One of my best friends lives in Portland – known to be one of the most left-leaning, progressive cities in the US.
I had the chance to visit him in late 2020, not long after George Floyd was killed by police officers in Minneapolis, during the time a fresh wave of Black Lives Matter protests swept the globe.
I remember being struck that everywhere we went in Portland I saw BLM signs. Every business, nearly every yard. I was struck; here in Dallas, BLM has been a much more contentious movement. It was strange to see an entire city that so fully embraced the movement.
I mentioned that to my friend and he laughed and said, “Well yeah, do you know how many black people there are in Portland?”
I didn’t, and when I admitted as much, he told me it was 5% (Dallas, by contrast, is 23% Black). That’s not accidental – the lack of black citizens in Portland can be traced directly to a number of discriminatory housing policies enacted by the city and state several decades ago.
It made all those signs feel… a little gross. It’s great for these business owners to put the sign up. Black Lives do matter, after all.
But for a nearly all-white city to so ardently claim to support Black Lives without doing anything to repair the actual harm that same city has inflicted on actual Black people… well it feels like the purest form of virtue signaling. Because, aside from the paper and ink used to make them, those signs don’t cost anything to post.
In his book All the White Friends I Couldn’t Keep, author and activist Andre Henry says:
“If corporations, educational institutions, religious organizations, and nonprofits don’t change the racist cultures and institutional structures that make them hostile environments for Black people, they’ll prove that their Black Lives Matter statements from 2020 were little more than institutional virtual signaling.” — Andre Henry
Friends, I want to consider with you today how we as a church can learn from those virtue signaling institutions. Because we want to be a place where marginalized communities really do matter. That’s the example we see from Jesus, who always lived out what he preached – even when it cost him everything.