#LivesMatter. But Why?


It’s been something of a rough week for news in America. Two very controversial police killings of black men were followed by a protest against police brutality in Dallas that turned deadly when snipers killed several police officers and wounded others. And not too many weeks ago was the deadly mass shooting in Orlando.

Outrage. Politics. Hypocrisy. Outcry. Violence. Hatred. Injustice. Race war.

These are all words that come to mind, because we can’t get them out of our heads because we keep seeing things happen. People take to social media with #hashtags and anger. Police chiefs and attorneys general stand up and promise justice. Politicians stand behind microphones and shed tears that we suspect aren’t that real and brandish their pet political solutions for these problems. If only we will do what they say and vote their way—that will save us.

You know what I think of that? Utter nonsense, all of it. (I had other words in mind, but I try not to talk that way.)

Yes, of course we need to work on our systemic problems, such as the biases of the justice system. Yes of course we need to ask questions about why when there’s violence in the Western world we change our Facebook profile pictures to show how much we care, #hashtagging away that “We are all ______,” that #LivesMatter (Black, Blue, etc.), and yet when more than 250 people are massacred in Iraq (which happened this week), we just sort of shrug it off like that kind of thing is supposed to happen there. But not, of course, to us. Not here.

Well, maybe not in certain neighborhoods. When it happens in others, though, well, that’s just the evening news again.

All of these things have been on my mind as I’ve been working on my sermon for Sunday, a sermon which is entirely about the life of St. Joseph of Damascus. Joseph was killed in what amounted to something like a race riot—though race, ethnicity and religion in the Middle East are all mixed up in ways that aren’t terribly comprehensible to most of us over here in the West. He was targeted in what we might today call a “hate crime” (though of course we don’t tend to call it a “hate crime” when someone is killed for being Christian), hacked to pieces with axes as the “leader of the Christians,” with his body then dragged through the streets of Damascus.

It’s true, by the way, that there are whole parts of the world where the things we see on the news in America that so outrage us are just another week for them, where arguing over why one guy with a gun is a terrorist while a group of snipers with rifles are, well, something else just seems kind of absurd because so many people have died—so many that images of funerals with people wailing at the injustice and tragedy of it all are now a regular part of the warp and weft of life. Call it whatever you like, but please make it stop before they are all dead.

This is why we now have the #LivesMatter hashtags (take your pick which one). Violence has become so normal in some communities in America that we’re trying to call it out and deal with it as what it actually is—abnormal, unnatural, unthinkable.

And yet we seem to stand mostly helpless in the face of this hatred and terrorism and not know what to do. We insist that #LivesMatter, but there’s a question I don’t see asked very often at all, and it’s a question that really needs to be asked.


Why do these lives matter? Why is discarding people like so much garbage unacceptably wrong? Why should we care about violence toward black, white or brown people (or policemen, etc.) as much as we would care about it if it were our own child, our own kind, our own people?

The reason why Why? isn’t being asked is because we have collectively agreed upon a kind of gag order regarding the answer to that question.

And what is the answer?

The answer for this question of why these people matter is because they were created according to the image of God.

And, if I may say so, How dare you strike against one made according to that image?

This is the source of the outrage that we feel but that we do not actually articulate because we’re so busy trying to find some kind of systemic answer for sin. You know what? There isn’t one. There is no politics, no “solution,” no program, no movement that can make people’s lives matter to other people who just don’t care about them.

So what are we supposed to do? We who are Christians and are given this great secret (why is it a secret?) of the infinite worth of the human person, the magnificent piece of work that is man, need to shout it to the heavens: I will not stand for this violence because you are attacking the image of the living God.

But there is something more, something much more. You see, it is perhaps relatively easy to say “I will not stand for this!” But what is much harder is what was done by that priest, Joseph of Damascus, when the violence and the hatred came to his neighborhood.

I do not know whether he ever shouted “Stop!” to those who were killing the Christians. But I do know that he sought out those being attacked and ministered to them, heard their confessions, gave them communion and prepared them for martyrdom for their faith in Jesus Christ. In those last moments, when he could have been running, could have been shouting his outrage, could have been looking out for himself, he gave them self-sacrificial love.

You see, if we truly believe that every human person is created according to God’s image, then we will not merely try to save their earthly lives—an act which is truly praiseworthy—but will also minister to them as God’s creatures who bear His stamp upon them.

There is no justice without love. There is no peace without love. There is no harmony without love.

And we can’t legislate love, nor will it spontaneously arise from some brilliant political or civic maneuver. It can only arise from the mobilization of a people whose citizenship belongs to the Kingdom of Heaven, the kingdom of love, the kingdom that will have no end, the kingdom that cannot be threatened by the biggest guns or the most hateful hearts or even the most totalitarian governments.

It is the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, the conquering King Who has destroyed even death and is coming to vindicate the people whom He has won for Himself.

And that’s why lives matter.

Addendum: Since this came up in the comments, I wanted to address something that might warrant some clarification. The following is an edited version of a response I made in the comments:

I’m not making an “#AllLivesMatter” assertion, i.e., that people should stop saying that Black Lives, Blue Lives, etc., matter. Anyone who wants to say that certain lives matter is doing just fine in my book, since what they’re saying is true.

What I’m saying in this piece is that, when we’re talking about people’s lives mattering, we have to say why they matter, or we’re not going to get much of anywhere. I’m not dismissing anything at all. I am saying that we need to talk about a deeper, universal issue if we’re going to make any headway with more particular issues, which are each so important that we need to do some basic groundwork in our thinking.


  1. Was it really necessary to include this aside? “Though of course we don’t tend to call it a “hate crime” when someone is killed for being Christian…”

    When was the last time someone in the US was murdered specifically for being Christian? It obviously would be a hate crime; plenty of media outlets have referred to Christians being killed or targeted en masse elsewhere (e.g., Syria) as religious persecution. The fact is that Christians in America are rarely the victims of hate crimes. Someone disagreeing with our religion is not the same as persecution or a hate crime.

    The issue at hand is systemic violence that overwhelmingly targets minority groups – overwhelmingly targets black men. Christians can hardly be considered a minority in America. I’m sure plenty of those murdered black men were Christian, although it’s fair to wager few (if any) were Orthodox. Regardless, their lives were not cut short because of any religion. They were killed because of the color of their skin.

    It’s a shame to see a generally positive message of peace and respect like this tarnished by such an exclusive, dismissive, and self-centered statement as the one in those parentheses.

    1. I think perhaps you’ve taken my piece to be entirely about a certain set of narrow issues in the US. My point was actually to broaden such things quite outside that narrow focus to talk about why human lives matter. In other words, this is about getting beyond outrage and asking why human beings are of worth.

      As for this being “self-centered,” I’m honestly not sure which “self” might be in mind here. If I do happen to talk about Christian persecution (which I have many times, whether here or elsewhere), I would hope that is to be expected, since I am a Christian priest, and one whose flock is directly connected to the Middle East, to boot.

      As for it being “exclusive,” I have no idea at all what you mean. I know what I mean, though, and this is the opposite of exclusive.

  2. Father, y
    our white privilege is showing. I was disappointed. What you wrote is true, but it veers in a direction that dismisses the issues at hand. You just made all the white people feel better. I don’t WANT to feel better…I want pastoral guidance coming from Orthodox priests on how I and we (collectively, we American white folks) can begin to acknowledge the problem of unequal privilege and repent.

    1. Hi, Alana. Thanks for your comment.

      I think, based on your response, that you came away from this piece with a different message than the one I intended.

      For one thing, I’m not asking anyone to feel better. I’m also not making an “#AllLivesMatter” assertion, i.e., that people should stop saying that Black Lives, Blue Lives, etc., matter. Anyone who wants to say that is doing just fine in my book, since what they’re saying is true.

      What I’m saying in this piece is that, when we’re talking about people’s lives mattering, we have to say why they matter, or we’re not going to get much of anywhere. I’m not dismissing anything at all, but I am saying that we need to talk about a deeper, universal issue if we’re going to make any headway with more particular issues.

    2. Alana-

      Why does the collectively “we” or any one of us as individuals need to “repent” of having been born into an environment where we are able to establish ourselves and excel in our chosen professions? Should I repent because God has blessed me with “white privilege?” What about the millions of “American White folk” who live below the poverty line? You shouldn’t have to be made to “feel better” since I’m assuming you’ve done nothing wrong.

      I refuse to feel guilty because I’m white. I’ve done nothing to feel guilty about in regards to oppressing others. I also refuse to virtue signal to others and acknowledge some supposed advantage I’ve received.

  3. Fr., excellent piece. I can make the people who posted and said you made white people feel better, does she need to see white people suffer to get it? I can roll about 20 events where white people were targeted and killed, right in my hometown of Philadelphia and never once was it called a “hate crime” just another white kid found shot on Front St, your response sounds like it would have been yeah finally!

    Fr this reminds me of a piece Met. Anthony bloom wrote called the “The Damaged Icon” I read this everyday before I leave my house, puts things as your article did into perspective, and you know I have stopped screaming at people who cut me off run lights do their best to crash into me, first because of that piece and second, you never know what cross the other person is carrying, it’s just as important as yours! And third you just never know when someone will snap!

  4. Hi Father Andrew Stephen,

    I was really impressed by your message. I thank you for giving me a good insight towards the situation. Especially the fact that you explained why lives matter in general. That was a really good point. I felt like the Blue lives matter, Black lives matter is creating a division. It brings the question of what about the other lives in my head. I believe everyone is created in the image of God and everyone is as precious to God as everybody else. He doesn’t see blacks, whites and browns any differently.

    As of Alana’s message talking about white priveledge, it is true that there is some type of disproportionality. There is of course something called white priveledge and we have talked about this issue my university classes with my white proffessors who I highly respect. It is really something to give attention to because sometime we might be blind to it and we have to open our eyes and be aware of it. Awareness is really important. It will help is to be conscious about our subconscious actions.

    What Father Stephen is trying to say is that lives matter because they are created in the creators image which is HUGE. It doesn’t matter white, black or blue. I think we should all check our selves to what type of attitude we have towards one another so that we can love eachother better. We have to change ourselves our attitudes towards things before we go out and say that there is something to be changed. Mostly Actions not just Words. Change starts from our selves and then we can definitely bring change to the world that God has created. We need LOVE towards eachother.

    I have only been in the US for three years now and English is not my first language so if you need clarifications to what I said, comment below because you might interpret somethings the way I didn’t intend them to be interpreted so I can make some clarifications. I need all of us to work together in this matter with love.

    Last but not least we all are human beings and we are just visitors to this world. We will all leave this world someday so we need to make the most out of it with love not with rage, bitterness or hatered but with Love. We need to make this world a little better that how we found it and we can only do that with love because that’s the greatest power that God gave us.

    With lots of love

  5. Fr.
    I understand what you are saying about the value of the human person and agree fully.
    As the White mother of adult African-American children and grandchildren, my experience over the past 49 years of racial discrimination is deep and wide. As an Orthodox Christian, we have a long way to go before we can say that our Church welcomes all.
    We quite frankly do not. If you think it’s hard for White converts, imagine Hispanic, Asian, African-American, Native American visitors to our Parishes.
    It’s not up to the Country to change or a political party but us as Orthodox Christians to open our Faith to all.

      1. In my State there might be at most 25 African American Orthodox and maybe less Hispanics (I’m being generous with the count). There are some Eritreans also.
        Don’t you find this shocking?

        1. I don’t find it shocking. Segregated church congregations are actually the norm in America, across all denominations. It’s often been said that Sunday morning is the most segregated time in America.

          It’s not always attributable to how welcoming or open people are, either. Humans tend to clump together with people like themselves, so a church that’s already strongly one culture or economic class, etc., will often not attract people who are different, because the different people just don’t feel like feeling different.

          That’s not necessarily good, but it’s also not necessarily racist, either.

          None of that is to say that there’s not a lot of work to do or that churches need to become far more welcoming. But it’s a complicated dynamic.

    1. This is quite true, Bonnie, and it is true of non-Orthodox churches in the U.S. as well. My husband’s Evangelical church has a white woman on staff who is married to a black man. They visited several Evangelical churches (and this not even in the South) before they came to my husband’s and finally found a full welcome, rather than rejection, as a mixed-race couple. That is so wrong and sad to me. What has really changed in race relations in this country from when I was growing up in the 1960s and 70s? Apparently, not a whole lot. . . . Only when we find our true selves only in Christ and view all others through His eyes will this change.

      1. At the very least, the acknowledgment that there is a problem is what African Americans want. Joel Millers blog here on Ancient Faith gives a good synopsis of the facts.

  6. Looking for insult and cherishing greivance lead to taking vengeance.
    Vengeance is mine, says the Lord , is what we were taught
    We are not allowed to take it! Thank you ,Father Andrew.

  7. sorry that should read ‘grievance” No spell checking on a tablet!
    I was about to add that many cultures worldwide require the taking of vengeance for any perceived insult .

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