The liberal-leaning Evangelical organization Sojourners is applauding InterVarsity Christian Fellowship for issuing "strong stand in support" of the Black Lives Matter movement by allowing a social activist to promote the movement during her keynote address at the Urbana 15 student missions conference last week.
After Michelle Higgins, the director of the Christian activist coalition Faith for Justice, gave a 30-minute keynote address to over 16,000 attendees at the Urbana conference in St. Louis that attempted to dispel misconceptions about the Black Lives Matter movement and slammed the pro-life movement, InterVarsity issued a statement explaining why the organization felt the need to address Black Lives Matter at its conference.
"We chose to address #BlackLivesMatter at Urbana 15, InterVarsity's Student Missions Conference, because it is a language and experience of many college students," the statement reads. "Many Black InterVarsity staff and students report that they are physically and emotionally at risk in their communities and on campus. About one-half of those at Urbana 15 are people of color, including more than 1,200 Black participants. InterVarsity chose to participate in this conversation because we believe that Christians have something distinctive to contribute in order to advance the gospel."
Although the statement decries calls by some associated with the Black Lives Matter movement to attack and "dehumanize" police officers, it adds that "we believe it is important to stand alongside our Black brothers and sisters."
On Tuesday, Sojourners published a joint open letter signed by over 50 Christian leaders thanking InterVarsity leaders for releasing the statement and "taking a stand" in "support" of Black Lives Matter.
"As the first major evangelical parachurch organization to take a strong stand in support of the message of the Black Lives Matter movement, you – the leadership of InterVarsity's Urbana Missions Conference – demonstrated courageous alignment with the Legacy of the Urbana Conference, as well as profound commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ," the letter reads.
"Furthermore, we recognize that you, the leadership of Urbana 2015, demonstrated tremendous courage to display an unpopular, but central tenet of Christian faith, that the bodies of the poor and oppressed are central to God's work in the world," the letter adds. "In supporting Black Lives Matter, the Urbana Conference participates in a centuries old evangelical legacy. A legacy that participated in abolition, prohibition, suffrage and worker's rights. It is a legacy that is grounded in the belief that Jesus' life and work restores our humanity and that to follow Jesus we must also participate in that restoration in the lives of those who are perpetually dehumanized in our contemporary society."
The letter, which labels Higgins a "true prophet," claims that her keynote address exposed "a central lie at work in the church and society" that "White people were created to rule and everyone else was created to be ruled."
"This lie is the foundation upon which unjust American structures, systems, and policies rest," the letter asserts. "Michelle explained to the assembly that 'Black lives matter' is a statement of tension that disrupts the status quo, a declaration of hope for the full redemption of our broken world, and a movement on mission with God's global purposes."
Although the letter claims that InterVarsity's support of the Black Lives Matter movement is "a commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ," a group of black pastors headed by E.W. Jackson gathered last month to warn against the Black Lives Matter movement, labeling calls from the movement to harm police officers as "demonic," "shameful," and "tragic."
Additionally, Higgins' speech criticized the pro-life movement and drew the ire of one of the leading student pro-life groups, Students for Life of America, which was denied an exhibitor application for the Urbana conference.
"So Intervarsity allowed this young woman to represent the Black Lives Matter movement and disparage the pro-life movement from the main stage but then denied Students for Life of America's exhibitor application?" Students for Life of America President Kristan Hawkins wrote in an angry Facebook post. "So sad to see a leading Evangelical organization do this. I think a speaking invitation to the nation's largest pro-life youth organization is due for their next event."
On Wednesday, InterVarsity clarified that it does not prohibit pro-life groups from being exhibitors at the Urbana conference as long as they meet the organization's criteria, which includes offering "cross-cultural missions opportunities."