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Black Lives Matter: a response to David Griffin

Tuesday, 17 May 2022  | Joanna Cruickshank

In his recent article ‘Cancel Culture and the New Puritans’, Rev. David Griffin makes multiple claims about the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests and, by extension, contemporary anti-racism. He describes the BLM protests, which emerged nation-wide in the US after the murder of George Floyd by a police officer, as a contemporary example of cancel culture. He characterises the protests in terms of only two activities – looting/rioting and the toppling of statues. Rev. Griffin describes BLM as ‘a Marxist organisation’, with likely anti-Semitic tendencies expressed by the looting of Jewish neighbourhoods in the US. He claims that BLM protestors have shown no capacity for self-reflection and that the protestors are guilty of ‘resentment and envy’ of which they need to repent.

I certainly appreciated Rev. Griffin’s warnings about the danger of perfectionism and intolerance both within and beyond Christian contexts. However, I was deeply disappointed by the profoundly inaccurate portrayal of the BLM protests, and I do not believe this article should have been published by Ethos. In this response, I wish to address what Rev. Griffin says, as well as those things to which he does not pay attention to in his account of BLM. This includes the reasons for the protests. After all, one could paint a convincing picture of present-day Ukrainians as violent thugs, if one failed to mention the brutal invasion of their nation by Russia.

In developing this response, I have drawn on my own research on racism and anti-racist movements, as a scholar of religion and race, and my experience as a participant in the BLM protests here in Australia. I have also greatly benefited from the generosity and expertise of Naomi Wolfe, trawloolway woman, Lecturer at Australian Catholic University and Academic Dean of the University of Divinity’s Indigenous Studies program with Whitley College and NAIITS: an Indigenous learning community.

There is no shortage of evidence to counter the unsourced claims that Rev. Griffin makes about the BLM protests, which he characterises as ‘riotous destruction and iconoclasm’. A non-partisan study, released in mid-2021 by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data project (ACLED), identified more than 11,000 protests associated with the BLM movement, across 3,000 locations in the US. ACLED found that 94% of these 11000 protests were entirely peaceful. Of the remaining 6%, they found that ‘it is not clear who instigated the violent or destructive activity’. That is, this 6% included both cases of violence that were provoked by demonstrators as well as those where the police and/or right-wing groups and individual assailants were the main instigators of violence. See here and here for credible evidence/prosecution of right-wing groups instigating violence at BLM protests.

The report found that government authorities were three times more likely to intervene in pro-BLM demonstrations than in other demonstrations. Police used force against pro-BLM demonstrators 52% of the time, compared to 26% of the time against other demonstrators. ACLED noted that ‘These trends hold whether demonstrations have remained peaceful or not: authorities have engaged non-violent protests associated with BLM more than twice as often as other types of non-violent protests’. Similarly, BLM protests were 8 times more likely to be attacked by car-ramming and 73% of those protests where car-ramming occurred were otherwise peaceful.

This report provides clear evidence that the BLM protests were an extraordinarily widespread, overwhelmingly peaceful movement, which was far more likely to be targeted by violence than equivalent protests. Certainly, rioting and looting occurred, but this happened in a tiny minority of protests in limited locations. In at least some of these cases the violence was undertaken by people either not connected to the protests or seeking to undermine the protests.

So why did millions of Americans take to the street in this nation-wide, largely non-violent movement? This is not a question that Rev. Griffin really discusses, but surely it is critical to evaluating the movement. When precious human beings – many of them brothers and sisters in Christ – rise up en masse to say that they are suffering and that injustice has occurred, surely followers of Christ should pay attention, at least for a moment, before we dismiss them? Rev. Griffin does not mention George Floyd, nor Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old shot by a neighbourhood watch volunteer, or Ahmaud Arbery, shot by white vigilantes while out jogging, or Breonna Taylor, an emergency medical technician shot by plain-clothed policemen using a search warrant that was illegally obtained. Instead, Rev. Griffin suggests that the protestors were motivated by resentment and envy (and/or Marxism, a claim that is misleading - see here for a PolitiFact check on whether the BLM organisation or its supporters are Marxist and here for the BLM Network website.) He makes the slanderous claim that protestors were anti-Semitic, with no credible evidence whatsoever. What, then, do our Black brothers and sisters say?

Dr Esau McCaulley, Assistant Professor in Old Testament at the evangelical Wheaton College, has written in his recent book Reading While Black (IVP, 2021) of the experience of growing up Black in the US. Prof. McCaulley describes the accumulation of discrimination, fear and humiliation, compounded rather than alleviated by racist policing and ‘justice’ systems. He points to the historical roots of this injustice – the Atlantic slave trade, overseen by European Christians, which remains the most extensive and brutal legal system of enslavement in human history, devastating millions of lives. After slavery ended, this system was replaced by discrimination in every area of life, such as the segregation of public spaces, schools and churches; the exclusion of Black people from higher education; the terrorism of lynching; and the state-sponsored system of ‘redlining’ that denied Black people access to housing and credit.

The efforts of the Civil Rights Movement led to the removal of some of the legal barriers to equality. Yet many of the underlying structures that perpetuate racism remain untouched. McCaulley writes of the distress of realising, as he studied history and the world around him, that ‘[Black people’s] suffering is not an inadvertent consequence of an otherwise just system. It was designed to be that way’. It is in this context that the (occasional) focus of BLM protestors on historical monuments must be understood. Is it surprising that those who continue to suffer as a result of policies and laws with deep historical roots would object to the public memorialisation of those who established and maintained that system? When Romanians pulled down statues of Lenin after the fall of Ceaușescu’s Communist dictatorship or Iraqis pulled down statues of Saddam Hussein, were they iconoclasts, engaging in cancel culture and the denial of historical reality? Should Italians be expected to maintain statues of Mussolini because he made the trains run on time?

What does the ongoing injustice against Black and Indigenous people in the US look like today? On 27 April 2022, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights released a report on its two-year long investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD), whose officer murdered George Floyd. The investigation was independent and exhaustive, examining hundreds of thousands of documents and hundreds of hours of body-cam footage; years’ worth of use-of-force incidents and traffic stops; and interviews with officers, officials and community members. The findings are damning. Police in the city are far more violent with people of colour than with white people under similar circumstances; are more likely to stop, search and arrest people of colour than white people under similar circumstances; and repeatedly ‘surveil and engage Black individuals, Black organisations and elected officials unrelated to criminal activity, without a public safety objective’. Racist and misogynistic language is consistently used among police officers, directed at Black police officers as well as members of the public. Black and Indigenous people make up 42% of the population of Minneapolis, but 93% of those killed by police in the past decade.

The report found that the causes of this culture of violent and illegal police behaviour run deep. Police are trained as a paramilitary force, in an environment that encourages unquestioning compliance, legitimates aggression and tolerates or promotes racist stereotypes and language. Police accountability and oversight systems are profoundly ineffective. The City of Minneapolis, in turn, fails to properly provide evidence and information to individuals within the justice system, which disproportionately affects Black individuals because of the inequities in the policing system.

This report provides insight into just one snippet of the experience of Black people in one US city. Study after study has shown that these injustices are systemic and nation-wide. Decades of work by civil rights organisations has been unsuccessful in changing this culture, which is entrenched at the most senior institutional levels. In fact, the report showed that, while Minneapolis police were publicly claiming to work with the NAACP, perhaps the most well-known of African American community organisations, to try to improve relations between police and Black people, their officers were secretly engaging in online harassment against it. Why, after so long, has this injustice and corruption been exposed and acknowledged? The undeniable answer is that it is an outcome of the BLM protests and the awareness and momentum they have created.

I have tried to respond in detail to Rev. Griffin’s depiction of BLM, not because I wish to criticise him individually or to ‘cancel’ him. Each person must make up their own minds about how to respond to the sin of racism. It is, however, alarming to see such misinformation published in Ethos. I understand that the Ethos editors value truthfulness and fairness. Surely we have a responsibility to speak carefully and truthfully of those, including many brothers and sisters in Christ, who participated in these protests and continue to seek justice? Allowing stereotypes and inaccuracies to spread perpetuates real harm, enabling white churches both overseas and here in Australia continue to turn away from the pain and suffering of Black and Indigenous people and to condemn them for seeking justice.

The partial and misleading representation of BLM is unfortunately not surprising. In the first place, the ACLAD report shows that there has been a concerted campaign of misinformation against the BLM protests, which some Australian newspapers have been happy to repeat. In the second place, white evangelicals have consistently responded to anti-racist activism in this way. Not only did many evangelicals in the US support slavery; the majority opposed the Civil Rights Movement. As historian Curtis J. Evans found, ‘Although [white evangelicals] explicitly condemned racism in many of their public writings, they did not support the tactics employed by civil rights leaders. American evangelicals constantly criticised civil rights marches and legislation’.[1] Martin Luther King Jr may be lauded by white evangelicals now that he is safely dead, but he was speaking specifically of white religious leaders when he wrote that, for African Americans,

the great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action”, who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom… who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a ”more convenient season”.

Rev. Griffin does not turn his gaze closer to home, which is also unsurprising. What is true of the US is also true of the settler colony in which we live: white evangelicals preach about the equality of God’s children and speak wistfully of reconciliation, while remaining largely silent on systemic racism – all the ways we benefit from stolen land and stolen wages, the skyrocketing rates of Indigenous child removal, our willingness to place Aboriginal children in prison, the ongoing deaths of Aboriginal people in custody. These are realities that stare us as non-Indigenous people in the face – if we cannot recognise the cry for justice from Black people in the US, what chance do we have of addressing the sin in our own backyard? Or to put it more directly, unless we recognise our own complicity in these sins in this place, we are likely to remain defensive and contemptuous of protests against racism elsewhere. To accuse Black people who oppose injustice of resentment and envy seems to me to confidently identify the speck in our brother or sister’s eye while ignoring the massive boulder that blinds us to how much Black lives matter to God.


Joanna Cruickshank is a grateful follower of the Jesus Way and attends her local Anglican church. She is descended from Anglo-Celtic people who became colonisers, lives on unceded Boon Wurrung country and researches history at Deakin University where she is a Senior Lecturer.


PS. Read the editorial response from Ethos Director Gordon Preece to this article and to the article by David Griffin here.

[1] Curtis J. Evans, “White Evangelical Protestant Responses to the Civil Rights Movement.” Harvard Theological Review 102:2 (April 2009), 245-273.


Susan Edmondson
May 18, 2022, 6:02PM
It may be necessary to hear from people who live being black or brown in Australia. This perspective is lacking, and a starting point for people to appreciate experiences which are entirely foreign to them.
Jim Reiher
May 18, 2022, 7:27PM
Thank you Joanna for the article that was desperately needed after the previous poorly researched, politically biased, one.

You demonstrate the flaws in the 'cancel culture' article clearly and with evidence. Much appreciated.

Like you, I am surprised it passed the editorial stage and wonder how it managed to get published in this journal.

This is an excellent reply and rebuttal.

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