.”

Cleveland’s message was so antithetical to the conservative mission statement of Biolo University that some critics are calling out the university for sponsoring a “Bernie Sanders-like” message of humanistic socialism.

Historically, humankind has gravitated toward hostility whenever it’s “competing over scarce resources,” Cleveland told students, and the stiffer the competition the more hostile people become.

This happened after the Civil War when black slaves were freed and entered the marketplace. It spawned the Ku Klux Clan. It happened again during the collapse of cotton prices in the 1930s – fueling an upswing in black lynchings.

Today is another one of those periods, she said, as Americans grapple with big changes – the first black president, the shifting of populations out of Central and South America northward, and the advances in LGBTQ rights.

“A lot of research has been done more recently looking at the United States and Western Europe,” she said.

She said the hostility she sees coming from Christians who believe strongly in traditional marriage and the security risks of mass immigration is rooted in fear and in competition for scarce resources.

“When things are going well economically, unemployment rates are low, and everyone feels secure, people more or less have really favorable attitudes toward immigration,” Cleveland said. “They’re like ‘bring them on in, it would be great to have more diversity, it would be great to have, you know, a lot of different people in our community.’ But when unemployment is high, when resources are scarce, all of a sudden you see that hostility, ‘don’t let anybody in. They’re gonna take our jobs.’ There is so much fear.”

The advent of a black president and the Black Lives Matter movement has sparked a pushback from the old order, she said.

“As the United States has changed, a little bit, we have the first black president, we have young, educated black students who’ve benefited from affirmative action and historically black colleges who are leading a very powerful movement, the Black Lives Matter movement, have a voice in our society in ways they haven’t before, and what’s the response? More often than not it’s hostility,” she said. “It’s ‘I’m not going to listen.’ It’s fear.”

If a person is blinded by fear they cannot see God in those they’ve labeled as an enemy, she said. They remain in bondage and need to be set free.

“How can this be something that God is teaching me so I can be set free?” she asked the audience.

Confronting white privilege is ‘painful’

“When I talk with people who’ve gone down this journey, you know, I’ve talked to the white man who for the first time is learning that maybe he didn’t earn everything that he has,” she added. “And that is earth shattering. It’s painful. It is truly painful to face that ambiguity for the first time…

“I’ve talked to people who have faced that ambiguity and they say things like, for the first time I feel like I have flesh on my bones. No matter how hard it is to go forward I can never go back because there’s something here for me,” she said. “There’s truth here for me when I open myself up, there’s God here for me, there’s the presence of the Spirit here for me, when I open myself up, when I live out of love, not fear.”

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Leo Hohmann

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